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Mariya Yefremova Headshot

Mansplaining or Male Muting: Two Sides of the Same Coin

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A couple of years ago, a new term entered into the feminist lexicon, giving voice to a recurring experience that women undergo when they are explained to by men rather than spoken to: mansplaining. The term has recently become popular in the mainstream, particularly when discussing politics, especially the major offenders in the War on Women (Paul Ryan being a prime example, with a Tumblr dedicated to his mansplaining). The most infamous incident of mainsplaining is Rebecca Solnit's example of a conversation she had with a female friend and a man she had then met who talked over her to explain the contents of a book he believed she should read, which he himself had not, and which she had actually written. The incident served as inspiration for Solnit's book, Men Explain Things To Me, which deals with rape culture, violence against women and gender-based speech, which all interplay to perpetuate an inequality between men and women. Mansplaining, however, has been a thread running all through our cultural history; one can look as far back as John Adams explaining to his wife why she cannot have full legal rights to suffrage or the plethora of early Supreme Court decisions explaining to women why they need extra protections. The blog Academic Men Explain Things to Me has collected over a thousand stories of women's experiences being 'mansplained' in academia and beyond, with stories of women who are scholars, experts in their fields, who have studied a subject for decades, and who are paternalistically explained what the subject is really about. Mainsplaining is similar to whitesplaining, when whites explain the immigrant experience or the experience of being Black to people of color. Whitesplaining and mansplaining are both systemic manifestations of dominance.

However, there is another practice we are not currently discussing which also perpetuates inequality between men and women, and it is the opposite of 'mansplaining'; it is glossing over, it is keeping mum, it is censoring, it is male muting. It is when men do not correct women when they are wrong, whereas they would another man. It is when men do not call out women when they are bluffing or bullsh*ting something, whereas they would a man, without a second thought. It feels just as humiliating and just as degrading. A mansplainer assumes a woman knows less than he does. A male muter assumes a woman knows less than he does and thus feels no need to explain. Whereas the assumption for a mansplainer lies in a responsibility to explain something to the poor woman who just can't understand it, a male muter stays quiet because the poor woman probably won't understand it. It's nothing for her to worry her pretty little head about. Just as mainsplaining is subconscious, so too is male muting. It is not a conscious decision to stay quiet whereas one would not with a male, but occurs as a conditioned response.

Early sociolinguistic studies on interruptions have shown a greater tendency of men to interrupt in conversations with women than in same-sex conversations. Mansplaining is a conversation killer. Either I am frustrated and annoyed because I have someone explain to me concepts that I studied that they know little or close to nothing about, or I am bored because I have to listen to someone wax on about a topic I already understand. However, when I am not called out on being wrong, that is when by confidence is shaken. That is when I begin to doubt myself. That is as much of a paternalistic act for me as mansplaining is; it's simply another side to the same coin. It creates self doubt. It fosters a paranoia inside me that is threefold -- that what I am saying is incorrect, that the man who is listening to me knows it is incorrect and that he chooses simply to stay quiet. This creates feelings of incompetence and inequality. Though it may seem women benefit in this scenario, we lose out. It is frustrating to be appeased. Whereas I see in same-sex conversations partners who correct one another, challenge each other and disagree with the other, too often I see appeasement in conversations between men and women. I want to hear empowered exchanges between equals. I want discussions. I want to seize opportunities for growth. I want to participate in debates. I want to go point by point into discussing issues. I cannot do that if I am simply being appeased. I want equality.