Mansplaining (a blend word of man and the informal form splaining of the gerund explaining) is a pejorative term meaning "(for a man) to comment on or explain something, to a woman, in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner".
In its original use, mansplaining differed from other forms of condescension in that it was said to be rooted in the assumption that a man is likely to be more knowledgeable than a woman. However, it has come to be used more broadly, often applied when a man takes a condescending tone in an explanation to anyone, regardless of the age or gender of the intended recipients: a "man 'splaining" can be delivered to any audience.
As the word became more popular, several commentators complained that misappropriation had diluted its original meaning. Joshua Sealy-Harrington and Tom McLaughlin wrote in newspaper The Globe and Mail that the term has been used as an ad hominem to silence debate.
The verb splain has been in use for more than 200 years, originally as a colloquial pronunciation of the Late Middle English word explain. It came increasingly to refer to condescending or verbose explanations. Dictionary.com noted that the meaning of mansplain had changed somewhat since 2009, from "intense and serious to casual and jocular", while older -splain words still have "heavy cultural and political connotations and are often added to the names of politicians".
Origin and usage
The term mansplaining was inspired by an essay, "Men Explain Things to Me: Facts Didn't Get in Their Way", written by author Rebecca Solnit and published on TomDispatch.com on 13 April 2008. In the essay, Solnit told an anecdote about a man at a party who said he had heard she had written some books. She began to talk about her most recent, on Eadweard Muybridge, whereupon the man cut her off and asked if she had "heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year"—not considering that it might be (as, in fact, it was) Solnit's book. Solnit did not use the word mansplaining in the essay, but she described the phenomenon as "something every woman knows".
A month later the word appeared in a comment on the social network LiveJournal. It became popular among feminist bloggers before entering mainstream commentary. Solnit ascribed the phenomenon of mansplaining to a combination of "overconfidence and cluelessness". Lily Rothman, of The Atlantic, defined it as "explaining without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer, often done by a man to a woman". Solnit later published Men Explain Things to Me (2014), a collection of seven essays on social issues and human rights themes. Women, including professionals and experts, are routinely seen or treated as less credible than men, she wrote in the title essay, and their insights, or even legal testimony are dismissed unless validated by a man in some countries. She argued that this was one symptom of a widespread phenomenon 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."
In 2010, it was named by the New York Times as one of its "Words of the Year". The word was nominated in 2012 for the American Dialect Society's "most creative word of the year" honor. In 2013 Dictionary.com said it was adding both mansplain and the suffix (libfix) -splain to its dictionary. Its announcement read in part: "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." In 2014 it was added to the online Oxford Dictionaries.
Journalists have used the word to describe the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney; President Donald Trump; Governor of Texas Rick Perry; MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell; various characters on the HBO drama series The Newsroom; music executive Jimmy Iovine; Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull; actor Matt Damon; and consumer rights advocate Ralph Nader. In February 2016 the term sparked an argument between two members of a committee of the Australian Senate, when Labor senator Katy Gallagher told Communications Minister Mitch Fifield: "I love the mansplaining. I'm enjoying it."
MPR News Staff disputed the usefulness of the term. Given its gender-specific nature and negative connotation, Lesley Kinzel described it as inherently biased, essentialist, dismissive, and a double standard. In a 2016 Washington Post article, Cathy Young wrote that it is just one of a number of terms using "man" as a derogatory prefix, and that this convention is part of a "current cycle of misandry". Meghan Daum, in a 2015 Los Angeles Times article, wrote that "To suggest that men are more qualified for the designation than women is not only sexist but almost as tone deaf as categorizing everything that a man says as mansplaining." In 2014 Solnit herself said she had doubts about it: "[I]t seems to me to go a little heavy on the idea that men are inherently flawed this way, rather than that some men explain things they shouldn't and don't hear things they should."
- Ad Hominem (Circumstantial)
- genderlect theory
- Tone policing
- Teaching grandmother to suck eggs, a gender-neutral idiom for a similar phenomenon
- Anon (2018). "Classmates, San Antonio, Texas by Paul Tadlock". atlasobscura.com. Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 27 June 2021.
What was meant as an innocent piece of art has earned a reputation as the 'mansplaining sculpture.'
- Salazar, Albert (28 May 2015). "UIW Statue Gets National Attention Thanks To Feminism And Twitter". San Antonio Current. Archived from the original on 27 July 2021. Retrieved 27 June 2021.
The bronze statue is called 'Classmates,' and was sculpted by SA artist Paul Tadlock, according to the Times. But it's now known as 'Mansplaining The Statue,' thanks to people on the internet […].
- "mansplain". Dictionary.com.
[T]o explain something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner, typically to a woman already knowledgeable about the topic[.]
- "History of Mansplaining". Merriam-Webster.com.
It's what occurs when a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of, with the mistaken assumption that he knows more about it than the person he's talking to does.
- Steinmetz, Katy (18 November 2014). "Clickbait, Normcore, Mansplain: Runners-Up for Oxford's Word of the Year". Time. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
[T]o explain something to someone, typically a man to woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.
