Talkin’ Bout Your Explanation

Recently, mansplaining has been a favorite topic of social media. Of course, for every example given, someone (usually, not always, a man) swoops in to pick it apart. Particularly amusing is when some mansplains mansplaining (so meta!)

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In the following very un-scientific study, I will examine some myths and facts about mansplaining — or ‘splaining in general — that pop up in every.single.comment.thread I’ve read on the topic.

Claim: Mansplaining is a sexist term.

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Well, no, it’s not a sexist term because it doesn’t mischaracterize a gender/sex e.g. it does not say that all men do this, although the point remains that many men do. Really, people could be much more sexist about this. Come back with this claim when men are routinely denied jobs simply because they are men, harassed on the street, or subjected for scams at auto shops. (Also, institutional sexism against men doesn’t exist, but that’s beside the point.)

Claim: Men can’t explain anything now, even if they are informed to speak on the subject.

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Anyone explaining with the assumption (or fact) they know better isn’t the issue. Nor is being condescending. The issue is explaining from a perceived or actual position (usually perceived) of privilege and power and because you assume the other person doesn’t know better, often due to their not being in a privileged class

Men can mansplain to other men. Boys are socialized to think they’re right and that they’re entitled to their opinion. They’re socialized to believe their voices have primacy, that they are automatically selected as leader of the pack — or board room.

I’m not privileged just because I’m a man, and even I was privileged, I’m using facts.

Men, you always have the upper hand in a situation with a woman. Even if she is ostensibly more powerful than you. Even if you’re otherwise unprivileged. Think of it like Jenga. You’re living in a society that’s based on the actions and favoring of men, and most pegs in the Jenga stack are men. So some women at the top have an easier time, because there’s less weight on them. But many women are at the bottom, completely stuck in their spots. It’s been less than a century since women got the right to vote. How much upward mobility do you expect? Especially in a stack of wood.

If you understand this, it may help you to not assume that a woman doesn’t know about a topic. Knowledge is not power. One can have heaps of knowledge and not be able to broach the glass ceiling. It’s the sad reality.

I just want to share my views. You’re shutting down free speech.

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First, repeat back to me what your conversation partner said. Oh, you need to check. Okay. Now, what do you respond? If you responded with a reiteration of what they said, you just exhibited poor argument form. You’d be kicked off the debate team. Maybe you were just accused of mansplaining. And you know what, you may not have meant it. Maybe your argument technique just needs work.

But the fact remains that women, and other marginalized groups, hear a constant stream of explanations from people they know don’t have the knowledge or experience they do on that topic. And they sit there in their socialized stew of expectations to be polite and listen to other people talk, and you know what’s going on in their minds. “No shit. No duh. Yeah, I know. OMG, that’s not even how you pronounce that.” (Case in point, I am a huge Alien fan and have been corrected on how to pronounce the name of the ship Nostromo by men insisting that it’s Nostradomo. No, no it’s not!)

So when women explain something to men, isn’t it womensplaining? Otherwise, whenever anyone explains anything to a minority, it’s bad?

Now that you mention it, there are other types of ‘splaining:

Whitesplaining is when white people explain something to people of color, assuming they don’t know better, or even explaining aspects of their experience to them (trust me, it’s why many POC hate anthropologists — I apologize, on behalf of my discipline’s ancestors). It can revolve around the “PC approach,” e.g. white people insisting that no white people can wear sugar skulls or saris because Mexicans/Indians find it offensive, or organizing movements to take down Confederate monuments and pushing black people to the back. It can also take the opposite position, in white people insisting that “everyone is too sensitive” and “racism is solved, get over it.”

Abledsplaining is when people without disability or neurodivergence offer unsolicited, insensitive, or just plain uninformed advice to those people. “Just exercise more and eat more kale! Get out into nature. You’ll stop being depressed.” or “Autism is a disease and vaccines cause it! Don’t vaccinate to save your children.”

Christiansplaining is when Christians assume that someone is unhappy or suffering because they are faithless or haven’t devoted themselves to God or aren’t charitable. It also includes explanations that revolve around the assumption that the person just isn’t emotionally intelligent or devoted if they’re not Christian, as well as descriptions of morality that require Christian belief.

Long story short, ‘splaining is not always offensive. Sometimes it’s quite amusing, other times annoying. But it’s always obnoxious and it can be obstructive. Just look at Alien. If they had just listened to Ripley about keeping quarantine…

Read more of my work at The Whole World Blind.

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Writer by day, circus artist by night. I write about art, media, culture, health, science, and where they all meet. Join my list:

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