IN NOVEMBER 2016, Sweden opened a hotline to solve the problem of mansplaining in the workplace. Unionen, a Swedish trade union, designed the phone service to allow women a space to safely vent about their frustrations with men who felt the need to condescendingly explain even the most basic concepts to them. Unfortunately, the mansplaining hotline was only open for a limited amount of time, which means that Sweden’s rightly disgruntled career women must now go back to grumbling about their sexist co-workers over drinks with their friends, just like the rest of us.
But here’s the thing folks: mansplaining is a problem that is 100 percent solvable. It doesn’t require the cooperation of legislators, and we don’t need to crowdfund the cause. There’s no reason why we can’t each make a concerted effort to combat privileged explaining on a day-to-day basis, and believe me, just that small, simple piece of activism can and will translate into real-world results.
Mansplaining and other forms of privileged explaining have been going on for pretty much the entirety of human history, but our modern-day consciousness can be traced back to Rebecca Solnit’s essay, “Men Explain Things to Me,” and her book of the same name. That essay contains many gems, but one — on the subject of women’s credibility — sticks out:
Credibility is a basic survival tool. When I was very young and just beginning to get what feminism was about and why it was necessary, I had a boyfriend whose uncle was a nuclear physicist. One Christmas, he was telling — as though it were a light and amusing subject — how a neighbor’s wife in his suburban bomb-making community had come running out of her house naked in the middle of the night screaming that her husband was trying to kill her. How, I asked, did you know that he wasn’t trying to kill her? He explained, patiently, that they were respectable middle-class people. Therefore, her-husband-trying-to-kill-her was simply not a credible explanation for her fleeing the house yelling that her husband was trying to kill her. That she was crazy, on the other hand…
Whenever meninists, staunch conservatives, and other Red Pill types bemoan our complaints about mansplaining as nonexistent #FirstWorldProblems of the highest order, they ignore the same obvious point that Solnit’s ex-boyfriend’s uncle refused to acknowledge: that women endure physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual abuse, daily, because men — and even other women — refuse to see them as credible witnesses to their own experience.
When taken individually, most mansplaining incidents are little more than minor annoyances in a world full of worse problems. However, privileged explaining does not occur in a vacuum. It interacts with real-world politics. Mansplaining, then, is a tiny facet of the larger issues of pervasive sexism and misogyny, which are the roots of rape culture.
Here’s how you can do your part to solve the problem of mansplaining.
1. Change the way you speak
Soraya Chemaly thinks that every girl should learn to say these ten words with confidence: “Stop interrupting me. I just said that. No explanation needed.” I agree. I don’t know of a single woman who hasn’t been ignored when speaking within a group of men, only to have her words repeated by one of them and promptly discussed.
Yes, it is highly likely that people will continue to talk over you when you say these things, but — and here’s the great thing about this kind of personal activism — it’s highly unlikely that what you are saying will go entirely unnoticed. Someone will realize that you’ve become more assertive, that you always have Chemaly’s three catchphrases at your disposal, and they’re going to want to know more about what you’re doing and why, giving you the opportunity to educate them, should you feel up to the task.
2. Support other women
We cannot expect to eradicate mansplaining if we cling to the antiquated view that other women are our competition. They aren’t, and, it really helps to have a “girls’ club” within the boys’ club. Men have been allying themselves with other men for millennia; it’s time we did the same.
Thankfully, there’s an easy way to back up your co-workers in the boardroom: whenever another woman comes up with a good idea, you should repeat it, and give her credit. This trick presents a united and informed front to our male colleagues, and that solidarity makes it harder for us to fall victim to the idea theft we’ve all experienced.
3. Talk to your friends and relatives about privileged explaining
Don’t let yourself be mansplained to, and don’t allow your privileged-explaining loved ones to go unchecked. Explain how mansplaining contributes to a wider culture of misogyny, and how it impacts you, your career, and your daily life. This is the hardest part of the fight, but it’s also the most important.