- Zimmer, Ben (5 January 2013). "Tag, You're It! "Hashtag" Wins as 2012 Word of the Year". Visual Thesaurus. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
[W]hat happens when a man condescendingly explains something to female listeners[.]
- Jaschik, Scott (16 October 2012). "Calling Out Academic 'Mansplaining'". Inside Higher Ed.
[S]ome 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).
- Hart, Benjamin (20 October 2014). "RIP "mansplaining": How the Internet killed one of our most useful words". Salon. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
But along the way, mansplaining has morphed from a useful descriptor of a real problem in contemporary gender dynamics to an increasingly vague catchall expression that seems to be inflaming the Internet gender wars more than clarifying them.
- McLaughlin, Tom; Sealy-Harrington, Joshua (15 April 2014). "Arguments should not be silenced because of their author's race or sex". The Globe and Mail.
The use of terms such as 'mansplaining' (and its racial counterpart, 'whitesplaining') can cause disengagement. […] Without such engagement, these terms become unconstructive ad hominem attacks that sidestep meaningful debate when an opponent conveniently possesses privilege.
- Zimmer, Benjamin; Carson, Charles C. (2013). "Among The New Words". American Speech. 88 (2): 196–214. doi:10.1215/00031283-2346771.(subscription required)
- Marcus, Marcus (30 March 2015). "The Art of Goysplaining". The Forward.
Goysplaining is an outgrowth of people thinking that they know a lot about Judaism. […] The people who goysplain think that because they went to the trouble of reading an article, watching a documentary, or Googling something, they now understand an entire faith and should be congratulated for it.
- "'Damonsplaining': Matt Damon accused of insensitivity". BBC News. 16 September 2015.
One user defined the term as '#Damonsplaining – over talking and/or shouting down a person of colour to explain something about their own race or culture'.
- Moyer, Justin Wm. (29 September 2015). "Matt Damon has more 'Damonsplaining' to do — this time about alleged anti-gay comments". The Washington Post.
Damon later walked back what was sarcastically hash-tagged 'Damonsplaining,' saying he believes 'deeply that there need to be more diverse filmmakers making movies.'
- Peters, Mark. "'Mansplaining' Spawns a New Suffix". Vocabulary.com.
[M]ansplain is such a useful word that -splain has taken on a life of its own.
- 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.
- Solnit, Rebecca (13 April 2008). "Men Explain Things to Me: Facts Didn't Get in Their Way". TomDispatch, The Nation Institute.
Every woman knows what I'm talking about.
- Solnit, Rebecca (13 April 2008). "Men who explain things". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
Every woman knows what I mean.
- Rothman, Lily (1 November 2012). "A Cultural History of Mansplaining". The Atlantic. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
This election season, the idea of 'mansplaining'—explaining without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer, often done by a man to a woman—has exploded into mainstream political commentary.
- Doyle, Sady (1 May 2014). "Mansplaining, Explained". In These Times. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
The term, which caught fire in the late-'00s feminist blogosphere, describes a particularly irritating form of sexist micro-aggression: namely, a man explaining a topic of conversation to a woman who a) has already demonstrated adequate knowledge of that topic; b) could reasonably be presumed to know about that topic; and/or c) could reasonably be presumed to know much more about that topic than he does, because she is an expert in the field.
- Solnit, Rebecca (20 August 2012). "Men still explain things to me". In These Times. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
Though I hasten to add that the essay makes it clear mansplaining is not a universal flaw of the gender, just the intersection between overconfidence and cluelessness where some portion of that gender gets stuck.
- Lewis, Helen (4 July 2014). "The Essay That Launched the Term 'Mansplaining'". The New Republic.
[Solnit] weaves a global story of women's voices and their testimony being downgraded or dismissed: the female FBI agent whose warnings about al-Qaeda were ignored; the women who need a male witness to corroborate their rape; the writers and politicians whose anger is read as 'shrill' and 'hysterical,' who are told to 'make me a sandwich' by 17-year-old neckbeards on Reddit.
- Solnit, Rebecca (20 August 2012). "Men Explain Things to Me – Facts Didn't Get in the Way". HuffPost. Retrieved 24 September 2021.
More extreme versions of our situation exist in, for example, those Middle Eastern countries where women's testimony has no legal standing; so that a woman can't testify that she was raped without a male witness to counter the male rapist.
- Sonksen, Mike (11 June 2014). "On Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me". Cultural Weekly.
This explaining, she writes, '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.'
- Sifton, Sam; Barrett, Grant (18 December 2010). "The Words of the Year". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 22 October 2011.
A man compelled to explain or give an opinion about everything—especially to a woman. He speaks, often condescendingly, even if he doesn't know what he's talking about or even if it's none of his business.
- "American Dialect Society 2012 Words of the Year" (PDF). americandialect.org. 4 January 2013.
[A] man's condescending explanation to a female audience[.]
- "New words added to OxfordDictionaries.com today include binge-watch, cray, and vape". Oxforddictionaries.com. August 2014. Archived from the original on 18 August 2014. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
[To] explain something to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing[.]
