The sub­tle art of mansplain­ing

Why do some men as­sume they al­ways know more than women?

Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur) - - Comment -

It’s not a new con­cept, re­ally. Men have been con­de­scend­ing to ex­plain things to women who al­ready know the things be­ing ex­plained to them for sev­eral cen­turies now; but a won­der­ful word cap­tur­ing the essence of the phe­nom­e­non has only ex­isted for about a decade. This word is ‘mansplain­ing’. Men — some­times well-mean­ing, and very of­ten not so much — tend to take ex­plain­ing things, es­pe­cially to women, very se­ri­ously.

The term ‘mansplain’ came about in dis­cus­sion fo­rums re­act­ing to the Amer­i­can writer Re­becca Sol­nit’s 2008 es­say ti­tled, ‘Men Ex­plain Things to Me: Facts Didn’t Get in Their Way’. In it, she re­counts the ex­pe­ri­ence of meet­ing a man at a party who tried to ex­plain to her that she should read a par­tic­u­lar book, with­out stop­ping to hear — sev­eral times — that it had been her, in fact, who had writ­ten it. This phe­nom­e­non, and in­deed, this term has found so much trac­tion, and be­come so pop­u­lar in re­cent times, mostly be­cause of how fa­mil­iar the oc­cur­rence is. Too many women have found them­selves — in meet­ings at the work­place, in par­ties among friends, and even at home — at the re­ceiv­ing end of mansplain­ing. Men of­ten speak over bet­ter qual­i­fied women, in­ter­rupt­ing re­peat­edly; and they tend to ex­plain things to women, even when they are not re­quired to, even when the women they are ad­dress­ing are the bet­ter-in­formed of the two. The prob­lem is not the ex­pla­na­tion it­self. It is the as­sump­tion that a woman be­ing ad­dressed must ob­vi­ously not know more about the sub­ject than the man. That the man, on the sole ba­sis of his gen­der, must ob­vi­ously, know bet­ter. Anec­do­tal ev­i­dence across so­cial me­dia and per­sonal in­ter­ac­tions re­veal that this is a ge­o­graph­i­cally, eco­nom­i­cally, lin­guis­ti­cally ag­nos­tic phe­nom­e­non, seen across coun­tries, eco­nomic strata, and lan­guage.

All that is asked is that men be­come a bit more self-aware. It is en­tirely pos­si­ble that cen­turies of liv­ing in a pa­tri­ar­chal cul­ture has caused men to be un­aware of this quirk of be­hav­iour; that their cul­tural con­di­tion­ing makes it hard for them to over­come this sort of cog­ni­tive bias. But a start must be made. Ex­plain­ing things is a good thing, to be sure. But per­haps it would help if those ex­plain­ing would learn to pause in their ex­po­si­tions to check if this ex­pla­na­tion is, at all, re­quired. Per­haps the com­ing year is the one in which this unig­nor­able prob­lem of mansplain­ing fi­nally be­gins to fade away — along with the het­eropa­tri­archy.

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