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Rebecca Solnit: Men Explain Things to Me

August 20, 2012

Before there was mansplaining, there was Rebecca Solnit's 2008 critique of male arrogance. Reprinted here with a new introduction.

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Image from Flickr via Ed Yourdon

By Rebecca Solnit
By arrangement with Tom Dispatch

One evening over dinner, I began to joke, as I often had before, about writing an essay called “Men Explain Things to Me.” Every writer has a stable of ideas that never make it to the racetrack, and I’d been trotting this pony out recreationally every once in a while. My houseguest, the brilliant theorist and activist Marina Sitrin, insisted that I had to write it down because people like her younger sister Sam needed to read it. Young women needed to know that being belittled wasn’t the result of their own secret failings; it was the boring old gender wars. So lovely, immeasurably valuable Sam, this one always was for you in particular. It wanted to be written; it was restless for the racetrack; it galloped along once I sat down at the computer; and since Marina slept in later than me in those days, I served it for breakfast and sent it to Tom later that day.

That was April 2008 and it struck a chord.  It still seems to get reposted more than just about anything I’ve written at TomDispatch.com, and prompted some very funny letters to this site. None was more astonishing than the one from the Indianapolis man who wrote in to tell me that he had “never personally or professionally shortchanged a woman” and went on to berate me for not hanging out with “more regular guys or at least do a little homework first,” gave me some advice about how to run my life, and then commented on my “feelings of inferiority.” He thought that being patronized was an experience a woman chooses to, or could choose not to have–and so the fault was all mine. Life is short; I didn’t write back.

Young women subsequently added the word “mansplaining” to the lexicon. Though I hasten to add that the essay makes it clear mansplaining is not a universal flaw of the gender, just the intersection between overconfidence and cluelessness where some portion of that gender gets stuck.

The battle for women to be treated like human beings with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of involvement in cultural and political arenas continues, and it is sometimes a pretty grim battle. When I wrote the essay below, I surprised myself in seeing that what starts out as minor social misery can expand into violent silencing and even violent death. Last year’s Nobel Peace Prize went to women, two Liberians and a Yemeni, “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” Which is to say, that safety and full participation is only a goal.

This is a struggle that takes place in war-torn nations, but also in the bedroom, the dining room, the classroom, the workplace, and the streets. And in newspapers, magazines, and television, where women are dramatically underrepresented. Even in the online gaming arena women face furious harassment and threats of assault simply for daring to participate. That’s mostly symbolic violence.  Real violence, the most extreme form of silencing and destroying rights, takes a far more dire toll in this country where domestic violence accounts for 30 percent of all homicides of women, annually creates about two million injuries, and prompts 18.5 million mental health care visits. It’s in Cairo’s Tahrir Square too, brutal gender violence where freedom and democracy had been claimed.

Having the right to show up and speak are basic to survival, to dignity, and to liberty. I’m grateful that, after an early life of being silenced, sometimes violently, I grew up to have a voice, circumstances that will always bind me to the rights of the voiceless.

Rebecca Solnit, August 19, 2012

I still don’t know why Sallie and I bothered to go to that party in the forest slope above Aspen. The people were all older than us and dull in a distinguished way, old enough that we, at forty-ish, passed as the occasion’s young ladies. The house was great–if you like Ralph Lauren-style chalets–a rugged luxury cabin at 9,000 feet complete with elk antlers, lots of kilims, and a wood-burning stove. We were preparing to leave, when our host said, “No, stay a little longer so I can talk to you.” He was an imposing man who’d made a lot of money.

He kept us waiting while the other guests drifted out into the summer night, and then sat us down at his authentically grainy wood table and said to me, “So? I hear you’ve written a couple of books.”

I replied, “Several, actually.”

He said, in the way you encourage your friend’s seven-year-old to describe flute practice, “And what are they about?”

They were actually about quite a few different things, the six or seven out by then, but I began to speak only of the most recent on that summer day in 2003, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, my book on the annihilation of time and space and the industrialization of everyday life.

He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?”

So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingénue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I’d somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book–with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.

Here, let me just say that my life is well-sprinkled with lovely men, with a long succession of editors who have, since I was young, listened and encouraged and published me, with my infinitely generous younger brother, with splendid friends of whom it could be said–like the Clerk in The Canterbury Tales I still remember from Mr. Pelen’s class on Chaucer–“gladly would he learn and gladly teach.” Still, there are these other men, too. So, Mr. Very Important was going on smugly about this book I should have known when Sallie interrupted him to say, “That’s her book.” Or tried to interrupt him anyway.

But he just continued on his way. She had to say, “That’s her book” three or four times before he finally took it in. And then, as if in a nineteenth-century novel, he went ashen. That I was indeed the author of the very important book it turned out he hadn’t read, just read about in the New York Times Book Review a few months earlier, so confused the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless–for a moment, before he began holding forth again. Being women, we were politely out of earshot before we started laughing, and we’ve never really stopped.

The out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men.

I like incidents of that sort, when forces that are usually so sneaky and hard to point out slither out of the grass and are as obvious as, say, an anaconda that’s eaten a cow or an elephant turd on the carpet.

When River of Shadows came out, some pedant wrote a snarky letter to the New York Times explaining that, though Muybridge had made improvements in camera technology, he had not made any breakthroughs in photographic chemistry. The guy had no idea what he was talking about. Both Philip Prodger, in his wonderful book on Muybridge, and I had actually researched the subject and made it clear that Muybridge had done something obscure but powerful to the wet-plate technology of the time to speed it up amazingly, but letters to the editor don’t get fact-checked. And perhaps because the book was about the virile subjects of cinema and technology, the Men Who Knew came out of the woodwork.

A British academic wrote in to the London Review of Books with all kinds of nitpicking corrections and complaints, all of them from outer space. He carped, for example, that to aggrandize Muybridge’s standing I left out technological predecessors like Henry R. Heyl. He’d apparently not read the book all the way to page 202 or checked the index, since Heyl was there (though his contribution was just not very significant). Surely one of these men has died of embarrassment, but not nearly publicly enough.

The Slippery Slope of Silencings

Yes, guys like this pick on other men’s books too, and people of both genders pop up at events to hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories, but the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men.

More extreme versions of our situation exist in, for example, those Middle Eastern countries where women’s testimony has no legal standing; so that a woman can’t testify that she was raped without a male witness to counter the male rapist.

Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.

I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the trajectory of American politics since 2001 was shaped by, say, the inability to hear Coleen Rowley, the FBI woman who issued those early warnings about al-Qaeda, and it was certainly shaped by a Bush administration to which you couldn’t tell anything, including that Iraq had no links to al-Qaeda and no WMDs, or that the war was not going to be a “cakewalk.” (Even male experts couldn’t penetrate the fortress of their smugness.)

Arrogance might have had something to do with the war, but this syndrome is a war that nearly every woman faces every day, a war within herself too, a belief in her superfluity, an invitation to silence, one from which a fairly nice career as a writer (with a lot of research and facts correctly deployed) has not entirely freed me. After all, there was a moment there when I was willing to let Mr. Important and his overweening confidence bowl over my more shaky certainty.

Don’t forget that I’ve had a lot more confirmation of my right to think and speak than most women, and I’ve learned that a certain amount of self-doubt is a good tool for correcting, understanding, listening, and progressing–though too much is paralyzing and total self-confidence produces arrogant idiots, like the ones who have governed us since 2001. There’s a happy medium between these poles to which the genders have been pushed, a warm equatorial belt of give and take where we should all meet.

More extreme versions of our situation exist in, for example, those Middle Eastern countries where women’s testimony has no legal standing; so that a woman can’t testify that she was raped without a male witness to counter the male rapist. Which there rarely is.

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….

Even getting a restraining order–a fairly new legal tool–requires acquiring the credibility to convince the courts that some guy is a menace and then getting the cops to enforce it. Restraining orders often don’t work anyway. Violence is one way to silence people, to deny their voice and their credibility, to assert your right to control over their right to exist. About three women a day are murdered by spouses or ex-spouses in this country. It’s one of the main causes of death in pregnant women in the U.S. At the heart of the struggle of feminism to give rape, date rape, marital rape, domestic violence, and workplace sexual harassment legal standing as crimes has been the necessity of making women credible and audible.

I tend to believe that women acquired the status of human beings when these kinds of acts started to be taken seriously, when the big things that stop us and kill us were addressed legally from the mid-1970s on; well after, that is, my birth. And for anyone about to argue that workplace sexual intimidation isn’t a life or death issue, remember that Marine Lance Corporal Maria Lauterbach, age 20, was apparently killed by her higher-ranking colleague last winter while she was waiting to testify that he raped her. The burned remains of her pregnant body were found in the fire pit in his backyard in December.

Being told that, categorically, he knows what he’s talking about and she doesn’t, however minor a part of any given conversation, perpetuates the ugliness of this world and holds back its light. After my book Wanderlust came out in 2000, I found myself better able to resist being bullied out of my own perceptions and interpretations. On two occasions around that time, I objected to the behavior of a man, only to be told that the incidents hadn’t happened at all as I said, that I was subjective, delusional, overwrought, dishonest–in a nutshell, female.

Most of my life, I would have doubted myself and backed down. Having public standing as a writer of history helped me stand my ground, but few women get that boost, and billions of women must be out there on this six-billion-person planet being told that they are not reliable witnesses to their own lives, that the truth is not their property, now or ever. This goes way beyond Men Explaining Things, but it’s part of the same archipelago of arrogance.

Men explain things to me, still. And no man has ever apologized for explaining, wrongly, things that I know and they don’t. Not yet, but according to the actuarial tables, I may have another forty-something years to live, more or less, so it could happen. Though I’m not holding my breath.

Women Fighting on Two Fronts

A few years after the idiot in Aspen, I was in Berlin giving a talk when the Marxist writer Tariq Ali invited me out to a dinner that included a male writer and translator and three women a little younger than me who would remain deferential and mostly silent throughout the dinner. Tariq was great. Perhaps the translator was peeved that I insisted on playing a modest role in the conversation, but when I said something about how Women Strike for Peace, the extraordinary, little-known antinuclear and antiwar group founded in 1961, helped bring down the communist-hunting House Committee on Un-American Activities, HUAC, Mr. Very Important II sneered at me. HUAC, he insisted, didn’t exist by the early 1960s and, anyway, no women’s group played such a role in HUAC’s downfall. His scorn was so withering, his confidence so aggressive, that arguing with him seemed a scary exercise in futility and an invitation to more insult.

The battle with Men Who Explain Things has trampled down many women–of my generation, of the up-and-coming generation we need so badly, here and in Pakistan and Bolivia and Java, not to speak of the countless women who came before me…

I think I was at nine books at that point, including one that drew from primary documents and interviews about Women Strike for Peace. But explaining men still assume I am, in some sort of obscene impregnation metaphor, an empty vessel to be filled with their wisdom and knowledge. A Freudian would claim to know what they have and I lack, but intelligence is not situated in the crotch–even if you can write one of Virginia Woolf’s long mellifluous musical sentences about the subtle subjugation of women in the snow with your willie. Back in my hotel room, I Googled a bit and found that Eric Bentley in his definitive history of the House Committee on Un-American Activities credits Women Strike for Peace with “striking the crucial blow in the fall of HUAC’s Bastille.” In the early 1960s.

So I opened an essay for the Nation with this interchange, in part as a shout-out to one of the more unpleasant men who have explained things to me: Dude, if you’re reading this, you’re a carbuncle on the face of humanity and an obstacle to civilization. Feel the shame.

The battle with Men Who Explain Things has trampled down many women–of my generation, of the up-and-coming generation we need so badly, here and in Pakistan and Bolivia and Java, not to speak of the countless women who came before me and were not allowed into the laboratory, or the library, or the conversation, or the revolution, or even the category called human.

