Why We Need to Change “Mansplain”

I hate the term Mansplaining. A lot. The concept is really solid but the name is just not doing it for me. The following list is why I dislike the term “mansplaining” and prefer the term “downsplaining”. 

It’s poorly named and doesn’t fit where the feminist movement is trying to go. Right now “mansplain” has the definition of a man explaining something to a woman in a condescending way because she’s a woman, give or take. For example, a man explaining cars to a woman mechanic. But see, here’s where the issue comes in, another woman could give the woman mechanic the same mansplanation about cars to the woman mechanic, not because the first woman has male privilege and then assumes that she knows more about cars than the other woman, but because the woman mechanic lacks masculinity and therefore must know nothing about cars OR the woman who is not a mechanic in this situation could have Special Snowflake Syndrome and therefore believe she knows more about cars because she’s one of the guys etc. Now, just because the speaker lacks the same privilege as a man would have in these examples, the listener is still getting the same darn lecture on something she already knows based on stereotypes about a marginalised group, specifically women.

The extensions above are in fact applicable because a lot of the calling out of mansplaining happens on the internet. This is especially important, not just because gender doesn’t have to be disclosed or could be actively hidden but it is a very prominent forum where people can witness the application of men being the default. Basically, if someone is on the internet, people will assume that person is a dude unless there are active markers that seem to indicate the contrary (e.g. a user name such as “Samantha” or a pink avatar). This is where the “man” in “mansplain” becomes an issue. Because originally it was given that name because of the idea that only men do it because that was part of the definition. But if you call someone out on the internet for mansplaining, that person might not be a man. Once “mansplaining” was attributed to women and non-binary people, the idea that “mansplain” negatively portrays men as a gender starts to gain a little more weight. What starts happening is an active association of a negative idea with a specific gender and the word does begin to warp to “explaining like a man”.

"Explain like a man" or "Explain as a man" is kind of also the default reading of this word. If someone is unaware of the origins and/or definition that person isn’t going to think "Oh, that’s when some guy tries to explain something to a woman simply because he assumes he knows more because he’s a man". That person will think something like "Oh, that’s when men try to explain things, which they’re not allowed to do in the feminist movement". Obviously that’s not what we’re going for. And that’s when people start derailing left, right and centre and then the person doing the calling-out goes out of their way to link to derailing for dummies or explain what ‘mansplain’ really means. While it’s a great concept, the word just cannot do its job if people don’t understand it. Now, if the ONLY argument against this word was that it hurt men’s feelings, that’s not exactly a strong case to go changing it. After all, getting called out on something can hurt, but if no one does it, then things don’t’ change. But because we’ve already seen that it’s confusing, it’s frequently causing derailing /and/ it’s insulting, the case just keeps building. 

As I keep mentioning, I like the concept. It’s a great concept. I’m not suggesting we get rid of it, just change the prefix. That’s where “downsplaining” comes from. It solves the confusing and insulting aspects and probably (hopefully) mitigates the derailing. And, the best part? Its definition gets expanded!  A white woman explaining black hair to a black woman, downsplaining! Someone explaining depression to someone who’s depressed, downsplaining! Suddenly this concept can be expanded to all areas of marginalised life. 

That’s why I have an issue with “mansplaining” and that’s why I propose “downsplaining” as a substitute.