Mansplain to Me
I am routinely regarded, particularly by those who don’t know me, as a jerk. I know this because people in my office and my building remind me that this interpretation is widespread. They don’t do so cruelly; we all get along. But I am a curmudgeon and they are not and this is a sticking point. This isn’t new necessarily – I’ve heard this criticism at various times throughout my life – but I’m generally aware of what I’m doing that so turns off those around me.
For instance, when I do not smile at every single person I see, I understand that what they’re seeing is a 6’3”, 245lb man with what seems to be a permanent scowl on his face. I recognize that their entirely reasonable interpretation of this behavior is, “What’s his problem?” and a not-so-friendly reputation is born. When I was younger, I would often kick into what my wife calls Politician Mode, which is where I’m polite and friendly and smiling, but I really don’t see the point in playing that character on a daily basis, and the cost of that decision is the aforementioned reputation. I understand that deciding to do the one causes the other. Fair enough.
But one accusation that I do not understand it that of mansplaining. I’ve been on the receiving end of this a few times. It has always occurred on the internet, where tone and body language are quite obviously not part of the process. We ought to have thicker skins about such things and I often do, but this one has bothered me. I have a daughter and a wife and a mother and I don’t want to be the sort of person who acts though I’ve forgotten about their existence. The critique perturbs me so much that I want to better understand the concept. But I don’t and/or can’t.
When I’ve asked for definitions from real women, they’ve mostly balked, having never heard the term. When I’ve casually asked for definitions from the social media, it has been suggested that comment threads are one place to look, but all I see there is the occasional sort of asshole-ish behavior that comes as part of every internet commentariat. When I’ve gone looking for definitions online – such as this one from the great Jezebel – I always come away from the experience thinking the same thing: aren’t the people accused of mansplaining just being dickheads? And isn’t dickheadery something that both genders are capable of doing to one another or to each other? I’ve seen men be awful to women, women be awful to men, men be awful to men, women be awful to women…what I don’t get is how mansplaining is different than standard run-of-the-mill obnoxiousness. And that’s what I’m hoping you’ll explain to me.
Update: The very first comment I got questioned whether I was serious. I am. I want to understand this concept. I tend toward a world free from subtleties that would subdivide this asshole’s behavior from that asshole’s behavior. I just describe it all as dickery. Clearly though, mansplaination has caught on as specific subtlety, albeit one that I cannot get my head around. I want to better understand what is meant when somebody accuses somebody else of mansplaining.