My Year in Mansplaining

My year in Mansplaining

Posted on December 31, 2013


December 29, 2013 — My year in Mansplaining

Mansplain– delighting in condescending, inaccurate explanations delivered with rock solid confidence of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation……. To explain in a patronizing manner, assuming total ignorance on the part of those listening. The mansplainer is often shocked and hurt when their mansplanation is not taken as absolute fact, criticized or even rejected altogether (Urban Dictionary, 2013).

While it would not be possible to recount all of the Mansplaining I have had to endure this year, I thought I would write up my top five memories of Mansplaining for 2013.  I also thought I might try and expand the definition of Mansplain a bit to include the different species of Mansplainers that I tend to encounter.

Number 1 Mansplaning Event of 2013:

This year I gave three public lectures at my university: the Leonard Hastings Schoff Memorial Lectures. One faculty member at the university is asked to deliver these lectures each year and the mandate is to talk about your work for a general scholarly audience. My lectures took up the question of the contemporary social, economic, and political mechanisms by which people are dispossessed of land, labor, natural resources, and sovereignty (including representational sovereignty) and used three ethnographic pieces to demonstrate the processes and effects of dispossessions.  During the third lecture I spent about 5 minutes (out of 60 minutes) working through Karl Marx’s work on “original accumulation” and Rosa Luxemburg’s correction to, and enhancement of this work in her classic The Accumulation of Capital.  After the lecture a senior male colleague suggested that I should come sit in on his UNDERGRADUATE course on Marx this coming semester and assured me that I would understand his brilliant and complex lectures even though I am “not a (insert colleague’s discipline here) major.” He then proceeded to Mansplain accumulation by dispossession in Papua New Guinea to me. A place I have conducted research for the past 18 years.

Species of Mansplainer:  Homo diadacticagus teoryensis 

This Mansplainer may exist in all professions but he is particularly prevalent in the academy. He is convinced that you, as a woman, could not possibly understand or grapple with the complexities of social theory. His Mansplaination is often triggered by your actually using social theory to think with or to explain phenomena with which he is not familiar. It can also be triggered when you read a philosophical text in a different way than he reads it. In his mind this is not an example of multiple readings of a text but rather a clear indication that you need some schooling from him.

Number 2 Mansplaning Event of 2013:

Part of my job this year has been to “re-think” the Human Rights Program at my college. Part of that process has been talking to faculty across the college and the university about their various visions of what a stellar human rights curriculum for undergraduate students would look like.  At one of these meetings with a senior male colleague, our discussion turned to contemporary global human rights crises. I mentioned that I and some other colleagues were putting together a small group to discuss comparative settler colonialisms and the human rights abuses that result from them. I then mentioned that West Papua was a key part of this discussion. My colleague then Mansplained to me the history of West Papua and make clear to me that, “West Papua is not a colony” but rather a “province of Indonesia” and that the illegal invasion of Irian Jaya in 1961 by the Indonesian Military and their subsequent fixing of the Act of Free Choice vote was “internationally fair.” Of course, he didn’t know the name “Irian Jaya” or the invasion date or what the Act of Free Choice was.

Species of Mansplainer:  Homo diadacticagus politicalas 

This Mansplainer is someone who disagrees with you on a political or social issue or question. Since you are woman, your assessment of any situation is suspect so he feels compelled to correct your understanding of a political event, social process, or economic transition.  For him, it is never that you simply disagree with him or that, god forbid, he is wrong, it is that you just don’t understand. But don’t worry! He is here to clear it up for you.

Number 3 Mansplaning Event of 2013:

After the first Schoff lecture, a lecture concerned with people working in and participating in the contemporary tourism sector in Papua New Guinea, a senior male colleague was kind enough to Mansplain to me that while my data was based on Papua New Guineans living in the “modern world”, the vast majority of people in the country are living “like our ancestors” did and practicing the ritual ecology he read about in Roy A. Rappaport’s work when he was in graduate school. In the 1970s.

Species of Mansplainer:  Homo diadacticagus  polymathensis 

This is the man who knows a tiny bit about many things. He thinks of himself as a polymath. Lucky for you, he knows all about whatever you are talking about. This is especially the case if you are talking about your research or something that you are an expert on.

Number 4 Mansplaning Event of 2013:

At a seminar series that I run at my university, a male colleague (my generation) was kind enough to Mansplain to me the intricacies of teaching undergraduates and advising their research. The fact that he has never advised a senior thesis and that he teaches 3/1 (graduate classes to undergraduate classes) was not a factor in his knowing more about teaching undergraduates than me (I teach 1/2 and advise at least 6 senior thesis projects a year and have 14 major advisees).

Species of Mansplainer:  Homo diadacticagus professori 

This is your professorial Mansplainer. Because you are woman, you could not possibly understand the complex nature of the academy or of its many parts. Lucky for you, this Mansplainer can teach you about teaching (even if he does not do much teaching), research (even if he has not been out of his office in 15 years), writing (even if his last publication was in 1995), and academic politics (even if the last committee he served on was during the mid 1980s).

Number 5 Mansplaning Event of 2013:

At a cocktail party downtown, I was lucky enough to have the global commodity trade in coffee Mansplained to me by a man who enjoys drinking coffee quite a bit. He carefully explained to me that certified coffee means that the coffee has been inspected by the FDA and that it is safe for consumption if you are worried about your health and pesticides (wrong, wrong, and wrong) and that “free trade” (wrong) coffee is coffee that is grown by “internationals” who have had “lessons” in social justice (wrong and wrong). This was all after I had been introduced to him as someone who had just written a book about the global commodity trade in coffee.

Species of Mansplainer:  Homo diadacticagus polymathensis 

(As above) This is the man who knows a tiny bit about many things. He thinks of himself as a polymath. Lucky for you, he knows all about whatever you are talking about. This is especially the case if you are talking about your research or something that you are an expert on.

Thanks guys, it is all so much clearer now!



About paigewest

Paige West, the Tow Professor of Anthropology at Barnard College and Columbia University, joined the faculty in 2001, the year after earning her Ph.D. in cultural and environmental anthropology. Dr. West’s general research interest is the relationship between society and the environment. More specifically, she has written about the linkages between environmental conservation and international development, the material and symbolic ways in which the natural world is understood and produced, the aesthetics and poetics of human social relations with nature, and the creation of commodities and practices of consumption. She has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Australia, Germany, England, and the United States.
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Paige West, Anthropology

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