Explaining mansplaining

Why mansplaining serves as an additional barrier for women

By on April 25, 2018

 

For many women, the phrase, “Well, actually,” is a source of frustration because it is usually said by men right before they are about to mansplain.

What does that mean? Mansplaining is “when 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 does,” according to Merriam-Webster.

While there are many reasons to hate mansplaining, such as the fact it is just plain rude, the silencing of women is central as to why this behavior is such a huge problem. In a world where men have a hegemony on many aspects of society, mansplaining serves to silence women and allow for men to take up more space than they already do. Conversational real estate is an important concept when it comes to dialogue on various issues. Women are already underrepresented when it comes to positions of power, and are often at times left out of the room altogether. So, when women are invited to join the discussion, mansplaining serves as an additional barrier. After all, why would anyone keep engaging in a conversation if they were made to feel stupid every time they spoke?

Since mansplaining usually takes place behind closed doors, it can be hard for women to prove to men that the concept exists. Also, men may not always be cognizant of when they are mansplaining. That’s because the patriarchy empowers men to believe that they actually do know more than women. Still, there have been public incidences of mansplaining which help illustrate the concept.

One example of mansplaining involves Jessica Meir, a NASA astronaut and comparative physiologist. In September 2016, she tweeted a video of herself in a space equivalent zone 63,000 feet above the Earth’s surface. In the video, she showed how the water in her beaker boiled spontaneously, a fact which was highlighted in her caption. However, that did not stop a random man, with the twitter handle @CaseyOQuin, from replying to her tweet with his own take. “Wouldn’t say it’s spontaneous. The pressure in the room got below the vapor pressure of the water at room temp. Simple thermo,” he tweeted.

Twitter was incensed by this. How hard did Meir work to earn her career just to have some random guy on Twitter assume he knew more about space than she did? The pain was felt by women everywhere.

Meir’s mansplaining incident isn’t the only one that has gone viral. A 2014 CNN clip about street harassment also featured a public display of mansplaining. Basically, CNN had a panel of two women and a man, Steve Santagati, to discuss the catcalling of women.

Santagati, in all seriousness, told the two women that he’s “more of an expert” on the issue at hand. He even assured them that he’ll tell them why that is. His reasoning?

“I’m a guy, and I know how we think!” Santagati said. “More than you guys will ever know… The bottom line is this, ladies: You would not care if all these guys were hot. They would be bolstering your self-esteem, bolstering your ego, there is nothing more that a woman likes to hear than how pretty she is.”

Both women on the panel were visibly disgusted at Santagati’s remarks. While Santagati was invited to give his opinion, there’s a difference between expressing your viewpoint and claiming that you’re the expert. In this case, Santagati by default can never be an expert on what “a woman likes to hear.” First, he’s not a woman. Second, if women really enjoyed catcalling, then why are so many women fighting against it? With his statements, Santagati dismissed the expertise of the women on the panel an assumed that his opinion was the only one that mattered.

In both of these cases, the mansplainer is speaking from a point of entitlement. While the cause may seem to be nothing more than a slight social gaffe, this specific micro-aggression reinforces the bigoted power structures of society.

So to all the men out there, next time you’re having a conversation with a woman, listen to what she is saying and consider that she may actually know what she’s talking about.

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