Here Is What Mansplaining Actually Looks Like, Because It's Way More Common Than You Probably Think
Sometimes mansplaining is easy to spot, especially if you follow the trail of sentences that start with “Well, actually…” However, examples of mansplaining aren’t always overt; indeed, they have often become so commonplace, we don’t think twice about them.
If you need a refresher, mansplaining is when a person (usually a cisgender man) explains something to another person (usually a woman or someone who is non-binary) in a particularly condescending way — typically a topic the person being mansplained to is actually an expert in themself. A “mansplanation” also implies that the person best suited to explain the topic at hand is a man, regardless of subject matter and whether or not the man present is the one most qualified to do the explaining. This is the key difference between a person just explaining something and mansplaining. While a general patronizing tone is a facet of mansplaining, it doesn’t necessarily need to be present in order for something to be categorized as such. Like a comment that wasn’t “meant to be racist” but was still perceived as racist, impact usurps intention.
Mansplaining is harmful because it insinuates that women and non-binary individuals are less qualified than cisgender men to speak on any given topic. It implies men know best, regardless of subject matter and expertise. It is rooted in the sexist notion that a person’s thoughts, opinions, and ability to express those thoughts and opinions are superior and more valid when that person is a man. If you’re curious what mansplaining, both overt and coded, looks like in practice, here are seven examples from real life.
1. Congressmen’s Condescension of Sally Yates
During her testimony on Monday, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates swatted down some particularly patronizing questions from Republican congresspersons. During Ted Cruz’s interrogation of Yates, his attempts to impugn her judgement of the travel ban by criticizing her presumed inability to identify a specific section of the law by name did not go over well. Twitter was especially into Yates’ responses throughout her testimony, with one user noting that she “has the face of a woman who has had to patiently explain things to men way too many times.”
2. Matt Damon Explaining Diversity to Effie Brown
During an episode of the series Project Greenlight, a show in which established industry professionals seek aspiring filmmakers for a project, Matt Damon tried to explain diversity to Effie Brown, a producer who’s worked on projects like Dear White People and who is black and female. When Brown expressed concerns about their film project’s potential race and gender problems, suggesting a more racially and gender diverse team would be better suited for the project, Damon responded with this: “When we’re talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show.”
The privileged explaining here is two-fold, exemplifying both mansplaining and whitesplaining. Damon, who is a male and white, asserts he knows best when it comes to how to handle racial and gender diversity, despite opposition from Brown, the only woman color in the room and the only person who’s likely experienced racism and sexism first hand.
3. Reactions to This ‘New Yorker’ Cartoon
Being told why you do or don’t like something is commonplace in the mansplaining cannon. For every time I’ve said I don’t like a joke because it’s sexist, I’ve been met with an explanation for why I just “don’t get” the humor being presented to me. The above cartoon by artist William McPhail sums up the broader category of mansplaining art and culture. However, the post was met with much confusion from people, namely men, who said they would have responded the same way had they heard the question at hand. I wonder if they’d like to explain irony to me as well.
4. Former Rep. Todd Akin Saying There Is Such a Thing as “Legitimate Rape”
If I spend more than a couple sentences talking about such an absurd comment, Gloria Steinem will likely apparate in front of me and take away my internet. So, I’ll be brief: In a conversation about abortion rights which occurred in 2012, then-Missouri Rep. Todd Akin said a woman cannot get pregnant in cases of “legitimate rape.” While he retracted the comment, you simply cannot unring the “legitimate rape” bell. Men explaining women’s bodies to them is a tale as old as time but one that still persists this day. For example, a cisgender man recently tried to explain to me, a human woman who menstruates, what Midol is. Yes, that Midol.
5. “Women in Other Countries Have It Worse” As A Response to Sexism in the United States
In a conversation about how I’ve experienced sexism personally, I’ve had men say something to the effect of, “Yeah, but women in other countries have it way worse.” Not only is this delegitimizing my own experiences, it’s asserting the notion that I don’t understand the full scope of sexism globally. Do sexists practices and laws exists around the world that are harmful to women physically, socially, and economically? Yes. However, that doesn’t negate the discrimination women face essentially everywhere, including the United States, based on institutionalized sexism and the way women are viewed culturally.
6. British MPs Telling Suffragettes in 1906 That They Didn't ACTUALLY Want To Vote
If you want evidence of how mansplaining throughout history has been harmful, look no further than the public debates by British Parliament about women’s suffrage. For your masochistic pleasure, here’s an actual quote that was said out loud, in Parliament, in objection to why women shouldn’t have the right to vote:
There were times and periods in women's lives when they required rest not only for mind but for body, and to drag them into the political arena under these conditions would be cruel indeed. There were also periods, particularly in a married woman's life, where it would be absolutely impossible for her to discharge her duties as a Member of this House... What influences would be used by women on men and men on women in order to secure votes?
Allow me to sum up: You see, ladies, you really don’t want to vote because it’s boring and your periods are exhausting enough as it is. Furthermore, you’re probably going to bang dudes in exchange for votes. (Cue the chorus of screams.)
7. A Man Explaining Something That Wasn't Asked To Be Explained
A pretty solid rule of thumb for whether or not something is mansplaining is this: Did someone ask for something to be explained? If not, and especially if the person speaking isn’t an authority on the subject at hand, then it likely falls into the greater categorization of mansplaining.
People sharing their thoughts on a subject is, of course, not inherently bad or wrong. Scientifically speaking, diversity makes us smarter. Hearing opinions and experiences that differ from our own is good for us individually and societally. Mansplaining does the opposite of this, feeding into and stemming from the underlying assumption that dudes know best. By acknowledging when someone's voice is not being valued, we can begin working towards a culture that values everyone and their voice equally.