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'Mansplaining': The Real Reason Men Like to Explain

That bloviator in the office isn't necessarily a chauvinist pig. Here's what the research says about why some men insist on explaining things they know little about.
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Since the dawn of creation, women have been victims of mansplaining, a phenomenon that occurs when a man offers an unsolicited explanation, though he doesn't necessarily know what he's talking about. I've been there before, and it was embarrassing, like being in a one-sided conversation. 

It's tempting to think it's just sexism, right?

Well, that might be too simple an explanation. Georgetown linguist Deborah Tannen says "the inequality of the treatment results not simply from the men's behavior alone but from the differences in men's and women's styles."

Tannen argues that men talk to determine and achieve status, while for women, it's about making connections. Women view life as a network, while men view it as a ladder.   

Women are competitive in their own way, says Joyce Benenson, a researcher at Emmanuel College in Boston, though they tend to be passive aggressive. An attractive woman, for instance, may be less inclined to invest in female friendships, because she's meeting mates fine without them, while groups of jealous women may gang up to shut her out. 

Men, on the other hand, like to discuss fact-based topics, because they're trying to establish a hierarchy of who sounds the smartest. Those with more facts will tend to speak up, while the quieter types sit back and listen.  

When women and men get together, things can get interesting. A man may mention something he knows in order to establish his status, while a woman will acknowledge his point to make a connection. The man, meanwhile, will take this to mean she accepts his status, which may prompt him to launch into the dreaded mansplaining. Of course, this doesn't always happen when men and woman converse, but it may shed some light on the mansplaining problem. 

It's not that all men are inherently sexist, or women are inherently passive. It may be about finding a different way to achieve status and connection. 

Last updated: Jul 11, 2014

JILL KRASNY | Staff Writer

Jill Krasny is a staff writer for Inc. magazine, where she covers the intersection of entertainment and startups. Prior to Inc., she was a writer for MTV and Esquire and an editor at TheStreet. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a degree in communication. She lives in New York City.




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