Mansplaining: A Reluctant Introduction

When I was in high-school, I naively tried to share a cool new algebra technique I just learned and got really excited about, to my then boyfriend. Without going into much detail, he was so indignant that I, a mere girl, dared to teach him something, he scornfully asked me “Are you really trying to teach me this?” and embarrassed I immediately said “no, of course not”. It was one of my earliest introductions to the male ego. While generally men and it seems boys, take it upon themselves to explain things to women, it was unacceptable that a woman would do the same. Even, it seems,  if she has expertise on the matter.

Last weekend, after giving a talk on gender equality and feminism for a small gathering I go a fresh new introduction to mansplaining, the offspring of the male ego. The reaction to my speech, as usual, was mixed but cordial which I considered a general success. At the end, I stood aside for the usual tirade of questions, comments and of course instructions. I was not disappointed. A young man, perhaps five years younger than me, deemed it necessary to inform me of his experiences in Germany. Apparently (please read sarcasm here), all the women have turned masculine in Germany and none of the men want them. He kindly informed me that I should keep these consequences in mind as I pursue my feminist crusade. If I was dealing with any other branch of social politics, I would think that this was a subtle warning from the patriarchal establishment: ‘Stop what you are doing or no man will love you’.

In the feminist dictionary, what he did is so aptly called, mansplaining, ie men’s patronizing explanations on something that women already know if not have exponentially greater expertise on. mansplaining is not a conversation between equals; it is basically one more way that men can assert their dominance in the patriarchal hierarchy trough condescension by basically insulting a woman’s intelligence by lecturing her as he would a child. It is always amusing to come into contact with the persistent mansplainers, which i usually get bombarded by once I identify as feminist. There are the usual recurrent mansplainers who deem it necessary to school the feminist on the evils of feminism and how she is too good of a girl to  be a feminist to the usual no one will love you if you are a feminist threat.

There are debates on whether or not mansplaining is purely a gender based phenomenon only attributed to men or whether it is just an obnoxious human behavior. Now, not all men mansplain, but in my context mansplaining is a daily reality. It is there in the subtleties of the usually considerate men telling me how to drive to the men who have no expertise in gender issues telling me what is wrong with my work and my personal politics Usually, it is the kind but unsolicited comment or interruption where if you are new to this, you have a moment or two to bask in the glow of having another human being care so much about your development. This almost always abruptly ends with the realization that this has less to do with support and more to do with appeasing his male ego.

I recently had the opportunity to moderate a discussion where there were prominent personalities in the Ethiopian arts sector present. The event was coordinated by a women’s association and the first thing out of one speaker’s mouth is to ask “what do all you privileged women do getting together to talk?”. The gist being that a group of privileged women with such a lack of community consciousness have no business holding meetings when there are so many bigger problems in the world. Godess forbid, meeting to simply to network and learn from each other is tantamount to a cardinal sin. While there is a call to dismiss mansplaining from the feminist dictionary because it is a pejorative term that puts feminists in the defensive, I rather we keep mansplaining in the feminist dictionary a while longer. How else can one explain such embodiment of conceit?


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