Mansplain: To explain something to a woman in a patronizing manner that “takes it as a given that she doesn’t already know whatever it is he is going to tell her.” (From a February 2010 Fannie’s Room post on “the art of mansplaining.”) Coined from man plus explain.
The earliest citation I found for mansplain is an April 25, 2009, entry in Urban Dictionary. This definition maintains that either sex can be guilty of mansplaining; however, most of the writing about mansplaining assumes that the ’splainer is indeed a man. As, for example, in this May 2009 essay on mansplaining by Karen Healey:
Mansplaining is when a dude tells you, a woman, how to do something you already know how to do, or how you are wrong about something you are actually right about, or miscellaneous and inaccurate “facts” about something you know a hell of a lot more about than he does.
Bonus points if he is explaining how you are wrong about something being sexist!
And in January 2010 Kate Harding wrote:
Here’s a thing about mansplaining and why I care a lot about it: it is annoying, and frustrating, and insulting, and deeply rooted in institutionalized sexism, and often profoundly harmful to women. We talk about all of that. What we don’t always talk about is how easily it shades into gaslighting: your reality is false, my reality is true. The biggest mansplainer I’ve known made me doubt my sanity for years; I am still recovering. This isn’t just a supremely sexist and problematic internet habit. It can be a psychologically violent act.
(Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which the tormenter makes the victim doubt his or —usually—her sanity. The term comes from the 1938 play Gas Light and from the film adaptations that followed, in particular the 1944 version directed by George Cukor and starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer.)
Rebecca Solnit, a writer of formidable intellect (Wanderlust, River of Shadows, A Paradise Built in Hell), is frequently credited with spelling out the theoretical underpinnings for mansplain in an April 13, 2008, op-ed column for the Los Angeles Times, “Men Who Explain Things.” She wrote:
Men explain things to me, and to other women, whether or not they know what they're talking about. Some men. Every woman knows what I mean. It's the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men's unsupported overconfidence.
From there, Solnit expanded her argument into the areas of date rape, marital rape, workplace sexual harassment, and the global rights of women. She did not, however, use the word mansplain.
Read “You May Be a Mansplainer If…” on Thus Spake Zuska, a science blog.
Hat tip to Fake Erin McKean, whose September 3 tweet introduced me to the word mansplain (but not the concept, which I've known and experienced for many years).