April 18, 2024 opinion

Womansplaining mansplaining

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Alia Saphier in New Jersey, United States

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September 19, 2009. During the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards ceremony in New York City, rapper Kanye West took the microphone from – at the time 19-year-old – best female video category winner Taylor Swift and said: “Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’mma let you finish. But Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time! One of the best videos of all time!”

Picture by: Damien D. | Flickr

Mansplaining. If you’re a woman, I can almost guarantee that you sighed at that word.

For many women, whether it be in an educational or professional setting or while simply watching television, mansplaining is a common occurrence.

The first important concept to grasp while understanding mansplaining is the line between explaining and mansplaining.

According to the American dictionary publisher, Merriam-Webster, Mansplaining, as a verb, is ‘to explain something to a woman in a condescending way that assumes she has no knowledge about the topic’.

In other words, if a woman knows (possibly even more than a man) about a certain topic and a man continues to explain what she already knows, he is mansplaining.

Mansplaining has been documented since the 17th century and represents a larger, more harmful social trend instead of just being a fun pun of the word explain.

Throughout history, the commonality of patriarchy has left the male population with a feeling of entitlement. This feeling may have sprouted from the expectation of women to move from their homes when getting married, or the simple emphasis of men in the eyes of both law and society.

While the more obvious tell-tale signs of patriarchy may have faded over time, with more women taking a working role (77.8% as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics), mansplaining is one remnant of the superiority complex caused by our patriarchal society.

It’s been my experience and of other women I love that the over explanation of topics women know plenty about, men crush their sense of confidence and value when discussing that topic.

Instead of confidence in their knowledge, women feel that their knowledge is not valuable, and they should remain silent, which diminishes both their self-view and their possibility for power, as a study conducted by Becker’s Hospital Review demonstrates.

How to break the cycle

If you’re a guy, you can learn how to stop this. Examining the feelings of a woman after a conversation or situation where mansplaining may have played a role is one way to reflect. If you are a woman, seek opportunities to advocate for yourself.

To illustrate this better, some questions created by The Guardian can guide you through those situations. For instance:

I must acknowledge that this behaviour can occur in reverse, in which a woman would over explain a topic to a man in which he was more knowledgeable than she is in a condescending manner. However, it doesn’t have the same impact on men as it does when women experience mansplaining.

Learn more:

Competence-Questioning Communication and Gender: Exploring Mansplaining, Ignoring, and Interruption Behaviors

A study conducted by Caitlin Briggs demonstrated that women who experienced mansplaining had significantly more negative outcomes than men who were put in a reverse situation because women felt that mansplaining was a form of questioning their competence as a woman.

The men in the experiment, in contrast, did not register the difference between being over-explained to by a man or by a woman, and felt that it was not a question of competence according to gender and more believed that the person was just being rude.

This raises a very important question: How do you prevent mansplaining?

The BBC discusses a commendable approach to this question through the answering of a few, smaller, easier to answer ones, such as:

  1. Do they want an explanation?
  2. Are you making bad assumptions about competence?
  3. How does bias affect your interpretation of the above?

Now, if the answer to the first question is yes, then explain away! Your answer was solicited and therefore will not qualify as mansplaining. If the answer to the first question is no, then further analysis is required, which leads me to question two.

The second question can be boiled down to the amount of expertise a person has. If you know more, then you are not mansplaining: you are just explaining. However, if you are of equal level of competence with a woman and find yourself over-explaining, you run the risk of mansplaining.

And, the third question assesses the unconscious biases that can come into play in a certain situation.

Finally, in a situation where mansplaining may have occurred, please take a step back and reconsider your answers to the first two questions. Oftentimes, people are defensive of their own choices and therefore will automatically choose the answers that proclaim their own innocence. However, this reflection and re-evaluation is meant to allow a consideration of biases, whether they are conscious or unconscious.

To further understand the process of mansplaining we recommend looking at a helpful diagram created by BBC’s feature correspondent, Kim Goodwin.

When finding yourself in a situation where you may have mansplained, do not panic! There is a way out. The first step I would advise taking is to give the woman in question a quick but genuine apology.

Personally, apologies can go a long way, and by admitting you were wrong in your mansplaining, you can possibly rebuild the confidence that may have been knocked down. A second step I would take is to examine why you fell prey to mansplaining.

Societal history has allowed for sexism to take route, whether consciously or unconsciously, in many of us, male, female, or nonbinary.

No one is at fault for these behaviours: societal expectations and norms have allowed them to become something we have inherited. But this can change with us, and it is up to us to leave mansplaining in the past.

Written by:

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Alia Saphier

Publisher

New Jersey, United States

Alia Lael Brühl Saphier was born in 2006 and currently studies in Englewood, New Jersey.  She joined Harbingers’ Magazine in 2023 as a contributor and social media manager. In 2024, she became the publisher.

Alia attends the Manhattan School of Music precollege for classical voice and is an editor for her school’s foreign language magazine. In her free time, she plays the violin, guitar, and ukulele. Her wider interests also include songwriting, reading, traveling, acting, and creative writing.

Alia speaks English, German, and Spanish.

Edited by:

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Maria Mitko

Women’s Desk editor

Warsaw, Poland

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