After all, Women Strike for Peace was founded by women who were tired of making the coffee and doing the typing and not having any voice or decision-making role in the antinuclear movement of the 1950s. Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being. Things have certainly gotten better, but this war won’t end in my lifetime. I’m still fighting it, for myself certainly, but also for all those younger women who have something to say, in the hope that they will get to say it.

Rebecca Solnit is the author of 15 books, including two due out next year, and a regular contributor to TomDispatch.com. She lives in San Francisco, is from kindergarten to graduate school a product of the once-robust California public educational system, and her book A Paradise Built in Hell is the One City/One Book choice of the San Francisco Public Library this fall.

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119 comments for Rebecca Solnit: Men Explain Things to Me

  1. Comment by Rayya Ghul on August 20, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Thank you for reprinting this wonderful analysis. I missed it first time round. It’s not called patronising for nothing.

  2. Comment by Viezeric on August 21, 2012 at 6:48 am

    “the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered.”

    If a man would turn this completely sexist argument around you would be outraged. Let me demonstrate:

    “out-and-out hysterical reactions to normal arguments, are, in my experience, normal behaviour for women but not as much for men”

  3. Comment by Marc McDonnell-Jenkins on August 21, 2012 at 8:33 am

    I do not wish, in any way to belittle the fight that women, throughout the world, face on a daily basis. The fight to be heard, the fight to be taken seriously, the fight for parity, and so on. I support all of these objectives, and wonder why it is that women even have to fight. They are equal. No question. But, are you seriously telling me that women are the only ones who have to fight the men who explain. I have, in my 50 years, been a Mechanical Engineer and a television producer. I have a huge range of knowledge and experience. I have met, worked with and been entertained by members of the British royal family. I have travelled extensively. I have been through university, twice. And yet, still, I suffer from the men who explain.
    The problem is not one of gender, in my experience, at least not when it comes to the victims of these over opinionated fools. No, men who explain just need a victim. It doesn’t matter whether they are penis-less or not. They just need a victim.
    Your comments do not undermine the cause of feminism, but to take a portion of society that exists for everybody, and make it another tool with which to bash men (not all men, as you kindly state yourself) does not further the cause any, and may even give the men who explain more ammunition to fuel their foolish belief that they are the only ones who know.

  4. Comment by Martin on August 21, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Ah ha, Explaining Men is a thing then? I have some experience of them since my older brother has been one for the last 20 years. Still, at least he’s obnoxious towards both sexes so that’s something.

    I’ll be honest, when I started reading this I didn’t believe that this could be classed as a gender issue. Surely these pedantic arseholes do it to everyone. No one in this day and age would patronise a woman just because she is a woman. It’s a naive viewpoint of mine that I’ve never really considered before.

    On a side note: “Mansplaining” sounds like some sort of uncomfortable sex act.

  5. Comment by Adam on August 21, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    I hate these kinds of articles – mostly, because they fuel the fire against feminism, when it is indeed an important battle to be won. That’s because men ironically know better than this article, and, perhaps, it would be worth at least listening to them when they explain… as will I… that the Explaining Men explain to everyone. I suppose there is an argument that would suggest that they do fear, in their inevitable narcissism, a formidable contender, and I would hazard a guess to say that they would probably presume that contender to be a man. Probably. But that’s hard to observe and demonstrate, and certainly not what you are doing in this article. You take a couple of jerks – from very privileged positions – and you turn their behaviour – from just one encounter – into a generalised view of them as symbols for most men. And I’m sorry, but that’s wrong. They’re just jerks who think they’re better than EVERYONE, and you’re kidding yourself if you think they don’t explain to other men.

    The irony of this article is that it is in itself a symptom of sexism, because it creates a kind of paranoia and resentment in women that starts projecting over things it probably shouldn’t. But most men won’t consider this- they’ll just say “Those feminists talk rubbish, that’s wrong!” because… well… it is wrong. And that will cancel out any self-comprehension of what is wrong about those men! Which is a shame, really.

  6. Comment by Angela on August 21, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    I remember a great conversation with a lover years ago where he explained something and I then asked whether what he’d said was actually bullshit? He replied that it was. This is obviously a sub-section of the mansplaining that you were talking about, but it’s a very rich seam and worthy of note.

  7. Comment by Ha on August 21, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    If anyone feels Ms Solnit lacks proof of her argument, perhaps that person should look at the gender of those writing these lengthy comments of why and how she misinterpreted her own experiences.

  8. Comment by Andrew on August 21, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    As ‘Ha’ has already pointed out, it seems that anyone decrying Rebecca’s claims is a man. They’re keen to point out (after saying how much the love the wimin and their rights and that) that it happens to them as well, seemingly blind to the fact that what they have written is not actually a valid counterargument, though they believe that it is. Why is it not a counterargument? Because she hasn’t claimed that it doesn’t happen to men, just that it happens a lot to women. As men it is hard for us to know whether it does happen a lot to women (or any subjective difference in the experience when it does), interestingly we still want to have an opinion on that though right, I mean we’d probably know better…

  9. Comment by Chris Thomas on August 21, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    Fuggedaboutit: “The Battle with Men Who Explain Things to Me” seems to be very dissimilar from “The Battle with Men Who” deliberately pursue the belittlement, degradation and submission of women through gender-based violence; repression; and denial of access to economic, social, political, and cultural opportunities. Rolling up ‘mansplaining’ with the overt and covert efforts to obstruct women and girls from realizing their rights, determining their life outcomes, and participating in all levels of societal discourse and decision-making appear disingenuous. IMMSO — In My ManSplaining Opinion

  10. Comment by Callie on August 21, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    “The irony of this article is that it is in itself a symptom of sexism, because it creates a kind of paranoia and resentment in women that starts projecting over things it probably shouldn’t.”

    Ladies are so hysterical! So overreactive!

    To previous commenters: I would guess that women suffer this a TAD more than men, given the whole history of sexism / assumption of inferiority thing. On the same note, I’ve seen white women whitesplain to women of color– like the girl in a class of mine who dismissively asked our visiting guest, the NY head of ACORN, whether she’d ever read bell hooks. (spoiler: she most certainly, certainly had.) Or the straight allies who like to have a much louder voice than those they’re trying to support. ‘Splaining travels right down the privilege ladder and really just helps to reenforce identity politics.

    To the people who say this article makes feminists look bad, I’d say a) we really couldn’t give two shits what makes us “look bad.” and b) thanks for explaining how women should be feminists. it’s suuuuuper helpful.

  11. Comment by Jann Bell on August 21, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    Growing up amid many bipolar men, I was occasionally shocked to find I was being heard every now and then. Ever since it was imperative that what I said was interesting, factual and contributory. That formula has never failed me except when people are just too darn wrapped up in themselves to hear anyone and those people have been men as well as women. So, I wait, I learn, I judge when what I say will be heard, otherwise it’s just people of both genders COMPETING to dominate the floor. And competition as it pertains to communication is just another version of oneupmanship.

  12. Comment by nh260 on August 21, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    I put this comment on the MotherJones version of this article, so I might as well put it on here as well…

    I don’t doubt that these events happened to Rebecca Solnit, nor do I doubt her interpretation of them. I do question her logic in assembling them in support of an argument about sexism.

    This article is essentially an assemblage of anecdotes, some half-told, and all laced with minimizing nudge-wink insinuations (I enjoyed especially “suburban bomb-making community”).

    In the first, Solnit goes to a party with people she does not like, and at the end of the evening she and her friend stay with these dull, moneyed people, and a boor with whom they had chosen to extend their stay behaved boorishly towards them.

    Next, the reviews, which Solnit recounts in rude and dismissive fashion. (Was this article supposed to satirise “minimising” and “silencing” behaviour? It doesn’t seem to have been taken in that way by most readers.)

    Solnit dismisses “a British academic” (Professor Brian Winston). What might otherwise be called a contribution – however mistaken – to an academic debate, she describes as “nitpicking” and “carping”. Condescendingly she refers to her academic colleague as “the guy”.

    The “some pedant” to whom she refers appears to be Matthew Demakos whose letter is reproduced on this page (http://hnn.us/node/920) – but he wrote a letter addressing not Solnit herself, but Solnit’s reviewer Jim Lewis, whom Demakos accuses of “advanc[ing] a common misconception about early photography”.

    It seems odd to enlist this criticism of one man by another man in an argument about sexism against women. But then, as Solnit concedes: “Yes, guys like this pick on other men’s books too, and people of both genders pop up at events to hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories.” Uh, yes. Talk about burying the lede. Why is this article about man-on-woman arrogance, again?

    Having run out of personal examples, Solnit slithers onto the ‘slippery slope’ of non-sequiters.

    Where is the evidence that Colleen Rowley’s gender was an issue the FBI’s failure to take seriously the warnings of her field office? Solnit cites none. Where is the gender connection to the Bush administration’s arrogance in the Iraq war? Again, Solnit cites none, conceding that “male experts couldn’t penetrate the fortress of their smugness”. So maybe no gender there, actually. (And wasn’t Karen Hughes one of Bush’s top advisers at the time? What about – the in-theory doubly silenced – Condoleezza Rice?)

    Then we veer even further away from arguments that might support Solnit’s shaky foundations. That one Christmas years ago that her boyfriend’s Uncle – who is voiceless, and whose reasons which are speculated by Solnit – apparently didn’t take as seriously as he should have done an apparent claim of domestic violence.

    Next, Solnit suggests it’s too difficult for restraining orders to be put in place. “Even getting a restraining order—a fairly new legal tool—requires acquiring the credibility to convince the courts that some guy is a menace and then getting the cops to enforce it.” Read that sentence carefully and tell me that doesn’t sound like a really good description of due process? Does Solnit truly advocate a situation in which restraining orders can be granted on a complainant’s say-so? If so, why doesn’t she argue this?

    Then some more anecdotes, with nothing to link this clearly to a wider trend, except for the line “every woman knows what I’m talking about”, which is really not enough. Sure, ask women if they’ve been talked over, ‘silenced’, ‘minimized’, and patronised and no doubt they will say that they have. But is there any proper, empirical, non-anecdotal, adjusted-for-confirmation-bias research to indicate whether this behaviour (or the perception of it) is as gendered as Solnit argues? Maybe there is, but once again, Solnit cites none.

    Anyone with half a brain knows that sexism exists, and that men are often patronising to women. I’ve seen plenty of that in my anecdotal experience. I’ve also seen plenty of it between men, between women, and from women towards men. We could all write up the moments in our lives when we had been mistreated, condescended to, silenced or minimized by [insert socio-political-economical-sexual group here].

    But what’s the point, if the argumentation is so illogical? What does it achieve, other than to misguide the faithful and infuriate the middle ground?

  13. Comment by Jit Bains on August 21, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the trajectory of American politics since 2001 was shaped by, say, the inability to hear Coleen Rowley, the FBI woman who issued those early warnings about al-Qaeda, and it was certainly shaped by a Bush administration to which you couldn’t tell anything, including that Iraq had no links to al-Qaeda and no WMDs, or that the war was not going to be a “cakewalk.” (Even male experts couldn’t penetrate the fortress of their smugness.)”

    You are, surely, KIDDING?

  14. Comment by ceepolk on August 21, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    These comments. Are real. They’re *real.* And *sincere.*

  15. Comment by Kate Marshall on August 21, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    Firstly – I loved this article, it really resonated with frustrations and experiences I have lived and felt. I think it’s an important article to have written. I want to ask a question, not as a criticism of the article, but honestly and openly hoping for other people’s perspective on it.

