Is this dude about to mansplain mansplaining? Hoo boy. Here we go.
This is going to be a long post. I’ll go through each part of the article with my usual irreverence, but don’t be fooled. Thomas’s ideas about language are a real danger to women. So I’ll comment seriously on that as well. Let’s get to it.
tl;dr – Andrew Thomas is incredibly wrong about mansplaining. He cites no sources to back up his claim that men and women have different communication styles, except for one limited study from 40 years ago. Modern linguistic research disproves Thomas’s ideas, and in fact his ideas are about 50 years out of date. Mansplaining is one part of systematic discrimination that women face. Thomas tries to water down the meaning of mansplaining. Thomas’s ideas are dangerous because they will be used to silence and exclude women in society.
Here’s how Thomas’s post on Psychology Today begins:
Mansplaining” is an accusation thrown around often and risks getting in the way of forming opposite-sex friendships and relationships. Typically, when someone says they’ve been a “victim of mansplaining,” it’s in the context of a man talking to a woman about a topic she already knows about. She perceives his sharing as a condescending or patronising lecture, given intentionally, perhaps in an attempt to put her down.
“typically”? No. That’s what mansplaining is. Like, “a man talking to a woman about a topic she already knows about” is the definition of mansplaining.
Women don’t perceive mansplaining as condescending or patronizing. Mansplaining is condescending and patronizing. They accurately recognize it for what it is.
I think Thomas might be perceiving mansplaining wrong. That is why I – a man – am here to ‘splain it to you. *kiss emoji*
There are some men who do this. It’s not nice and I don’t condone it.
Great! That’s it. Now stop writing. Blog post over, right? … Right??
However, I think more commonly it’s an accusation rashly levied at men by those disregarding something fundamental about male communication.
Oh FFS. We’re not even 100 words into this post and he’s mansplaining mansplaining. Five sentences. He couldn’t make it five sentences without giving us the worst possible take on mansplaining.
Andrew, bud, you need to put this idea back in the oven. You think mansplaining is more commonly an accusation rashly levied at men? Maybe you should ask some women about this. I don’t know, just spit-balling here. Maybe you should look up a bunch of instances of the word being used and take the context into account to see if your thought has any basis in reality. You know, before you write a whole blog post about it and show your ass all over God’s green internet. But what would I know, right?
I’m really really interested in what Andrew think is “fundamental” about male communication. Like, I want a definition. I want studies. I want it all. Because as far as I know, something as vast as “male communication” is impossible to define beyond the most general of terms. But that’s just me being a linguist. Please, proceed.
When building same-sex relationships, men often go about this in a different way from women. Male-to-male conversations can be dominated by the exchange of knowledge and recommendations about things: Statistics about sports stars, potential fixes for botched DIY jobs, and motorway routes for long trips. The list goes on.
Does the list go on? I’m curious. Or is the rest of the list just grunts and ball scratching? Can Thomas actually give us some more things that dominate male conversations? Because it sounds like he just made up some list of things that Real Men™ would talk about. Like if someone said asked a child write a caricature of a list of things that men talk about.
I was hoping Thomas would link to some research on this crucial point that his whole argument is based on. But that would just make sense.
(Keep this in mind though because Thomas is about to really step in it when he does link to a study)
Such exchanges don’t necessarily impart accurate information. Men, being human, can waste several hours sharing “facts” which sometimes have no grounding in reality whatsoever.
You don’t say. I wonder where I could find a man wasting time sharing “facts” which have no grounding in reality whatsoever. Where oh where could that be.
The point is that their chosen topics of conversation are more systemising in nature, often lacking an emotional, empathising component.
Men don’t get emotional talking about sports? My dude, there is a whole reference book written just so that men wouldn’t argue about sports. And you live and work in the UK. There are whole movies about UK men getting too emotional about sports. There’s a Wikipedia page on the subject. Are you on drugs?
Now, to be clear, this isn’t saying that men never share their feelings or that women never talk about practical problem-solving. But it’s showing that there’s an imbalance and that the type of conversation that men use to build and cultivate same-sex friendships can be different from that of women.
