‘Mansplaining’ is a term used to describe a situation where a man talks condescendingly to someone, especially a woman, about something he has incomplete knowledge of, with the mistaken assumption that he knows more about it than the person he’s talking to. The term is commonly credited to Rebecca Solnit for her 2008 essay, which became a 2014 book Men Explain Things to Me. Although Solnit did not coin the term, her book crystallised the concept and helped popularise it.
In the book, Solnit wrote about meeting a male person writer at a party who kept interrupting her while discussing her latest project. The man butted in persistently, talking over her to ask if she’d read a new, important book on the subject — oblivious to the fact that it was actually Solnit’s own book he was referring to!
Solnit says, “Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.”
If you’re eager to explain something to someone, or feeling the need to interrupt a person speaking, ask yourself-
- Has the person asked for an explanation?
- Why am I so eager to give an explanation?
- Do I have a negative opinion of their competence?
- How much do I know about their knowledge on the issue?
Unsolicited explanations may be fine (within reason) if you’re someone’s teacher or manager. Explaining after they’ve declined your help is almost always disrespectful.
Too often women, who are experts in their field, experience mansplaining by men who have no experience in that field, possessing only an inflated opinion of their own knowledge. Watch this video to further understand mansplaining and why it is so infuriating!