- Cogan, Marin (1 August 2012). "The Mittsplainer: An Alternate Theory of Mitt Romney's Gaffes". GQ. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
The two of them will spend the fall trying to mansplain their way to the White House, shunning the charisma-based campaign Obama tried in 2008 in favor of right-sounding if vague platitudes about getting the economy back on track[.]
- Kaplan, Ilana (20 October 2018). "Stephen Colbert accuses Trump of trying to 'mansplain the Midterms' to female voters". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
Did Trump just try to mansplain the midterms to women? 'Look, look, ladies, I know you don't like me, but here's why you're wrong—shhh, I'm talking. […]'
- Weigel, David (27 June 2013). "Mansplaining the Mansplainer: Rick Perry's Accidental Abortion Honesty". Slate. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
Davis has condemned Perry, as has half of Twitter, for the crime of Mansplaining.
- Ioffe, Julia (8 August 2013). "Dear Lawrence O'Donnell, Don't Mansplain to Me About Russia". The New Republic. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
That O'Donnell interrupted and harangued and mansplained […] is not what I take issue with, however.
- Stuever, Hank (11 July 2013). "'The Newsroom' vs. 'Honey Boo Boo': Which one really gives us more to think about?". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 19 April 2015. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
[I]t will soon enough be the summer of 2012 in Will McAvoy's world, and he may very well find a way to derisively drop a Honey Boo Boo reference into one of his monologues, perhaps while mansplaining journalistic and documentary ethics […].
- Weigel, David (5 August 2013). "Trying to Tolerate The Newsroom, Week Four". Slate. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
I also love how he mansplains the history of the civil rights movement to her.
- Greenwald, Andy (16 July 2013). "Death by Newsroom". Grantland. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
There was sloppy slapstick and torrents of mansplaining.
- "Dear Jimmy Iovine: Women Don't Need You to Mansplain Music to Them". Observer. 19 November 2015. Retrieved 20 December 2015.
So, Mr. Iovine, just so you know: we women don't need you to mansplain music discovery to us.
- "PM accused of 'mansplaining' ... but what does it mean?". The Sydney Morning Herald. 16 September 2015. Retrieved 20 December 2015.
Ms Plibersek said: 'Mr Speaker, I'd rather have an answer than the mansplaining by the Prime Minister.'
- "Matt Damon Mansplaining Diversity On 'Project Greenlight' Is Frustrating, But There Is A Silver Lining". www.bustle.com. Retrieved 20 December 2015.
Damon, however, didn't really get it, and descends into some mansplaining I hate to say came from someone I enjoy so much as an actor and filmmaker.
- "Ralph Nader Mansplains Monetary Policy to Janet Yellen". Daily Intelligencer. Retrieved 20 December 2015.
Perhaps sometime Nader could sit down with a monetary economist to learn about the complexities of interest-rate policy, and maybe to learn a thing or two about gender politics too.
- Ireland, Judith (11 February 2016). "'What?': Katy Gallagher explains mansplaining to Mitch Fifield during fiery estimates showdown". The Sydney Morning Herald.
'I love the mansplaining. I'm enjoying it,' Gallagher said, mixing fatigue with just a hint of provocation.
- "Do we need a different word for 'mansplaining'?". MPR News. 19 December 2016. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
'You don't have to use the word "mansplaining," because it is kind of divisive and implies the person is sexist. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't and they're just unaware and unintentionally saying something that offends,' Huang said. 'It's a little offensive to say this is only something men can do. Women can also be rude and interrupting and exert their personalities over a room.'
- Kinzel, Lesley (16 August 2012). "Why You'll Never Hear Me Use the Term 'Mansplain'". XoJane. Archived from the original on 13 June 2018. Retrieved 22 August 2013.
For one, it's mad essentialist, and by this I mean it assumes a certain universal set of truths shared by all men. […] More than that, 'mansplaining' is kind of lazy and dismissive.
- Young, Cathy (30 June 2016). "Feminists treat men badly. It's bad for feminism". The Washington Post.
Whatever the reasons for the current cycle of misandry—yes, that's a word, derided but also adopted for ironic use by many feminists—its existence is quite real. Consider, for example, the number of neologisms that use 'man' as a derogatory prefix and that have entered everyday media language: 'mansplaining,' 'manspreading' and 'manterrupting.'
- Daum, Meghan (8 January 2015). "Mansplaining? Windbags come in both genders". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
To suggest that men are more qualified for the designation than women is not only sexist but almost as tone deaf as categorizing everything that a man says as mansplaining. So maybe this will be the year we start to phase it out.
- Solnit, Rebecca (2014). Men Explain Things to Me. Chicago: Haymarket Books. p. 14.
I have doubts about the word and don't use it myself much; it seems to me to go a little heavy on the idea that men are inherently flawed this way, rather than that some men explain things they shouldn't and don't hear things they should.
- Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me; Facts Didn't Get in Their Way, 13 April 2008
- Lara Rutherford-Morrison (Bustle), 6 Subtle Forms Of Mansplaining That Women Encounter Each Day, 19 Jan 2016