    The article was written with a friend’s younger sister (Sam) in mind. I wonder to what extent there is some Explaining then in the premise of the article. Not Men-Explaining but Intellectually-Self-Satisfied-(Older/Whiter/Richer?)-Women Explaining. I’m wondering this thinking about my own relationship with my younger sister who, in her late teens, often says she feels ashamed of her lack of knowledge on things and too embarrassed to give her (she feels uninformed) opinions. I want to explain to her that she doesn’t need to feel that way and that she has lots of wonderful things to contribute. I want to show her this article. But I’m worried that by doing that I am contributing to exactly the tone of arrogant Explaining that traps her in this lack of confidence in her own voice. I guess this is a broader question about the means by which feminist standpoints are expressed and diffused. How do we avoid mimicking the same patronising (emphasis on patr) tone that we seek to escape? And, really, how can I best approach the situation with my sister – how can we think about “voicing” outside of the problematically hierarchical “giving voice”?

  16. Comment by Stash on August 21, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    I can’t believe this post — halfway through it points out how her life is sprinkled with lovely men — yet we’re being fed “mansplaining”. Wtf? I’ve had a number of female bosses act in this manner but I don;t go gobbing off about “womensplaining” like a little 8 year old. Guess what? Some men and women, in equal measures, are idiots. But if you generalise on the base of sex (or color — but I bet you wouldn’t think of doing that) then you are, by far, a bigger one.

  17. Comment by Johnson on August 22, 2012 at 3:42 am

    It’s patronising because they remind you of your father

  18. Comment by pike on August 22, 2012 at 4:11 am

    Wow. It’s true… as far as I can tell, every. single. hater. of this article has not lived life as a woman. It’s so simple: if someone from a community that has less systemic privilege than you shares their experience so you can stop perpetuating the kind of unconscious oppression in question: LISTEN.

    Seriously. It really is that simple. Just shut up, listen, and BELIEVE that people who have lived in their own skin know more about what that is like for them than you do. And then, take a long, hard look at your own behaviors, ask yourself how you might change them to account for this new information, thank the person who shared it with you, and change.

    It’s not hard, and it’s not personal.

    Did I mention that it’s not about you? Cos it’s not. But it is your responsibility to change it.

  19. Comment by Hannah Cairns on August 22, 2012 at 4:35 am

    > I put this comment on the MotherJones version of this article, so I might as well put it on here as well…

    That does not really make any sense. Why would you post to every copy of the article you can find? Anyway you’re wrong here too but I at least will abbreviate myself:

    You are being extraordinarily dishonest. Of course it doesn’t hold together if you construe it as an argument. It’s some anecdotes from life. It’s a discussion about the state of the world, as the writer sees it. And it’s a call to action. It’s not an argument that women are patronized by men, any more than my pants are. Oh, these pants don’t even have any citations.

  20. Comment by Phillip on August 22, 2012 at 5:11 am

    I am often baffled at the difficulty some people have believing that the experience of men talking down to women is still a common occurrence. It hasn’t been that long ago that women where expected to keep their opinions to themselves in almost every venue.

    While I don’t always succeed, I make an effort to listen when I am corrected by either my wife or daughter, and am pleased to say that my 5 year old grand daughter had corrected me a few times as well. When she does, I acknowledge her correction and thank her, or if appropriate, apologize. I want to make sure she knows that she has a voice, and should always use it.

    To those who wish to argue that this article is not (as they think it should be) burdened by footnotes and copious detailed facts, it’s been pointed out that it was not written to be a peer reviewed paper. I hope Sam enjoyed it as much as I did. Thanks.

  21. Comment by TTSELECTA on August 22, 2012 at 6:23 am

    Surely we can agree that there are “womensplaners” as well… or do we just call them nags?

  22. Comment by tomi on August 22, 2012 at 8:33 am

    First, conflicts of interest: I am a man, and I’m pretty sure I’m guilty of mansplaining.

    I enjoyed reading this, and it gave me a lot to think about, about myself, and about the way society is structured. I don’t think that the assertions made or implied in the article are wrong; I expect that there is a gender difference between the givers and receivers of this kind of explanation. However, I don’t agree that this article in any way proves or even particularly illustrates that this is the case.

    This doesn’t stop it from being an interesting talking point, and a valid contribution in that light. I would be interested to see evidence – by which I mean a properly controlled study – that shows this is specifically gendered, and not due to the position on what Callie refers to as the ‘privilege ladder’. In other words, it may be that men tend to be privileged, and privileged people tend to ‘splain, rather than that men ‘splain.

    And I find myself concerned that the notion of evidence seems to be downplayed (e.g. “If anyone feels Ms Solnit lacks proof of her argument, perhaps that person should look at the gender of those writing these lengthy comments of why and how she misinterpreted her own experiences.”). Surely, given that sexism is prevalent, there is lots of rich evidence of sexism at work available for the studying? If anecdote is considered sufficient grounds for argument, then why reject anecdote as counterargument?

  23. Comment by Edward on August 22, 2012 at 9:54 am

    “My houseguest, the brilliant theorist and activist Marina Sitrin…”

    I LOLed at “theorist.” Pure comedy.

  24. Comment by Joe Evans on August 22, 2012 at 9:58 am

    I’m a man, and I’d just like to say: guys, surely you can see that with this particular article, leaving a lengthy explanation here about why the author is wrong is kind of a self-defeating gesture?

  25. Comment by Emily MacDonald on August 22, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Men, naturally thought incorrectly, assume women want to know how the world works instead of the of the world as a magical. There is a reason superstitions passed along from generation to generation are called “old wive’s tales.” They lack grounding in fact and rely heavily on someone’s anecdotal evidence in the misty past. Women have traditionally been less interested in empirical evidence than men, which also goes a long way to explain why women are far more likely to be regular church-goers.

  26. Comment by ClevelandLib on August 22, 2012 at 11:19 am

    I am amused by flurry of mansplaining from the mansplainers whose thin skin was so easily pricked by this essay.

    Their egos prevent them from seeing the irony and they really want to believe that just because they were lectured to a few times in their lives by some know-it-alls, it can even begin to compare to the daily life of a woman having almost every man in her life tell her she’s not smart enough to know the 411.

    Kate Marshall, I think most people accept the older people in their lives can pass wisdom on to the younger. I think there can be a little valid privilege to do so in experience.

    In my opinion, the best answer you can give to your little sister if she doesn’t feel confident to comment on a subject, is to advise her to inform herself on those subjects she’d like to speak up about. Instead of explaining to her, encourage her to educate herself. This essay is one of many sources when considering the subject of feminism.

    I just ordered ‘How To Be A Woman’ by Caitlin Moran, heard her interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air, loved what she had to say and of course she’s also hilarious..oftentimes humor can really drive a point home to a younger person without it feeling like a lecture.

  27. Comment by Bob on August 22, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Others have pointed it out – I couldn’t make it thru the entire article. It was too patronizing, wordy and arrogant.

    Women intentionally act stupid to get what they want, avoid confrontation, and not have to be the ones to step out on a limb.

    You may be suffering from what a bunch of other bimbos have been responsible for creating … but the root of origin is in women who intentionally create lower standards for themselves. *Shrug* It sucks, got it, I’m sorry.

    As far as sexist, raping murdering pigs in the middle east. Like every other red blooded man – I’d cut their balls off and force them to eat them given half a chance.

  28. Comment by Burns on August 22, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    Great article and essay… really enjoyed the perspective and the few chuckles along the way… really enjoyed the work

  29. Comment by Phil on August 22, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    I agree with a lot of this article, but part of it makes it sound like women never talk down to men about “things women just know more about”, which is untrue. I’ve been talked down to by men and women both plenty of times – it’s not just a one-gender thing.

    Men aren’t wholly arrogant just as women aren’t wholly stupid, or any other stereotypical, insulting assumption.

  30. Comment by Phil on August 22, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    Also, the comment about restraining orders….what? You want to just be handed one without proof, simply because you’re a woman? That’s sexist in and of itself. A guy being harassed by an ex-girlfriend should have to get some proof and have the cops enforce it because he’s male, but a woman with the same problem should just get it? Uhhh, equality, anyone?

    As for domestic violence, I know people whose wives will take swings at them every time they get pissed off. Let me guess, since they’re men, they should just “deal with it”, and she should face no penalty for her actions, right? If a man had swung at her, he’d be arrested on the spot, and rightly so.

    For all the hardships women do indeed face in today’s world, they also have it extremely easy in a lot of things.

    Both genders face problems, but no one’s willing to say that because they’re labeled “sexist” for wanting everyone to be on equal footing. Because that makes sense…..

  31. Comment by James on August 22, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    as a man I can’t help but feel a little hurt that one who fights for equality would then proceed to label a whole gender under the acts of a minority. It is my belief there is only way to create equality between people and it is achieved through respect towards all. Boxing a gender in based on some peoples behavior only serves to push the type of stereotypes that have diminished what we as a race should be working towards.

    It’s only when we let go of the stereotypes and start to look beyond the genders, sexual preferences, religious outlooks, political views and what countries we are from, that we might grow.

  32. Comment by Alex on August 22, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    I was going to leave a comment mansplaining why this article was wrong, as a joke, but after reading the comments here I realize that it would be impossible to distinguish that comment from the comments of men who are actually doing that.

    Maybe they’re all just very clever parodies?

  33. Comment by Peter Asdf on August 22, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    Tits or GTFO.

  34. Comment by Ryan James on August 22, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    I mansplain things to all genders, but it’s because of my own baggage. I actually take very seriously the subjugation of women and in spite of it I continue to act out – because of my own issues of needing to be heard and validated. I do NOT want to be seen as “that guy” or an asshole, but alas my own convictions would be perceived that way.. It’s a vicious cycle that has virtually nothing to do with gender and everything to do with nature and nurture. IMO

  35. Comment by Faruk Ateş on August 22, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Hi, another man here! I’d like to address my comment not to Rebecca, whose article is great and was great the first time round, but to the men responding to her in the comments.

    Dear Dudes: if the entirety of your comment can be summed up as “You’re wrong; here’s why” then you, sir, are mansplaining.

    Neither the author nor any keen observer of these issues argues that women don’t explain things, or that the Men Who Explain Things don’t explain to other men. What this symptomatic issue is about is that Men Who Explain Things To Women have a tendency to _listen_ to other Men Who Explain Things, but do _not_ listen to any woman who explains things. It’s their modus operandi that because they are Men, they are Right, and that if the other participant is a Woman, she is by default Wrong.

    It deserves noting that this is driven by our societal structures that tell men at every turn that they are free to do whatever _they_ want to do, yet tells women that they should consider themselves lucky the men are _letting_ them do whatever they want to do. This is society ingraining the gender divide upon us all, meaning, if you haven’t spent much time observing, addressing and counter-balancing the gender-normative influences of society in your own life, you’re probably still a product of them.

  36. Comment by B on August 22, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Interesting how the differences in gender or race is always the path writers, comedians and journalists take when they don’t have anything interesting to say.

  37. Comment by Blackpants on August 22, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Hahaha. For the best example yet, see the comment by Bob above. I was starting to have a hard time recalling recent examples, because the men I encounter and keep in my life are genuinely informed, enlightened and smart people–not those trying to “prove” that they are.

    A man commenting on an article he didn’t even read? Calling a woman’s essay irrelevant for being “wordy and arrogant”? Wow. This reminds me of all the ignorant fools who fight to have the last word on current events right after admitting they never read the news.

    From what I’ve seen, there is often a generational difference in how men treat women. I’m hoping these boors die out quicker in our lifetime than video rental stores.

  38. Comment by Ruth on August 22, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    Isn’t the point that these ‘men’ who act like they know everything are men…. As the writer states, it’s not all men who do this, and the fact that these men inflict their ‘knowledge’ on other men seems very believable (as people have stated here). I don’t think that makes it a non gender issue as they remain men. Sure, not always inflicting their ‘knowledge’ on women only. I think it is worth considering though that they may disproportionately give this knowledge out to women.

