Today’s New Noun: Mansplaining

By Jon Carroll
San Francisco Chronicle.

First I have to explain mansplaining, which I am entirely equipped to discuss. I was doing it long before it was a thing, long before it was a word. Discovering that it was a concept came as something of a shock. It was like not having a word for “chair” until someone figured out what to call it.

Some female friends on the Well introduced me to the concept. The Well is a small social networking site; indeed, the Well essentially invented the concept of social networking. The Well exists today entirely without ads; it does not sell its members’ names to anyone. So refreshing.

Mansplaining describes the tendency of men to explain stuff at great length. Often, the men are explaining something they don’t know a lot about, on the assumption that the person they’re talking to knows even less. Sometimes that assumption is wrong.

Which makes the guy look foolish, whether he knows it or not. Sometimes it’s more trouble than it’s worth to call a mansplainer on his errors, because: another explanation of why he’s not wrong. Or “technically” not wrong; no one can make up a technicality better than a mansplainer.

Another aspect of mansplaining: It usually involves men talking at length to women because they’re sure women could neither know nor understand the very essence of the thing they are describing, the intricate chain of logic and inference that leads us to the conclusion, and I will say this slowly, that gravity will explain why the fork falls on the floor.

Sometimes the mansplainer is not wrong; he may be the world’s expert on geology or geography or genomics, and he’s telling you unassailable facts about igneous rocks or the Bay of Fundy or DNA sequencing.
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Not facts you have asked for; not facts that you necessarily even understand.

Jargon may be involved.

And so, one listens. Men are victimized by mansplaining too, although often they’re just biding their time until they can mansplain the topic all over again. The mansplainer might have an amusing anecdote that illustrates his point. Sometimes the amusement is not shared by the auditors.

Of course, there’s womansplaining too. Those tend to be more like “why this thing will be good for you.” Rolfing, recovery, kale, tennis, communing with whales — whatever. Men tell each other how to run their lives only under extreme circumstances. At least, in my experience. I have no statistical information to bear that out.

I could explain why it’s inevitable that I’m right, but perhaps you don’t care. Shutting up is a very effective antidote to mansplaining. Indeed, shutting up is the answer to a great many things. Just smile and look mysterious; people will urge you to explain why. And you’ll resist that temptation, too. See, this is fun.

I mentioned mansplaining on Facebook, and every woman recognized the syndrome. Some told stories, amazing stories, of the things men had explained to them, including menstrual cycles and bra styles. Most women said it annoyed them, and snappy retorts were reported, but mostly they just did not bother to stop the flow of information.

The men recognized the syndrome, and almost all of them copped to being a mansplainer. I admitted it, too, and then probed my memory for specific instances. I did once explain magazine publishing to Mort Zuckerman, who owned magazines at the time. And I definitely mansplained the movie “Memento” until someone said, not unkindly, that I had missed the central conceit of the film. And then I explained to them why it was such a clever idea.

I was having dinner with friends at a fine Cambodian restaurant in downtown Oakland, and my friends had never heard of mansplaining. So I explained it to them, just as I have explained it to you. Obviously, a man explaining mansplaining to a woman is, shall we say, a slippery slope.

I found myself explaining the emotions that women experience when they are mansplained at. I believe I also explained something about gender. And I kept talking and she kept nodding, and, oh, my God: There it is again, coming from my very mouth.

I decided to have a talk with myself. I mansplained to myself why I should be very careful to explain only those things that I know to be true. And I should do it briefly and then allow others to have a turn in the conversation, and do that no matter how many incredible insights I had experienced.

Just for practice. Kind of a spiritual thing.

That lasted less than 24 hours. The next day, Tracy and I were driving across the Carquinez Bridge. “Stay to the left,” I said, “those are the FasTrak lanes.” Tracy stayed right. I urged her again to get over, and explained that the lane markings on this bridge were different than the Bay Bridge, and that was because blah blah.

“What does it matter?” Tracy asked. She waved her hand. In front of us, all the lanes were equally clear. I had ignored reality so I could explain it — to a woman. And now what?

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