In case you’ve never heard of the term “mansplaining,” I’ll give you an example. A few weeks ago, in response to a question posed by a Facebook friend (“Share something about yourself that not many people know”), I confessed that I’ve never seen a Star Wars movie. Gasp! Oh the horror! Before I knew it, some friend of a friend commented with detailed instructions about the proper order for me to view the films. He neglected to figure out that there was actually a specific reason why I’d never seen any of the movies. Instead, he mansplained how I should go about fixing my problem.
To be clear, women also do this. I know I’ve been guilty of “womansplaining” from time to time, most likely by way of a spelling lesson. Gender has nothing to do with it. Rather, it’s about figuring out whether you’re responding to a sincere inquiry with a legit answer, or whether you’re actually being condescending. The Star Wars guy simply assumed that I needed his helpful offering, he was very nice about it, and I was more amused than offended. This isn’t always the case.
On the other hand, there are situations when mansplaining is absolutely 100% warranted. Let me share one of my favorite blonde moments. A few years ago, I came out of Office Depot to find that my car had a dead battery. I called for roadside assistance, and when the guy came, I sheepishly told him that I actually didn’t know how to open the hood of my car. He patiently showed me how, and then added “but your battery is in the trunk.” We both laughed. He mansplained (a) because he was a man; and (b) because I asked.
When a friend asked me to proofread an article he was submitting for publication, I decided to take an extra moment to explain about possessive plurals. That’s a perfect example of womansplaining because he asked me to proofread, not to give him a grammar lesson. I can’t say for sure that I wasn’t the tiniest bit condescending, and that’s probably why he hasn’t again reached out to me.
Overall helpfulness notwithstanding, the whole mansplaining culture can be avoided by asking a preliminary, clarifying question. I could have asked my friend if he wanted me to simply look for typos, or whether he needed me to address any grammar issues. The tone we use is also imperative in determining whether we’re perceived as condescending or whether we’re viewed as being kind and helpful.
And in case I haven’t womansplained this enough, I’d like to point out that this is a legitimate term. Here’s how Dictionary.com defines it: “to comment on or explain something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner.”
If you think you might have a tendency to mansplain (or womansplain), please take a moment to figure out whether you’ve actually been asked to share your expertise and, regardless, please check your tone.