A colleague wrote to me the other day surprised about something she’d seen. She’d overheard a conversation between two men in public and was shocked to find one mansplaining to the other. “I always thought mansplaining was a thing men did to peacock in front of women,” she wrote. “But apparently men explain things to each other.”
Being a man—and therefore, in possession of boundless wisdom—I told her, “Yes, of course, this happens.” And then, as usually happens once we’ve had a chance to think after we’ve already spoken, I started to question the veracity of my confident pronouncement.
Wait, do men mansplain to other men?
Is that even possible?
And if so, what sort of ridiculously forced neologism could I devise to best market this sociological breakthrough?
To be fair, the term mansplaining is already well spoken for. As it’s been commonly used, since shortly after Rebecca Solnit crystallized the idea in her 2008 piece, “Men Explain Things To Me,” refers to the product of societal gender-based power imbalance and socialized behavior. Writing on the emergence of the name for an ages old phenomenon back in 2012, Lilly Rothman in The Atlantic called it “explaining without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer, often done by a man to a woman.”
But while sexism, either overt and subconscious, plays a significant role in the way many men speak to women, there’s also evidence that this is simply how men talk to everyone. There is research behind this, where male-only groups show the same type of competitive, one-upping behavior. To be in possession of information, or, at the very least to appear to be, is considered bona fide evidence of one’s status.
Today, in theory, men are supposed to be more aware of how we speak to and treat women, particularly as the perils of mansplaining have been hammered home over and over again—although, as the fallout from the Harvey Weinstein saga has shown us, we still have far to go in so many ways. But I was curious whether otherwise self-aware, reasonably well-adjusted men found other men letting it fly when it came to their interactions, and worse, if they still saw themselves doing it in their own personal and professional lives.
“I work in a small wine shop, and guys explaining wine that I bought for that wine shop, to me, is an almost daily event,” says Mike, 37, of Medford, Massachusetts. “Like, we’re looking at some random-ass Cab, and they’ll ask me a question I foolishly mistake for them wanting to know something I might know. Then when I go to answer, they’ll interrupt me and tell me what they think about said bottle. They’re often wrong.”
Lennon Simpson, 33, of Fort Worth, finds men frequently telling him how to do his job as a strength-training coach as well. “There’s always someone in the gym that wants to tell you why what you’re doing is wrong. When it happens to me, I tend to blow it off. If they keep on pushing it though, and it’s a subject I’m proficient in, I’ll shut it down.”
“I was at a bar a few months ago talking about the upcoming iPhone, and mistakenly dated my iPhone 6 to be three years old,” adds Nick, 25, of Boston. “A guy at our table, whom I hadn’t met previously, interrupted to inform me that the iPhone 6 was released in September 2014, and therefore, couldn’t possibly be three years old yet. He used this opportunity to take control of the conversation, explaining in unwanted detail Apple’s release cycle—and eventually, his predictions and expectations for the new phones.”
That said, for all of their annoyance when they find it being done to them, almost all of the dozen or so men I asked about mansplaining said that, sadly, yes, they have done it themselves as well. “I noticed a while back that I tend to do it to dudes when I gather head of steam in a conversation and completely forget my audience,” Simpson explains. “I caught myself explaining how carburetors work to my dad once. He’s a professional Harley mechanic.”
The revolving door of winesplaining goes both ways, Mike adds. “Someone will try to share an anecdote about a wine, a region or a trip, usually some place I’m excited about, and I find myself telling them about where they were and what they drank, and suddenly, we’re onto my insights. I really hate when I do this, and I get far more upset with myself for doing it, at this stage, than I do with people for doing it to me.”
“Guys do this to each other all the time,” says Brandon, 24, of Ames, Iowa. “Among friends, it can be funny, or it can be annoying. The guys who do it in front of co-workers and people they barely know come across as real dicks, though.”
Why does he think they do it? As an act of superiority, he says. Similar to the way males of an animal species attempt to show dominance in order to breed. But while it would be weird for a guy to start lifting heavy things in the middle of the office or a bar, and fighting is generally frowned upon by, you know, the police, whipping out your big brain dick and slapping it on the table is still tolerated for the most part.
“It’s in the social DNA of the American male,” says Adam, 40, of Boston. “Generations of white men grew up and were taught that they had all the power and they had all the answers. Tough to shake that, especially if you don’t want to.”
The desire to appear knowledgeable and correct in any given group is a powerful motivating force, explains Zach Fleagle, 28, of Philadelphia. “Men think they’re supposed to know things, and if they don’t, they feel weird, so depending on the competitiveness of the group or the topic, it can be more combative or passive. In my experience with different types of groups, some personalities like to correct people, but that’s usually just one guy here or there. For the most part, men just want to be correct to say I told you so or to feel validated rather than to be constantly correcting people.”
Spotting mansplaining among men in the wild can be easy, but figuring out what to do about it isn’t always so clear. Men, by and large, are reluctant to admit when they’re wrong, and most of the guys I spoke to agree. So adding a whole other point of contention on top of the one at hand is a headache that they’d rather avoid. But, again, as the ongoing discussion about the way men treat women this past couple of weeks has illustrated, the problem of men holding other men accountable for the things they do — from the relatively minor, like being a blowhard in social settings, to inexcusable abusive behavior—is something we need to be more aware of and proactive about.
“I can’t recall ever really stopping someone,” Mike says. “I question if there’s a point. If someone is in that mode, and I were to go, ‘Hey, I feel like you’re kind of talking over me, about something I know,’ I feel like we’d just start having a shitty conversation about how they feel they weren’t, and they’d double down that they know it, too. Better to just let them finish, and then get them out of the store.”
But naming it “mansplaining,” and pointing to its existence, has had a positive effect, at least among people capable of correcting their behavior. “I have noticed that a lot of my straight friends have noticed their mansplaining, as it now has a name and is recognized as an actual phenomenon, and they try to avoid it,” Mike says.
So what to call our interactions among men? Most also agreed that, while the phenomenon exists, it may not be accurate, or even appropriate, to refer to it as mansplaining. “I’ve always wanted a better word for this shit than mansplaining, because even if the motion is similar, the power differential of a man ‘correcting’ a woman, or talking over her, rather than another man, is pronounced,” says Mike. “Mansplaining has a lot more value as a phrase intertwined with that power dynamic — the horrid thing men do to women because they don’t respect them. I also think that men feel considerably more empowered to speak up when talked over, because it’s something familiar, and feels like a shitty contest, rather than a precursor to violence, which I think women have to consider at all times.”
Maybe brosplaining then?
Or something simpler, and more tried-and-true.
“When your goal is to always be right or to explain something to someone when they didn’t ask, you’re probably just a dick.”