“I scheduled my book tour dates around World Cup games I could not miss—yes, it’s that serious.” Last month, moments after I told a man this—and that my favorite soccer team was Barcelona—he told me he didn’t really follow the sport (“football” he told me they called it in Europe—although he knew I lived in Portugal). Then he asked if I knew that Barcelona’s biggest star wanted to go to another team.
Did I know? How could he, someone who doesn’t follow soccer (or if we are being fancy, football), know something about the team that I didn’t? Also, he was wrong. Neymar was not Barcelona’s biggest star— he was just the one he’d heard of, probably from an ESPN headline.
A week later, the day Donald Trump blamed “both sides” for Charlottesville, I was sitting in a café reading a book in Lisbon, trying to forget about the train wreck running the United States of America. A man nearby asked me a question in Portuguese. I answered, and when he heard my American accent, he started talking about how bad things are in the U.S. Next, he told me how things wouldn’t get better for Black people until they stood up and recognized the extent of their plight. But of course the system was set up so we would never do this, what with the CIA, crack, and ghettos.
I wanted to jam my novel into his windpipe.
I wanted to jam my novel into his windpipe.
His idea of Black people needing to put down our crack pipes and rise up amounted to the most insulting kind of misinformed liberal racism. But the idea that he, a white Canadian man who works in interior design, had the authority to tell it to me, a Black American woman who he knew was a journalist, that was something else: classic mansplaining.
Mansplaining is when a man decides he is going to put a woman up on something and give her all the facts. Manplaining is a man deciding that every interaction with a woman can be a teachable moment for her. Mansplainers don’t consider what the woman being addressed has accomplished—she may have PhD in the topic and all he did was read a tweet. In the world of mansplaining, having a penis equals having power, privilege, and intellect. All of it. Mansplaining isn’t just annoying, it’s insulting.
To stress that this is not just my bad luck with men, I asked a few female friends about their experiences. Not one of them said, “Mansplaining who? Mansplaining what?” They started listing things men have tried to tell them about, from how to have a baby to the color of the sky she was looking at. And it’s not something just a few women are ticked off about; it’s a huge topic of conversation on social media. This epic Twitter thread has a lot of choice examples on everything from mothers being told how to mother to professionals being told how to be more professional because a lot of men can’t stop, won’t stop when it comes to mansplaining.
Manplaining is a man deciding that every interaction with a woman can be a teachable moment for her.
Let’s take a moment to understand what mansplaining is not. A guy explaining something to you is not automatically classified as mansplaining. To take it back to soccer, the way I learned was by asking questions of a man I knew was a fan—and listening to his answers. Not once did I get the impression that he thought I was an idiot. That’s called communication. But mansplaining isn’t that. It’s talking at a woman. It’s talking down to a woman.
Are you, or someone you love, guilty of mansplaining? A simple test to determine if you are a man about to mansplain: Did she ask you for a differing view on a topic that is her (but not your) field of expertise? Did she say she was confused about how something worked? Did she specifically say that she needed you to explain it to her? If the answer is no, shhhhh.
That day at the café, the Canadian stopped solving America’s race problem long enough to actually ask me something: Would I be interested in a date? I imagined what that would be like, what wisdom he’d share with me over wine, what knowledge I would gain after just one cocktail. He didn’t need to explain anything, I already knew to just say no.
Ayana Byrd is a writer, editor and author.
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