Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Woman's Right to Mansplain

Once you're aware of Mansplaining you see it everywhere. In new situations, with new people, on TV, in books, but also in your history: your well-worn relationships, your family. Whomever coined the phrase should be awarded a medal for contribution to society, as naming the phenomenon has brought so many people, myself included, so much clarity and joy. That squeamy feeling of listening to someone explain something to you that you possibly already new without any regard for your education, attention span or facial expression was always something that created discomfort and confusion. I would often walk away feeling like a bad person - why am I having such bad feelings about that person right now? They were just explaining something to me. Why am I so arrogant as not to be able to simply sit and listen? What is wrong with me?

After an acute mansplain one can feel shivery and in need of a warm shower, a hug. The worst kind of mansplains leave one listless, disoriented, wondering what the point of life is.
Mansplaining is not particular to any demographic, though it is prevalent in middle-aged males. Let me point out there is a big difference between a mansplain and a good, long story. Mansplains may only last a minute or go on, seemingly, for hours. Not all long and winding stories by men are mansplains: some stories told by men can last hours and be riveting, engaging and inviting. Take Knaussgard's My Struggle, for example. Which leads me to the central tenet of mansplaining. Inviting. You can put the Knaussgard down, he’s ok with that. But you can't put Uncle Kenny down, he will never, ever give you the opportunity. A mansplain doesn't invite engagement - or anything on your behalf. You may as well not be there. A mansplain ignores your presence, your intelligence or your prior knowledge. You are a vessel, to be filled with splain. The splainer is only concerned with the sound of their own voice, their own piece of wisdom to impart. The splainer is unlikely to notice your eyes glaze over, you shifting from one foot to the other, and in extreme cases, even your wide-mouthed yawn.

Now, mansplaining, though definitely a male phenomenon, is not only practised by males. Females can deliver a good mansplain, particularly if they're politicians. Though one thing I have noticed recently as widely as I've noticed mansplaining, is a tendency in women towards the opposite. That is, an in-built over-awareness of mansplaining so profound, they are constantly checking themselves to make sure they're not doing it. Ie, they are so tired of being mansplained at, for centuries, that they have developed a skill to ensure they never do it to anyone. A woman may catch herself mansplaining and quickly 'wrap it up'. The 'wrap it up', and the 'come on, get to the point' are so present in the female consciousness, women have developed a succinctness and sharpness that makes men on panel shows seem like lumpy dinosaurs. One man the other night on an intellectual panel show was so good at mansplaining he had hoodwinked an entire culture into believing he knew what he was talking about. Surrounded by clever, quick-witted, precise and concise women, he was a dumb lump of dough but still mansplained so long and convincingly that the crowd applauded him. Even the women nodded graciously at his palaver. How did this muppet end up in such a position of authority? He'd mansplained his way to the top.

Women are just too aware of their audience. They are so aware of mansplaining, boring people, wasting their time, that when they have a story they really want to tell, their sentences often hop around and become choppy – you have trouble keeping up. What is she on about?  Look at her, apologising before she’s even begun the story, trying to justify the reason she thinks the story is relevant, why she’s taking up your precious time before she starts. Like now. Wrap it up. I am so concerned about mansplaining I'm sometimes mortified about speaking at all. But I want other women to talk more, so why wouldn't I?

This is why, as I sit down today there is a word in thick black texta written on a page above my computer.


Look out. Cover your ears.


  1. I feel you EBR. I get it. Women are so concise and to the point, the truth is, I find it scary. They are obviously so switched on and on top of their game, that their competence is not in question, at all. As I am one who appreciates economy of words, I am usually left feeling that there is no need to say anything at all, as the woman already nailed it in five words or less. Rather than mansplain, I usually opt for silence - the best thing a male fule can do, when he knows he is outclassed. Silence at least leaves the appearance of wisdom as a possibility in the eye of the beholder.