Saturday, July 20, 2019


I certainly know what people are talking about, and though no one has accused me of it in my hearing, I imagine the word has been breathed behind my back. I am overdominant in conversation, taking almost every other comment no matter how many are present. (I have compensating virtues of listening, reflecting back, affirming, and remembering that surprise people, but I doubt those fully balance the scales.) My sons and my brother can give me a run. Someone needs to say the most important thing next, and in the moment, that is often me.  There are rare occasions where I will sit quite comfortably listening to some other person speak, even at length, and even if they aren't very entertaining (though I do tend to nod, murmur, and insert single words or phrases that I think are clarifying if they don't express well). I want the best comment to go next.  They clearly have it and I don't. The true examples of mansplaining, of explaining something to a woman when she knows the subject better than I do, happens, but not often.  It doesn't happen often when I am talking with men, either.  It's not so much mansplaining as Wymansplaining.

I can think of only two examples of women using the word mansplaining at my place of employment, both times with a polite apologetic nod to me as they said it about another man.  In both cases, they did not know more than the offending male.  In one instance she knew far less, in another, he simply had a different opinion which she didn't like.  That is not a sample size that counts for anything, so I wouldn't put much stock in those results as an estimate.  However, it is evidence that both those purported alternative explanations do sometimes occur. I have observed resentments and hurt feelings from episodes where the word was not used but some comment about maleness being part of the problem did come out when the person left the room.

For sheer numbers, the interesting bit of information where I work is that 90% of the employees have a female direct supervisor, and the supervisors above that are also 90% female, all the way to the CEO. The medical director, who actually works for Dartmouth-Hitchcock, is male, with half the medical staff of two dozen female. Nursing, social work, psychology, rehab, legal, medical records, and housekeeping all have nothing but female supervisors, all the way up, all the way down. The complaints that I hear with specific reference to maleness are all at upper levels of power, among more aspirational, ambitious women - who are often also pretty smart and competent. At lower levels of power people simply say that someone is a prick or a bitch, both of which have "gendered meanings," but I think are rough equivalents.

I don't have a theory or conclusion about this, just noting what I observe in my fairly unusual setting. I think my experience undermines the current narrative, but not in any particular direction.


Texan99 said...

I've never experienced this problem professionally, where I was more often in danger of being overbearing than overborne.
Nevertheless, something related comes up often in discussions with workmen at my house. It's never a problem one-on-one, and rarely even if I'm talking to several male workmen. But if my husband enters the conversation, I might as well disappear for all the impact I can have on a discussion. Some kind of switch gets tripped, and it's not as though the assembled men were deliberately ignoring me, it's more like they literally cannot hear me any more. They are 100% focused on each other. If I really need to get a question answered or a viewpoint considered, I have to make a kind of explicit formal interruption, asking if I may have the floor uninterrupted for about 30 seconds while I interject an important point, please. This happens too often for me to believe it's my imagination.

It doesn't happen in casual mixed-company political discussions over drinks. It has to be about physical problems like construction, and I have to be subject to male competition for the "homeowner" side in the discussion. Nor, as far as I can tell, is it about expertise. If the subject strays into any of the many technical areas in which my engineer husband knows a lot more than I do, I always stand back. It's most obvious if we're discussing things like logistics, or in what order operations must happen in order to leave us least stranded without service for long periods.

Grim said...

Do you know where the mansplainervgets his water?

From a well, actually...

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Not accidentally, that is often how people with Asperger's begin sentences, too. The idea that they have the stereotypically male preference for objects, plus social cluenessness, but both squared, is intriguing.

David Foster said...

People who want to continually prove how smart they are tend to talk too much and not always to the point. True of both men and women.

I was in an executive staff meeting once when a guy who was not normally part of the group came in to give a presentation. None of us could figure out what he was trying to say. Finally, the senior guy who was running the meeting broke in:

"Fred, you don't have to prove to us how smart you are. We already know you're smart. Just tell us what you want to do!"

And the guy couldn't do it, couldn't net it down in action terms.