Poetry has the capacity capture complicated ideas and emotions in only a few lines — to get at the core of an experience and make it fully relatable, even when the best word we have for it is a clumsy portmanteau like “mansplaining.” Written by contemporary English poet Wendy Cope, this poem perfectly explains mansplaining, that awkwardly-named, yet all too common, phenomenon of a man unnecessarily explaining something to a woman about which she is already well-informed. A poetry lover posted the poem to Twitter today, and — surprise, surprise — a bunch of people responded to explain why she’s wrong about mansplaining. Because life is a perfect circle, everyone.
In honor of the UK’s National Poetry Day today, Felicity Morse tweeted Cope’s poem, “Differences of Opinion,” with the caption, “Wendy Cope nails mansplaining — before Twitter is even invented.” Read the full text:
He tells her that the earth is flat —
He knows the facts, and that is that.
In altercations fierce and long
She tries her best to prove him wrong.
But he has learned to argue well.
He calls her arguments unsound
And often asks her not to yell.
She cannot win. He stands his ground.
The planet goes on being round.
I love it.
Published two years before the term “mansplaining” was coined in 2008, “Differences of Opinion," which appeared in a 2006 edition of Poetry Magazine, demonstrates that the experience of being talked down to by virtue of being a woman existed well before the word did. (An article in The Atlantic traces examples of mansplaining all the way back to the 18th century.)
To be clear (because this comes up almost anytime someone mentions mansplaining), mansplaining is more than a guy simply explaining something to a woman. There are endless, perfectly valid reasons that a man might need to explain something to a woman, and vice versa. Sharing information and opinions is great (and necessary)! The negative dynamic of mansplaining comes in when a man assumes that the woman he’s talking to is ignorant, wrong, or confused because of her gender. It occurs when he assumes that he knows more about her experiences and her body than she does. Or when he chooses to enlighten her on a subject in which she is already an expert. (And that is not to say that women never act in condescending ways toward men, but mansplaining is a distinctly gendered phenomenon arising from a culture that routinely privileges male voices).
The response to Morse’s tweet and Cope’s poem has been strong; in the least surprising development ever, a bunch of guys took to Twitter to tell Morse why she’s incorrect and sexist. Morse, bless her, played along and let them amply prove her point.
My favorite bit is the guy in the last tweet, telling her to read the Wikipedia page on mansplaining. I'm crying.