Mansplaining is a portmanteau of the word ‘Man + Explain’. Mansplaining refers to the explanation of something by a man, typically to a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing. It stems from an authoritative and privileged belief that men know better, and that women are always ready to be helped and taught. The phenomenon has happened since long but the origin of the word was inspired from an essay by Rebecca Solnit titled Men Explain Things to Me. (Published in 2008)
In her essay, Solnit describes an incident which took place while at a party. During a conversation, an older gentleman cuts her off in between and starts explaining on a topic, claiming to know more about it than her. He insists that she read a particular book which supports his evidence. What he did not know was that she was in fact the author of the very book that he was talking about. Ironically, he hadn’t even read the book and had simply read an excerpt from it.
“He was already telling me about the very important book — with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority”Rebecca Solnit
Although it might seem trivial from the surface, on a deeper level, mansplaining is linked to a larger abuse of patriarchal power. Since knowledge is power, men having held that powerful position for so long assume that they know better and that women are incapable of handling that knowledge of power. It is an offshoot of the societal idea of gender hierarchy where women are expected to be the pleasant audience. Having an opinion for themselves is considered to be an act of ‘questioning the authority’.
A Harvard study conducted in 2004 shows that men are 50% more likely to offer an answer in class and nearly 150% more likely to speak three times or more. This gets carried on and continues from schools to colleges, to workplaces, to politics and basically to any place where expression of ideas is concerned. “….it crushes young women into silence by indicating…that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.”
“Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being.”Rebecca Solnit
This happens so much so that women are denied of expressing their own lived experiences. More extreme versions of mansplaining can be found in the Middle Eastern countries where women’s testimony has no legal validity. So, if a woman is raped, she cannot testify in court unless there is a male witness to testify for her. As Solnit says, “Credibility is a basic survival tool…Violence is one way to silence people, to deny their voice and their credibility, to assert your right to control over their right to exist.” Thus, on a larger context, it becomes a crime as grave as harassment or an assault.
As with every point raised, some would oppose this by pointing out things like “not all men do it” or “Women do this too”, and it’s true. Anyone, regardless of their gender, talking in a patronizing or condescending manner to someone else is wrong. “… a certain amount of self-doubt is a good tool for correcting, understanding, listening, and progressing — though too much is paralyzing and total self-confidence produces arrogant idiots… There’s a happy medium between these poles to which the genders have been pushed, a warm equatorial belt of give and take where we should all meet.”
This need not even be restricted to Gender. It ties into other identities like race, sexuality, class, disability and age; as terms like whitesplaining also exist. Any enlightening discussion involving mutual participation and exchange of information is good as long as it is done with respect for each other in a non-condescending and non-patronizing manner.