By Ifeanyi Abraham
On Sunday, January 10, 2020, I read an article in the New York Times by an associate professor of philosophy at Cornell University, Kate Manne, who unpacked the concept of ‘mansplaining’, a word that only entered the Oxford Dictionary in 2014. The article and other scenarios that have played out in different conversations on the social media app, Clubhouse, led me to start a conversation on ‘Mansplaining: Why do Men Keep Explaining Things to Women’ there.
I love Clubhouse – the audio-only, iPhone exclusive, limited invitations, silicon valley social media playground that was launched in April 2020 and has now taken the world by storm.
When I set out to have a conversation about mansplaining, I wasn’t quite ready for the level of intensity that 60 plus people would have around the topic. To set a proper tone for the conversation, I invited Michelle Raymond, a UK-based, award-winning HR practitioner, and visibility strategist to give her perspective on mansplaining in the workplace, Azad Abdullahi, a marketing and brand development practitioner to give his perspective on how men can do better, and Ruby Lauren, a cybersecurity analyst, and fitness and skincare influencer whose passionate contribution to a topic about feminism the day before had set her on my radar for this sort of conversation.
Deciding on a host room for the topic, I spoke with Lawrence G who graciously allowed me to host it on Vibes and Insha ‘Allah, one of the largest spaces for people of African descent on Clubhouse. He nominated Ebele Molua, a PR consultant and activist to also join in as a co-host. I first came across Ebele’s profile during the #EndSARS protests with her impactful work on mobilising people offline and online.
Starting the conversation at exactly 6 PM Nigerian time, I set the tone for the conversation by sharing room guidelines emphasising the need to respect each other’s opinions, provide talking points related to the workplace, relationships, and African cultural influences. Then I provided a definition of mansplaining and read an excerpt from Kate Mann’s article. This set the premise for the conversation.
According to Kate, “Mansplaining may be recently named, but it’s most likely a phenomenon as old as time. Inherent in patriarchy is men’s entitlement to all valuable human goods. Things like love, care, adoration, sex, power, and knowledge. When it comes to knowledge, especially of a prestigious sort, the idea that men have a prior claim to it is as venerable as the patriarchy itself. Sometimes it’s connected to the idea that women are incapable of being authority figures. In politics, for example, Aristotle wrote: “The slave is wholly lacking the deliberative element, the female has it but it lacks authority.”
Definitions from the moderators and other members of the audience who were allowed to speak settled on a working definition of mansplaining to be “when a man explains something to a woman that she already knows, often in a condescending tone, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner.”
Some easily overlooked examples of mansplaining were shared by the moderators and they included a home scenario where a tech-savvy husband decided to mansplain a point about website development that his wife had already properly explained to her web developer by saying, “What my wife is trying to say is…”
There are also workplace scenarios where colleagues seek dominance in any conversation or communication, often loud and offered from a position of dominance/privilege, as in leaning back in a chair.
Female members of the audience joining in the conversation also shared their views about things they found condescending, the need for men to listen more, the need for the rise of more male allies speaking to other men, and how the definition of mansplaining continues to expand depending on the context of the conversation.
Disagreeing with some of the general opinions from the moderators and female contributors, some of the male contributors felt that the concept of mansplaining was being driven by feminist voices and a general laziness by women to engage in competitive competition during conversation. One of the male contributors felt that everyone can be ‘splained’, a man could talk over a man as much as he could talk over a woman, so why does splaining to women get a lot more uproar than to the men?
This led to a bit of a back and forth where the moderators had to come in to allow people to share their points but after a few organised exchanges, things got heated and it turned into a men VS women show-down. That led to one of the male contributors storming out of the room. Continuing the conversation, most of the audience agreed that the male contributor was guilty of mansplaining, taking a superior high ground and attempting to lecture the women in the room. A lot of times, men are unaware that they are doing this and need to stop, listen and take corrective action to truly make any progress.
Trying to extend the conversation to actionable bites on how to reduce mansplaining, some of the feedback from the audience was:
- By engaging male allies, you’re not just asking women to do the work of changing culture but everyone is doing it together.
- Men need to be deliberate and get involved in reducing/ending mansplaining.
- Although women certainly can interrupt and speak over men and other women in ways that are inappropriate (and men can certainly interrupt other men inappropriately, too), “mansplaining” is a particularly gendered issue, arising from a culture that implicitly values men’s voices over women’s.
- Dismissing or downplaying someone’s feelings in a conversation is one of the biggest problems of mansplaining.
- When you realise, as a man, that you are mansplaining, stop and ask more questions to keep track of how much you are talking.
- Take a quick inventory of power dynamics in a conversational situation and adjust accordingly.
I plan to have a lot more of these conversations on social media and people can join in directly. These conversations are very important and changing unfavourable culture takes a group effort. If women are systematically not being heard, that’s a bigger issue than one man taking up all the air in the room.