Today, I had the joy of someone ‘manspreading’ next to me on the bus. For those who aren’t familiar with the term manspreading is a term used to describe when a man sits down next to you, and essentially feels the need to spread their legs as wide as they can, effectively backing you into a corner. I’m not going to get into debates on whether women does this too, but so far in my life I’ve only had men do this to me. Granted, not very often, but each time it’s quite frankly annoying and makes me uncomfortable. What’s wrong with trying as hard as possible not to physically touch the person next to you on the bus, train, tube or whatever your mode of transport is and just be an awkward British person?
In response to this phenomenon the term womenspreading recently took Instagram by storm and is where famous women posted pictures of themselves sat down spread out as much as possible to highlight that they were not afraid to take up space.
However, it’s not manspreading I came to talk to you about today, but another internet fuelled word womensplaining and it’s companion mansplaining.
While writing this I did a quick search for womensplaining and came up with this definition (also I noticed the definitions on Urban Dictionary all are very anti-feminist):
“The tendency of some women to mistakenly believe that they automatically know more about any given topic than does a man and who, consequently, proceed to explain to him- correctly or not- things that he already knows.”
Source: Urban Dictionary
To explain further, I found an explanation that talk about womensplaining, as being related to women believing themselves to be authorities on anything generally considered ‘women’s work’ and believing that men are incapable of knowing about these things, and consequently looking down on them. This I agree is true, as unconscious bias’ such as these are a major force in society.
For me though womensplaining does not have to be exact opposite to what mansplaining is. And just to be clear mansplaining is, “what occurs when a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of, with the mistaken assumption that he knows more about it than the person he’s talking to does”*.
Instead, womensplaining came in my head to explain my intense desire to talk back- to explain my point of view and have it listened to. Throughout my life I’ve heard what many would describe as ‘geeky’ conversations, usually about the Marvel or DC comic universes or other stereotypically male dominated franchises (or typically male beloved- though this is changing- yay!) where every word of the male-dominated conversation feels like they are talking down to everyone else in the room.
I heard such a conversation today on my bus journey home (the bus didn’t go well for me today) where two male, I’m going to presume college students where discussing DC and Marvel, and which was a multiverse or not. The urge to just turn around, and say ‘Well actually…’ was strong. What stopped me was that although I eagerly follow the films for both comic powerhouses I stopped trying to be a part of the comic verse a long time ago- honestly, because of conversations like these that I had heard that scared me off.
However, I really wanted to. I wanted them to be proven wrong. This was especially exacerbated when I later overheard them talking about how if a women was in charge of the world there would be far more wars because women just can’t help but fight with each other.
Honestly, though I realised it’s not even about proving people wrong (though I’ll admit there is a certain level of satisfaction in that); it’s about having your thoughts on a typically male dominated subject accepted and listened to. For example, yesterday I explained the Star Wars universe to a man. And it felt good that I was the one with the knowledge, and that they accepted it.
That for me I think is the real desire. No, I don’t want to just go around calling people out. I want to be unafraid to be an authority in one of these discussions, and to be listened to. And I don’t think I’m alone. For me, that is what I think womesplaining is. The chance for women to explain their opinions without being made to feel an outsider or judged more harshly.
Perhaps, though a new term needs to be made (as womensplaining as defined above needs to be defined in of itself). As that appears to be the only way we can talk about our experiences now (which is not necessarily a bad thing- such movements have done miles of good). Either way, there needs to be some way to voice this desire to speak out, said by someone with a lot more knowledge than me.
Especially, as my experience doesn’t even begin to touch on the way women of colour, the LGBTQ+ community, people from disadvantaged economic backgrounds, and anyone with a disability are silenced (this list is by no means exhaustive either!).