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Calling Out Academic 'Mansplaining'

October 16, 2012

"Mansplaining" is a term generally credited to a 2008 essay by the author Rebecca Solnit in The Los Angeles Times, although she did not use the term.

A new version of the essay and much web commentary have focused debate on this way of labeling how some men explain things to women with condescension, frequently ignoring the reality that the women may already understand whatever is being explained (in many cases, better than do the men). One popular definition: "Mansplaining is when a dude tells you, a woman, how to do something you already know how to do, or how you are wrong about something you are actually right about, or miscellaneous and inaccurate 'facts' about something you know a hell of a lot more about than he does."

It may not shock you that some say academe has its share of mansplainers.

A new blog lets women call them out, sharing stories of the insulting lectures or comments they have received. "Academic Men Explain Things to Me" features stories from female professors and graduate students about their experiences with mansplaining.

One sample: "I was talking to a male colleague in another department about film (my subject). He explained to me that films really aren’t that important, except of course for the ones he’d seen in his youth (which were then described in great detail). He then suggested that in order to avoid harming the students’ delicate sensibilities, it would probably be best if I restricted my syllabi to include only this limited sample."

Or for a graduate seminar experience: "A fellow male graduate student thought it was important to explain to me after a graduate seminar we shared who was 'brilliant' in our seminar and who was not (you know, because I was likely incapable of making my own judgments about what people were contributing to the discussion). In the same conversation he evidenced the exact same behavior -- rarely speaking in seminar -- to claim that [Female Graduate Student] was probably out of her league and barely spoke because she didn’t have much to contribute. On the other hand, [Male Graduate Student] who rarely spoke was pensive -- a clear 'thinker' who had mastered a powerful ability of Hemingwayesque understatement."

Readers are invited to send in their own stories, provided they do not identify the culprits.

The creator of the site is not identified there, and indicated via e-mail that she wanted to remain anonymous. "I think the site itself has more power if it's not attached to any one person's profile or discipline," she said. However, she said she is an associate professor in a humanities department.

"I got the idea for this site after conversations with female academic friends about the problem that started to be called 'mansplaining' sometime after Solnit first published her essay. The experiences were often subtle, but as a group they were telling: Some men assumed that women, even women with Ph.D.s and published research to their names, needed to be informed by the man in question, who assumed he must know more about whatever the topic was. I wanted both to provide women with a place to share their experiences and to document how depressingly similar these instances tended to be," she said.

Asked whether academe is worse than other parts of society when it comes to mansplaining, the creator of the site said that she wasn't sure, but that colleges may provide "a very telling case study" on the phenomenon.

"First, women in academia have documented expertise. They make their living by being really, really knowledgeable about something. And they are still assumed by some men to need that thing or other related things they know perfectly well explained to them," she said. "Second, academia is also an interesting case study because it helps draw the line between regular condescension and mansplaining. In the academy, we are so used to being purveyors of knowledge that probably we all, male and female, overexplain at one time or another. But overexplanation or condescension not the same as mansplaining, which refers to an assumption of knowledge backed up by the institutionalized sexism that lends the assumption weight, in both the eyes of the explainer and, often, the eyes of the world."

 

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