I was introduced to the term “mansplain” by a colleague who posted a Facebook link to Academic Men Explain Things To Me. This Tumblr blog is a repository for anecdotes and complaints from academic women who have been the recipients of patronizing, infantilizing, or downright rude behavior from their male colleagues—that is, “mansplaining.” According the Urban Dictionary, “mansplain” means:
delighting in condescending, inaccurate explanations delivered with rock solid confidence of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation
Example: Even though he knew she had an advanced degree in neuroscience, he felt the need to mansplain “there are molecules in the brain called neurotransmitters.”
Although the term has evidently been around for some time (it was the “Word of the Day” on the Urban Dictionary back on February 4, 2011), it’s new to me. Yet the concept is all too familiar. Any academic, and especially a female one, is likely to feel a stab of recognition when she hears the definition of “mansplain,” for who among us hasn’t been talked down to, over, or out of the conversation?
I can easily summon examples, such as when a male colleague blithely announced that we had solved all the gender issues at our institution—this, after hijacking a lunch I was having with another male colleague to instigate a discussion that wholly excluded me. I wince at the memory of a committee meeting when I became so exasperated at a male colleague who kept interrupting me that I lashed out, hissing, “Let me finish my sentence THIS time.”
I may have been the victim of occasional mansplaining, but I’m no innocent. I think I represent my fair sex when I say that I am guilty of my own form of mansplaining: adopting a tone of moral superiority and presuming a stance of superior insight and vision based on my female experiences. (Warning: I might even be doing it in this post.)
In the interest of gender equality, we need a comparable term for the female version of mansplaining. I’d like to propose fecturing (etymology: female + lecturing). At first I thought of fectoring, but the word “hectoring”—with its connotations of shrill, bossy bitchiness—carries too much misogynist baggage. I prefer the word fecture because, like mansplain, it has vestiges of authority. No matter how objectionable the tone, when you fecture or mansplain, you have knowledge to share and the authority to do so. By suggesting this term, I’m not arguing that all things are equal, or that women don’t have good reason to protest gender inequalities at home and in the workplace. I’m simply saying that if we’re going to analyze the exercise of power through gendered discourse, we should adopt an equal opportunity approach to the subject.
Here’s a provisional definition of fecture:
delighting in condescending explanations delivered with moral superiority, confidence of rightness because of superior insight and exclusive experiential knowledge, and oracular certainty that of course she is right, because she is a woman.
Example: Even though she knew her baby would survive a few hours left alone with Daddy, she felt the need to fecture her husband about the precise schedule he must follow, as well as about the proper application of diaper rash ointment.
That’s a lowball example, for I, a professional working woman, appear to be attacking a most vulnerable target, the stay-at-home mom. But I stand here as living proof that professional working women treat their husbands and partners this way, too. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, though as a mother of twins, I regret that I didn’t get the chance to fecture in full glory. My husband and I each had to grab a baby and manage with the ointment as best we could, squirming to dodge the inevitable spray of pee in our faces. Definitely no moral superiority there.
Though I may have missed the opportunity for maternal fecturing, my husband will tell you that I have crafted my own form of the genre: a tone I adopt when I talk to him and our sons as if I were speaking to students in a classroom. It happens when I feel like I’m being ignored, interrupted, or dismissed by the male members of my family, who outnumber me by 4 to 1. Suddenly I become the righteous corrector, my “high disdain” fueled by what Milton called a “sense of injured merit.” (NB, Milton was describing Satan.)
There’s a lot of fecturing going on in Academic Men Explain Things To Me as well. I’m not going to call any of my academic sisters out by their screen names, but if you read a sampling of the posts, you’ll get a sense of the tone and gist of them. There’s a palpable note of female superiority tumblring about, and I think it’s high time we called ourselves on it. Maybe once we’ve established terms for all the abuses we inflict on one another, we can put an end to both mansplaining and fecturing, and start a conversation.