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What is mansplaining? When unsolicited advice is given to a woman by a man in a condescending manner & why women are fed up of this!
Are you a woman? Do you have expertise in a certain area? Do you find it difficult to keep up your opinion in front of some people? Have you heard of Mansplaining?
Most of you must have recalled that the title of this article is the title of Rebecca Solnit’s book.
She’s been writing over Mansplaining even before it was a literal word or an explained phenomenon, though highly experienced by women around the world, for ages.
TomDispatch reposted her work in August 2012 and soon after the term, Mansplaining came into the picture.
In the very first chapter of her book, she narrates her own experiences, as a writer on public platforms, where men have time and again tried to explain to her about things she had expertise in, about her work in which they didn’t have any substantial ground and about her authored books which they thought lacked some or the other thing.
Just one year after her work, the word mansplaining appeared in the Urban Dictionary of the English language. The Urban dictionary defines the term as “When unsolicited advice or direction is given to a woman by a man in a condescending manner. The reasons typically being, the man does not believe the woman is capable of completing the task independently and must need guidance.”
Another definition was given by Lili Rothman, a freelance writer, which presents a more neutral and broader concept that embraces the concept of mansplaining in The Atlantic. Rothman defines mansplaining as the act of explaining without regard to the fact that the person receiving the explanation knows as much or more about the subject than the person explaining it.
Even before it, some efforts were made and successfully came up with the website, ‘Academic Men Explain Things to Me’, with the subtitle ‘Where women recount their experiences of being mansplained, in academia and elsewhere.
It was an organic website that called women to share their experiences of being belittled by men around, for barely speaking up their minds. There is this one incident, in which the woman recalls being explained her subfield, as follows,
“Last month, I was at a leading conference in my field. My friend and I were talking to students from another similar school when one of the students asks me where I go to school and what subfield I work in. I tell him and then he asks me if I know one of the most prominent researchers in my subfield as an honest question. I say that I do. After that, he brags about working with said researcher and starts explaining what exactly my subfield is”.
Another woman shares her daughter’s experience:
“My teenage daughter (15) and her friend went to see the Men in Black 3 movie at the cinema. They enjoyed it for what it was, a light-hearted 90 mins of entertainment. That evening a male friend of hers asked her what she’d seen at the cinema that day and she told him. He told her the MIB was garbage and that she should see a real movie, and then proceeded to tell her that Prometheus was a REAL movie, not a nonsense movie and she would have been better off seeing it instead.
She told him that his taste in movies was different to hers, not more valid, not superior, just different and that she was entitled to enjoy whatever movie she wanted without him mansplaining her about it. He used to do it with her taste in music too. He had never heard of mansplaining, but he hasn’t spoken to her since his introduction to the term. Hardly a great loss.”
I think every woman can now relate to it and can recall numerous instances of being mansplained. Not every man does it, not only men do it, but it is something which has become an everyday phenomenon where generally women are at the receiving end which not only demotivates them to speak but also sows the seeds of self-limitation and self-doubt.
Mansplaining is a two-way process.
First, the overconfidence with which men carry themselves, the sense of authority they feel they have over women, their domesticating behaviour of being the guardian of women and self-proclamation of being ‘The One’ in an act or conversation.
Second, the instant setback that women experience even after knowing their knowledge and experience in the before questioned field and the chain of self-doubt that follows.
So, it is not only for men to stop lecturing around, but also for women to be firm in themselves, not to question themselves for being picked, and not to remain silent when she knows what’s in question.
Sofía García-Bullé further explains that it is this narrative that presents a specific type of person as the expert model, and anyone who does not fit into this prefabricated image is exposed to becoming the recipient of condescending conduct and annulment within their community.
Mansplaining and other forms of privileged explanations such as whitesplaining or ‘straightsplaining’ are just mechanisms of a larger apparatus designed to draw a line between minorities and the dominant group.
People belonging to social minorities, such as women, people of colour, or the LGBT community, are especially likely to receive this and other subtle exercises of condescension and exclusion. The impact of these practices can be significant in the long term because it discourages these people from being part of the scientific and academic community.
Rebeca argues in a similar line that women had been at war simultaneously on two fronts. One, for whatever the topic is, and second, simply to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to have facts and truths, to have values, to be a human being.
And wittingly she adds, “Intelligence is not situated in the crotch”.
In the case of the former, the other person can simply deny, laugh, nod to disagree or leave the conversation altogether.
Latter can take the form of aggressive arguments involving personal attacks, derogatory remarks, demeaning body language, rivalry creation or even threats of possible damage in future.
All these can have a grave mental and physical impact on women, ranging from low mood, anxiety, trouble speaking the next time, mental and physical fatigue, sense of not being enough, low confidence, self-rejection of ideas, and many more.
Just want the readers to know; lastly, what motivated me to write this piece.
A few days back a random man, 3-4 years younger than me, probably trying to build a career in modelling or so explained to me what feminism should look like. He went on to explain how wrong I’m in my approach towards it and that I needed more clarity.
I did my bachelor’s and master’s in political science from the University of Delhi (scored decently in both), recently got admission in PhD (University of Delhi) and a few of my articles have been published till now, written around the same theme. And this conversation left me questioning myself, at least for some time. This is not how things are supposed to be.
So girls, the next time you are mansplained, don’t settle for believing that you are any less or that you know any less, or your ideas and voice are less appropriate. You matter, your voice matters.
Image source: a still from the series Aani Kay Hawa
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