Adventures in Mansplaining

(To men who are not mansplainers: I know you are out there and I promise that this is not about you. But, there are many dudes whom the shoe fits. )

  1. A while ago, I met with a visitor who had come to give a talk in a department I am affiliated with. Last minute, a new faculty member from the same department, whom I hadn’t met before and who is also a compatriot and an acquaintance of the visitor, decided to join us. I should have just canceled, but I didn’t know they knew each other and it was also last minute. Unsurprisingly, I ended up being the third wheel; while the visitor was nice and polite, the new faculty member ignored me and spoke to the visitor without so much as glancing my way. I am sure they would have preferred not to speak in English, but had to on my account. The visitor asked about some data about the campus and the city (e.g., population, size of the student body, largest department) and the new colleague either volunteered information or, whenever I managed to get a word in edgewise and provide an answer, he rushed to correct me. Not that I was incorrect, mind you, but I don’t think that mattered; he simply had to have the last word. Being new, he cannot possibly know better than me, who has been here for a over a decade, the data about this city or this university; this is  textbook mansplaining, certainly aimed at impressing his friend.  I am too old for this $hit. What a giant waste of my time.
  2. This is my all-time favorite mansplaining anecdote. Last year, I was watching a swim meet. Next to me sat a guy who was in charge of the team’s parents’ electronic communications. We spoke a few times and he identified himself to me as “a computer guy,” but never expressed an interest in what I did (likely assumed me a Hausfrau). The meet we were watching was a high-level meet for high school boys. Generally, the first six places get scored, and the scores count towards the team total, which is very important. This man’s son had just tied with another boy for first place (which is really remarkable because they time to a hundredth of a second), so I asked if they would both get the number of points for the 1st place or if they would split the scores for the 1st and 2nd place (this was his boy’s 4th year on the team, I figured the dad knew about the scoring practices). The man proceeded to teach me, speaking veeeery slowly, on what the average of two numbers is, in a language suited to 2nd-grade children, “Yes, they will both get the average of the 1st and 2nd place score, which means the two scores will be added together and divided by two, so they will both get less the 1st but more than the 2nd place.” This was so hilarious that I wasn’t even offended; I mean, what does one even say to that?


  1. If I’m quick enough, I can usually come up with some smart-alek respose. “I’m actually very frustrated with the whole scoring system overall. It would make more sense if they did a weighted system based on the current state records where times closer to the record would be worth more, point-wise, than times that are farther away rather than the current fixed-point system.”

  2. #2 reminds me of when a guy at Best Buy tried to explain to me what signal-to-noise ratio was — and he got it backwards! How can that happen, you ask, as it’s obvious from the term? Well, I was pretty amazed, too 🙂 I was going to ask him to explain dB, just for the fun of it, but my friend was in a hurry….

    I will say, though, that people’s inability to do basic math no longer amazes me.

  3. OMG, girlfriend. You were supposed to flutter your eyelashes and say: “Oooooh, how do you KNOW all this?!?”, preferably with an admiring look in your eyes. Can’t take you anywhere 🙂

  4. I’m guilty of explaining work related stuff s.l.o.w.l.y to a fellow hockey parent before remembering that said parent (in this case a male) works in the same general field as mine and hence can understand and is indeed interested in finer details about what I’m doing.

  5. I had someone at a conference last week actually try to explain my own paper to me. Yes, they knew I was the first author.

  6. I’m a writing teacher, and have noticed recently that some of my students man- (and, to be fair, very occasionally, woman-) splain during draft conferences. I make a suggestion for how to improve a particular part of the paper; they explain why they did it that way (or, more hilariously, that they originally did it the way I am suggesting, but thought better of it for reasons they then explain at length). The result of this, of course, is that I make relatively few suggestions for improvement (because there’s only so much time allotted per conference, and such students seem to feel the need for at least a 3:1 student:instructor airtime ratio), but go ahead and assign grades to the final versions as I usually would (because I may lack a [certain anatomical part which WordPress apparently will not allow me to denote by its proper, in no way obscene, name], but I do wield a (metaphorical) red pen).

  7. Ah the joys of living in the South (at least in my case). Instead of frustration when somebody deliberately talks to me as if I am stupid, is to let them go ahead. Then nicely ask simple questions to continue pushing them, force them for deeper insights, more knowledge. It doesn’t take much for them to get it wrong and the come in and ask them if this might be wrong and if this other things wouldn’t be the correct explanation. I take a lot of pleasure out of these little conversations and especially their facial expressions when they finally realise how stupid I made them look (that only happens with the ones that have a minimum level of intelligence).

    However, my worst case was a male student, who started arguing that Maxwell’s equations were wrong, or didn’t apply … Him, I just kicked out of my office and I stopped responding to emails. I wasn’t going to waste any more time on him. I still wonder to this day if he would have argued with a male faculty member on the same topic …

  8. I tend to mansplain back to mansplainers with a little proof by authority (my pedigree is very good and I can namedrop with the best). I can’t help it.

    Though it does seem to work for me in the South where everything is so very regimented and hierarchical. I sort of feel like I’m saying, “Ah yes, I am also a plantation owner who is also good friends with the political Powers that Be.” Privilege– it’s easy when you’re on top but it’s still a terrible system.

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