    I’m sure that the writer is aware that there are other power dynamics at play other than gender. However, if those who have commented here (who seem predominately male themselves) are so supportive of gender equality, but appear equally sure that this is not an example of its opposite, perhaps you could look at it another way. Is it not likely that a group of individuals with a collective identity who are given power – political and physical – over another group are likely to display that superiority complex in many ways, including through ‘knowledge’. Could this not be happening here? I’m sure that race, socio-economic background, nationality etc also play their part in these issues and gender is only part of it. To say that gender has no role within this though seems to overlook the very issue of power relations which it seems most people cannot deny exist.

  39. Comment by Corey on August 22, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    What a condescending sexist woman. Being the only man besides my dad in family, I was raised by women. So telling me how my brain works because of the way you’ve created stereotypes and a superiority complex is an irresponsible usage of your intellectual capacity.

  40. Comment by Anna on August 22, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    Thank you for a wonderful, insightful, and deeply familiar analysis. I wish you were an obligatory read in high schools. And I will make my students read it. Go get them, tiger!

  41. Comment by intruiging on August 22, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    I think that a lot of the Male answer syndrome(what I have referred to it as over the years) simply starts as a desire to fix things or tackle a problem. I have been known to in the past analyse or over analyse a problem or situation and infer things about the issue without having factual basis for said statement. Sometimes this has made some extraordinary BS escape my lips. I believe that inherently, this is a mechanism that stems from a good nature, that like anything else can be taken to the point of perversion. I like many men before me have been called out on it, and took to becoming more of an observer than needing to “help” everyone around me(whether they wanted it or not). I noticed that a lot of these traits in relation to women were trained by common interactions at an early adolescent age in particular, dating roles. Personally I’ve noted that I’m much happier the less I try to dole out advice. Sometimes it is difficult to avoid this, especially in relationships in which you care about someone a great deal, but standing back and waiting for those who may need advice to come to you and instead of solving problems, giving advice and having those individuals make a solution is far more gratifying. As with anything else, a touch of arrogance and privilege not checked can tarnish any good nature.

  42. Comment by John on August 22, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    Well, to all the women on here saying that men responding to this article should just keep it to themselves since they’ve never lived life as a woman… all I can say is, you’ve never lived life as a man, so how would you know that you get treated any differently? Men explain things to you, Ok, but you’re not a man, so how would you have any idea how much we have things explained to us by other men AND women? And how would you have any idea that the amount you have things explained to you is any less than men?

    This is the problem when anyone starts yammering about how bad they have it compared to anyone else. All you have is your own life to look at. Maybe you’re not as smart as you think you are and need to have things explained. Maybe you surround yourself with arrogant people. Or maybe you don’t have it any worse than anyone else, you just think you do.

  43. Comment by beep on August 22, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    No doubt that people like this exist. Beautifully written and well-expressed. There is a lot of truth to it. Still, each time I read it I can’t help to feel it’s a huge overgeneralization. OK, so you’ve met a few assholes along the way. Haven’t we all? I certainly have met women like this as well.

  44. Comment by Nick on August 22, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    Is all writing just different explanations of our world?

    If so then maybe the pie graphs below are just a symptom of men wanting to explain things?

    But then, probably not.

  45. Comment by KopyKat on August 22, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Thank you for opening the discussion of women rights to me.

    When I mention a fact about a topic I have always wondered why it is usually followed by a comment such as: “Are you sure?” or “Where did you hear that?”

  46. Comment by Zelda on August 22, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    I love all the mansplainers here in the comments who insist on mansplaining to us all how “mansplaining” isn’t really a thing because men who are mansplainers tend to mansplain to everyone, other men included. Uh-huh. Please….tell us more about your experiences with this phenomenon and how un-gendered those experiences have been for you. And how those experiences negate the author’s experiences and how misguided it is of her to write an essay about her experiences in a way that calls attention to gender issues. And how arrogant and patronizing her writing style is. And how her essay is counterproductive to the project of gender equality. And how we have a special word for women who “womansplain”: nags. And how illogical, non-qualitative, and anecdotal (= illegitimate) her personal essay is. Please. Continue. We’re all ears.

  47. Comment by Dan on August 22, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    It’s comforting to see that women can be just as sexist as men. I’m sure the right to be predictably stereotyping of men is exactly what Shirley Chisholm and Gloria Steinem were going for. Pointing out people’s faults in the broadest sense possible is a surefire way to bring about change and never backfires or alienates them. Keep up the good work!

  48. Comment by Thomas on August 22, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    I really enjoyed this. It is well written, timely, and pushes me to think about my actions and how they affect others. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

  49. Comment by Lyra on August 22, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    @pike: I appreciate what you said, but I would argue that it IS hard to address one’s privilege and to actually make changes in the behavior being addressed.

    Clearly many people who read this article did not make changes in their behavior… at least not yet. Maybe six months down the line they’ll reread this article and have a “damn, I (screwed) up” moment. Ideally I’d like to see people addressing their s$%t all the time, but that’s a lot of work, and most people aren’t doing it.

    How would you, or anyone really, recommend approaching someone who doesn’t notice or refuses to address the fact that they too have s#$t to work on, so that they actually hear you and don’t just get their hackles up? It is not the responsibility of the person receiving the annoying behavior to fix, or even deal with, the person who is showing the behavior, but sometimes it’s nice to give back to my friends and community by helping them figure out their s#$t.

  50. Comment by babs on August 22, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    Ever been in a conversation with a group of guys, voiced an opinion or idea, had it ignored, and then heard it REPEATED VERBATIM by another dude as the rest of the group nods sagely? Happens to me all the time, especially if it’s a discussion surrounding how to fix a problem. Not to mention my solution usually turns out to be right. ;)

  51. Comment by Melinda on August 22, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    I wasn’t going to comment on this article because I thought it spoke for itself. But after reading the comments that were posted, I felt I had to say something.

    For those of you demanding empirical evidence in a controlled study, how exactly would you go about that? Since the common experience of most women — that of being interrupted, disregarded, dismissed and rejected as a liar or an idiot since birth — is not empirical enough, what do you propose, instead? I can say, as a woman, that I have experienced all of those things constantly since I was very young, mostly from men (though not exclusively, of course. Solnit herself concedes this.) and especially in cases where I was the subject expert and was invited or expected to explain something. Are you telling me that this account isn’t credible because I can’t back it up with “facts?”

    That is exactly what Solnit is talking about.

    And to the person who said “For all the hardships women do indeed face in today’s world, they also have it extremely easy in a lot of things…” Please name one thing. Just one. If anything is easier for women today than it was yesterday (easy, even. Not “extremely easy.”) it is because the women of yesterday fought and bled and sometimes died to make it easier for us. The way you wrote that sentence only reinforces what Faruk said above:

    “It deserves noting that this is driven by our societal structures that tell men at every turn that they are free to do whatever _they_ want to do, yet tells women that they should consider themselves lucky the men are _letting_ them do whatever they want to do.”

    I am in no way saying, and I am sure the author is not saying, that men have faced no difficulties. But it is a fact that societies the world over oppress and silence women and have done this for millenia, and that the primary source of this oppression has been men. This is not a competition. This is not a pity party. Women do not mean to delegitimize the hardships of the male sex by pointing out and seeking to alleviate the hardships of the female sex. It’s not as if we have to choose between the two — the world can accomplish both. But for that to happen, men MUST acknowledge that the problem exists. And that, like it or not, you have probably perpetuated it in some way, perhaps unknowingly and unintentionally, in the same way that people passively participate in racism. I do not think you are evil or bad or wrong in the way a liar is wrong — I think you are a victim, too, of a system that has indoctrinated you to think of women a certain way. But we cannot throw off those chains by denying that the problem exists. We cannot make progress by trying to address a way in which men are hurting us and then be told that we are not reliable witnesses to our own experience. That will only make things worse for everyone.

  52. Comment by landscape on August 22, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    I love how any disagreement with any part of this article – if said by a main – is “mansplaining” itself. So apparently the only thing that isn’t “mansplaining” in response to a feminist article is aggreeing with every point made?

    Just imagine for a second that a man wrote an article about “here’s something women do”, and as proof provided a handful of times a woman did something he found offensive. Would he be applauded for his astute observations about women? Or laughed at for mistaking his own anecdotal experiences for actual research on a topic?

  53. Comment by Indiefem on August 23, 2012 at 12:13 am

    Have you noticed how some men respond to information or discussion like this with a knee jerk turn around argument like, well if women do this to men, it’s also unfair; ienthey like to bring up some sort of ‘reverse’ discrimination or equality issue. They clearly refuse to understand the point and yes, are ‘explaining things’, ignorant of ignorance. So comforting that you can express these ideas so well. Thanks.

  54. Comment by A Gale on August 23, 2012 at 1:00 am

    Reading this great article reminded me of our first trip to Europe, in 1970. We would see an American couple arrive at an art museum (any art museum). The man would then invariably, and loudly, tell the woman (and the rest of us) which paintings to look at, what they were about, what to look for and so on. The woman’s job was apparently to remain silent and admiring, of her male, rather than the art.

  55. Comment by Niamh on August 23, 2012 at 7:51 am

    Rebecca says that she is in her 40s. I’m a woman who has just turned 30 and I’m glad to say I haven’t experienced the level of gender discrimination she seems to have.

    I have, however, experienced the situation of not being heard (by both genders), despite having something important and useful say and actually taking the trouble to say it. In the last few years I’ve undertaken challenges that have drastically increased my confidence. Now, when I express myself, people listen.

    I know people listen to me now because I have confidence and self-belief. Before, I thought most people knew more than I did and that I was just a stupid kid. And that’s why no one really listened.

    IMO, the gender discrepancy that Rebecca is describing above is a result of the majority of men and woman being taught to value themselves differently from a very young age.

    So I don’t think a large % of men spontaneously desire to patronise women. I think the effect is more that a large % of women don’t value their own opinion enough and are taught the tactic of deferral of authority.

    There’s also another factor: women are encouraged to arrive at decisions that affect groups by discussing options and arriving at a consensus. It would an unspoken assumption of gender identity that to be manly means having a definite opinion or solution all of the man’s own. So both genders feel under pressure to arrive at solutions in opposing ways: women don’t want to seem overbearing and men don’t want to seem weak.

    So bosses, if they are men can be manly and have definite opinions. Female bosses with definite opinions can be categorised as overbearing and unfeminine. And this is where women are genuinely at a disadvantage. People can argue that women have certain things ‘easy’ but the bottom line is that bosses/leaders rule the world and that being a decisive, self-assured decision maker is still largely seen as unfeminine.

    Why should I have to feel – to any extent – like an un-woman if I want to lead?

  56. Comment by Jason on August 23, 2012 at 9:13 am

    Wow. I’ve never been so insulted.

    Firstly, yes, I am a man. If just being a man makes my comments wrong, then you, ma’am, are guilty of the same sexism that you’re trying to rally against. I personally prefer the idea of ‘equality’ – not feminism – because sexism works both ways.

    We (yes ‘we’ – don’t pretend that you’re immune to being sexist or racist simply because you see yourself as the victim!) got into this mess because ignorant people paint one group with some quality when that quality is universal – blacks are good at sports, women are good at cooking, jews are good with money – well, the post above is just an attempt to add ‘men are arrogant’ to the list which is counter productive.

    Know how I know that being arrogant and condescending to one particular group isn’t just a male trait? Just reread the post above and pretend you’re a man.

  57. Comment by Sam on August 23, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    Feminists, allow me to introduce you to someone: persecution complex (although I think you know her well).

    Has it never occurred to you that perhaps gender has nothing to do with it and that there are just horrible, stupid, patronising (or whatever) people in the world? People very often do bad things to other people. It is not always because of their gender.

    In the Muybridge book story, the obvious explanation is age, not gender.

    In any case, fighting gender generalisations with more gender generalisations is a really winning strategy, way to go. You’ll definitely end gender discrimination by continuing to do it.

