Mansplaining students need to stop | The Periodical

Tell me again what you think it’s like to be a woman.


Men can be super patronising. Not all men and not all the time, of course. But sometimes. Some men. Are the worst.*

To be clear, mansplaining isn’t just when a man explains something to a woman. I’m not saying all men should stop explaining things, that would just be ridiculous.

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What feminists are like, probably

Let’s see the Google definition for ‘mansplain’: ‘(of a man) explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.’ The keyword here is ‘manner’, the way you explain things.

So, men: I know you probably don’t even realise you’re doing it most of the time, but the first step to changing your behaviour is recognising that you might mansplain occasionally. For your perusal, here is a list of things that you definitely should never ever try to mansplain, because it makes me feel like shit.

How vaginas work

Recently a guy explained at great length to a female friend of mine how periods work. All she could do was laugh. Guys, we all had biology classes, there’s nothing impressive about using phrases like ‘menstrual cycle’ and ‘womb lining’.

Besides, have you ever heard of the ‘Mary’s room’ thought experiment about the girl who’s only ever read about colour, but never experienced it? It really doesn't matter how much you know about a thing if you can't experience it for yourself.

Think about that the next time you try to tell me to get over my menstrual emotions because they're just caused by extreme hormones, as if that means they're not real feelings.

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He can find the clit on a diagram but not in the bedroom

What it’s like to be a woman generally

For some reason, men often think that they know what it’s like to not be a man. I’ve heard men discuss all sorts; what they would do if deciding whether to get an abortion, how much they would ‘sleep around’ if they had a woman’s body, etc.

Sure, we all think about things that we know we’ll never experience – I often wonder, for example, how I would behave in a Purge – but it’s probably best to keep those thoughts to yourself. (I know exactly who I'd take out first, and I'm not telling). It’s downright insensitive to act like you know better than those actually living the experiences you can only imagine.

Also, spoiler alert, there is no such thing as the general woman. I’m a white woman. I have it easiest. There is an array of different genders, sexualities, colours, ages, disabilities, ethnicities, etc. which diversify the lives of women and non-binary people, lives which I can't speak for.

So please stop saying what you think women are like. This 'Woman' of yours doesn’t exist outside the realms of mansplaination.

My field of expertise

The other day I heard a Mathmo postgrad explaining to a History of Art postgrad that her era of expertise is worse than all the others. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘the exhibition that I’m in Cambridge to see was curated to show that those views you have [read: not original views, very common and misguided views] might not be entirely true. Maybe you should go.’ To which he grumbled a bit and said he was busy.

I’m not saying you can’t discuss my subject with me. I love talking about English, I wouldn’t be studying it otherwise. But a little humility never hurt anyone. You know, apart from every woman since the beginning of time, but some men could do with helping to even out the balance of humility a bit.

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I am always 100% open and awake to discussing Shakespeare's complete works

I’m sick of being made to feel that my opinion is just as valid as anyone else’s because my subject is so, well, subjective. Anyone can pick up a book, right? But I wouldn’t try to explain how your subject works – anyone can draw a triangle, right, Mathmos? – so feel free to give your opinion, just know that it’s probably wrong (and don’t get your knickers in a twist when I humbly say so).

Your field of expertise

Please don’t assume that I know nothing about what you’re trained in. Even if I don’t know anything about it, please don’t assume that I would be too stupid to understand it. IT departments, sports captains, mechanics and male students of STEM subjects are all unfortunately prime mansplaining culprits, because their skills are supposedly unfeminine.

If I’m interested enough to ask, I’m interested enough to learn. I know it’s difficult to find the balance between sounding patronising and sounding incomprehensible, but if you avoid assuming from the start that the person you’re talking to has the brain of a four-year-old, you should be off to the right start.

So men, as a general rule, try getting into the habit of talking to everyone as you would if they were all men. Then have a long, hard think about whether, and why, your behaviour changed.

* Apologies to Edward Parker Humphreys in the cover photo who is definitely not the worst and whose only crime is having kind of stupid looking glittery eyebrows occasionally.**

** Just kidding, there is no such a thing as too much glitter.