Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Mansplaining ÔÇô a new concept for an old problem

By Ruth Kedikilwe

Women of the 21st century have more than enough to deal with in their everyday lives ranging from intimate partner violence to office politics, though they can vote ascend to high positions in the workplace and be heads of families, patriarchy has thrown yet another curveball at them through the ever so patronizing and condescending ‘Mansplaining.’  It is a portmanteau (blended word) comprised of the word man and splaining which is a short form and informal word for explaining.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary: “Of a man: to explain (something) needlessly, overbearingly, or condescendingly, esp. (typically when addressing a woman) in a manner thought to reveal a patronizing or chauvinistic attitude.” When Mansplaining occurs the woman is rudely and often loudly interrupted by being spoken over for the man to explain something she already knows or worse still she is an expert on suggesting that the woman is incapable of having authoritative knowledge. The men come across as giving unsolicited and misinformed half truths.

Though “Mansplaining” is a relatively new word, the behaviour has been around for the two millennia. It not only reinforces gender inequality but also propagates the stereotype that men are smarter than women.  

A typical example of Mansplaining is an incident where ladies at a party were listening intently to one lady giving them remedies for abdominal pains triggered by menstruation and right in the middle of the explanation one man loudly interrupted stating that they should put their feet in warm water. It turned out that woman was not only a doctor but a gynaecologist but the man felt he had authority on a condition he will never experience.

Female referee Dorothy Okatch has quite a mouthful. As a minority in a male dominated industry she told Sunday Standard Lifestyle that “Mansplaining is something that is a given when it comes to sports, it is almost as if it is part of the package. It happens to us female referees and it comes from the players, coaches, sallow referees, administrators and basically everyone who is not a female in the vicinity.” Okatch tells a story of how once during a conversation about a game she had just refereed a remark was made that made her stop on her tracks, forgot about the game and shifted focus to righting the wrong that had just happened because one of the male referees had said, ‘As a woman I did not expect you to call that, that is why some of these games should only be refereed by men because we understand it better.’ Okatch further stated that, “At this point in time the only thing I could think of was telling him in the nicest way possible how his theory of gender over a missed call was unwarranted, chauvinistic and completely wrong to which all the males laughed off and said I was over reacting.” Exasperating.

During an interview with Sunday Standard local Feminist and Development Practitioner Ratanang Onkokame Mosweu said, “Mansplaining is a behaviour which has been around for centuries and it has proven to be a problematic tendency as it perpetuates gender inequality as it is clearly a ‘Gender power difference’ used to remind women of their place as the less knowledgeable.” Mosweu goes on to say that though sometimes the men come across as oblivious and could be innocently offering their knowledge but body language also counts and speaks volumes. Mosweu pointed out that the argument that  sometimes men do not realise that they are doing it is not a good enough excuse and it should never be tolerated, he called on men to take an active role in calling it out when their fellow men are doing it.

Founder of Men and Boys for Gender Equality, Desmond Lunga blames mansplaining in Botswana on socialisation and traditional and cultural practices which in most instances relegate women to being second class citizens. According to Lunga, “This phenomenon could be viewed as a form of abuse and should therefore be covered when addressing issues of sexual harassment and abuse of authority.” He further stated that it was imperative that gender mainstreaming within organisations and government should be cognizant of this and understand that whilst there is a push for gender equity women are still challenged by patriarchal stereotypes influenced by cultural norms. ‘Ga nke di etelelelwa ke dinamagadi pele’ is a Setswana saying which means women can never lead men. It is phrases like these that men ultimately find it hard to engage with smart women and end up mansplaining.  

This superiority complex knows no boundaries, from soccer politics, music, and art, technological advances right down to the female anatomy and even breastfeeding there will be men with an inherent need to appear to be more knowledgeable than their women counterparts without considering the woman’s profession, age and experiences.

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