The other day, I was driving along Cross Street, about to turn into a filter lane, when I heard a gasp from my husband, who was beside me. He gripped his seat dramatically, gave me a semi-death-stare and said: “OMG didn’t you see the kerb? You should have turned the steering wheel more!”
His constant Highway Code commentary pretty much occurs every time I’m in the driver’s seat. He offers tips, for example – “The traffic light is turning red. STOP!” and “Signal before you change lanes. NOW!” I just want to listen to Kiss 92 FM, but instead, I get him rambling on in my left ear. When a male, like his dad, is driving, he doesn’t do it.
I love my husband to bits, but I passed all my driving theory and practical exams on the first try, thank you, yet he still doesn’t think I know simple traffic rules. His behaviour is frustrating and apparently so common among men that there’s even a term to describe it: mansplaining.
The Oxford Dictionaries website defines mansplaining as when a guy explains something to a female in a condescending or patronising manner. In other words, when he tells you how to do something that you already know how to do, or how you’re wrong about something you know you’re one zillion per cent right about.
When my husband mansplains me, I’ll shush him, which annoys him, and do exactly as I see fit. When it comes to driving, I’ve had a parking ticket or two in my eight years of being on the road (who hasn’t?!), but I’m definitely not a newbie needing continual coaching.
Author Rebecca Solnit encapsulates the mansplaining phenomenon perfectly in her essay, Men Explain Things to Me, which opens with an anecdote about a man interrupting her to explain what her book (which she is the author of) is about. Her essay went viral and spurred countless op-eds and even a Tumblr account – Academic Men Explain Things to Me – a compilation of anonymous quotes by women who’ve suffered at the hands of smug, know-it-all dudes.
At the gym lifting weights? He’ll show you how to do it right. Fan of tennis? Nah, you’re only interested in ogling the hunky players and need someone to clarify the points system, despite your clear understanding of it. A little bit lost? He’ll teach you how to use Google Maps. What’s that we hear from throngs of offended guys? “We’re not all like that!” True. But there is evidence proving that men have an innate need to demonstrate status, according to linguist Deborah Tannen. Even in male-dominated groups, men discuss fact-based topics to determine superiority, and the same happens when they talk to a woman.
But here’s what I think: It boils down to perceived social standing. While we girls are outperforming the boys in school and the workplace, we get called a “b*tch” the moment men think we appear aggressive or domineering. For fear of that hateful label, we’re conditioned to downplay our achievements despite many of us having the right to take pride in our success. The unfortunate result: Some women act ignorant just to cater to a man’s ego.
The problem with mansplaining is that it supports men’s overconfidence (justified or not), and further trains women to self-limit. It’s maddening because it assumes that women don’t know better (but we do), don’t know where to get answers (hello, Internet!), and actually want to be explained to (no, we don’t).
The next time you meet a Man Who Explains Things, speak up. If he interrupts you, put him in his place. If he’s wrong about something, let your views be heard, but get your facts right first. That’s what I’ll be doing, especially since I’m married to one.
This story was originally published in the March 2016 issue of Her World magazine.