Oh good, Dr. Thomas is willing to make the teensy tiniest of concessions. “Feelings! Men have them sometimes too!”
Notice that Thomas still hasn’t proven his main point. He’s only stated it was a fact and moved on. Just because he said that there’s an imbalance between the things that men and women talk about doesn’t mean that there is one. You need data, my man. Data. Stop writing and go get some.
To illustrate, I recently ran a Twitter poll asking almost 400 people: “When you’re with same-sex friends, which of the following best captures what you talk about?” People could choose either “Knowledge” or “Feelings.” This forced-choice question made people consider what dominates their conversations the most.
Lollllll. You asked people on Twitter? What in the flying fuck is this?! There is so much wrong with this I don’t even know where to start. Tell you what. Here’s some questions that you might want to think about
How many men answered and how many women answered? If much fewer women answered, do you think there is a reason for that? (Hint: women have been told for centuries that they are using language wrong, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t want to answer these nonsense polls) Did the people know what you meant by “knowledge” and “feelings”? Do you know what you mean by those words? (Because I chat with a man friend of mine about sports a lot and it is straight feelings, my dude.)
Where are these people from? What is their education level? What is their socio-economic status? What is their age? What do you mean by “same-sex friends”? How many of these people have regular conversations with people of the same sex? Are they related to these “friends” and what is the relation? What is the power relationship between the two speakers?
What fucking language are they speaking, Andrew? And what variety of that language are they primarily using in these conversations?! All of these things affect how we speak.
But most importantly did you consider the fact that human beings are bad at self-reporting their language use? People will say that they do not use a linguistic feature and then use that linguistic feature 10 minutes later! Humans: great at using language, not great at talking about how they use language.
Remember when I asked how many men and women responded to his twitter poll? Why didn’t he give us that info if he clearly has it? Welllllll…. maybe because 76% of the respondents were men. He couldn’t even get 100 women to respond. Here’s why: women have been criticized for the ways that they use language for centuries. Literal centuries. I wouldn’t be surprised if women saw this poll and noped the fuck out.
[There’s some more about his twitter poll but who cares? We’re skipping ahead.]
There’s also a corpus of classical research finding sex differences between the conversational content of same-sex friends.
There’s a corpus?! And you cite… one study… from 1983?? I’m not going into this study – I don’t have the time – but it is based on self-reported data from 136 people, the vast majority of whom were white, middle-class, well-educated and married. Not good, my guy. We’re going to need something better than that. Any studies from when one of the Bushes was president? Or maybe when the UK was still in the EU? There’s a corpus of research. Grab another one of the studies, one with less dust on it.
I could write a whole book on whether it’s right or wrong that male and female same-sex conversations have these leanings […]
No, you couldn’t. Because male and female same-sex conversations do not have these leanings. I mean maybe in the most zoomed-out, Cubism-level abstraction we could talk about male and female conversations, but there will always be other factors which have a greater influence on the conversations between two people.
Instead, you could read a book about language myths, including ones which directly address the question of how men and women speak. You would find, according to one book (Kaplan 2016), that “as we move beyond a general acknowledgment that men and women might speak differently, things become murky very quickly”.
Current linguistic knowledge and research about the speaking practices of men and women has shown that the concepts of “man” or “woman” are too simple to explain linguistic differences in speaking. There are factors which are much more important in influencing the way that a person speaks, such as age, socio-economic status, and the context in which the speech is taking place, as well as the roles and relative social power of each speaker in the interaction (Kaplan 2016: 177). These factors constantly work together to influence our speech styles. People cannot simply be categorized into groups of “men” or “women”. In addition, when people are placed into these binary groups, linguistic research has shown that there is far more overlap in linguistic styles than there are differences (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet 2013: 53; 116-7, 142-4).