  58. Comment by SJ Smith on August 23, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    This is definitely a man thing. When I was in my early 30’s, I was the only woman in a meeting full of men. I’d been hired as an expert on the meeting topic. In the course of the meeting, one of the men asked a question, and instead of letting me answer and do my JOB, three different men, each with more convincing authority than the previous, gave three completely ridiculous answers. When I gave the correct answer, the level of annoyance was palpable. It was a real lightbulb moment. Since then, I’ve experienced this phenomenon many, many times. Since then, I’ve also noticed something about my own gender: some women, even when 100% sure of the facts, will, at times, preface her presentation of said facts with, “I think” or “I believe,” as though it’s only her opinion, as if not wanting to offend the hearer. I’ve, in fact, done it myself on occasion. It seems traditional gender habits are difficult to break on both sides.

  59. Comment by Donald on August 24, 2012 at 4:18 am

    It might be an existing problem. But everybody in this conversation sould be aware that there is always a sender a receiver. This is very strong focused to a male sender.
    I am looking forward to have one day an essay about “womensplaining”…

  60. Comment by Handlebar Mustache on August 24, 2012 at 8:06 am

    Yo Rebecca, I’ma let you finish, but there was a very important article published a few years ago on tomdispatch.com that you really must read. It’s called The Island of Arrogance or something like that. Drop me a line and I’ll explain the gist of it to you, based on what I’ve heard about it.

  61. Comment by Ad on August 25, 2012 at 4:04 am

    Personally, I’ve noticed men feel comfortable acting like this to women, but not to other men. It’s an implied act of domination, and guys know this, even if they don’t want to admit it. At least, such has been my experience among my testicled brethren.

  62. Comment by Ken on August 25, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    A very very long article. I wonder if class isn’t a bigger prompter of this sort of behaviour, or status at work. Isn’t this really just a case of people behaving like patronising wankers just because they can?

  63. Comment by H.M.W. on August 26, 2012 at 9:49 am

    I loved finding this article when it was first published in 2008. As a young woman who has been participating in and fighting to be respected in my daily life (aren’t we all), academia, my job, my living room full of friends, parties, comment sections in articles, my relationships with family and friends, etc., this is my experience. without a doubt. it is so pervasive an experience to be belittled by men, ignored, talked over, and patronized that it is almost not worth bringing up. i have always lived in a very progressive, politically active community. the worst offenders have been men who seek to explain to me how oppression works, how politics work, how they are the best activist and most cultured and most aware. really–tell me more–and take up all of the space in the conversation to tell us all what you think. the source of the problem is that men are raised in a culture that tells them we are all dying to hear what they have to say about everything. men are not raised to listen. and just so you know, while many women are listening to your constant belittling, we are rolling our eyes. when men behave in this way, it never surprises us. every woman shares this experience. women in my life have more than once made their way through an experience like this, looked over at me, rolled their eyes, and made a mocking gesture of a man jerking off. it’s shorthand for solnit’s analysis, and it is understood immediately by any woman.

    this is not a generational problem (see: young “MANarchists” at occupy, every other guy friend i’ve known and loved, etc). this is such a common experience that i am shocked to see it met with such suspicion by men. it’s as if i said the sky was blue and was then told i was wrong.

    i just cannot believe that this is a controversial article. it is really dismaying. i thought you guys knew you were doing this. every single negative comment here is a prime example of mansplaining. i could copy paste them to my friends and they would all roll their eyes, laugh, and then shudder at how much work there is still to do.

    thank you rebecca solnit for saying what goes without saying among women, but apparently is shocking news for the vast majority of men.

  64. Comment by Jerry on August 27, 2012 at 12:54 am

    I’m verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves.

  65. Comment by jonnybutter on August 27, 2012 at 9:51 am

    I am a man, and I knew exactly what ‘mansplaining’ was just having read the intro to the piece. As has been mentioned, men are the recipients of ‘mansplaining’ too – all the frickin’ time!

  66. Comment by Pat on August 27, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    A lot of men on here claim that Mansplaining happens to them as well. Are we to discount their experiences?

    Is it at all possible that insufferable boors grate on both sexes equally, but that because of the climate of sexism, women experience this as misogyny?

    Remember, everyone experiences an explainer, but few ever experience the motive for why they explain. I too have seen the ashen look on the face of an explainer when their conceit is exposed. I’m not sure that their discomfort, generally, comes from the gender of the one that exposes this conceit. From my perspective, it appear to come from a crack in their facade of confidence.

  67. Comment by JKaydia on August 27, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    I found it very hard not to see sexism and martyrdom in this article. I feel the ‘explaining’ referred to is rather broad, and that anyone who thinks they are informed or superior will talk down to others. Then, only 3 days after reading this essay and most of the comments following it I watched Mansplaining in action on Real Time with Bill Maher.

    Episode 255, round table (the first half). Three men including Bill and one woman are in discussion. The conservative on the panel (a position demonized and berated on this program without pause) yells out that “…you think China is gonna come walking over, just fly over like it did at Pearl Harbor?” No one bats an eye, they let his point stand despite the fact that every person in America SHOULD know Japan was the aggressor and that these countries are in NO way interchangeable or even very similar. The lone female, a second later, says “…President Obama wants to take defense spending down to 490,000…” and is instantly corrected by Bill and she repeats the correction and carries on.
    It is a basic and broadly taught FACT that Japan attacked the USA at Pearl Harbor and that China has never attacked the USA, and no one corrects this male. It is a small fact inside a large opaque budget proposal that most officials don’t even know all the information on that is corrected instantly when the female slips on the b in billion.
    The more I think about my own life and working with men and women the more I see this as a reality. I would never say that this is exclusive to men; women do this to other women just as much when they are in the position do so. But seriously, there it is, they do this to WOMEN. Women are being ignored and doubted and explained to far more than men in the same situations, I’ve seen it happen and had it happen to me too many times. What this article fails to do is contextualize this as a societal problem rather than a ‘guy thing’ because it IS a problem, just not one perpetrated by men alone. We are all the problem, from the Explainers (male or female) to the docile victims who laugh politely or bite their tongue.
    PS I really enjoied the well thought out comments, left by either sex. The comments are twice as informative as the essay for me.

  68. Comment by Michael on August 29, 2012 at 12:25 am

    A comment section replete with men behaving condescendingly towards a woman over an article she wrote that suggests that society is replete with men who’s immediate reaction toward women is to behave condescendingly?

    Such. Utter. Epic. Fail.

  69. Comment by Culturally Critical on August 29, 2012 at 4:47 am

    This article is a complete disgrace toward real feminists who are trying hard to create and authentic discourse. This article is really about being transparently absurd so as to create an angry and polarized response. Solnit should be ashamed of herself and so should anyone who is gullible enough to print this.

    Here is what is wrong with the article.

    >>>”I still don’t know why Sallie and I bothered to go to that party in the forest slope above Aspen. The people were all older than us and dull in a distinguished way, old enough that we, at 40ish, passed as the occasion’s young ladies. The house was great—if you like Ralph Lauren-style chalets—a rugged luxury cabin at 9,000 feet complete with elk antlers, lots of kilims, and a wood-burning stove. We were preparing to leave, when our host said, “No, stay a little longer so I can talk to you.” He was an imposing man who’d made a lot of money.”

    These details don’t make one very sympathetic to her since she comes across as snobby and judgmental. If you think your party mates will be “dull” why bother to go? Obviously this is not a very good way of establishing that your “credible”.

    >>>He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?””So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingenue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I’d somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book—with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.”

    That makes her sound very insincere, and it it also explains why he was confused when her friend (rather than her) explained that it was “her”. He asked a very straightforward question. We are left to wander how bad of a faux-pas he actually made if she subtracted all the hyperbole.
    Here, let me just say that my life is well sprinkled with lovely men, with a long succession of editors who have, since I was young, listened and encouraged and published me, with my infinitely generous younger brother, with splendid friends of whom it could be said—like the Clerk in The Canterbury Tales I still remember from Mr. Pelen’s class on Chaucer—”gladly would he learn and gladly teach.”

    Such purple prose, but it doesn’t establish her credibility it makes her sound ridiculous.

    >>>So, Mr. Very Important was going on smugly about this book I should have known when Sallie interrupted him to say, “That’s her book.” Or tried to interrupt him anyway.But he just continued on his way. She had to say “That’s her book” three or four times before he finally took it in. And then, as if in a 19th-century novel, he went ashen.

    Solnit doesn’t bother to explain this to him herself so caught up as she is in her assigned role as “ingenue” (in her 40’s)

    >>>>”Being women, we were politely out of earshot before we started laughing, and we’ve never really stopped.

    What does being a woman have anything to do with being “polite” enough to avoid laughing at somebody within earshot?

    >>>”When River of Shadows came out, some pedant wrote a snarky letter to the New York Timesexplaining that, though Muybridge had made improvements in camera technology, he had not made any breakthroughs in photographic chemistry. The guy had no idea what he was talking about. Both Philip Prodger, in his wonderful book on Muybridge, and I had actually researched the subject and made it clear that Muybridge had done something obscure but powerful to the wet-plate technology of the time to speed it up amazingly, but letters to the editor don’t get fact-checked. And perhaps because the book was about the virile subjects of cinema and technology, the Men Who Knew came out of the woodwork.A British academic wrote in to the London Review of Books with all kinds of nitpicking corrections and complaints, all of them from outer space. He carped, for example, that to aggrandize Muybridge’s standing I left out technological predecessors like Henry R. Heyl. He’d apparently not read the book all the way to page 202 or checked the index, since Heyl was there (though his contribution was just not very significant). Surely one of these men has died of embarrassment, but not nearly publicly enough.”

    Some men disagree with you and its sexism by default? Not much credible information to go by here.

    “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…”

    So why is Solnit trying so hard to not be credible? High post-modern irony? (I’m not really kidding) Whatever reason she has, she is being highly irresponsible. It is reprehensible.
    Why is she writing this article if she sees how horrible it is when women are not trusted?

    >>>>”Men explain things to me, still. And no man has ever apologized for explaining, wrongly, things that I know and they don’t.”

    Being wrong isn’t crime even if your a man. This sounds an awful lot like this definition of “mansplaining” that has a lot of currency on the “feminist” blogs
    This definition: “Mansplaining is when a dude tells you, a woman, how to do something you already know how to do, or how you are wrong about something you are actually right about, or miscellaneous and inaccurate “facts” about something you know a hell of a lot more about than he does. Bonus points if he is explaining how you are wrong about something being sexist!”

    Yeah that is right, you read that correctly, whenever a man says something to a woman who’s smarter than him he’s “mansplaining”. This incredibly bizzare definition of mansplaining that looks like it could have been written in some snarky anti-feminist dictionary of radical feminism is the definition that has dominant currency within the “feminist” blogosphere. (it’s the most relied on definition when someone tries to explain “mansplaining” within internet feminism)

    Stuff like this which is full of transparent absurdities is everywhere within the “feminist” blogosphere. It’s very hard to distinguish an “over the top” work of irony from authentic feminist thought. People like Solnit are tools, political hacks, who will stop at nothing to disrupt honest debate.

  70. Comment by Brie Gyncild on August 29, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    Thank you for writing this back in 2008 and for sharing it with us now! Oh how it resonates! The comments section provides quite an illustration, as well.

    Anyone who hasn’t read Callie’s comment should read it, too. As she points out, this, like so many issues related to sexism, is really about power and can be found any time there’s a cultural dynamic between majority or dominant and less powerful populations. As a white lesbian, I can quickly notice it when a man or a straight ally is patronizing, but it’s much harder for me to see it in my own behavior when I’m the culturally dominant one in the conversation. I try not to behave this way, but honestly, I suspect I sometimes do. It’s difficult for people in the dominant group to see their own privilege, but such privilege is very clear to those who don’t share it.

