The term “mansplain” has gotten a good deal of press — including from me. I first saw the term in Dr. Erin Reeve’s study entitled “Mansplaining, Manterrupting & Bropropriating: Gender Bias and the Pervasive Interruption of Women.” She defines “mansplaining” as “a man interrupting a woman to explain to her something she actually knows more about than he does.” In other words, a man “talking down” to a woman because he presumes he knows more. (If you need an illustration, view Jimmy Kimmel’s spoof of mansplaining to a well-known woman.)
A male friend recently suggested that “it goes both ways.” He is widowed and has taken over lots of tasks his wife used to handle. In domestic matters, he finds, women assume he is helpless. He was responsible for hosting an event last month and experienced “womensplaining.” A woman friend insisted on going with him to the grocery store, repeatedly offered to come early to set up things, and told him things that were rather obvious — for example, that he needed a table cloth!
I know this woman had good intentions; she wanted to help. But I can see why he felt discounted and “talked down” to. She assumed she knew more than he. Maybe she did, but she was condescending. Just like men can sound condescending (even when trying to be helpful) when they assume a woman doesn’t know about finance or automobile engines or plumbing.
So it appears to work both ways in the domestic world of traditional divisions of labor. In the business world, where women are relative newcomers (but not that new!), the phenomenon leads to greater sensitivity. Many women have decades of business experience and deep business or technical expertise. So, when a man presumes to know more . . . well, that’s not being helpful; that’s mansplaining.
Both men and women need to be aware of stereotypes about “men’s work” and “women’s work” — and who knows the most about what. I am going to watch out that my own unconscious biases don’t cause me to “womansplain.”