I admit to befuddlement the first time I heard the word mansplaining. Was the term intended to offer a picture of the characteristic way guys sit with legs akimbo? Or perhaps the term described some kind of personal grooming practice of men. When I referred to my trusty collegiate dictionary, the word was not there, so I just had to figure it out on my own and wait for the term to be added to a reputable source.
I am delighted to report that I am ignorant no more. Mansplain was included among the 1,000 words added to the Oxford English Dictionary and one of 850 new words added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary this year. Here is the Merriam-Webster definition: “of a man: to explain something to a woman in a condescending way that assumes she has no knowledge about the topic.” Oxford English adds “patronizing” as a descriptor.
As I awaited an authoritative meaning of mansplaining to be revealed, I did some research via the Internet. Quickly I figured out the topic of mansplaining brings out a lot of us-versus-them feelings between genders. The terms feminist and chauvinist are commonplace when examples of mansplaining are shared, dependent upon the gender of the person offering the example.
When it comes to having something explained to me that “I ought to know already,” I have been on the receiving end from both women and men. Neither feels good. Both make me bristle.
I am not a fan of broad generalizations, particularly when it comes to gender issues. Not all men are alike—if they were, cherished Southern author Flannery O’Connor would never have written A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Nor are all women similar—to conclude such would be ludicrous. Thus, not all bossy men are pigs, nor all self-assured women feminists; they are just bossy and/or self-assured.
A primary reason noted to illuminate why women detest having something mansplained to them is that, apparently, when men explain, they assume they know what women should think, know, and believe. Truth be told, when it comes to having something explained to me that “I ought to know already,” I have been on the receiving end of condescending remarks from both women and men. Neither feels good. Both make me bristle.
My instinctive response to condescension is generally condescension in return. But I am not always pleased with myself after, as I can still hear my mother commenting, “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” So now I strive to offer my disdain with a dose of humor and a bit of charm. My response to mansplaining may sound something like this (and please infer a smile as the words are spoken): “I had no idea you knew so much about what women think! You must be highly successful in your relationships with women with this kind of knowledge. What’s that you say? Divorced twice and no girlfriend at the moment? Well, that is certainly hard to understand. Perhaps you can mansplain that to me.”
Bottom line, we all suffer when we presume to understand or believe we know someone else’s mind on a subject. A little patience and understanding and enhanced listening skills are of ultimate value when it comes to our relationships.
I’m here if you need me. Until then, y’all behave.