Mansplaining 101: How to Discuss Politics and Feminism Without Acting Like a Jackass
Most women can give you about 3,000 examples of times when they had to endure mansplaining. Whether on the job, online, or in your personal relationships, mansplaining is a pervasive part of being a woman.
A lot of the time, mansplaining is a major cause of a breakdown in conversations between men and women. Women are tired of having subjects that they are highly educated in explained to them like they're children, and they sometimes react in emotional ways. If you're having a reasoned, intelligent debate with a woman and all of a sudden she throws her hands up and says "OK! Stop talking to me like I'm an idiot," you're likely a mansplainer.
If you're new to feminism, mansplaining is that thing where men explain things to women without acknowledging their intelligence, knowledge, or familiarity with subject matter. It's paired with a "slimy certainty" (thanks Urban Dictionary) that the mansplainer is right because he's a man.
If you're not sure that you've mansplained in the past, check out the Mansplained Tumblr. There, you'll find plenty of great examples of mansplaining, and I'm going to guess that you'll find some words that you've said to women before.
It's gross, obnoxious, and you shouldn't do it. If you're a man who wants to be a feminist ally (or avoid pissing off all the women you know), mansplaining is something that you should knock out of your repertoire. I've put together this handy guide to help you know when you're mansplaining.
1. Check your tone.
I'm usually not down with tone policing, but since the arguments of women are almost always rebutted with "you don't have to be so feisty," or "you’re so cute when you’re mad," it's best that you avoid being condescending when having an intelligent conversation with a woman. Don’t let the words "maybe if you were nicer, your point would be more widely accepted" slip your lips. Not mansplaining isn't about being nice, it's about being respectful of a person’s intelligence.
In a world where bold, assertive women are considered bitches and their male counterparts are considered leaders, your condescension will only serve to infuriate anyone who's trying to have an argument that doesn't reinforce gender norms. You should also probably avoid talking over women when you're having a debate or discussion. Shouting down a woman's opinions is probably the most insidious form of mansplaining in that it sends a clear message that she should just shut up and sit down.
2. Drop Your Assumptions About Men Being Better At Anything
If you can tell me a thing men are better at than women, you're mansplaining. You're telling me that men are inherently more skilled or better suited for things like science, math, and manual labor, and that's just not true. Sure, men are (most of the time) physically larger and stronger than women, but that doesn't mean that women's sports don't matter, or that female soldiers don't do essential work. You’re minimizing their experiences, or worse, erasing them, while simultaneously making your feminist friends want to rip your eyes out. This applies to argument, as well. Just because you know a lot about a subject doesn't mean that the woman you're discussing it with doesn't. Your expertise doesn't override our experiences, particularly when it comes to to women's health or rights.
3. Stop Thinking You Know More About Everything Than Women
Don't assume that your girlfriend/co-worker/mom doesn't know anything about subjects like computers, cars, yard work, or science. Google exists, and I'm sure the women in your life know how to use it. If you do, in fact, know more about a subject than a woman you're having a conversation with, qualify your knowledge. You can say "Well, I'm pretty sure there's not a flux capacitor in your car because I spent four years in Auto Shop class and work on cars as a hobby. Might be time to get a second opinion." That sentence is much more helpful than "What the hell do you know about cars?" When your female companion replies "Oh, that's interesting. I could've sworn I learned about flux capacitors when *I* was taking Auto Shop," don't act surprised or call her a liar.
4. Remember: You Have No Idea What It's Like to Be a Woman
When discussing issues that disproportionately affect women, like access to reproductive healthcare, remember that you'll never have to decide how to handle an unwanted pregnancy. You'll never have anyone tell you that you’re a slut for using birth control. You have no clue what it's like to live as a woman and what sexism is like. Don't minimize women's problems. Don't tell them that street harassment isn't a big deal. It isn’t a big deal to *you.* When a woman gives you her perspective on an issue that affects her, listen. Absorb what she has to say. That's what being a good ally is, not talking over someone until they give up and "agree" with you. This point is particularly important when you're talking to women who are part of other marginalized groups, like queer women or women of color. Their life experience is much more educational than anything you could ever read.
5. Respectful Arguments Will Make You a Better Ally
Feminists are tired of hearing about all the "nice guys." They want the nice guys to prove that they're nice by listening, calling out sexism, and actively working to make their spaces feminist. Feminism doesn't need to make room for men, men need to make room for feminist ideas in their spaces. That doesn't mean mansplaining. That doesn't mean the Good Men Project. It means working to make the workplace, home, and public spaces safe and inclusive for women. It means not standing up for rape jokes when stupid comedians insist on making them and supporting women when they call those comedians out.
I don't think the majority of feminists want to exclude men from the movement. Feminism needs men to use their privilege to spread these extremely important ideas. At the same time, it needs men to check their privilege before coming into a feminist discussion. These checks are not restrictions on your free speech, nor are they an attempt to tell you what to say; they exist to keep your words in context.
If you're a man, you're probably guilty of mansplaining. That doesn't mean that you're a bad person or a bad feminist, just privileged. That privilege isn't erasable and you shouldn't ignore it. You should check it at the door and listen when feminists talk. You don't have to agree with them. You don't have to think that their words are gospel, but you should respect them.
Should the argument take a disrespectful turn on the feminist's end, maybe consider if you've been mansplaining. If said feminist gets annoyed with your rhetoric, find out why. Don't be dismissive of their concerns. Again, listen.
We need men to be feminist allies, but we don't need more of the same. We don't need men who claim to be feminists and still support very anti-feminist ideas. There are plenty of guys who can play activist to score a date with a babely feminist, but far too few men who want to do the actual work that's involved in being a feminist.
Feminists are not always right, but neither are you. Mansplaining is a scourge in academia, online activism, and the blogosphere that discourages women from participating in the dialogue. If you consider yourself a true feminist ally, stop doing it. Most importantly, back up women when they call it out.