Have you ever been in a situation where an issue, topic or an experience is explained to you without recognising your perception, judgement, familiarity and knowledge of the subject? Men explain things to me (some men). I have been explained with patronising overconfidence and inaccurate yet detailed clarification that my knowledge of a subject I am particularly familiar with or my observation of facts in an experience that I have lived through is delusional, followed by a definition of my own experience.
It is something similar to being explained how all Muslims are terrorists, why white people are better than black and how homosexuality is a disease which eventually drives you insane. There is a pattern of similarity in these statements, each one of them is an arrogant and clueless perception clearly reflective of the ignorance of the speaker. And so, to become conscious of the fact that almost all women have experienced similar incidents where they have been mansplained is alarming and tormenting.
The term, “mansplained” dates back to the article published by Rebecca Solnit in 2008 on TomDispatch.com. While Solnit did not coin the term, she instead defined the idea as, “confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant.” Almost immediately after that, the act was recognised by feminist blogs as mansplaining. Mansplaining is the act of a man explaining an idea, issue or experience to a woman with shrewd overconfidence conveniently ignoring the fact that the woman knows more about the subject. Solnit describes it as, “intersection between overconfidence and cluelessness where some portion of (the male) gender gets stuck.”
Mansplaining hit the female blogsphere in 2012 and later spread to the mainstream, being named one of the New York Times, “word of the year.” While the internet culture of social networking, blogs and memes has led to a genuine recognition of the act by some men and a recognition steeped in defensiveness by others, quite a large number of the male population is still either unaware of the term or finds it particularly offensive.
In a country where rape is defined by a politician from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP (Babulal Gaur, Minister-in-charge of law and order in the state of Madhya Pradesh) as, “ a social crime which depends on men and women. Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong, “I feel that a lot of women have been mansplained to the degree that they have come to accept the male perception of their own being and existence. These acts range from believing that men are superior to women, being accepted as objects of pleasure and breeding machines with no right over their own bodies to the subtle forms of oppression and subjugation leading to deeply-disturbing perpetual silence.
I have a vivid memory from a discussion in AMU campus that followed the December 16th gang rape of a paramedical student in Delhi in 2012. While there was an equal participation by women in the discussion, the first half an hour was largely discussed by men and the arguments varied from blaming the western culture for rapes in India to the indecent hoardings that arouse sexual feelings and eventual criticism of feminism; how if feminism actually aims at gender equality, the term should be gender-exclusive and focus on universal issues. Well, to anyone from that discussion reading this, there is a term for that and it is called Human Rights.
Some of us intervened for female students to speak up and all girls unanimously expressed that rape and rape culture cannot be related or interpreted as an act of sexual attraction or blamed on the western culture. Also, I remember the unanimous anger and annoyance that each one of us felt but only a few of us “expressed.” That discussion was patronising and the fact that some of the men in the discussion were completely clueless of what they were saying and yet continued with their arrogant arguments was exhausting.
In India, mansplaining is an accepted and reputed norm. Thus, it all comes down to a man explaining the most basic concepts to a woman. The Times of India relationship section in an article on “Compliments your man wants to hear” advocates, “guys love to feel needed. Whether it is to help you understand bank work or simply open a jam jar — it is one of the greatest feelings for a man that you can’t live without them. Cuddle him and tell him it would have been impossible for you to do anything without him.”
While this is a pathetic example which distinctly reflects how much the idea of “men-explaining-to-women” is ingrained in Indian society, the more gruesome form of men explaining sexual intimidation as a lesson to a woman whom he considers as “character-less” is deeply disturbing. While India is facing nationwide protests against the recent rape incidents, the latest includes the frightening gang rape of a tribal woman who was raped by her husband and ten persons in front of her minor son, paraded naked and forced to drink urine.
Thus, women in India do not only face the confrontation for their ability to think and speak but also a confirmation that they are passive-beings and any deviance from this notion is penalised by condescending arguments where a horrific act as rape, gang rape, marital rape, domestic violence is justified. And this has silenced a lot of women.
Rebecca Solnit, the writer of the book, Men Explain Things to Me wrote “most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being…one from which a fairly nice career as a writer (with a lot of research and facts correctly deployed) has not entirely freed me.” These words seem to spark a sense of perpetual déjà-vu.