The Scourge of ‘Intellectual Mansplaining’

Growing up, it was a common sight to see my grandfather snub my grandmother whenever she ventured into a political discussion. We would watch in silence so as to not disrespect our parents and grandparents.

Intellectual and political spaces have long been dominated by men – both in public and private. The snubbing that was so normalised in our grandparents’ time is far less acceptable in today’s age.

Yet, there is a far more insidious way in which women have their self-esteem eroded – intellectual mansplaining.

In school, we enter as sure-footed bright young girls. It is noteworthy that most girls turn out to be far more studious, focused and sincere in school as compared to their male peers, who have a general attitude of recklessness towards life and authority. Gender-based roles, thus, manifest early in the adolescent period.

However, as one moves towards early adulthood and to colleges and universities, most girls start losing their confidence. Why? That’s because a shift in the power dynamic.

From seminar rooms and classrooms to canteens, and eventually to intimate spaces of heterosexual relationships – men have a tendency to overpower discussions and conversations. You can always find a few speaking confidently over their women peers, even cutting in to offer their so-called wisdom.

Women, on the other hand, are mostly seen resorting to other spaces to make themselves heard – like editorials and groups on social media.

Many women also seem to find men who are ‘good with words’ very charming. I have heard a lot of my female friends say that ‘men who can show them things they don’t know about’ seem like ideal romantic partners. But in essence, it is in such relationships that some of us lose our voices, our perspectives and our power by mistaking mansplaining as an ideal quality to look for in a romantic partner.

I have seen several first dates where men go on talking and talking about issues ranging from politics to female bodies in an effort to display their intellectual superiority – while the women sit in silence, forced to listen.

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A lot of abusive relationships, in my opinion, stem from this very facet of lopsided power relations – where men emotionally exhaust women by using them merely as a medium to display their own intellect. Gradually, some women lose their confidence, and some even fail to regain it and forge their own identities.

Most of us continue to live the reality of a different gender for our lack of finding a voice to explore our own and possibly different way of experiencing the world. The trend, however, is changing for good and it is high time we, the women, come forward and tell our own stories without being interrupted.

It starts with actively and consciously recognising mansplaining. When our male peers talk over us in class we need to understand that intellectual spaces aren’t only meant for the males. When our female peers are called ‘bossy’ and ‘prudish’ for elaborating or scrutinising ‘casual’ issues more vociferously, we need to recognise how the same thing done by our male peers would not seem out of place.

When our male colleagues take charge of drama or debating societies or are the majority to be the presidents or vice presidents, we need to raise our voice and question the disparity.

And lastly, in our private relationships, we don’t have to be schooled by men all the time. We already have professors, teachers and mentors, who are authorised to lecture us on various philosophies and disciplines.

It’s time we actively recognise the disparities and raise our voices – even if we are called ‘extra’ or someone who reads too much into things.

Featured image credit: Yoaj Shejtman/Unsplash