Splaining

Splaining is a thing, and it’s everywhere. The word has been around for decades–hundreds of years, in fact–and enjoys plenty of use today spliced to man. Lately a friend of mine posted on facebook that a guy he knew hadn’t heard of mansplaining, so my friend got to mansplain it to him. I wonder how that went–how many words were required, whether the guy got it the first time. Maybe it didn’t take much ‘splaining at all. Maybe there was laughter and not much indignation.

Or maybe they talked and argued ’til one or both were blue in the face and looked a little like this fellow, who splained himself to death. [Editor’s note: if the photograph didn’t come through with this post, you can read this online.]

His mansplaining days are over. Photograph 2019 Rebecca Lawton.

Merriam-Webster defines mansplain thusly:

of a manto explain something to a woman in a condescending way that assumes she has no knowledge about the topic.


Mansplaining is a thing, and it’s everywhere. Meanwhile the language allows for all kinds of splaining. There’s whitesplaining, gaysplaining, birdsplaining, wordsplaining, bossladysplaining, geosplaining, biosplaining, booksplaining, filmsplaining. (Beware of spoilers in the last two instances.) In these cases, a woman doesn’t have to be on the receiving end of the splaining, but a recent study shows that in one of five incidents, she is. (The study investigated control groups as well as out-of-control groups.)

It’s possible that, as with personality disorders, incidences of mansplaining manifest on a spectrum. Take narcissism: “Narcissism is a continuum, and the disorder sits at the very end,” [developmental psychologist and fellow at Stanford University Eddie] Brummelman, says. Pathological narcissism, which affects more men than women, is seen in one percent of the U.S. population, but narcissistic traits are estimated to manifest in fully half of Americans.

“Narcissists feel superior to others,” Brummelman says, “but they are not necessarily satisfied with themselves as a person.” Similarly, splaining has been kindly seen as a trait common in folks feeling less than secure.

But we’re generalizing here.


How not to be a splainer:

Assume knowledge in the listener until you learn otherwise • If you’ve been talking for two minutes straight without allowing a break for another to speak, stop • Take a breath • Take a couple breaths • Maybe you do own the whole damn road, but who’d want to travel with you? • Acknowledge • Listen • Allow


A girl can dream.


A girl can also take up drumming. Photograph 2019 Rebecca Lawton.

Splaining about those who do or don’t splain a lot (from a non-peer-reviewed, off-the-cuff inventory):

Man: soft-spoken
Woman: timid

Man: strong, silent
Woman: aloof

Man: focused
Woman: self-absorbed

Man: well-informed
Woman: knows it all

Man: projects well
Woman: loud


Rebecca Li, sociologist: “What I would say to women teachers is to understand the gender norms we have in our society so that you don’t think it’s me, something’s wrong with me that I’m being treated this way . . . [e.g., folks are splaining to me all the time about things I know]. Specifically, be aware of this phenomenon of a double standard for men and women. Study after study shows that women have to work harder–and achieve more–to maybe be seen as almost the same as a man in a similar position. Understanding that has helped me to not take things so personally.”


A girlfriend of mine, a really great boater, told me once: “I worked twice as hard for twice as long to get half the recognition.” If a male boater splained how good she was, that she had him beat hands down and could ace a run that kicked his butt every time, people sat up and took notice. They’d start choosing her raft when it was time to load up in the morning, where before they’d avoided it like bad sushi. In examples like this, mansplaining can be a good thing, but, otherwise, splaining sucks all the air out of the room or, if you’re not in a room, out of the body.


But then, if you’re on the receiving end of splaining, you do have the option to do this:

Rise up, when you’re living on your knees you’ve got to
Rise up, tell your brother that he’s got to
Rise up, tell your sister that she’s got to
Rise up, rise up.
(Lin Manuel Miranda, “My Shot,” Hamilton)

In other words, shake it off. Listen to the splaining if you must, but go your own way. Just be prepared to make enemies of some people and alienate the rest.


“Nearby” words in Dictionary.com are ‘s gravenhage, ‘s hertogenbosch, ‘sblood, ‘sdeath, ‘shun, ‘splain, ‘swounds, ‘t, ’til, ’tis, ‘tude. I can’t splain most of these–you’ll have to look them up.


Find my new book of essays, The Oasis This Time: Living and Dying with Water in the West (Torrey House Press), at your local bookseller, Indie Bound, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

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