  71. Comment by Aine on September 5, 2012 at 3:17 am

    To all the men who think this isn’t a gendered problem, that they are condescended to, ignored, belittled and talked over as much as women are, and that women are guilty of this as much as men: try posting online using a female screenname for a month or so. Take an honest look at who says what to you, how and when.

  72. Comment by softestbullet on September 10, 2012 at 12:24 am

    This article is still awesome.

  73. Comment by Ahulani on September 29, 2012 at 1:26 am

    Here is a good one:

    My brother, a lawyer, proposed some kind of deal with the family trust of which he is trustee asking for the approval of my siblings and myself. I sent him a series of questions I wanted answered before I made my decision. He responded by saying: “Sounds like you’ve had someone prepare these questions for you.”

    I was an editor of the law revue and won 2 scholarships for being “Top Female Student” in law school.

    What really makes me insanely angry is that I still want approval and recognition from a$$holes. Some dudes will see us and others won’t. Why do we still give a $%^&?

  74. Comment by Lisa Kipp on October 1, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Interesting that all the comments taking exception with this article are coming from MEN. Why are you defending yourselves? This woman says this happened to her. That means it happened to her. That doesn’t mean you get to say it didn’t happen to her, because you don’t think YOU do it.
    Ugh. Pretty scary to have an opinion or a personal story about anything in the world today, since any Tom, Dick or Harry can post his ugly opinion on what you’ve written. How is this any different from telling minorities that they aren’t experiencing racism, when they so clearly are? How is this different?

  75. Comment by Tony Partridge on October 8, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    Brilliant, entertaining and insightful article, thank you …… And judging by the pompous long winded and somewhat embittered responses from many of the male critics it clearly irritates the very same male egos that you so skillfully eviscerate, once again ….. Thank you

  76. Comment by Johnson on October 16, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    I’m going to point out the irony of this situation-
    As a man, anything I have to say about the topic will subsequently be relegated to mere “mansplaining,” which is the crux of any “anti-feminist” argument on the web. Many men can’t articulate their frustrations without resorting to virtual chest thumping, but I can.

    It’s actually very simple. By belittling men’s responses, you put your own views on the pedestal of perfection, that you shouldn’t have to consider the possibility that YOU are wrong. If I’m arguing with a lady over… say, which topics should be taught in a “women and american culture” class, and you take the elitist highroad and accuse me of “mansplaining,” you’re pretty much saying that as a member of the human race, I cannot contribute to the topic at hand at all because my experiences and thoughts on the matter are essentially worthless. In this example, how can you teach a women’s studies class without the input of the people you claim are oppressing you? How can you dissect and fix the issue without open discussion? The same goes for the opposite. Men must allow women to integrate into their formerly closed circles without resistance, but who wants to do that when our views are tossed aside?

    A social revolution without the input of all parties is not a revolution.

  77. Comment by LK on October 18, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    I stumbled upon this article after a google search because I wanted to know if this sort of thing happens to anyone else. Thank you for sharing this piece. It made me feel a little less alone in a world where I feel that everyone is always explaining things to me.

    Most recently, my husband was lecturing my on how difficult it is to play songs by Franz Liszt on the piano because someone with hands my size would not be able to reach all the keys. “Have you ever played any Liszt?” he asked me. (Sort of incredulously) Since I took classical piano lessons for twelve years from a very gifted pianist, the answer is of course, my teacher assigned quite a bit of Liszt for me to play. The funny thing is, my husband can’t play the piano at all. He’s never taken lessons and he can’t read music. But he felt the “Intro to Classical Music” class that he took in college made him an expert on how to play piano even though he cannot actually play.

    Also, one facet that may not always get attention is one of cultural differences. I am a half American and half South Indian woman. There are a number of times where a Caucasian man has lectured me at length about the features of my own culture. A co-worker who travelled in Thailand for two years as a missionary spent an hour telling me about what it’s like to be in a South Indian family, as though I wouldn’t know (as a member of such a family myself). And my husband’s family (all Caucasian) are similarly condescending. My husband’s father routinely corrects my pronunciation of Hindi words and city names that I learned from my Indian aunts and uncles because “he once knew a guy who said it differently” so I’m “wrong.” Even my husband, routinely lectures me on India and Indians and when I offer additional information, he tells me that I’m closed minded and obviously don’t want to learn about India.

    I am beginning to think that at its core, this is less of a gender issue and more of a power and privilege issue. But I do believe that it likely masquerades as a gender issue because positions of power and authority have traditionally been held by men.

    Just some thoughts. Again, thank you for this piece.

  78. Comment by Claire on October 23, 2012 at 6:10 am

    Really glad to have come across this piece. One thing it’s making me think about particularly is the bit in the article that an earlier commenter pointed out, where Solnit and her friend did indeed follow / obey / comply with the obnoxious man’s request for them to stay and be talked at by him. I don’t for a moment absolve him of his, as the commenter said, boorishness. I do think we need to look much more often at ‘our’ part in these kinds of situations, the ways that we as women do indeed tolerate and invite behaviours that are condescending and often sexist.

    This isn’t the only point to be made about this piece but it’s an important one. Solnit’s points about those of us who get a lot of encouragement are also extremely important. Take an example of a woman who chooses to enter into an academic relationship (in which he is the teacher / explainer and she is the student) with a man she regards as sexist and as sexually harrassing. She does not end this relationship in spite of how bitterly she feels its impact on her. This is the point where I ask what else the situation is giving her or enabling for her – or, a more nuanced way of asking, why is she remaining there?

    I think Western cultures spend a lot of time telling women that it’s ok and natural to be non-assertive, to be victims of violence, that we are non-agents and that yes, it’s really hard to go through, but it’s all rationalised. I’d rather say, fuck that, when one is treated in a sexist way or gender-abused, an obligation is conferred on one, on me, that is almost definitely not welcome but I think is an obligation none the less. For me to limit offer only ‘supportive’ reassurance to a woman struggling with this obligation is to tell her that it’s ok for her to give up, ok for her to give way to all her doubts and fears, ok to take a role in perpetuating the violence from which she is suffering. The man needs to alter his behaviour AND the woman needs to alter hers.

    So I think Solnit’s article would have been enhanced by a discussion of the ways in which we as women submit to and further our conditioning to waste our time putting up with shit. These are not behaviours that are ever exclusive to women but they are structurally reproduced in us and by us. And this emphasis is not a sexist claim that men are inevitably sexist – but when we don’t challenge these behaviours we violate men, passive-aggressively, by framing their sexism as innate and unchangeable.

  79. Comment by Marlo on February 5, 2013 at 10:53 am

    It’s phenomenal how much fear and hubris is contained in many of the male responses here. I haven’t read all the comments, but in my brief skimming it seems that most of them are based on distortions of Solnit’s piece, efforts to dismiss her entire point of view, as opposed to engaging with it as a valid perspective.

    In my reading I don’t find her to be saying that men, or others, can not be critical of her work. Or that men can not have opinions on feminism or history, or that all men are always guilty of patronizing women. Rather she seems to be giving an account based on her experiences, and those of women she knows, that a pattern exists and is culturally promoted in which men are often uncomfortable with listening to and learning from women, and as such attempt to discredit or silence them.

    As men I think we suffer in this situation as well, because we miss out on valuable perspectives, experiences, and knowledge that can enrich our lives. I’ve been to many speaking engagements where men dominate the discussion, interrupt when others are speaking, pontificate ad nauseam, etc (I’m guilty of this too, of course).

    It’s true, as some have pointed out, this isn’t just directed towards women. I believe men in general are trained to boast and carve their intellectual territory as a means of proving themselves and their worth, which is unfortunate. Why? Because it has a tendency towards dogmatism, fundamentalism, and closed-mindedness.

    Ultimately, if men can relax and listen to a message, it seems like more of an invitation to open our ears, minds, and hearts to women’s voices. We might just learn a thing or two.

  80. Comment by Karen Henninger on March 12, 2013 at 7:19 am

    I just reread this. The first time I must have been in the midst of life’s demands. I don’t know Rebecca Solnit, but just did some library searching and I’m interested now. I’m a woman writer too and it feels like I just hit upon a world that echos my own, even some of the subject matter. Writing, Art, Wild West Technology…
    see http://commonsense2.com/2011/06/uncategorized/old-a-vast-state-of-humiliation/ and karendee57.wordpress.com

    I feel like we are literary and imaging daughters of Dale Spender and Judy Chicago. At least I am.

    The responses, IMHO, are such a waste of anything productive for me. I think there is so much lack of comprehension of where we are as people. Let’s just start with only less than a century ago, women and men were segregated and weren’t allowed to ‘play’ with each other as children at some point, we’re allowed to be together until married and then after marriage, not allowed to talk to the other sex without suspicions of sexual activity. We are only ALL learning what’s really going on.

    If something doesn’t speak to you that someone writes, then so what. Find what does. But I think there is a difference between an individual behavior and a designated ‘group’ behavior. For example, at some point in history, the group designated behaviors were men don’t get ‘afraid’ and women don’t get ‘angry’, breaking those stereotypical roles would then, in many cases, cause social reactions and quick responses to set things ‘right’, especially by ‘officials’ like psychiatrists, doctors, etc. Same with women driving race cars, girls climbing trees and playing with hot wheels, boys playing with dolls and men cooking the family meals. All these are examples of (at some point) enforced social ‘norms’. This fact of social norm by group that exists does not mean that everyone and everywhere that only ONE thing happened. In a world with millions of people, it’s bound to be that many things happen to many people. How one deals with the ‘enforced social norms’ and responses matters. Unfortunately, many go along to the norm for mere survival and to avoid negative social punishments and reactions, and therefore, reinforces ‘group’ experiences.

    We are not at a stage in conversation between the sexes where this confusion about what is going on is articulated. The responses here – such as calling someone who EXPLAINS the social environment that exists as if it IS sexism of the author is an example.

    If one is on a ladder – as people are in hierarchies of relationships – for one person the rung of the ladder is up if one is below it, and the same rung is down for the person above it. When we see something that is directly opposite of what another person says, it doesn’t make them wrong. It makes their position different in the world. The key is to get out of the domination of assuming that the reality of our world is the same for all of us when it is not as if one size fits all and at the same time to find the places where what IS the same for all of us on this planet is what is right for all of us. In other words, it’s about getting it ‘right’ either way. Any person alive today should begin with an understanding that we have inherited a mess with ideas about gender and be open to everyone’s views and no one’s views but those fitting ourselves. I mean, both can exist. It’s because of domination that we keep thinking only one thing at a time must be ‘truth’ and exist when in fact two things that sound like contradictions are in fact just simply two things in existence, like up and down on a ladder.

    In other words, we first have to really understand we’ve been gendered and stop leaping over that gender as if we are the same and can begin as humans, But we can’t have conversations as humans until we treat each other as humans. Did you ever have a rope or string that was all knotted up and pulled on the string that made the knots tighter and caused the knots to bunch up? Well, when you stop pulling and you loosen up the string at different places, you begin to unravel the knot. I’m not the first to call this a gender knot, but it is. When things are all knotted up, they are neat and in order and aligned and symmetrical. They are chaotic and twisted and back and forth. The easing of the rope for me is breathing space into these conversations where I don’t cut the rope off, and I don’t pull on it tighter, but I actually move it back and forth and in and out and up and down until it’s loose and FREE……we are all getting there, and that’s the good news. Thank you Rebecca for putting into words an experience that I was having as a woman writer and artist whose got a brain and a need to express my inners moreso than many others. It’s the job. And thanks to all the responses that help me to see the kind of responses and discussions I don’t want to waste my time on…..because the segregation of our gendered minds is something that I gladly want to move away from and into a world where we can both be human and not ‘partial’ humans. I heard it said once that what women experience for a lifetime, men experience for a few moments….within the relationship of men and women gendered. Men may experience the same thing from OTHER MEN – which is why the Declaration of Independence for Freedom was written, but they did not and do not experience a social world where they are confined to a home or social space because of a body part they have at the hands of women presidents, women organized militarily and women in control of the government. And they may not experience a world where it takes so damn long to explain the most simplest of their experiences and then get accused of taking up too much space in a world where we are all reduced to a whole new kind of literary dehumanizing which is mentally perceiving a whole person from reading about two paragraphs, or even five. Two or three paragraphs and I’m out of here……impression finalized. Just a few accusations before I leave. The ultimate of trashing people, IMO.

