Let’s stop using terms like “mansplain” and “manspread”

Many on the left, especially but not exclusively at Salon, use terms like “mansplain” and “manspread” to describe stereotypical men’s behavior and attitudes. They should stop. Whatever explanatory value these words may possess is greatly outweighed by the harm they cause.

Originally, a mansplainer meant one who explains in detail something of which he has little knowledge.  More recently, the term’s scope has widened to include weak justifications for bad behavior such as manspreading – which occurs when a man sprawls on a crowded bus or train such that he occupies two or even three spaces.  Mansplanation: We “manspread [so] as not to painfully crush the testicles or penis”.

There are at least three problems with manspread and mansplain.  While some men mansplain and others manspread, many do not.  Moreover, men are not the only sex who offer condescending but incorrect explanations and sprawl body or belongings over several seats on a public conveyance.  Yet the terms imply falsely that most men and only men engage in these particularly obnoxious behaviors.

This leads directly to the second problem with these words.  Each comprises an off-putting ad hominem attack.  Accusing somebody of mansplaining is tantamount to telling him that he’s loud, pushy, and wrong all because he’s a man.  Further dialogue is impossible because any explanations by the mansplainer only provide additional proof of his pathology.

Likewise, the classic manspreader straddles two seats with a bulging satchel occupying a third all while irate hemmed-in fellow passengers glare daggers at him.  Since this behavior is due, by definition, to the spreader’s sex rather than obliviousness or some other factor, appealing to his sense of fairness or asking for consideration would appear to be a losing game.

Their inaccuracy and the fact that they serve to cut off rather than foster conversation are excellent reasons not to use terms like mansplaining and manspreading but the best reason is that they are divisive.  Their derivation pits men and women against each other.  But the essential conflict of our time is not between men and women but between the malefactors of great wealth and everybody else.  In order for the 99% to succeed in taking back some of the earth’s resources that the 1% are hoarding, poor, working, and middle-class men and women must be staunch allies.

By straining that alliance, those who attribute obnoxious behaviors to gender alone are doing heavy unpaid work in service of the plutocracy.

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2 Responses to Let’s stop using terms like “mansplain” and “manspread”

  1. barbara burchjolla says:

    Excellent and thoughtful article on civility and use of language.

  2. halginsberg says:

    Thanks Barbara!

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