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Why Are Men Still Explaining Things to Women?

Turns out, it was her book. And he hadn’t read it.

By Ms. Solnit’s telling, it took three or four interjections by her friend to get through to the mansplainer that Ms. Solnit was indeed the author, before he finally heard it. Tellingly, it also took time for Ms. Solnit to recognize the book he was referring to was in fact her own: “So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingénue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I’d somehow missed it.”

Mansplain,” a word that reaches far beyond the borders of the United States, was inspired by that essay. Today, an ever-evolving list of international iterations exist. In German, it’s “herrklären.” In French, “mecspliquer.” Italians have “maschiegazione.” There’s a Spanish version of mansplain, and there’s a word for it in Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi, Mandarin, Ukrainian, Japanese and dozens of other languages.

Mansplaining illuminates a much deeper problem than the bore of patronizing monologues. As Ms. Solnit notes, it “crushes young women into silence” by telling them “that this is not their world.” She adds, “It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.” More than a decade on, why is men’s interruption of women to explain things — often things they know less about than the women to whom they’re explaining — still so common?

Kate Manne, an associate professor of philosophy at Cornell University, explores the issue in a chapter of her new book, “Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women.” On a recent call from her home in upstate New York, where she lives with her husband, their 8-month-old and a corgi, she unpacked the problem.

How did we arrive at the idea that men are the authorities of knowledge?

Mansplaining may be recently named, but it’s most likely a phenomenon as old as time. Inherent in patriarchy is men’s entitlement to all valuable human goods: things like love, care, adoration, sex, power — and knowledge. When it comes to knowledge, especially of a prestigious sort, the idea that men have a prior claim to it is as venerable as the patriarchy itself. Sometimes it’s connected to the idea that women are incapable of being authority figures. In “Politics,” for example, Aristotle wrote: “The slave is wholly lacking the deliberative element; the female has it but it lacks authority.”

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