  81. Comment by Dan on April 9, 2013 at 1:49 am

    When someone writes to share their subjective experience of something, I can either find it illuminating and thought-provoking, or not.

    But what I can’t do is argue that she’s mistaken, based on my own experience, and insist on explaining what her experience must actually have been.

    If you disagree that this is something she’s experienced, I’m sure you have intellectually rigorous arguments why you feel that way.

    And you’re wrong.

  82. Comment by Spike Murdock on April 9, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    RE : the Author

    I think I dated her in college…

  83. Comment by Spike Murdock on April 9, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    Being an aging latino male, I find all this talk so confusing! Just stop dating short men! Now I will go find a wall to sit and lean against and drink tequila until I pass out and my sombrero touches my knees…

  84. Comment by Russ on May 19, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    Thank you. I will try to listen to myself more carefully to reduce the number of times I find myself engaged in this behavior. Your experiences and your wisdom to put them in a perspective and context are helpful to me.

  85. Comment by Dustin on June 29, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Great article. Thanks to Rachel Maddow for indirectly exposing me to it, and Ms. Solnit for writing it. Made me reflective of my own attitude towards my interactions with women, and men as well.

    And thanks to the many, many fellow men who read and commented on this article and helped mansplain it to the rest of us.

    “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

  86. Comment by line kramer on June 29, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Thank you for writing this. Beside the grotesque examples, this exists in the dept of our (Western) society in a all accepted, more hidden but therefore nasty way. For them who can’t taste these nuances, because often this authority issue occurs in small language in tiny gestures, in easy to be ignored situations, I would suggest that you need a lot off finesse and selfknowledge to be able to see through these often camouflaged power plays.
    Me, as a very experienced technician, working in a ‘men’s’ world can testify on this. But there is a very elegant and beautifull cure, that helps and almost always works: humor.

  87. Comment by Karstan on June 30, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    Thanks for the re-print. I came across the original article a couple of years ago and it opened my eyes. Although I’ve always considered myself a feminist, I was once a “Man Who Explained Things.” Thanks for the wake-up call.

  88. Comment by H on July 28, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    A few comments suggest that Solnit believes men should not be allowed to question women, and that men are doubted just as much as women. But this is not the point being made. Solnit’s claims exist within a context.

    Women are doubted & scrutinized in intellectual & other stereo-typically masculine arenas. Men are doubted in stereo-typically feminine arenas such as child care. The difference is men are not doubted on the basis of their sex, except in roles which are considered inferior (feminine) to men’s potential. Women receive less backlash for preforming roles outside of their gender norms. However, there are inherent negative stereotypes against women in stereo-typically masculine roles, which creates volatile stereotype-threat. Stereotype-threat against women’s competency in these roles creates a toxic environment for women & perpetuates negative stereotypes.

    Men are not doubted in competitive professional & academic fields which require intelligence, ingenuity, creativity, based on their sex, but based on their performance, & other activated stereotypes. Women are doubted firstly on sex alone, in addition to other available stereotypes, until they are able (often at the permission of men in power) to prove their worth. Their worth & success is then framed in exceptionalism, “for a woman,” whereas men’s sex goes unrecognized as the invisible norm. The best a woman can do is the best a woman can do while playing at a man’s level: where men coast. And women’s achievements, even then, are more often attributed to luck rather than skill.

    Claiming that men & women experience sex-stereotyping equally in the context provided in this article, as some here have elected to, explicitly contradicts what current research indicates. It is not sexist for Solnit to identify & expound upon institutional sexism.

    Additionally, there is an INHERENT difference between sex & gender which must be considered when understanding the statement “confrontational confidence of the ignorant is…gendered.” Gender is a prescribed role dictated by a society, and masculine gender-role does prescribe confidence, leadership, aggressiveness, etc. While women suffer harsher restrictions in their prescribed roles, men suffer greater backlash for violating masculine gender-roles. I have not researched this specific claim, so with a grain of salt, there may be basis for “confrontational confidence…[is] gendered”, in that men are expected to know more than women, & to direct interactions, and do take more risks than women to meet expectations. Such a case would be detrimental to both sexes, and is a symptom of gender-roles in society.

  89. Comment by Peter Poole on September 12, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    The really troubling thing to me is, in spite of a solid belief in gender equality and at times being a good listener, I suspect that I may be completely unaware of the times when I become a Man Who Explains Things. If that is so, I hope it is not something inherent in the “explaining” itself, but more a question of caring to understand that a dialogue involves two people. Hard to believe that gender does not enter into that equation. I think I will ask my wife to read this article too. It may prove to be illuminating and I hope not too painful.

  90. Comment by Patriot Informed on September 13, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    This was an interesting read, but I think she beats her drum a little too loudly here, thereby unwittingly giving credence to the very thing she is protesting. While I don’t disagree that things used to really be horrible for women, we have come eeons in progress, though a REAL war on women does certainly exist in other parts of the world. Look what happened to the sleezebag mayor of San Diego. People don’t put up with it anymore. Women are largely responsible for nearly 75% of the economy last I heard and have and are breaking through barriers right and left. That is a good thing. This woman keeps referring to her many authored books, as though those define her worth to be heard. She doesn’t need to do that. Simply by virtue of her having a voice, any voice, she has a right to be heard, gender notwithstanding. The following link by Bozo Biden also infers that women are somehow weak and in need of separate legislation. No. The Constitution affords ALL of us equal protection. It doesn’t differentiate, or shouldn’t. I may be altruistic here, but I think it’s not a valid argument anymore. Some men are certainly jerks, but so are some women. The real blessing is ridding our lives of all who are anything but lovely. She mentions as a recurring phrase, “Some men”. That right there shows even she realizes you can’t lump them all in as a sub-demographic. We need to stop all this divisiveness and become unified. We are all humans. We are all Americans. We all love, feel pain, laugh, cry, eat, sleep, drink, mourn, and on and on. We should emphasize our vectors where we intersect and build on that. http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/09/13/biden-house-republicans-are-a-bunch-of-neanderthals-for-holding-up-violence-against-women-act/

  91. Comment by Anthony Sebok on November 26, 2013 at 6:52 am

    I liked this essay very much. Therefore I want the following to be taken in its proper context. Notwithstanding the offensive tone of the man with whom Ms. Solnit spoke about HUAC, I don’t think that his claim was far-fetched. By 1961 (when Women Strike for Peace was founded) HUAC’s role in American politics was much less important than the late ’40’s to mid ’50’s. I suspect that Mr. Very Important II , like many people vaguely familiar with American politics, assumed that this is the period of activity to which Ms. Solnit referred, and I think that his assumption was not idiosyncratic. The the word “downfall” is at issue here, I suppose. HUAC wasn’t “disbanded” until 1975 (or 1969, when its name was changed). But its downfall — in any interesting sense — occurred before 1961.

  92. Comment by Ted on December 3, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    What Ms. Solnit it cannot know, because she is not a man, is that even in a group of only men, the same men who mansplain to women tend to mansplain to other men. Men are socialized to be modestly annoyed by this at worst, unless it’s truly egregious. We quietly sigh to ourselves about it, maybe crack jokes behind the back of the worst offenders.

    I would be surprised if more than 20% of men who mans plain to women do not also mansplain to men. It is mostly a non-sexist personality flaw that is rampant in men. It happens because men are socialized to desire to seen as authoritative, wise. And because they’re encouraged to be bold in conversation. And men don’t complain about the behavior when they receive it from other men because we’re socialized to be unthreatened by other people’s arrogance.

    The solution here is to teach women confidence in the same way men are taught it, but also to teach men humility in the same way women are taught it.

  93. Comment by Guest on December 9, 2013 at 11:38 am

    This is the reason Gen-X women date younger men. We’re the most educated of all generations, but older men still talk down to us as if we were idiots. It’s worth dating a less stable younger guy just to avoid the patronizing lectures from the older guys. I have 2 graduate degrees and a membership card in MENSA. I don’t need a dreary “mansplanation” of anything. :)

  94. Comment by Sno on December 9, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    This article reminds me of a recent conversation with my dad, who is definitely guilty of mansplaining. He started to explain the difference between the terms “climate change” and “global warming”. I know the difference! I have a masters degree in climate change!

  95. Comment by Ron on February 7, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    This article tore my heart out, and I’m thankful for it. Although I’d imagine that everyone has condescended to someone at some point, I had never really considered that there might be a gendered angle to it. I’m glad to have come upon this article, and I’ll try my best to avoid “mansplaining” from now on.

  96. Comment by Miguel Reznicek on February 7, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    Hi Rebecca
    I’m a man and am perfectly capable of accepting when you (or any female) know something and I don’t (even when I have been trying to “teach” you about it erroneously). My only question is why did you write this piece? It comes across to me as if you are angry about something that while it matters – matters little. You should just be proud of your accomplishments (as a writer) and realize the following: There will always be someone more knowledgeable and many less so. So why dwell on it?
    Congratulations on all your books! (I have yet to write one!)
    Migs

  97. Comment by Kyle on February 10, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    This was a great article. also ‘Dude, if you’re reading this, you’re a carbuncle on the face of humanity and an obstacle to civilization.” is the greatest diss of all time.

  98. Comment by Paul L White on February 11, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    I’d just like to say my brain screams at men who like to patronise and belittle women. Everything you report I have witnessed and has made me ashamed of my gender. After a life in broadcasting and journalism I know that women have a far greater ability to understand, analyse and explain. It is that uniquely feminine sensitivity that takes their thoughts and words far beyond the simplistic male. Now I must immediately buy and read your work, which, for my sins, I have never come across before… and yes, I am British.

  99. Comment by Karen Henninger on February 12, 2014 at 9:12 am

    I appreciate Paul White’s acknowledgement. Thank you to him. I only want to ADD to his comment that my brain screams that what women have comes from what they are assigned to be and do. I want to be heard that like men not doing the laundry, there are areas of living, relationships and life that women are ‘responsible’ for – often unpaid. It is WORK – that is concerted effort and time that women put into things so they can have the results. It’s about what one pays attention to. I’m tired of both men’s irresponsibility of carrying the necessary load of what needs to be done for humanity where I KNOW that men have been raised, for a few generations, to JUST be concerned about ‘being the provider of a paycheck’ and seeing ‘women’s work’ as inferior and of less value or not even counted as ‘work’. Work itself is framed in what men do. Over my lifetime, I’ve seen more men know about football than anything to do with relationships with humans. The results are seen globally. I mostly want to say that ‘this isn’t some feminine nature’. It’s HUMAN nature and it’s a division of work. Some of the work, with women moving into the ‘work world of men’ in the last few decades is actually GOING extinct. It’s one thing when moms no longer ‘bake their own cookies’. It’s quite another when the very work of ‘mothering’ – emotional caretaking, loving, relationship knowledge, nurturing and daily health care’ and ‘knowing’ what men claimed ‘inferior women’s work’ is being lost to a generation of children. The results being that mothering itself is being driven by doctors with medications and statistics that does not translate into mothering. Doctors can’t replace mothers the way restaurants replaced mom’s cooking. Like the loss of farming, the loss of the work of mothering is being turned over to big business and unless women can start getting respect for what they do know and that knowledge being valued as much as Bill Gates or Stephen Hawkings contributions to the world, there is and will be needless human suffering because of the lack of that knowledge. I hope this makes sense. It is very destructive to have men dominate the world and conversations as if their work and knowledge is the superior and only valueable . It isnt just individual interacting – it’s a collective destruction of the world we live in. I write to provoke people to think and bring knowledge and value to relationship work so that human functioning can thrive in ways comparison to NASA’s ability to get a robot to Mars. It’s possible, but change is necessary.. More can be see at karendee57.wordpress.com

  100. Comment by Paul L White on February 15, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    Thank you Karen…we are all people and carry equal responsibility for our work and lives. Every gender brings unique qualities to solve every problem. We all deserve equal respect.

