Mansplainers shouldn’t be punished — they punish themselves enough already
The phenomenon of ‘mansplaining’ was originally identified in an essay by journalist Rebecca Solnit, titled ‘Men Explain Things to Me‘. Solnit recounts instances where men have attempted to give her lessons on her areas of expertise, despite only possessing cursory knowledge of the subject themselves. When the term took off, it soon became clear how ubiquitous Solnit’s experience was.
Since then, a nebulous fog has fallen over the topic again. Two great misconceptions arose about mansplaining: the first, that it was an issue of men talking too much, resulting in an onslaught of male backlash squawking about women talking more than men. But talking too much was never the complaint — the complaint was a lack of pro-social conversation. The mansplain is not discourse. It’s an exclusionary lecture.
The second misconception is that women are victims of mansplaining, and so men should make amends for the damage they cause.
Let’s be clear: women aren’t hurt by mansplaining. A man can approach a woman, lecture her about something she already understands, and when he leaves, she can continue unimpeded with her day. She has not lost knowledge; she has not lost dignity.
He, on the other hand, has.
The mansplainer is a distinct type of man. The Dunning-Kruger effect shows how people with low levels of competence have a cognitive bias which gives them high levels of confidence. People with higher competence levels are less self-assured. These men don’t mansplain. They still explain — but their doubt also opens their minds to listen, and learn from every interaction.
Highly competent men engage in co-productive discourse with their peers. Incompetent men mansplain. They believe their knowledge is more insightful and exclusive than it is — resulting in the painful, pontificating lectures most woman will remember from work socials and break rooms.
What’s unfortunate is that it’s more difficult then for those men to learn, or grow more competent. Overconfidence traps them under a glass ceiling.
And that ceiling is, unfortunately, gendered. Men seem to feel a particular need to assert themselves in the presence of women. They feel a particular pressure with the women in their lives to uphold cultural expectations of masculinity, which ask men to not only be impervious emotionally, but also impervious intellectually. The result of this is a grand act of pea-cocking of which mansplaining is just a by-product.
The peacock’s fuel is a pervasive, unhealthy vision of male-female relationships: that of the knight, and the dame slung over his shoulder. It positions the man as a figure who protects, guides, and teaches the woman. This may be perverse, and may be labelled misogynist, but oftentimes, this does not harm the peacock’s subject.
In efforts to fill protective roles and prove their imperviousness, male acquaintances have: deliberately run in front of me to open doors, insisted on carrying my stuff that I was already reaching for, and taken over manual tasks such as opening jars without being asked.
That’s not a problem for me. Honestly — it saves me that extra calorie exertion of turning a door handle. There’s no need to take affront from men playing knight if it makes them happy. They are just coping with their manxiety.
This oppressive pressure damages our peacocks, however, as it erodes their capacity for emotional sensitivity and self-reflectivity, qualities which elasticise minds to change, and intellectual development.
Toxic masculinity, peculiarly, holds emotionally sensitive men in contempt. They’re assigned derogatory, emasculating terms such as ‘cuck’, and ‘mangina’, which are designed to undermine their ability to attract women, or be a traditional man. Self-doubt becomes a repellent, thoughtfulness a humiliation. Mansplaining manifests in men who lacked female interaction in their formative years, and treat their insecurity through pea-cocking overboard. Equally, it manifests in men who have always viewed themselves as alpha males, prided themselves in their avoidance of cuckoldry, and developed illusory overconfidence in their abilities.
Mansplaining is a pervasive symptom of a deep-rooted stigma against male learning, and a toxic image of masculinity.
Mansplainers themselves are not threatening. They’re often decent guys who think they’re playing the role they’re meant to play. Thank them when they hold doors open for you. Listen and nod when they try to teach you something. Laugh if you have to — I sure do. It won’t do you any harm.
But guys — fight it. Don’t fight mansplaining to help women, fight it to help yourselves.
J.W. von Goethe once wrote: “We know with confidence only when we know little; with knowledge doubt increases.” He was a smart man; he didn’t mansplain. Be like J.W. von Goethe.