Mansplaining? Windbags come in both genders

Mansplaining meets the lady lecture, courtesy @meghan_daum

Last year was a big one for criticizing men. Sometimes it was constructive if contentious, like the scrutiny applied to policing or various forms of sexual and domestic violence.

Other times, however, it was more gimmick than anything else. Take the "mansplaining" meme. The portmanteau of "man" and "explain" emerged a few years ago in response to an essay by Rebecca Solnit, who described meeting a man who tried to school her about a book she herself had written.

At first, the term was novel and catchy; some men, after all, are predisposed to assert their authority over others, and if those others happen to be women, well, the assertions can grow stronger. But as the term has grown in popularity, its meaning has expanded more or less into meaninglessness. As Kevin Hart pointed out in Salon last fall, mansplaining is rapidly becoming a term for any man saying anything at all.

In other words, Brian Williams doesn't just deliver the nightly news on NBC, he mansplains it. The plumber who tells you in elaborate detail about the extent of the damage? Mainsplainer. That waiter describing the specials even though you didn't ask? Mansplaining — and expecting a tip, no less.

But a watered-down definition isn't the only flaw in the mansplaining phenomenon. A bigger problem — at least according to my extensive and highly scientific anecdotal research — is that when it comes to unsolicited preaching, there's nothing a man can do that a woman can't do better.

I'm not talking about the stereotype of the woman who won't stop talking. Yes, one oft-cited study found that women spoke, on average, 13,000 more words per day than men. But that research has largely been debunked. More recent data show that although women tend to talk more when they're engaged in collaborative tasks, particularly in groups of five or fewer people (and presumably drinking wine together counts as a collaborative task), they do about the same amount of talking in regular day-to-day life.

Which means that men most likely can't have a monopoly on monologizing. If you don't believe me, try to think back on the last time you nodded frantically while waiting for someone to stop talking. Think of the last time this sequence of thoughts passed through your mind: I guess I should pay attention, since this person is an expert. Hmm, why do I feel like I'm being judged right now? Wait, did I give some indication that my life is a mess and that I need help? Why are we suddenly talking about juicing?

If this sounds familiar, chances are you were on the receiving end of what I can only think of as a lady lecture (if you can think of a better coinage, lay it on me). Like the mansplanation, the lady lecture is condescending, impervious to social cues and goes on too long. But unlike mansplaining, which is mostly a process of converting insecurity and social anxiety into tedious but essentially harmless hot air, lady lecturing imposes demands on the listener. It asks us not only to pay rapt attention but also to declare ourselves converts to whatever cause is being championed. It asks us to ensure the lecturer that we plan to run home and implement her advice about relationships/dog training/weight and that we can't believe our great luck to have run into her at this party/dog park/Pinkberry line.

Frankly, I'd rather listen to someone explain my own book to me.

The reality is that 'splaining is everywhere, and it's ultimately not gender specific. There's the gymsplainer, who interrupts your workout to offer unwanted tips about proper use of the abdominal trainer. There's the foodsplainer, who won't shut up about artisanal this and farm-to-table that. And I hardly need to mention the momsplainer, who assumes her particular parenting strategies are so uniquely effective that it would be downright ungenerous not to impart them on the playground as though she were delivering a TED talk.

Let's face it, the world is brimming with blustering, self-appointed experts. To suggest that men are more qualified for the designation than women is not only sexist but almost as tone deaf as categorizing everything that a man says as mansplaining. So maybe this will be the year we start to phase it out. Either that, or make the term a little more gender neutral. "Blowhard" might do just fine.

Twitter: @meghan_daum

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