I Tried Mansplaining For a Week
Tired of dealing with the male ego, one Restless writer decides to turn the tables and is surprised with the result
The majority of women have had a run-in with The Male Ego at some point.
Usually, it takes the form of the nightmarish Mansplainers: a select group of men who automatically assume any woman they cross paths with has less knowledge on any given subject than they do.
Most of the time, the subject matter is stereotypically male: football or the difference between lager and beer. Alarmingly, you may find yourself in the company of a man who is mansplaining periods or labour, essentially lecturing you on The Female Experience. Because, of course, men shed their uteral lining once a month and force babies the size of melons from their urethras.
I wanted to channel my inner mansplainer to see what I could learn. How would men react? How would I feel? Donning my new persona, I clawed my way to the top of the patriarchy and set about London.
Spoiler alert: I felt like an absolute arsehole.
“Your Dad’s dragged you along to watch the rugby, has he?” an older gentleman asks me with a smirk, foam from his fresh pint still gripping the bristles lining his upper lip. “Can’t be fun for a young lady like you.”
It’s a Saturday and I’m enjoying Ireland vs. England in the local pub with my dad. It’s a match for the history books; the England team has turned up to play and is pummelling a sluggish Irish side ahead of the World Cup in Japan. I’m the only woman present; I look more out of place than Trump in the White House.
I resist the urge to politely smile and agree with him. No, my new persona condescendingly tips up her chin and peers down her nose.
“Did you know rugby balls are oddly shaped because they used to be made of pig bladders?”
He blinks at me, eyes owlishly wide behind thickly-lensed glasses. His friends set down their half pints of ale, mouths agape. Dad remains admirably focused on the rugby.
“And did you know the World Cup is in Japan this year?”
Thinking the conversation had returned to normal small talk, the man opens his mouth to take control. No, no, sir. Not on my watch.
“Of course, the highest number of points recorded in a Rugby World Cup is 162. In Japan, obviously. Do you know who they lost to? New Zealand. 145 to 17. Not surprising since they are the best team in the world, despite the current upheaval in the rankings.”
(I have the attention of the whole pub at this point.)
“You know, I’ve been following rugby since 2003. I’ve read every book there is to read on the sport and I could tell you a thing or two about it, but I won’t take your attention from the match.”
“American football is actually more closely aligned to historical depictions of the sport when it was first introduced in the 1800s. Christopher Columbus brought the game with him to the US, did you know? In the UK, we needed smaller pitches due to having less space in cramped cities and towns, so we had to adjust the rules. And rucks were actually inspired by a flock of birds fighting over loose grain – the ones who held steady and didn’t give up their space got the most food and the Lord of Rugby liked that so much he applied it to his sport.”
“I don’t think that’s accurate,” he replies.
I scoff. “Oh, trust me. I’ve been reading about rugby for years.”
And the short conversation ends abruptly with the man muttering into his pint.
I couldn’t stay for the second half of the match. Why did I feel guilty for speaking to this stranger the same way he had begun speaking to me? Not to be dramatic but, in my own small way, hadn’t I simply been standing up for myself and women everywhere?
It prompted a spiral of questioning around my own behaviour and assumptions as I continually asked myself why I felt guilty. I didn’t say anything offensive. I didn’t raise my voice. I didn’t cause a scene so extravagent that I was thrown out of the pub. I left of my own accord because I felt I would be detracting from everyone’s enjoyment of the rugby match if I stayed.
Did I feel that way because I have been conditioned from birth to keep my mouth shut, rather than confront those who make me feel uncomfortable and undermined? Or is it simply the fact my parents raised me right and such behaviour just doesn’t sit well with me?
Maybe it should be more a question of how men are raised, and what behaviours are “socially acceptable”, particularly when it comes to women. I don’t think those watching the match around us would have been at all bothered if a man had been running his mouth, whether what he was saying was factually correct or not. The fact it was a woman loudly proclaiming her expertise on a male-governed topic was too rare a circumstance to ignore and it drew a lot of attention.
As a woman, I have grown up relying on my awareness of my surroundings and my sense of self. Whether it’s walking alone in the dark along deserted streets, taking a taxi or making sure I never leave my drink unattended, I’ve been conditioned to always keep an eye on those around me, managing my behaviour so as not to tempt men to take advantage – as opposed to men being raised to understand nefarious behaviour is unacceptable and has consequences. I am all too aware of my vulnerability as a young woman in society.
The simple fact remains that men don’t have to look over their shoulder and flinch at every shadow, or cross the road because they don’t like the look of the stranger sharing the pavement. They don’t need to be self-aware. And that lack of self-awareness governs the mansplainer’s behaviour.
Of the behaviours the patriarchy supports, mansplaining is definitely not the most serious, but it’s one of the most common. Talking down to women – whether the man is aware of it or not – is a controlling behaviour. It says: I am assuming you know less because you are a woman. You are lesser.
I’m sorry if men reading this feel offended by my assessment, and I acknowledge that, in most cases, it’s a subconscious behaviour men have been raised to adopt. I even acknowledge mansplaining isn’t necessarily about the women men are speaking to at all. The truth is that men haven’t been raised with the idealogy that their voices shouldn’t be heard.
But guilt was the feeling of the week all the same. I considered the crowd’s reaction in the pub, and my chosen participant himself. I was noticed by others because a woman talking to a man like a man talks to a woman isn’t a situation that anyone is used to: was I simply bending the situation to match my assumptions? I admit that I went into this experiment with an old-fashioned opinion about men, which, ironically, is the same close-minded attitude I have accused mansplainers of having. I assumed all men mansplain in some capacity, because that is The Way Things Are. I thought I would be writing an anecdotal piece about my experiences and feel empowered because of it.
However, I hadn’t expected the range of reactions to my mansplaining that I actually received throughout the week. I went into it thinking all men have an uncaring attitude towards how they make others feel when they dominate conversations, thus proving this to be the sinister undercurrent of mansplaining that makes it such an alienating, sexist practice.
The men I mansplained to politely listened to my ludicrous points, raised their eyebrows and dismissed me, or were good-humoured about it all, asking me if it was some kind of prank. In the end, it didn’t matter how positive and open-minded a man was because tt became an internalised experience. Mansplaining to men wasn’t freeing like I had imagined it to be. Instead, it just reinforced the fact that talking down to anybody – man or woman – is a horrible practice, even if you talk down to the mansplainer themselves.
I’m not condoning the act of mansplaining, and I never will. Thankfully, the mansplainer seems set to become an endangered species – a (hopefully) dying breed of sexism as self-awareness permeates male society.
Just a week of mansplaining was enough to convince me that, if I hadn’t felt guilty – if I had enjoyed putting these men down – then I would have been a mansplainer, too. Or is it Femalesplainer? Ladysplainer?
Either way, don’t be an arsehole.