‘How to Explain Mansplaining’ – by Mia Dale, KS5 student

New lexical blends are becoming engraved in language, undermining the feminist message of equality between the genders.

From ‘mansplaining’ to ‘manspreading’ on the tube, to ‘manterrupting’ during meetings, these terms are leaving women feeling uncomfortable. Women have finally found a way to articulate their experiences of being objectified and belittled, but is this really promoting the correct message?

Recent articles such as ‘Allow me to explain why we don’t need words like ‘mansplain’’ by Liz Cookman have argued that lexical blends such as ‘mansplain’ risk trivialising the problem and undermine feminism’s message of equality. She claims that ‘a prat is a prat, whatever their gender’, implying that we shouldn’t have these portmanteaus (two words put together) as it is degrading to men and strengthens our perceived ‘divide’ between the genders which have continued from old patriarchal views from the 70s. Another article ‘Mansplaining: New solutions to a tiresome old problem’ by Sarah Kaplan gives us a stronger feminist view on these new portmanteau, suggesting that men need to change the way they approach situations, rather than women. They serve to polarise people rather than unite us against gender-based social discrepancies and invite absolutism.

How can I be heard? Well, maybe men just don’t listen. Studies of language and gender often use two paradigms of dominance or deficiency; the dominance theory, proposed by Don Zimmerman and Candace West at University of California Santa Barbara, suggests that men are more likely to use interruptions than women. So maybe it’s not all our fault, as men seem to think. They found that in 11 conversations, men used 46 interruptions, but women only 2, enforcing the idea that we still live in a male-dominated society, which may be why these neologisms (blending two words together to create a new word) still exist. Although, these patriarchal ideas are almost as old as flappers, bootleggers and jazz music, so maybe this isn’t all accurate.

Robin Lakoff, a professor of linguistics at the University of California, opposed this idea by stating that women are deficient in some way to the established ‘norm’. She claims that women use more hedges (such as ‘perhaps’, ‘maybe’) and tag questions (turning a statement into a question, such as ‘arent they?’) as a sign of hesitancy, which suggests they are inferior in some way to men. I mean, as a woman herself!? Why are they ‘normal’ and not us? These sexist views are as old as your nan’s rotten plimsol, why do we still believe it? Anyway, all jokes aside, these portmanteaus (blends of words) are reinforcing our sexist views that for some reason we can’t shake out of our itsy-bitsy minds; we have to grasp onto them as if our whole life depends on it.

However, theorists such as Deborah Cameron, a Professor in Language and Communication of Worcester College, suggest that language differences are due to power and status, which is dependent upon setting, situation and purpose. Finally! Someone who isn’t blinded by society. This non-sexist approach is something we should aspire to believe, which would help remove these negative stigmas and hopefully these lexical blends.

‘Not all men’ seems to be the common response, but this is reinforcing female inferiority. I mean, what do men ACTUALLY do other than leave the toilet seat up and refuse to admit that they’re wrong? Anyway, before we go smashing any more ‘man’ words together, we should remember that a moron is a moron, female or male.