Mansplaining, (verb) is a portmanteau of the words man and explaining, defined as "to explain something to someone, typically a man to woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing." Lily Rothman of The Atlantic defines it as "explaining without regard to the fact that the explainee [sic] knows more than the explainer, often done by a man to a woman," and Rebecca Solnit ascribes the phenomenon to a combination of "overconfidence and cluelessness" that some men display.
The neologism showed up simutaneously in multiple places, so its origin is difficult to establish definitively. In an opinion piece entitled "Men who explain things", Solnit relates an anecdote about a man at a party who said he had heard she had written some books and she replied by talking about her most recent book on Eadweard Muybridge whereupon he cut her off and asked if she had "heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year", not knowing that she was the author. The word soon became popular among feminist bloggers and then in mainstream political commentary, as a much-needed term for an old concept and a frequent experience. It was selected for New York Times ' 2010 word of the year list; nominated for American Dialect Society's most creative word of the year in 2012; added to the online Oxford Dictionaries in 2014; and engendered parallel constructions such as whitesplaining and rightsplaining. As the word has become more popular, some commentators have complained that its misappropriation, overuse, and overly-broad use have diluted its original meaning and made its use counter-productive, or even inflammatory, in some instances.
Mansplaining also covers a heterogeneous mix of mannerisms in which a speaker's reduced respect for the stance of a listener, or a person being discussed, appears to have little reason behind it other than the speaker's assumption that the listener or subject, being female, does not have the same capacity to understand as a man or should not be given the same respect as a man. It also covers situations where it appears a person is using their conversation primarily for the purpose of self-aggrandizement, by holding forth to a presumed less capable female listener in order to appear knowledgeable by comparison.
Rebecca Solnit's original essay took the idea further than the bare concept of mansplaining, to cover its consequences, which she describes as covering many situations where women, whether members of the public or professionals and experts within some area, are routinely seen or treated as less credible than men, or as needing a man to validate their testimony or insights, stating that this is one symptom of a widespread behavior that "keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence".
Mansplaining differs somewhat from many other forms of condescension since it is specifically a gender-related form of condescension and is rooted in a sexist assumption which assumes that a man will normally be more knowledgeable, or more capable of understanding many matters, than a woman.
Mansplaining is considered a patronizing act in gender divisions and has been generalized to include racial divisions and political divisions, for example whitesplaining and rightsplaining.
The word is thought to have been first used in 2008 or 2009, shortly after San Francisco essayist Rebecca Solnit published an April 2008 blog post titled "Men Explain Things to Me; Facts Didn't Get in Their Way." In it, she did not use the word mansplaining, but defined the phenomenon as "something every woman knows". Her post involved the story of a man she met at a party, who began to didactically describe to her a recent "very important" book (which it transpired he himself had not read, but had read about in a review). The man needed to be told by her accompanying friend three or four times that Solnit was in fact the author of the book concerned, before actually paying attention to and absorbing the information that the woman he was trying to explain the significance of the book to was, in fact, the author.
Solnit's original essay went further, to cover the consequences of this gendered behavior, drawing attention to its effect in creating a conspiracy of silence and disempowerment. Solnit later published Men Explain Things To Me, a collection of seven essays surrounding this theme.
A month later the word mansplaining appeared in a comment on the social network LiveJournal, and its usage has grown since. The term quickly gained wide recognition, and in 2010, The New York Times named mansplainer as one of its "Words of the Year."
Since 2010, journalists have described U.S. Republican politicians including then-presidential nominee Mitt Romney, then-vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan and Governor of Texas Rick Perry, MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell, and various characters on the HBO drama series The Newsroom as mansplainers.
In 2013, Dictionary.com said it was adding both mansplain and the suffix (libfix) -splain to its dictionary. In its announcement, Dictionary.com explained its reasoning in putting more emphasis on -splain suffix: "In addition to being creative, this term, particularly the -splaining part, has proven to be incredibly robust and useful as a combining form in 2013". It noted that the meaning of mansplain has changed somewhat since 2009, from "intense and serious to casual and jocular", with the older -splain words still have "heavy cultural and political connotations and are often added to the names of politicians.
The usefulness of the term is disputed. Given its gender-specific nature and negative connotation, the word has been described by Lesley Kinzel as being inherently biased, essentialist, dismissive, and a double standard. Annie-Rose Strasser states that the term is too easily misunderstood and misappropriated, which makes it counterproductive in calling out problematic behaviour. She cites the coinage of the term "womansplaining" to describe a woman interacting with someone in a condescending manner as evidence of this misappropriation.
- Steinmetz, Katy (18 November 2014). "Clickbait, Normcore, Mansplain: Runners-Up for Oxford’s Word of the Year". Time. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
- Zimmer, Ben (5 January 2013). "Tag, You're It! "Hashtag" Wins as 2012 Word of the Year". Visual Thesaurus. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
- Rothman, Lily (1 November 2012). "A Cultural History of Mansplaining". The Atlantic. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
- Solnit, Rebecca (20 August 2012). "Men still explain things to me". In These Times. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
- Doyle, Sady (1 May 2014). "Mansplaining, Explained". In These Times. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
- Solnit, Rebecca (13 April 2008). "Men who explain things". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
- "New words added to OxfordDictionaries.com today include binge-watch, cray, and vape". Oxforddictionaries.com. August 2014. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
- Zimmer, Benjamin and Carson, Charles C. (2013). "Among The New Words". American Speech 88 (2): 196–214. doi:10.1215/00031283-2346771.(subscription required)
- Strasser, Annie-Rose (3 March 2013). "Why We Need to Stop 'Mansplaining'". ThinkProgress. Retrieved 22 August 2013.
- Hart, Benjamin (20 October 2014). "RIP “mansplaining”: How the Internet killed one of our most useful words". Salon. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
- Jaschik, Scott (16 October 2012). "Calling Out Academic 'Mansplaining'". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
- Robinson, Anna (1 December 2012). "The Art of Mansplaining". The Nation Institute. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
- Men Explain Things to Me; Facts Didn't Get in Their Way - April 13 2008, essay, Rebecca Solnit
- Sifton, Sam; Barrett, Grant (18 December 2010). "The Words of the Year". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
- Cogan, Marin (1 August 2012). "The Mittsplainer: An Alternate Theory of Mitt Romney's Gaffes". GQ. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
- Stoeffel, Kat (12 October 2012). "Mansplaining Paul Ryan Meme Came True". New York. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
- Weigel, David (27 June 2013). "Mansplaining the Mansplainer: Rick Perry's Accidental Abortion Honesty". Slate. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
- Ioffe, Julia (8 August 2013). "Dear Lawrence O'Donnell, Don't Mansplain to Me About Russia". The New Republic. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
- Stuever, Hank (11 July 2013). "'The Newsroom' vs. 'Honey Boo Boo': Which one really gives us more to think about?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
- Weigel, David (5 August 2013). "Trying to Tolerate The Newsroom, Week Four". Slate. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
- Greenwald, Andy (16 July 2013). "Death by Newsroom". Grantland. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
- Solomon, Jane (6 December 2013). "Word Watch 2013: -splain". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
The possibilities are seeming endless on the -splain front. This gives Dictionary.com reason to believe that -splain is not just a temporary fad, but rather a stable new addition to English along with its libfix cousins like -gate, -pocalypse, and -zilla.
- Kinzel, Lesley (16 August 2012). "Why You'll Never Hear Me Use the Term 'Mansplain'". XoJane. Retrieved 22 August 2013.
- Men Explain Things to Me; Facts Didn't Get in Their Way - April 13 2008, essay copy
- The dictionary definition of mansplaining at Wiktionary