Mansplaining

Standard

My wife reported to me yesterday that a colleague at work, when he discovered she had a problem with her printer that she was in the midst of (competently) fixing took the opportunity to explain what had gone wrong. He clearly didn’t have a clue but spoke authoritatively despite it being pointed out to him that he was wrong. She said this was mansplaining; I just thought he was being a jerk. It’s possible we were both right.

This is a classic case of men telling women how to do something even when they know that the woman is more qualified in the subject than they are. Rand Paul recently lectured a reporter on how to conduct an interview — which mostly consisted in saying don’t ask me questions I don’t want to answer.

Of course, this phenomenon is not restricted to men talking to women. Older men will do the same to younger ones — unless of course the subject is technology. Then the roles are reversed. Go to any locker room and you will see men explain to people who are clearly more fit than them the proper way to exercise or hold their golf club or whatever.

I’m a pretty fair cook, not only capable of following a recipe but equally able to improvise based on whatever I happen to have available. My wife knows this as she has benefitted from my skills for over 15 years, frequently exclaiming over this dish or that. Nonetheless whenever she comes in the kitchen when I’m cooking she can’t help but explain to me how I might do it better. I generally respond by telling she’s welcome to cook dinner instead.

In part, she may be a victim of the fixed gender roles that she grew up with. When I visit her family and decide to cook I actually have to chase her female relatives out of the kitchen just so I have room to operate. To some extent men are also the victims of a culture that demands they be competent even when they aren’t.

And the way we as men and women tend to use language (and this is nothing but a generality) may be a factor. Men use words in an instrumental way — to accomplish a task. For some men, speaking is a bit like reading the instructions to assemble a table. Women on the other hand use language in a relational way, that is, to build linkages between things and people to construct an environment where things get done but not at the cost of how people feel about it.

Still, my first assessment might be right. Some guys are just jerks. Some men think that every man knows more about every subject than any women knows about anything. They even know what women are thinking and are more than prepared to tell them. If men really knew what women were thinking at those moments they might run screaming from the room with their hands clutched protectively over their balls.

But that’s ten minutes.

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