Mansplaining has become a common term these days. You hear it everywhere, even to the point that Jimmy Fallon and Hillary Clinton did a parody of it on his show where he explained the complexities of politics to her. Most men, however, when asked if they are guilty of this form of communication would reply, “No, of course not!” But take a moment to think about it guys, are you really sure?
Mansplaining as it’s defined is nothing new, it has been happening for eons. It is only recently that the practice has been given a media worthy name and been thrown into the spotlight as an insulting, masculine form of communication.
As the name suggests, mansplaining is when men attempt to over explain something to women in what is perceived as a condescending manner, often by interrupting the woman first. The men often portray themselves as being far more knowledgeable on the given topic than the woman with whom they are speaking (very often not the case.) And it implies that a woman couldn’t possibly understand the concept at hand without the aid of the man and the need for his abrupt interruption and explanation. So guys, why do we do this?
For most of the men guilty of mansplaining it is something they have done inadvertently and not in an actual attempt to talk down to the woman in question. It is, rather, the way they have been taught to communicate in general. Men are taught from a young age that displays of confidence and stoicism are how you assert dominance in society, and that being perceived in that manner is of primary importance. To this end, making sure that those around them see them as the authority by “explaining” things asserts, or reinforces, the pecking order. This can be especially true in male-female communication where men consciously, or perhaps subconsciously, want to impress a woman in attempt to be seen as a potential mate.
So guys, since most of you would claim you are not “mansplainers”, would you even recognize it if you were doing it? Probably not. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ways men do this.
• Portraying themselves as more knowledgeable than a woman on a subject in which the woman is an expert. “Chimpanzees are really aggressive and mean. In fact, they pose a real danger to those that try to research them in the wild”, says a man to a female primatologist.
• Telling a woman what she will or won’t like. “Don’t even bother with that, you won’t like it.”
• Telling a woman what she thinks or how to portray herself. “You should smile more” or “You think that this is all really complicated, but it’s not.”
• Expressing verbally assumptions about a woman’s knowledge on certain areas.
“You wouldn’t get it — this has to do with football.”
Any of these sound even vaguely familiar? Some are more overt than others, but they all happen.
It is important to note that this interaction can occur between men too. It may be a bit more subtle and for a different purpose, but it happens. In the case of communication between men and establishment of hierarchy, mansplaining may manifest more as control of a conversation by choosing topics on which they can display expertise and demonstrate authority.
Mansplaining-like behavior can also be intentional. Whether driven by narcissism, insecurities, anxiety, or something else, we all have experienced the “know-it-all” who tries to dominate the conversation. In the case of mansplaining there is generally a feeling of condescension that goes along with it which can make the interaction even more frustrating.
Communication between men and women can be complicated and manplaining as a form of communication occurs in all walks of life and has for years. But that doesn’t make it effective or acceptable. And although it is referred to as “mansplaining” that doesn’t mean that women might not be equally as guilty of the same offenses. It is important for us all, male or female, to think carefully before we speak. Especially if we actually want to be heard and taken seriously.
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