How to Explain Mansplaining

explaining mansplaining

I took my daughter to piano lessons one day, and waited in the piano teacher’s living room while she taught a small class of students downstairs. A father was in there, too. I was getting ready to butcher chickens in a few days, and I was taking orders for chicken meat from the piano teacher and anyone else who might like some. I mentioned that to the dad,

“I use the pastured poultry method espoused by Joel Salatin,” I said. And that was all it took. He just started an endless monologue about raising chickens. The only problem was that he had never actually raised chickens at all.

“Oh, you raise chickens for meat?” the man said, “There was this guy I heard of from Australia who raised chickens for meat and he said…” This Dad talked about something he knew nothing about for I don’t know how long. Fifteen years or so, it seemed like. It was a true manologue. He had many misconceptions about chickens, in general, and every time I tried to interrupt him and tell him he was wrong, he didn’t even hear me. He went right on talking.

So, basically, this is a textbook definition of mansplaining (if only there were feminist textbooks): A man goes on and on in a condescending way about something he knows nothing about, talking to a woman whom he assumes to know nothing. The woman knows more than the man thinks she knows, but he will never find that out. The thing that makes mansplaining different from simply talking too much is the assumption by the man that the woman knows nothing. He has unconsciously assumed she knows nothing because, you know, she’s a woman.

How does this happen so often? It’s been proven by sociologists that men talk more than women do in mixed groups of people (groups with both men and women). And women encourage it. Women talk less and interrupt less frequently than men do, especially, again, in mixed groups of people. Women worry about negative consequences for speaking out, and sadly, our worries are founded! (Source: Yale University Study) Women who speak out more do experience backlash, in the way of being thought of or referred to as too aggressive or “unlikable.” And so, we speak less. Even though we may know a lot, we don’t always say so. We don’t want to brag. We want to be ladylike. And maybe that man knows a lot, after all. (We also have a confidence problem, as a group.) Which in turn gives men time to speak more.

From the get go, women are told in subtle ways that we do not count as much as men do. Look at this game my daughter and I play together. It’s called “Guess Who?” It’s a two player game, and each person has a board that only they can see. The board looks like this:

 

Guess how many women are on this board?
Guess how many women are on this board?

 

Each person draws a card with one of the characters on it. Then the players ask yes/no questions until they guess who the other person drew. The winner is the one who guesses the other person’s face correctly first.

If you draw a woman in this game, you’re probably going to lose, because of the twenty-four characters represented, only five are women. Your opponent need only ask, “Is your character female,” and they have already narrowed it down to five. Now, beyond making the game sort of stupidly unfair, this arrangement is really annoying. In a game where you are choosing from a sampling of people, why are only 21 percent women? I don’t know. Maybe because whoever conceived of this game didn’t really consider women to have the same amount of value as men?

My daughter likes this game a lot, so I haven’t thrown it away or anything. I just make sure that every time we play it, I say,

“I can’t believe there are only five women in this game. That’s so stupid, because you know fifty percent of people are women.

Okay, so now you probably are saying, “So what?” And in the scheme of things, it’s not a big deal. Except… well, except that so  many things are like that. Most main movie characters are male and speak more than female characters. Even when princesses are the main character, they speak less than the male characters in their movie. (Source: The Washington Post ) And then there are all the women’s magazines constantly telling women how to please men. Men, it seems, don’t want to hear all of your “thoughts.” It’s better to just look good (and be good in bed) than to sound good or be intelligent. Look thin. I think these magazines are so prevalent that we don’t even see them anymore. At least, I don’t. But look:

Women's Magazines
A Google search of women’s magazines brings up lots of skin, lots of diet tips, sex tips (for pleasing men), tips on looking good. And that is pretty much all.

 

For comparison, this is what a search of men’s magazines looks like:

Mens magazines
Men wear more clothes. The emphasis is more on fitness than looking good for women. Improved sex is advertised, but not specifically for pleasing women (or men).

When the men are wearing clothing, my eye automatically goes to their head, which is of course where I think we should be looking on the women, too! And notice how when these famous men do a photo shoot, they aren’t required to be half naked. If you see a naked person, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say your first instinct is not to ask them to explain serious subjects. Your mind goes to… other things. But when you see someone wearing business attire, or even a nice fitting teeshirt, and he is looking right at the camera, my first instinct is to actually wonder what he has to say.

So, I don’t know how to cure society’s ills, but I do want to say this: If you are a woman, stop doing this if someone doesn’t know what he’s talking about:

Interrupt and say, “You’re wrong because…” I should have done this to the chicken guy. I didn’t. I waited for someone else to come along, and then I slipped out. I left him mansplaining to another woman! I’m sorry, Sister. You deserved better. I was afraid of being rude, but this man was being incredibly rude to me, and I should have called him out. Louder. So that he heard me.

Another way to make women’s voices heard is to, when you are in a mixed group, listen for intelligent things said by women, and then repeat them to the group. Example, “I like what Jeanette Andrews said when she mentioned that…” And build on it. Do that improv trick, “Yes, and…” But always make sure to mention the woman by name. Validate her. If you have a choice between quoting a man or a woman, all things being equal, quote the woman. Together, we can have a bigger voice.

If you are a writer, make sure you write female characters who talk about more than how to impress men. If you are a board game designer, please have as many female pieces as male pieces (if your game has characters with gender). If you are parent to a daughter, turn a blind eye sometimes to yelling, to burping, to telling bad jokes, to stating opinions about subjects that interest her. You have to stop her when you would stop a boy, is the idea. It’s hard to figure out where the line is, sometimes, but please try. You might also try letting her get really dirty and blowing things up out in the yard, letting her shoot arrows, build rockets- you get the idea. If she’s into that stuff. And teach her that humans both male and female should try not to make assumptions about someone else’s knowledge, or lack of knowledge. 

Of course, we all need to listen to one another, most of the time. And we almost all talk too much, sometimes. When all else fails, I hang out with the chickens.

 

 

 

Shoshanah Marohn
Shoshanah Lee Marohn is a writer and illustrator whose books include the recent children's book, "Murgatroyd Buttercups," the almost-best-selling "Birds in Beards Coloring Book," and the notorious "Avoiding Sex with Frenchmen."

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