Sarah: I have been studying a lot about climate change, it’s scary how much CO2 we emit. 
John: Ah yes, it’s a massive issue, but it’s not just carbon dioxide. There are many other significant contributors such as methane and nitrous oxide. 
Sarah: I’m aware nitrous oxide is also a concern due to fertilizers and industrial processes.
John: It’s almost 300 times more effective in trapping heat. But you know, the science of climate change is complex to understand, it can be overwhelming if it’s not familiar to you.
Sarah: Well, I have been studying environmental sciences at university. 
John: I can recommend some resources for you to understand better. 
Sarah: Thanks, but I have already covered the basics at my university. 

The dialogue above is an AI-generated example of a reality that many women experience on a daily basis.

Mansplaining, a term inspired by author Rebecca Solnit’s 2008 essay, “Men Explain Things To Me,” is when a man explains something to a woman that she already knows about in a condescending and patronizing manner.

It is a long-standing phenomenon where during conversations, women feel undermined and degraded by a man, even if they are experts on the specific topic. As we can see from the example dialogue above, it causes them to feel disrespected and undervalued.

Misconceptions of Mansplaining

Mansplaining is a widely known term, but it often may be unknowingly misused if people use it as a general term for when a man explains something. That, of course, is inaccurate.

Mansplaining, as a concept, doesn’t happen just when a man explains something, but rather when he condescendingly explains a certain subject; the difference is that he will attempt to teach a woman something with an attitude of patronizing superiority. This happens a lot more than people may think. 

DP teacher Ian Edwards comments on his experience witnessing mansplaining in the workplace, saying that there was an instance when I first was teaching, in a teacher meeting, when one of the other male teachers was speaking to one of my female colleagues in a pretty condescending way. 

He interrupted her mid-sentence and said, “Well I think what you are trying to say is this…” and Edwards stopped the male teacher, saying “No, excuse me, can you let my colleague finish, she was explaining something and I think she has a valid point different from you and I’d like to hear it.” 

Depending on the circumstances, mansplaining may happen intentionally or unintentionally. 

Mansplaining itself is rooted in toxic and misogynist behaviors that men and women are influenced by, whether it’s from male figures, social media, or anywhere else in the social sphere. 

Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics says that “men often use language to assert dominance, while women tend to use language to establish rapport and build relationships.” In other words, men express their opinions to achieve status and confidence. 

The teaching portion of mansplaining comes with the assumption that the woman knows nothing about the topic, so he feels the need to explain. Women are taught from a young age not to interrupt and to be polite; this causes mansplaining to be shrugged off as it is ingrained in their nature to be kind.

But naturally, men are socially conditioned to be confident in their ideas. It all depends on the power dynamics in the situation. If a man feels he has the upper hand, he might attempt to use that advantage in a conversation.

“Am I mansplaining” A flowchart created by Kim Goodwin for the BBC.

How to Handle Mansplaining

When being mansplained to, there are many ways to try to stand up for yourself, but it’s not uncommon for people to just ignore it. Some people tend to redirect the conversation, while others take ownership and stand up for themselves. It’s important to know who you are talking to, so you will be comfortable. Then, you can decide how you want to approach them. 

If you are a man, you could take action by asking questions about one’s expertise before offering them advice. You could also take the time to actively listen and wait until someone has finished speaking, and then give your perspective and thoughts. All these tips are useful in ensuring that the conversation is respectful and equal from both sides. 

 I have been in situations where men are mansplaining my job, and telling me why my job is important. I know that, but I have allowed it to continue because I don’t want to insult the person who is speaking to me. I don’t have great strategies, I either point it out or make a joke, and then they either get mad at me or they laugh and are sort of sheepish.

Drama teacher Jennifer Lawless

But what if you are a bystander?  Individuals may struggle with whether or not it is necessary to jump in, especially if they are men who may not understand if the woman needs assistance. It is important to identify the reaction of who is being mansplained to and see if they may need additional help.  

Real-life Examples 

According to a survey conducted by The Bite where the responses from women to men were equal, 53.8% of mansplaining experienced by students and teachers in AISB occurs in an education setting, while the rest is usually experienced in a social setting or online.

Here are some anonymous examples from the students and teachers themselves” 

They were explaining a sport that I know a lot about because I am from a country in which it is the most popular sport, and I have gone to many games. It was very annoying because I know a lot about American Football, and I didn’t need them mansplaining it to me. They did this because I’m a girl and could not possibly know lots about this topic even though I do because it’s a part of my culture and I always watch games with my family.

Grade 9 student

Many times before I have been talked down to by men as if I didn’t understand anything about said topic or as if I was unable to comprehend such a matter. Although sometimes the intent isn’t what it comes off as it is still very much mansplaining and makes one feel degraded.

Grade 9 student

When I worked in the music industry I would also have the experience of men who tried to explain who the bands that I worked with were even though they seemingly were aware of the fact that I was working with said bands/artists. Generally, it involves men interrupting, talking over me, or just talking endlessly about themselves and derailing conversations without having much awareness of how they are coming across.

Secondary teacher

Mansplaining is a common issue that many women of all ages around the world have to face in their daily lives and workplace. Additionally, as we see from our survey, this is a problem we can see within the AISB community which is important to address to educate students, as it is a common toxic behavior that many young men and women can easily be influenced by through social media and social norms. 

Should Mansplaining Be Gendered? 

Mansplaining is known to be a controversial term, and so individuals have formed different opinions and perspectives on the term as a whole. For example, Edwards states he would rather label the term as “condesplaining” instead, a word coined from a combination of condescension and explaining. 

Condesplaining happens when “someone is explaining something to you, in a very condescending and patronizing way. Now, I could freely admit that the number of times I have seen men do it to women far outweighs the number of times I have seen it happen the other way…but it does happen.”

DP teacher Ian Edwards

“I don’t think we should gender any kind of behavior,” Edwards says, “and the reason I say that is because I have been condescended to in explanations by other people, and sometimes other women. I have been condescended to by [female] colleagues [who have an attitude like] ‘Well, you can’t possibly understand this situation because you are a man.’  I don’t think that’s fair.” 

Mansplaining is a difficult term to distinguish as many people may interpret it differently. But, it is important to recognize that the person on the other end may feel as if they are belittled and unheard.

How we communicate with each other tells us how much we value each other, and humans feel, behave, and work more effectively when we feel valued. And so, actions need to be taken to communicate so both sides of the conversation are equal. 

The Bite invites you all to let us know your opinions and experiences below.