It Looks Like We're Going to Have a Mansplainer Thread After All

Links relevant to this post:

--Rebecca Solnit's L.A. Times essay, "Men who explain things".
--Zuska, You May Be A Mansplainer If...
--Jennifer Ouellette links to her post "Let Me Explain" in Zuska's thread. It's good reading.
--Zuska's follow-up thread, Men Who Cannot Follow Clear Directions From Women

On Monday morning, Zuska of Thus Spake Zuska opened a thread for her readers to discuss and mock the phenomenon of mansplaining. Zuska quotes Karen Healy’s definition of a mansplainer:

Mansplaining isn't just the act of explaining while male, of course; many men manage to explain things every day without in the least insulting their listeners.

Mansplaining is when a dude tells you, a woman, how to do something you already know how to do, or how you are wrong about something you are actually right about, or miscellaneous and inaccurate "facts" about something you know a hell of a lot more about than he does.

Bonus points if he is explaining how you are wrong about something being sexist!

Think about the men you know. Do any of them display that delightful mixture of privilege and ignorance that leads to condescending, inaccurate explanations, delivered with the rock-solid conviction of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation?

That dude is a mansplainer.
The thread is entitled “You May Be a Mansplainer If...”, and the space is supposed to be for sharing hallmark mansplainer behaviors that readers have witnessed, experienced, or even displayed.

Here is a great example of the phenomenon from mightydoll, reproduced with permission:
my ex used to do this:

ex: something's wrong with my computer.

me: Oh, looks like there's a phrenicle in the stubert zone

ex: something's wrong with my computer

me: Why not check the stubert zone for phrenicles?

ex: something's wrong with my computer - - I'll ask Dick at work about it.


ex: Hey, I spoke to Dick at work about my computer. Turns out, (begins speaking really slowly) there are these things called phrenicles which SPEAK ... TO... the molydimes. The molydimes can reside in the jiminy zone, or they can reside in the stubert zone, but WHEN they reside in the stubert zone, sometimes there's a problem with them communicating with the loovarths, so it's best to keep phrenicles out of the stubert zone. All I have to do is move these phrenicles back to the jiminy zone and it's solved. Isn't Dick at work a computer god?

me: ...

Predictably, the thread is littered with arguments and hurt feelings, most of which stem from a failure to understand the original post. (Hint: nobody claimed that all men mansplain, or that women are never tiresome know-it-alls.) And of course, people showed up to laugh at the comments that so aptly prove the post’s point.

I wanted to write a post in response, but foundered almost immediately. I couldn't decide exactly what to say beyond providing my own examples, which I did in Zuska's thread. My inchoate thoughts on the matter included the following:

1) I understand the pressure, at least in the United States, to avoid admitting ignorance. Especially in science and tech fields, everyone competes for the title of Most Knowledgeable, even though admitting ignorance and asking questions is crucial to gaining knowledge. Both genders feel this pressure. But men's opinions and ideas are privileged over women's, and men often receive positive feedback for holding forth, while women tend to be punished for doing the same. Anyone who has been chastised by a supervisor for being "too aggressive" while male coworkers were praised as "go-getters" for similar behavior knows what I'm talking about.

2) Gender-neutral words for "mansplanation"-type behavior include great terms like "rule-crapping" and "info-dumping" (see Zuska's comment thread). As much as I like these concepts, though, they remove reference to the male privilege that makes mansplaining what it is. Mansplaining is not just holding forth; it's holding forth by someone who has the force of society behind him. A girl or woman can be a tiresome know-it-all, but she won't be praised and supported in her efforts while those around her are discouraged from showing her up.

3) I sympathize. Really, I do. Boys grow up hearing that the worst thing they can be is wrong, or weak, or like a girl--indeed, all of these horrible things are lumped together. Gentlemen, those times that you were called a sissy, or a girl, or berated for getting beaten by a girl on a math test, I was there too. I got the same message: girls are less than. Yes, it's hard to prove yourself. Now, prove yourself and try to make up for not being a son at the same time.

4) So, all the sympathy in the world won't make me let mansplaining (or whatever you choose to call it) slide.

I couldn't think of any way to express all of these inchoate thoughts, so I put it off and just included the link in today's blogaround. But comments in that thread convinced me that there is real interest in a similar though broader discussion here, so I'm opening one. Unlike Zuska's thread, this one is not limited to mocking the phenomenon, although examples are welcome. Discussion of social forces behind the phenomenon of Men Who Explain Things is on-topic, as are techniques for dealing with such Explanations. The different ways in which society responds to any and all genders of "rule-crappers" would also be on-topic. Comments about what it’s like to grow up afraid of getting scooped by a girl, or to grow up being that girl, and effects this has had on your communication skills are welcome. Debates over whether mansplaining exists, or is truly gendered behavior, or comments claiming that men are not privileged and/or calling us sexist, will be deleted, because we don't argue with cranks. Feel free to write about those topics on your own blog, but please stay on-topic here.

Finally, if you find that your comment boils down to "I've got hurt feelings", please refrain from posting it, and enjoy instead this lovely video:

Flight of the Conchords, "Hurt Feelings". Season 2, Episode 3, "Tough Brets"

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