Monday, September 24, 2012

Mansplaining - A Man Explains

The inspiration for today's blog is a single word - "Mansplaining".

This is apparently a term to describe men talking patronisingly to women. Simple enough, but web dictionaries (OED online has no references) indicate that people of either sex can be accused of this.

My issue is not with the concept - men can be very patronising both to women and to other men. I get the intent behind the word. Feminism particularly seems to be a space where men often patronise women and denigrate the experiences of those women. Men use words and phrases like "Feminazi" or "Female Logic" even "Women’s Problems" to dismiss the arguments of 50% of the population. They never explain their conclusions or try to point out why arguments may be fallacious, they just dismiss an argument with a trite phrase. I feel "mansplaining" is a word that allows similar behaviour. Try to take part in the debate, add some context, and you’re dismissed as a "mansplainer". If someone is patronising, call them patronising - there’s no need for a new word. Similar to ‘privilege’, which I discussed in my last post, labelling something as mansplaining can just be a trite way of dismissing an argument without the need for any apparent rationale.

A very prominent aspect of third wave feminism appears to be to eliminate a lot of the lingering aspects in society where we distinguish things by gender unnecessarily. Examples of such are where we identify police officers as 'female police officers', or men tell boys to 'stop acting like a girl'. I am unsure how mansplaining is different from this. It is a relatively new word - using google I can find no mention before 2010 - and I find it odd that many people discussing feminism have adopted such a gender derogatory term as a weapon in their verbal arsenal. If this was a word only descriptive of men it would be strange enough but, as I stated earlier, the word can be used to corral the opinions of either sex into a niche, when used to apparently ascribe male behaviour to women it seems counter-productive. We try to tell men that describing certain traits as female is wrong while allowing other words that are just as damaging.  

I am not trying to say that the actions that describe the use of the word itself are not relevant, merely that using it while debating sexism isn’t really helping matters. I consider myself feminist friendly (if not feminist) but find my back put up by mansplaining as much as I do by feminazi (many men could also be accused of being one of those too) and feel that bundling someone's opinions in a single, gender-biased phrase is a backwards step.


  1. Completely agree.
    If someone is being patronising, it is one human patronising another for whatever reason. Patronising is always bad. Saying that a man patronising a woman is mansplaining just detracts from the real problem; a human is being patronising.
    Is there an equivalant term for when a woman patronises a man? Or when a woman patronises a woman? No. Those instances are just called patronising.
    As I write this I wonder if it's worth bothering. I have never come across anyone that uses "mansplaining" conceding that it is sexist or stupid or pointless. They always just stick to their original position.

    1. Thanks for your comments.

      I must admit to only rarely having seen mansplaining used in conversation in the darker corners of the sexism debate, and long may it continue to stay that way. There is no female equivalent, but I guess the same could be said for "man-up".

      A lot of my thoughts on equality circulate the central theme that there are styles of communication in all human behaviour that do not rely on prejudice but are just some people's way. Hence some people of both sexes are very patronising.

  2. I recently told a teenage girl to man up and be a woman. I still couldn't phrase it better!

  3. So here's something interesting. I am a member of a local independent business forum, mainly made up of women, although there are some men. A man has appeared on the site who is basically trolling. My first reaction? Fucking MAN coming on here trying to tell a woman how to run her business. But while I know that he is clearly just a troll and could just as easily be a woman, I'm reading all his posts as "there there, dear, let a real man come and show you how to run a forum". I can't help feeling patronised. What do you think?

    1. Men can be domineering, but they are like that around other men too. To change this behaviour would be condescension imho. I hope that if/when we alter the perception of women as lesser, then people will judge other characteristics before they decide to try and pressure people. Sex is certainly a factor when assigning heirarchy for some domineering people.