  101. Comment by Franco on March 20, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    “Logic is a tool of the patriarchy to dominate women.
    I’m a feminist does not need logic”

    LOL

  102. Comment by RJ on May 11, 2014 at 9:30 pm

    “Hi Rebecca
    I’m a man and am perfectly capable of accepting when you (or any female) know something and I don’t (even when I have been trying to “teach” you about it erroneously). My only question is why did you write this piece? It comes across to me as if you are angry about something that while it matters – matters little. You should just be proud of your accomplishments (as a writer) and realize the following: There will always be someone more knowledgeable and many less so. So why dwell on it?
    Congratulations on all your books! (I have yet to write one!)
    Migs”

    …I hope this is a joke.
    The author’s opinion of what matters doesn’t matter? She’s “angry” (read: emotionally overreacting)? Clearly, there is no respect here for the author’s experiences or judgment (“why did you write this article?”)
    This idiot is only reinforcing the author’s point.

  103. Comment by cheesedoodles on May 15, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    Thanks for such an insightful article! I couldn’t have said it any better than this! I’m with you and can empathize having experienced endless mansplaining situations myself over the years. Bravo!

    PS: love the irony with all the extensive mansplainin’ going on here in the comments section–

    mr. Mansplainer: “Hi There Gals! I’m busy with Real Important Things your little girl brains can’t possible fathom, so I haven’t taken the time to read this girl’s article. Nevertheless I feel an intense, compelling need to explain to you ladies exactly what’s sooo wrong with this gal’s article.”

    -priceless.

  104. Comment by Linda M on May 26, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Summary: “I don’t like it when my ideas are tested by facts and reason, which I blame men for, and would prefer instead for them to shut up and not challenge my preconceptions.”

    No mention of all the 100% female panels that claim to offer a balanced perspective on gender equality and men’s issues either… maybe if you didn’t treat half the male population as invisible, they wouldn’t come out of the woodwork whenever you try to speak for them.

  105. Comment by Katy Korkos on May 31, 2014 at 10:44 am

    Thank you, Ms. Solnit, and please continue to also fight the battle on behalf of women older than you. Since my hair has turned gray, I find myself increasingly interrupted and marginalized, to the point of invisibility. My experience is considered irrelevant and dated.

  106. Comment by andye on May 31, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    Reading articles like this I am struck by how much of the behaviour described could easily be an Alpha male talking down to a Beta male. It seems like there is a hierarchy of alpha, then beta, and women get to slot into their default position underneath both.

    It would then logically seem that equality would mean that women have as much of an opportunity to become an alpha or beta themselves. Would we really want to perpetuate this system, though? And would it really work if women weren’t there at the bottom? Much of the Alpha/Beta conflict comes down to the perception by Beta men that the Alphas are getting all the money/sex – and women are the gift that is promised men for fulfilling societies expectations. So you have condescension at Alpha, resentment and bitterness at beta, and women get to be held on a pedestal that has no actual power or respect. They are the trophy and the currency, but have no agency in this system.

    I feel like if the built-in relegation of women in the pecking order is to be removed, then the Alpha/Beta situation must be addressed at the same time. I feel like they are all parts of the same problem. Like there is this system and we are all stuck in it and encouraged to play our roles. Like the whole house needs to be demolished. If we all keep pecking we are just changing our position in that system, not stepping out of it. Not breaking it.

    Am I mansplaining here? I don’t mean to be, these are my thoughts directly upon reading your article. I would be interested in feminist perspective of my man-theories. Thanks!

  107. Comment by Karen henninger on June 2, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    Okay…..Here’s a way to say what might not be understood by men reading this. A Man can NOT KNOW a woman’s experience until and if he’s a woman. Trying to understand then isn’t taking a woman’s experience and interpreting it through a man’s with man’s knowledge. A man lacks the experience so he has nothing to contribute. That’s the problem women have had enough of but seems to just continue. In order to know a woman’s experience then, the proper response is to 1) ASSUME that a woman is describing her own experience perfectly and accurately. 2) Show a response of a willingness to learn and listen about women a long time. (Try a few women studies classes, or some marginalized women’s books or go into women spaces (where allowed) so you might LEARN by experience of being ‘out’ of a man’s dominant space. (Remember we have it our whole lives)… and 3) ADD NOTHING and 4) If you want to help, ask a woman what she needs and 5) DRUM ROLL………..just try doing what she wants and going out of the comfort zone of the man dominated world and try subordinattion, silence, and creating a world that is DIFFERENT because a man has changed his behavior. Warning: You’ll have to learn about women first before you can do this because you don’t want to do this with just ANY woman…..You have to have some common sense that doesn’t come from being a man. Sorry, I didn’t create this. Just worked a lifetime to articulate this mess in hopes of creating a harmonious world and good relationships.

  108. Comment by Josie on June 19, 2014 at 10:28 am

    I haven’t read all the comments, but I will admit that I have been the one doing explaining to men and women, although many men I’ve explained things to do make it hard for me to do so. What can I say, except: I’ve seldom been called Lady-Like after I’ve opened my big ol’ gob.

    Question to provoke thought: Does this phenomena, arrogant men who explain things, tie in to the innocently ignorant conversationalist who asks for things to be explained while a discussion above their pay-grade is going on?

  109. Comment by Sharon on June 19, 2014 at 11:04 am

    The other day I met with a man about 65 years old. He kept reminding me how young I was. Now, I’m 32 so I’m ok with being told I’m young. But then I mentioned my parents, and mentioned my father would disagree with what he just said.

    His response was “well I guess maybe I would feel the same if I was as young as he is”.

    Now I should mention this meeting was a professional meeting, this man knows nothing about my family or my father. I should also mention my father is 70…

  110. Comment by jg on June 24, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    For men to comment on this subject is a daunting no-win situation. Nevertheless – I think it is important to call out several issue from a male point of view. The Wildlife profession was one of the worst offenders in terms of lack of female representation. However the last 15 years shows an interesting and positive development: the growing majority of wildlife graduate students and new professionals are female….at least from all the major land grant University wildlife programs. Due to this and other factors, I work successfully in an organization that is 80% female. I find articles like this extremely discomforting. One of the biggest pitfalls of humanity is to make nonsensical correlations between two things with no cause and effect relationship. Like equating a mass shooting episode with a generalized misogynistic male culture, as opposed to a specific case of mental illness (recent news). Or connecting the struggles of college educated female Americans with the life or death plight of a woman in a specific third world nation with zero cultural linkage to our homeland.

    Humans love to grasp at randomness in hopes of cobbling a pattern, and the more passionate we are about a given subject, the more variables we try to connect to it – that’s not a gender thing, is an Ape thing. The bottom line is that there is a growing number of normal men and women leading normal lives that find harmony with the opposite sex in the workplace and at home, but find the surrounding culture of gender awareness to be an increasing pain in the ass:). Admittedly, that’s a brand new problem that is, from one perspective, a luxury to have. One of the surprising outcomes of equality in the workplace is the opportunity for men and women to share in the frustration having bosses, feeling under-appreciated, spending too much time away from your children, and feeling stressed out all the time. Welcome. One of the worst parts of equality is that it produces a partnership with two work-stressed people who still have to be a family. I reserve the right to explain myself:)

  111. Comment by Bonni on July 3, 2014 at 12:02 am

    Thank You.

  112. Comment by toby on July 3, 2014 at 5:00 am

    i can definitely chime with this. As a man and occasional single parent i could also write an essay on Women Who Automatically And Offensively Assume You Can’t Parent Properly Because You’re Male but it wouldn’t be as good as Rebecca’s. As so the war rages on.

  113. Comment by NAY on July 4, 2014 at 1:44 am

    This reminded me of what comedian Donald Glover said about women’s stories of their crazy exes were never as funny as guy’s stories. Why? Because usually women with crazy exes are dead.

  114. Comment by MC on July 5, 2014 at 11:38 am

    To the men who are complaining about men who explain things not being a gendered issue, because they too are on the receiving end of men’s explanations…

    Who is explaining it to you? A man? So… men think they know better than women, AND other men. That’s still a gendered issue.

  115. Comment by HoBi on July 6, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    I had to explain the term mansplaining to my husband. He’d never heard it. He now works in an all-male office, partly due to the fact that it’s a small office and everyone who works there was referred to the boss by a buddy. Anyhoo, when I told him what it was, he said, “Oh god, I HATE that! Wait, do I do that?” I assured him that he only did it when the topic was a subject upon which he considered himself an authority, to which he responded, “Is that why you never want to play video games with me?” Yes, honey, that is indeed why.

    On a different note, Andye brings up a useful point. I think perhaps we can make long-term change by simply pecking away at the problem, and we may have to settle for long-term pecking, actually, because to address mansplaining and the whole alpha-beta construct simultaneously would make our goals all too clear to the invested alphas, who have nothing to gain. That might bring more violent backlash than is safe for those of us at the wrong end of a gun during an armed tantrum. But I must admit I’m too impatient to wait for real change. I want to be alive when it happens ;)

  116. Comment by Charles on July 15, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    The Economist published an article called “Why Men Interrupt” (written by an author, R.L.G., whose sex I don’t know and using as it’s main source a book by Deborah Tannen) that says the thing that women are criticizing men for saying here: men mansplain to both men and women. The idea seems to be that men are trying to prove their superiority to everyone.

  117. Comment by manexplaining?? on September 10, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    This article is the epitome of gender arrogance and hypocrisy. Congratulations Rebecca Solnit. Sexism at its finest.

  118. Comment by manexplaining?? on September 10, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    Welcome to Womansplaining,

  119. Comment by Buzz Fledderjohn on September 27, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    I live with four women — a wife and three daughters. I love them all, but three of them tell me what’s what every chance they get, regardless of whether they know much of anything about the topic, and they’re typically dismissive of what I think. During my grad school tenure, my mother-in-law twice informed me that my dissertation topic (involving evolutionary biology) was ridiculous. When I asked her to elaborate, she’d say, “I just don’t think that’s right.” She’s an atheist, so religious beliefs had nothing to do with it — this was just an extreme example of her tendency to take the opposite position on whatever I happened to say out loud. I once had two business partners — a husband and wife — and the wife’s contribution to all proposals to grow the business was so predictable that it might have doubled as her version of our mission statement: “We don’t do that.” (Usually stated with a sneer.)

    To be fair, my dad was a contrarian, and my mom wasn’t. I currently have three business partners, including two women, and of the four of us I’m probably the one who would get picked as the arrogant know-it-all.

    I guess my point is: People are rectal orifices, in general. A good percentage of people are dismissive, overconfident pains-in-the-ass. Aspen-guy seems like a self-important tool who was shocked that a woman would have authored an important book. He sounds a lot like my female gender psychology professor, a woman who made it abundantly clear on a daily basis that no male had anything of worth to say about gender issues, least of all an undergraduate.

    In short, I’m not at all convinced that Solnit’s experiences confirm that assholishness is gender-biased in an important way. I’m somewhat convinced that women and men are more sensitive to dismissiveness that comes from the opposite sex. Yeah, that makes me a “mainsplainer.” That term of ultimate, no-explanation-necessary dismissiveness might bother me, but it also helps make my point.

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