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.

Women in Ministry

If you didn’t know, there is a debate in the church about women and their roles in the local church and in ministry. This debate has been going for some time. In my discussions with various church people and church leaders, it seems as though there are 4 views that are floating around. It’s important for you (and your daughters) to know what view your church holds. What follows is a quick (incomplete and cursory) summary of the four main views that are out there.

Imagine a continuum. On the right side of the continuum are the more conservative views and on the left side are the more progressive views. I will list the views as if we are moving from the far right to the far left.

Hard Complementarianism

This view holds that women should not be in the roles of deacons, elders or ordained pastors. It also holds that women should not ever preach/teach from the pulpit on Sunday mornings. This view comes from a universal application (meaning they apply to all churches for all time) of Paul’s words to the Corinthians that “Women should remain silent in the churches” (1 Corinthians 14:34) and Paul’s words to Timothy that he “does not permit a woman to teach a man/husband” (1 Timothy 2:12). Included in this interpretation is Paul’s words to Timothy about the qualifications for an elder and deacon (1 Timothy 3:1-13) which imply that all elders and deacons are men.

Not permitting women in these roles is seen as a way to protect them, not a way of oppressing them. It is an attempt to align the church with a God-ordained authority structure. Women do serve in various other ways throughout the church and are celebrated in those roles. Churches that tend to hold this view are: conservative Baptist churches, conservative Presbyterian churches, Reformed churches, and conservative Bible churches.

Soft Complementarianism

This view is similar to hard complementarianism but is less strict in its prohibitions. While women are not permitted to be elders or ordained pastors, they do sometimes serve in deacon roles and other leadership roles in the church (small group leader, missions team leader, etc.). The verses mentioned above are interpreted both universally (see above) and culturally (meaning part of the instruction of Paul was just mean for that specific church and cultural situation). Also noted is Priscilla’s role in teaching/discipling Apollo (Acts 18:24-26) and the fact that Phoebe was a deaconess in the Roman church (Romans 16:1). Because of this, you will see women speak from the pulpit from time to time (Mother’s Day, missions Sundays, Sanctity of Life Sunday, youth Sundays, etc). There is some disagreement as to whether this is “teaching” or simply “speaking.” Churches that tend to hold this view are: conservative Baptist churches, conservative Presbyterian churches, Reformed churches, conservative Bible churches and many nondenominational churches.

Egalitarian (based on gifting)

This view supports women in all roles in the church, including deacon, elder, and ordained pastor. Because of this, women teaching/preaching from the pulpit is welcomed. The passages of scripture above that record Paul prohibiting women from teaching and requiring them to be silent in the church are understood in their cultural context and are not applied universally (in the same way that braided hair and head coverings are interpreted culturally and not universally). It is noted that in the same letter to the Corinthians where Paul tells women to be silent (1 Cor 14), he also acknowledges that women pray and prophesy in the church (1 Cor 11:5). Prophesying in the early church was always done in a corporate church setting, and it seemed to be a common thing for women to do (Acts 21:9).

Likewise, Paul lists 10 different women who were co-ministers in the gospel with him in Romans 16. In this list, Phoebe was called a deacon, Junia was called “outstanding among the apostles,” and Priscilla was called a “co-worker in Christ Jesus”–the same word used to describe Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Luke and two other women, Euodia and Syntyche. Based on all of these roles that women served in the early church (apostle, prophetess, deacon, co-worker in the gospel with Paul) and in light of Jesus’s radically affirming actions toward women (they were the first to see and declare the resurrection of Jesus in a time when women weren’t allowed to be a witness in court), it appears that the passages that prohibit women should be interpreted as local, culturally informed prohibitions (likely because of the abuses of the cult of Artemis).

The emphasis of this view is that the Holy Spirit has distributed His gifts throughout His Church to men and women equally. So those who are gifted to lead and teach should do so. Those who are not gifted in that area should not. The determining factor is not based on sex but on Holy Spirit gifting. Churches that tend to hold this view are: Pentecostal and charismatic churches, Wesleyan holiness and moderate Brethren churches, moderate Baptist churches, moderate Presbyterian churches, and moderate nondenominational churches.

Egalitarian (based on justice)

This view is very similar to the Egalitarian view listed above. The views on how to interpret the various passages of scripture are very similar. The main difference is an emphasis on empowering women because they have been oppressed in the church throughout church history. Rather than the focus being on Holy Spirit gifting, the focus is on avoiding injustice toward women. The passage of emphasis is Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

This emphasis on justice also allows for a re-interpretation of various passages prohibiting homosexuality. So churches that tend to affirm women in ministry from a justice perspective also tend to affirm the LGBTQ community. Churches that tend to hold this view are: mainline protestant churches & theologically progressive churches, liberal Baptist churches, liberal Presbyterian churches, and progressive church plants.

I would label myself an “Egalitarian (based on gifting)” in line with the Wesleyan Holiness and Pentecostal traditions (though I come from a Southern Baptist background, went to an anabaptist college and a moderate Baptist seminary, and now pastor a nondenominational church). I have found that conversations between soft complementarians and egalitarians (based on gifting) are the most productive when discussing women in ministry. I have found that those with the extreme view on both the right and the left do a lot of yelling and not a lot of listening.

I would encourage you to do your own study and discover where you land on this issue. And then check with the leadership of your church and see what they say about this issue. Well-meaning Christians can humbly disagree with each other and still worship together. But it is important to know what your church is teaching about this issue.