There was a shocking moment during a recent congressional hearing when Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin actually said to Rep. Maxine Waters, Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, over a heated exchange of whether he was dismissed or not, “You’re supposed to take the gravel and bang it.” She responded, “Please do not tell me how to conduct this committee.”
Okay, first of all it’s a gavel. Gravel is what is in the driveway of your home you lost in foreclosure to predatory lending companies. Secondly, this is the United States Congress, not Judge Judy. Mansplaining memes went wild.
The Oxford Dictionary defines mansplaining (yes, it is not only in the dictionary, it was on the long list of Oxford’s words of the year in 2014): the explanation of something by a man, typically to a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing. Others call it simply, “correctile dysfunction.”
While examples may not be as egregious as a man on Twitter explaining how space works to an actual female astronaut, or something he has no personal experience with, from pregnancy to push-up bras to menopause, it is disconcerting and annoying nonetheless. At its worst, it brings out some disturbing world views. One man on Urban Dictionary describes mansplaining as, “Explaining it to a woman who a) has a very shallow life which won’t allow her to be depth minded enough to understand the issue or b) has been brainwashed by the mainstream brand of lesbianic feminism of these days.”
Where do I start? Look, Urban Dictionary isn’t exactly part of a Masters & Johnson sexual study, and some of the things they come up with (don’t even get me started on the “screwnicorn”) are out there, yet this particular definition had some of the most thumbs-up viewer votes. I’m not sure if I actually took the time to point out to the poster the irony of him mansplaining “mansplaining,” he would get it. Is that womansplaining?
Anybody can have a Captain Obvious moment, of pointing out something clearly the other person knows, but mansplaining often has its roots deep in gender stereotyping. If it is mechanical, scientific, or sports-related, she has no experience, or if it is complicated, she shouldn’t worry her pretty little head about it. Men statistically are more likely to interrupt women and this is especially true when women are more knowledgeable on the subject. And men may not have taken the extra step to ask if she would actually like to have something explained to her. Mansplaining is also not restricted to ignorant or insensitive men.
One woman tells the story: “I was on a date with a guy and he was driving. I was freezing so I asked him ‘Do you mind if I turn the heat up?’ He indicated to the air conditioner nob (which dictates the temperature with red and blue lines) and says ‘It’s here, if you turn it towards to blue, it goes colder, but if you turn it towards the red, it goes warmer.’ To his credit, though, when I started laughing and said ‘You totally just mansplained that to me,’ he said, ‘Wow I did, I’m sorry . . .Want to learn how to open a car door too?’ Nice guy, we still talk.”
But for me, the most disturbing part is men mansplaining feminism — equating the term feminist with man-hater or as a woman not attractive to men, so she is bitter. Here again is the Oxford Dictionary, feminism: the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.
The trick with all the ‘splaining is to do it with respect. Don’t make assumptions about what someone does and doesn’t know. And if in doubt, here’s a thought . . . just ask.