This can present a problem when men try to grow closer to women as friends, work colleagues, and intimate partners. People have a tendency to assume that others are like them and men often say they struggle with nuanced social skills like flirting. Together, it makes it more likely that men will use their experience in building relationships with other men to inform how they approach women. The result can be systemising, knowledge-imparting conversations. (bolding mine)
You’re getting it wrong. The way men mansplain things to women is not the way they talk to other men. When men mansplain, men tell a women about a topic that she is an expert in and they are not. Are you saying that men who are not experts form relationships with men who are experts by imparting knowledge to them? Men form relationships with other men by mansplaining topics to them? Because it sounds like that’s what you’re saying. Is this where your argument leads? Am I on drugs?
Men know what they are doing when they mansplain to women and women know it too. Men are disrespecting the woman’s expertise in a subject. They are using their power as a man in a patriarchal world to talk over an expert because that expert is a woman. They think that their manhood ranks them higher than any woman in anything. This is not hard to understand and someone who studies people (aka Dr. Andrew Thomas) should know this.
Mansplaining is when a man with no expertise tells Gail Simone about a character that she has written. Mansplaining is when some dudebro tries to explain Rebecca Solnit’s own book to her. Mansplaining is not what Dr. Andrew Thomas thinks it is. Mansplaining is part of the discrimination that women face and it is a problem that harms women in very real ways (Solnit 2023).
Christ. There’s even a post on this very same goddamn website that explains what mansplaining is and it has (shock!) references to academic studies published after the original Ghostbusters came out.
*** — ***
Thomas puts two incorrect ideas together. He promotes the myth that men speak a certain way and women speak a different way. He also says that women rashly use the term mansplaining because they misunderstand male communication. He has no sources for these claims. His ideas are dangerous and they will have real-world consequences for women. Despite his stated intentions, Thomas’s article will serve only to perpetuate the denigration of women. It will be used to argue that a man’s way of speaking is unmarked and a woman’s way of speaking is marked or abnormal. Thomas downplays the seriousness of mansplaining and he tries to redefine it as something that women misunderstand. This will be used to harm and exclude women (Holmes 1998: 48). Women will blamed for not being able to understand male communication and so they will not be allowed to make decisions with men in the workplace, or at their doctor’s office, or at their polling place, or in court when they recount ways in which a man sexually harassed them. We already know from linguistic research that women are expected to accommodate to the practices of men’s ways of speaking, rather than the other way around (Kaplan 2016: 160). Thomas should know that before he publishes misleading and dangerous claims.
Thomas tries to end on a good point about how we should recognize that people may communicate differently and that we need to meet people halfway if we want to build successful relationships. But, like, no shit. This is actually what happens all the time between people who are really interested in communicating with each other. It’s called linguistic accommodation. When a man isn’t interested in communicating and instead wants to assert his authority over a woman, then mansplaining happens.
I would give Thomas the benefit of the doubt here, but he’s wrong. He is sugarcoating mansplaining and that is bad. Women are scared they will not be listened to. There is a reason that women do not report sexual harassment. Because they feel like they will not be listened to or told that they are to blame for being harassed. Because they have experienced mansplaining. Since the MeToo movement, more women have felt the courage to speak out about the times that men have harassed them. We need to listen to these women. We should not be redefining or watering down the terms they use to describe their harassment, especially not in ways that benefit men at the expense of women.
Thomas’s post doesn’t help women or men. It serves only to help mansplainers by giving them an out. You want to help people? Delete this, bro.
For what it’s worth, I sent a letter to the editors of Psychology Today. I’ll update this post if I hear from them.
Update Aug. 14, 2023: Still no word from Psychology Today. I have contacted them twice.
Eckert, Penelope, and Sally McConnell-Ginet. 2013. Language and Gender. 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9781139245883
Holmes, Janet. 1998 “Women talk too much”. In Lanuagage Myths, ed. by Bauer, Laurie, and Peter Trudgill eds. 1998. London: Penguin Books.
Kaplan, Abby. 2016. Women Talk More Than Men… And Other Myths about Language Explained. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9781316027141
Solnit, Rebecca. 2023. “The serious side of ‘mansplaining’ has been lost. That’s where the harm begins”. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/feb/09/mansplaining-word-problem-rebecca-solnit