The toxicity of “mansplaining”

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 

Romans 12:14-17

I am a strong advocate for women in leadership. My mom was raised to be independent, and my wife and sister are both strong leaders. I hope that my daughter follows in their footsteps. At my church, from the very beginning, we’ve had women in leadership. And our Sunday morning speaking team has women on it who we regularly hear from. Additionally, we as a church helped to launch an anti-trafficking organization that helps young women who are survivors of human trafficking.

Because of my strong advocacy for women, and because I am a follower of Christ, I will teach my daughter to never use the term “mansplaining.” This is one of those toxic terms that has been created by our culture recently. This made-up word came about because of the regularity of men speaking down to women. So when a man over-explains something to a woman simply because she is a woman, he is “mansplaining.”

But there are serious problems with this judgmental term. It is essentially an attempt by a woman who feels like she is experiencing condescension from a man to be condescending back toward him. It is fighting condescension with a kind of mocking condescension in return. It is a sort of weaponizing of perceived victimhood. As a follower of Christ, can you see the problem here?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” And the Bible is clear, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17, 21). Being condescending to someone who is being condescending to you doesn’t solve the issue. It only makes it worse.

Another major problem with this term is that if a man is over-explaining something to my daughter, there is no way for her to know the reason he is doing it. There is no way for her to know his true motivations. Unless there is hard evidence, she can’t know if he is over-explaining things simply because she is a woman, or because of a number of other reasons.

But what other reasons could there be? Let me offer a few:

1. coaching/teaching: when a person over-explains something to someone who is learning something new

2. correcting: when a person over-explains something to someone who is in error and needs coarse-correcting 

3. personality: when a person over-explains things to everyone around them simply because that is their personality

4. condescension: when a person over-explains something because they believe the person they are talking to is an idiot 

5. mansplaining: when a man over-explains something specifically because he is speaking to a woman 

I want to talk to my daughter about the fact that both men and women over-explain things for a variety of reasons. There could be reasons for over-explaining that actually come from a good place in a person’s heart. They could be attempting to coach, teach, correct, or it could just be part of their personality.

Even if their motivation for over-explaining is poor, they could be doing it out of a sense of intellectual superiority and not because my daughter is a woman. I have seen plenty of women speak condescendingly out of a sense of superiority. This kind of arrogance is not gender specific.

If a man over-explains something to my daughter and she immediately thinks it is because she is a women, that would be her reacting out of an insecurity and not from a place of emotional health. And from that insecurity can come judgmentalism in all its ugly forms.

My daughter is really smart. People will over-explain many things to her–things she knows better than they do–for the rest of her life. I want her to expect it and not be offended by it. I want her to respond to it with grace and humility, not assuming the worst about the person doing it (whether it is a woman or a man).

This is why the term itself (mansplaining) is toxic and really shouldn’t be used by followers of Christ. It is a judgmental term that is full of mockery and spite and too often comes from a place of woundedness and not from a place of spiritual and emotional health.

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