Everyone’s an expert

By Pearl Benjamin | May 09, 2019


There, I’ve done it. With the mention of a partly infamous, partly overused term, I’ve made a man’s skin crawl and a woman’s fist clench in reminiscent fury. I’ve found it’s wise to be careful around the word “mansplaining” nowadays because it incites chaos.

Somehow that funny word has turned into a derogatory smear that pits couples against each other and turns sensitive, thoughtful men into wounded, exasperated WWE fighters.

Where did this trigger word come from? Maybe I’ve romanticized it in my memory, but I seem to remember the word “mansplaining” being a playful term, a casual reminder. Maybe that’s just what I think it needs to be. To mend the still tense dynamic between rightfully enraged feminist women and enlightened and sympathetic feminist men, we need to understand that mansplaining doesn’t only apply to men, shouldn’t be overused or over-dramatized, and is very easy to avoid.

Although it’s true that I’ve most often experienced mansplaining when it comes from men, I know that both genders are to blame for the way we look at mansplaining today. Women actually play as much of a role in the mansplaining crisis as men do, when they morph into prejudice detectives and become hyper-sensitive to any hint of superiority in a man’s tone. I know this because I myself am a crouching entitlement lioness, ready to pounce before the guy’s first word is even uttered. As exhilarating as it is to finally have the freedom to call men out on every preening thought they utter, it doesn’t actually help the feminist cause. When men are constantly called out for mansplaining, they can’t help but feel degraded, attacked, silenced (sound familiar?) and end up lashing out against women and digging themselves into a far deeper hole.

Women, and men, we need to work on using that withering expression only when it is absolutely applicable and we also need to work on accepting and understanding when and how we’re doing it. Believe it or not, mansplaining is a simple concept. It’s pretty easy to understand and even easier to avoid.

Make sure you ask yourself these questions before you begin to mansplain and go through the same list before you accuse someone else of mansplaining:

Mansplaining check 1: Did the person you’re talking to ask you to relay the information? This is the most important clue to gather before delving into a lecture. Unless you are the other person’s teacher, boss, or mentor, it is never a good idea to begin a complicated screed about something the other person didn’t ask you about. It’s rude and it’s also fairly likely that you’re boring the other person to death. If you want to have an engaging conversation wait for a direct question before you launch your nerdy missiles. If you just want to listen to yourself talk, a better chatting companion may be a mirror.

Mansplaining check 2: Are you an expert, or at least well-informed on the subject? Make sure you have some basis for beginning your explanation. Knowing what you don’t know is better than pretending to know something you don’t. It doesn’t mean you can’t participate in the conversation. You just don’t have the skills to take the wheel this time. Ask questions, provide feedback and be curious. Learning new things is good! And while you’re at it, don’t forget to ask the person you’re talking to about their own expertise. Because it’s entirely possible that the little girl with the long braids and the Swedish accent is currently leading a global climate justice movement, pal.

Mansplaining check 3: Are you offering unsolicited advice about someone else's personal care or routine? If you are, please stop. What is it about exercise and eating that makes others so desperate to share all those pro tips and clever hacks? Why is it that everyone else seems to think they know more about what’s good for my body than I do? This mansplaining tactic is a particular peeve of mine. Even if you do consider yourself stronger, healthier or better organized than someone else, don’t assume that they’re looking for self-improvement tips. There are other ways to participate in a conversation about self care habits. If someone brings up their exercise regimen, chances are they’re proud of it. So congratulate them! Ask them about their methods of exercise but don’t follow up with suggestions.

The same goes for all other parts of personal routine. Avoid advising unless you’re asked. Don’t counsel people about their education, even if they’re struggling in their classes or trying to figure out which college to go to. Don’t tell people what time they should be doing their homework or how they should wash their face unless you are a hired advisor. And please, please refrain from instructing people on how to more efficiently tie their shoes, butter their pancakes, or sign their letters unless you are speaking to a 5-year-old. Don’t be a backseat driver in someone else’s life.

Have you made it out of the mansplaining checklist? Are you safe? Then go ahead, tell us something we don’t know! If you’ve been asked to relay expert-level relevant information, you are not mansplaining, and if someone accuses you of it, push back! If one of these mansplaining qualifications was a little blurry for you, you may be mansplaining. You should stop to check before you continue.

Now, there’s one more tip to share about mansplaining, and that is that almost everyone does it! In fact, you just let me use my entire column to mansplain mansplaining. That’s right. I, Pearl Benjamin, am a mansplainer. Many of us are and it’s time we stop fighting it and start working on our conversational skills. The word “mansplaining” should no longer be one that inspires feverish contradiction. We don’t need to get overly defensive just because that accusation refers to a specific gender. We know that both men and women can be mansplainers and both men and women can be accusers, so let’s stop making this an argument about hyper-feminism and start making it about simple manners. And with that, I’ll end my mansplanation.

Pearl Benjamin is an 11th-grade student at the Watershed School.





Comments (2)
Posted by: George Terrien | May 14, 2019 10:10

Well thought, well constructed, well worded, well written, and compassionate.  A rare combination.

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | May 09, 2019 14:43

David Grima has competition. Ahahahahahahah!

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