Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Why I Hate the Word "Mansplain"

            Mainsplain: if you haven't heard this word yet, here's a definition from Wiktionary:

(colloquial, derogatory, chiefly Internet) To explain (something) condescendingly (to a female listener), especially to explain something the listener already knows, presuming that she has an inferior understanding of it because she is a woman.

The term was coined shortly after Rebecca Solnit's essay Men Explain Things to Me, in which she tried to relay her experience with the phenomenon. Though Solnit was not the one to invent the word "mansplaining;" it turned up a short time later and has been widely used since. It's linked to a slew of other words and phrases like "cissplain," "whitesplain," and "male answer syndrome." I've been told that this word helps to validate women; it's an easy way to describe a common occurrence. But I'll let you in on a secret: just because it's easy, doesn't mean you should do it.

            I have three main arguments against the use of the word "mansplain." Hear me out.

Equal rights is a two-way street

            I don't want to argue whether or not you can be sexist towards men because I believe that you absolutely, without a doubt, can.

            Remember that gender-inclusive language thing we fought for? Where we focus on the words we use when we speak and the assumptions we make when talking about the people around us? Stop shitting all over it. It's the reason why it's correct to say "police officer" instead of "policeman," and why you don't need to explain that a female doctor is a "lady doctor," just a "doctor."

We need to be able to apply the same rules to how we speak about men. By continued use of the word "mansplain," we are chipping away at all credibility we had while fighting for gender neutrality. We're fighting sexism with sexism.

You can't just add "man" to a word to make it negative

            "Mansplain," much like "Brangelina," is what's known as a portmanteau, or blend in linguistics. This usually means that its parts contribute to the new word's meaning. Though this doesn't exactly seem to be the case for "mansplain."

            I study words: their meanings, where they come from, what functions they serve in a sentence. "Mansplain" is derogatory, there is no doubt about that, but why is it such? How did it become that way when its root words ("man" and "explain") aren't inherently derogatory themselves?

Mean Girls (2004)
We've put together "man" and "explain" to become something negative. You could say that "explain" is the base of the word, as it is the main action.  What then adds its negative connotation is "man." Maybe in your head, adding "man" to the word serves to make it something sexist that males do to women. This is where my thought process veers in two different directions. Is this action inherent when someone is speaking to a woman? Some feminists think so, and indeed this would mean that women can mansplain as well. Or is the action inherent because one is male, and they automatically believe they know more because of that fact?

Suitable alternatives exist

            We can use words like "patronize," "condescend," and "demean." We can say phrases like "talk down to." There's even a shortened form, "splaining," which does the job just perfectly and is not gender specific!

            Even if you don't feel that these alternatives are suitable, please, make up a new damn word that doesn't use "man" as the root of all evil. It's been done once, it can be done again. Just anything that does not prolong this sort of sexism.


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