Wednesday, 18 June 2014

I Learned Something Today

Today I learned what the word "mansplaining" means. I'd seen it before, and its meaning seemed fairly obvious to me, but it seems that I had it wrong.

It turns out this is a certain kind of bad behaviour, which in theory could be done by anyone but which is observed particularly in men. It is explaining your position in a certain condescending way - assuming the person you are talking to doesn't know that you are right merely because they don't understand you, particularly when you have no idea what you are talking about and they actually do.

I had thought it meant, "shut up about this if you are a man."

I'm a little bit conflicted about the message to shut up if you are a man. I'm a man, so it would seem to exclude me from some things. Then again, maybe I don't have to be included in everything. I have my own little corner of the world here where I get to say what I want, I don't need to get to say what I want everywhere else. I don't like it, but I don't have to like it.

I'm much less conflicted about the idea that we should try not to condescend people or pretend we know things we don't. I pretend I know things I don't nearly all of the time, but that's because I'm a mentally ill pathological liar. I also understand that we should try not to go off on long-winded rambles that talk over other people even though I do that too.

As for the part where you assume your audience has no idea what you are talking about, that's worthwhile in the written word or in lectures, but not in conversation. Guilty again.

What I'm not really conflicted about at all now is that "mansplaining" seems like a terrible word to express that concept. I would say that there are very good odds that people who are accused of doing this don't actually realize what they are being accused of doing. And if they look it up on line they are as likely to find a source that tells them my misunderstanding of the word as they as to find one that tells them what it was intended to mean.

The observation that men tend to be condescending to women in conversation seems like a pretty valid one to me. I think that word adds more confusion than clarity to the issue, though, extrapolating from my sample size of one.


  1. I use 'splainin' more frequently because I think it seems more to the point since the problem is about explaining things in a condescending or otherwise inappropriate way.

    1. Wow, that term is hugely preferable. Very glad to hear from you here since I felt like an absolute jerk writing this.