Is “Mansplaining” a Thing?

Is “Mansplaining” a Thing? November 21, 2016

Is “Mansplaining” a Thing?

Recently I have heard the term “mansplaining” three times in one week. I looked it up on the web and found several different definitions. Apparently it’s a neologism coined by someone, probably a feminist, to label an alleged male habit of talking down to knowledgeable women.

In other words, allegedly, often, men have a tendency to speak condescendingly to female peers when explaining something to them. In “mansplaining” a man speaks to a woman as if she were a child. It is supposed to be disrespectful of the equality of women with men–another example of men behaving badly, men engaging in a subtle form of patriarchy.

One use of “mansplaining” was in an otherwise very fine sermon by a woman pastor; she described the post-resurrection male disciples’ response to the women reporting about the empty tomb as “mansplaining.” Another use of it was on the television program “Madam Secretary” when the woman Secretary of State described a younger man’s explanation of a particular kind of internet hacking as “mansplaining.” Admittedly, the Secretary of State knew nothing about the subject and was so informed by the talk that she called on the young man to help her solve a problem.

Then I used the term “mansplaining” in a class partly just to see what the students’ reaction to it might be. I said that I had explained something to someone and hoped it was not an example of “mansplaining.” Some of the women students chuckled a little; most of the students didn’t seem to know what the term meant (although they no doubt figured it out).

My question is this: Is it fair to take a habit SOME men have and project it onto all men and label it as a “man thing?” What if men did that with women? Or with any minority group?

Sometime in the not too distant past I saw an article title (perhaps a blog post title) “Are All Men Pedophiles?” No doubt we, as a society, now have a tendency to be suspicious of any man we see talking to a child not his own son, daughter, nephew, niece, or grandchild–one-on-one.

A few years ago after some notorious examples of child abuse (some of which turned out to be false accusations) a city official said in the newspaper that any man who talks to a child not his own should be arrested. Not long after that I happened to be driving on a neighborhood street near my home and saw a small boy, perhaps seven, walking along the shoulder of the road (no sidewalks there) crying. He was definitely alone. I stopped about a quarter of a block ahead of him and, as he approached, asked him if he needed help. He immediately ran away from me. “Stranger danger.” Okay, I get that. But it’s sad that a man cannot help a child anymore.

Just a few weeks ago I was in a large, very busy grocery store alone, picking up a few items for dinner, when I happened to see a small boy, about three years old, alone in the toy aisle. I waited and watched from a distance and nobody approached him. Nobody was calling for him. He was obviously separated form his parents and possibly in danger in that extremely large and crowded “big box store.” So, I just stood at a distance and watched him and waiting until a woman came into the aisle. I asked her if she would take him to the store manager. I said “It’s better you do it than I.” She replied “Yes” in agreement to both my question and my statement.

Have we entered a cultural situation in which men are automatically perceived as bad because some men are bad? Some years ago I read a feminist declare that “All men are potential rapists.” Popular culture, especially television, has a tendency to portray men as sinister. On television one rarely sees a male character being heroic unless he’s a policeman or soldier.

I fear there is a widespread tendency to do with men what we are forbidden to do with any other group of human beings–blame them all for the bad behaviors of some.

Back to “mansplaining.” I’m sure there are men who talk down to women peers, who speak to them condescending as if talking to a child, about matters they are fully capable of understanding and may already know. However, I have experienced that sometimes from women. Just the other day I was in a medical clinic having tests done when a woman nurse spoke very sharply and very condescendingly to me about something I know quite a bit about. She treated me as if I were totally ignorant and corrected something I said that was not necessarily wrong at all. If she had been a man, her comment to me–both in terms of content and tone–would have been called “mansplaining.” But, of course, there’s no term for it when a woman does it.

Sometimes I am tempted to think that some feminists simply want to say bad things about men and keep coming up with stereotypes to project onto all men or as typical of men in general. I don’t think most men are guilty of talking down to women peers, speaking condescendingly to them as if talking to a child. No doubt some do. But I resist projecting that or any other trait, habit or tendency of some men onto all men.

Especially in academic circles and in popular culture men, especially white men, are now portrayed and perceived negatively. We are all either: nerds, molesters (or would-be molesters), oppressors, abusers, criminals, clowns, patriarchalists or worse. On television women hitting, slapping, kicking men is a favorite laugh-getter. It’s perceived, I suppose, as a woman getting back at men for all their oppressions of women over the centuries.

My thought is that it is never fair or right to project onto an entire group of human beings the bad behaviors of some of them. We now hear often that that’s wrong to do to Muslims. I agree. That was a major theme of a recent episode of Madam Secretary. But the one group of human beings it seems okay to do it to is men (especially white men). Now we have come to a situation where, culturally speaking, as a matter of perception that affects reality, a male stranger, whatever his good intentions may be, cannot help a child in danger or distress unless he is in some official capacity where that is his job.

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