Rhea was driving back with her husband on the way back from a party at their friend’s house a few kilometers away. Raj was sitting beside her and offering driving tips – “The traffic light is turning red. STOP!”,” Slow down; you are approaching the junction”. To top it all, when they neared home he said, “Straight and on the right”. For God’s sake, that’s been their home for the past five years and Rhea drives to work and back home alone almost every day.
Sapna was watching a cricket match with her boyfriend on a Saturday evening. In response to a target of 230 runs, our team was 205/8 in 48 overs. This was the opportunity that Anil took to explain to me how the game is poised right now and that we needed to make 25 runs in 12 balls to win. Sapna had been watching cricket since her childhood.In fact, Sapna and Anil had together watched many games in the past!
On a coffee break with the colleagues at work, the topic of conversation was about labour pains and child-birth. Saurav was telling Gunjan that child birth was not that difficult because women earlier used to work in their homes and fields right after child-birth. Gunjan had just joined back after her maternity leave and had gone through 18 hours of labour during child-birth, which left her exhausted for weeks.
The girl gang was discussing periods and menstrual cramps in the college canteen. Simran’s boyfriend announced that menstrual pain is all in the mind. If you do not think about it, it’s not going to hurt. Really? Simran twitches in pain every month.
These incidents or similar ones are very common among men and we have a term to describe it – Mansplaining.
A relatively new word, but has existed since ages
The term “Mansplaining” can be credited to Rebecca Solnit who in her 2008 essay called “Men Explain Things to Me: Facts Didn’t Get in Their Way”, recounted the time a man explained a book to her without acknowledging that she herself wrote it. Solnit did not use the word mansplaining in the essay, just explained the concept. Over the years the term was picked up and popularised by feminists across the world to explain the common frustrating occurrences in daily life that Solnit describes as “something every woman knows”.
Mansplaining is a combination of ‘man’ and ‘explaining’. The Oxford English Dictionary describes mansplaining as “(of a man) explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing”. Mansplaining, in simple words, can be described as “the practice of a man explaining something to a woman in a way that shows he thinks he knows and understands more than she does.”
What causes men to “mansplain”?
Mansplaining may not appear to be a very big problem. It can easily be brushed off as funny, sometimes annoying and sometimes boring. But it points out a much deep-rooted problem in the society – the presumption that a woman will be less knowledgeable, less competent and somehow in need of a man to explain things to her. “Helping out” a woman comes naturally to men because our patriarchal society has embedded in them the feeling that they are superior to women and they need to care of them.
Does this affect a woman? Of course, it does. The constant interruptions and unsolicited suggestions, as Ms. Solnit notes, “crushes young women into silence” by telling them “that this is not their world.” She adds, “It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.”
Should Women react to Mansplaining?
Girls are taught since childhood to act pleasant, be polite and to not embarrass men. They are expected to be a pleasant audience when a man is talking and not to interrupt it. The reverse however, does not hold true. Women in several areas of life tend to play down their achievements or knowledge so that they do not hurt a man’s ego. When a woman objects to mansplaining, it is usually perceived as being rude and lacking appreciation. It is unacceptable because it is seen as an attempt to change the society hierarchy which confers the man as the default authority in a conversation. This society hierarchy has to change. Women should proudly accept and celebrate their success and achievements, just like men. Women should be able to voice their thoughts and opinions, likes and dislikes, just like men. Women should be treated and accepted as equals. So, women definitely need to speak up against unwarranted mansplaining, because as they say,
“You can forgive them for their ignorance, you can’t for their arrogance.”
They do not even know they are mansplaining
Many times, men do not even realize that they are “mansplaining” and do not do it on purpose. Their intention, in many cases, may not be to demean a woman. A tweet by Kim Goodwin went viral a couple of years back, where she created a simple flow chart for her male colleagues who wished to understand if their behaviour could be classified as mansplaining. This can also be a handy reference to women who are told by men that their intention was only to “help” and “improve” them in an attempt to defend mansplaining and to men who just do not realize it.
(Credit: Kim Goodwin)
Is this too trivial to address?
Compared to the many other issues prevalent in the society, Mansplaining might seem not too serious. But it’s the small changes in our outlook that will help create a gender-equal society in the future. That’s our hope and dream, isn’t it?