There is an article going around social media about ways to make women’s lives more bearable.
Aptly sporting a March 8 publishing date for International Women’s Day, it starts out with a reminder that “Happy International Women’s Day!” is nice, but doesn’t do much to fix the gender pay gap, the fact there is still significant racial inequity in who dies in childbirth in the U.S., or that trans women are murdered at a rate of four times that of cis women. So, the author began collecting tips of simple actions men can take to “meaningfully support gender equality.”
I first saw the article when my spouse posted it, tagging our young adult male sons. No. 1 in the article states: “Before explaining something to a woman, ask yourself is she might already understand. She may know more about it than you do.”
This refers to the phenomenon known as “mansplaining,” a concept with which most women are intimately familiar. A man explains something, usually to a woman, in a way that is patronizing, condescending, and when she did not ask for an explanation.
Mansplaining has gotten a reputation because of the frequency with which it happens and the manner in which it is disrespectful. There is an assumption that the person being explained to needs help, even if they have not asked for it. There is an assumption that the person speaking knows better, even without checking in first to see if advice is wanted or warranted. It isn’t helpful, even if that was its intention.
Predictably, some men get defensive when this is brought up. For instance, when I posted recently on social media that my spouse had said in regards to my setting up a new laptop, “I’m sure you can figure that out without me mansplaining it to you,” one man promptly posted that he had seen what he would call womansplaining, and another man asked if it was mansplaining if his husband did it to him with technology stuff. (Yes, by the way. Mansplaining refers to the explainer, though females tend to be the recipients most often).
Now, I did not accuse my spouse of mansplaining, or even hint about it. He self-categorized this behavior out of self-awareness and a desire to continue learning and growing as a human and in our relationship.
And self-awareness is key to being a part of dismantling any system of oppression, like sexism.
In her book, “White Fragility,” Dr. Robin DiAngelo identifies something she calls the good-bad binary. It’s the idea that because we believe we are good people, we don’t think we can have racist (or sexist) behaviors. But, we live in a world that routinely benefits white people over people of color and men over women. Does that mean white people and men are bad? No. It means we have a system that is unequal, and we need to use self-awareness to change it.
There are many actions people can take to work to dismantle racism and sexism. They can advocate for more equitable laws and policies. They can step back and give the microphone to people of color and women and LGBTQ folks and folks with differing abilities. They can talk with friends and family and discuss how their behavior is affecting each other. And they can catch themselves about to do something they have come to know is not respectful – like being tempted to explain something to someone without asking if that person needs or wants help.
International Women’s Day is over, but one simple way to respect women is to sincerely think about and ask if they need help before jumping in to explain things to them.
You’ll have to read the article to see what the other 99 ways are.
Amy Johnson, MSW, is a trainer and educator in the Pacific Northwest. She is co-author of three books and facilitates classes and workshops in the Puget Sound area. Amy specializes in sexuality education and in promoting safe and healthy sexuality culture in faith communities. All opinions are her own. Contact email@example.com.