Mansplaining : Dumbing Down for the Gentle Helpless Females
A Swedish union has set up a hotline for workers to report instances of “mansplaining” as part of a weeklong effort to raise awareness of a certain kind of condescending elocution that men use to explain to women things they already understand.
Well, actually, it’s not all men who do it, of course, but a certain kind of man. You know him: He is probably getting ready to mansplain this article to you.
The hotline, which is temporary and open to men and women, was set up by Unionen, a trade union that represents about 600,000 private-sector employees in Sweden and describes itself as the largest white-collar union in the world.
“Our objective is to contribute to awareness and start a discussion which we hope will be the first step in changing the way we treat each other and talk about each other in the workplace,” Jennie Zetterström, a union spokeswoman, said in an email on Wednesday.
“It’s important to create awareness about how seemingly small things that we do or say add up to a larger issue.”
Between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. every day this week, members are being encouraged to phone the hotline to talk about mansplaining in their working lives. The calls will be answered by 20 men and women, who are gender experts, authors, academics and others.
“The most important thing when we consulted these people is that they have knowledge and interest in the issue,” Ms. Zetterström said. “Both women and men carrying valuable experience for such a type of activity.”
So far, Ms. Zetterström said, callers have asked for advice on speaking up when they feel run over by male colleagues, and on how to help female colleagues who are being ignored by men in their working groups.
Others have asked how to address clients or colleagues who address only the male employees — even when a woman is in charge — and how to address men who get credit for a woman’s work.
The term mansplaining — a portmanteau of “explain” and “man” — entered popular usage after the author and historian Rebecca Solnit published a 2008 essay titled “Men Explain Things to Me.” She described attending a party at which a man insisted on explaining to her a “very important book” he had heard about and did not immediately seem to absorb that she had written the book.
With a knowing roll of the eyes and a deep sigh, women — and some men — recognized the experience Ms. Solnit relayed, and a new word was born.
Just this year, a man wrote to the advice columnist Amy Dickinson to complain that she had misused the term in her response to an earlier letter. She replied that his letter contained “an almost magical dynamic”: “Others complained that I had misused the word ‘mansplaining,’ but you are the only person to mansplain while doing it.”
Predictably, the hotline in Sweden has prompted a strong reaction. The Independent newspaper reported that Unionen’s Facebook page had been inundated with negative comments, “particularly from men.”
“Our intention has never been to point fingers or blame all men, our intention has simply been to spark an interest and start a debate at our work places and in society,” Ms. Zetterström said. She added that the debate had been “lively,” and said, “Of course it’s regretful if someone feels offended.”
But the union says it hopes the hotline raises awareness of gender discrimination in the workplace and, in doing so, perhaps helps to alleviate it.
“Obviously not all men subject all women to mansplaining all of the time,” wrote Peter Tai Christensen, one of the gender experts who will be manning the phone lines. “That would be an absurd assertion and not based in reality.
“But enough women are subjected to it by enough men for it to be a problem that warrants being addressed, discussed and resolved.”
Christina Anderson contributed reporting, and Jonah Engel Bromwich and Daniel Victor contributed male opinions.