Philosophers often present works-in-progress or previously-published works to each other at conferences and colloquia. I was present at one such talk given by a female philosopher presenting her recently-published research on structural and cultural aspects of systematic injustice. After an hour-long carefully laid out presentation of background, argument, and application to concrete cases, the Q & A session began.
During the discussion, the role of implicit bias and sexism in the discipline of philosophy was raised by an audience member. The speaker integrated this notion into her approach, showing how it explained the pretty dire numbers of women making it to full Professor within philosophy. The phenomenon of “mansplaining” was raised as just one of many illustrations of hostile academic culture, along with widespread reports of sexual harassment at conferences. A chorus of agreement ensued from both male and female audience members that they had witnessed and heard testimony of both such sexist behaviors, and from female audience members that they had been repeatedly mansplained in professional contexts.
A male member of the audience raised his hand and proceeded to explain to the speaker and the other audience members that the definition of “mansplaining” was offensive to all men, including feminist men such as himself, because it is based off the category of all men and makes no distinctions. The speaker responded that it is a behavior done almost universally by men almost universally to women, and that incorporating gender into the term makes sense but should not be taken to mean that all men are guilty of it every time they say anything to women. The audience members once again affirmed this interpretation and tried to explain it in other ways to the fellow who had raised the issue. He then responded by explaining to the speaker and the other audience members that he was still correct because “mansplaining” didn’t meant what they said it meant. No amount of illustrative examples could persuade him otherwise.
The irony of someone mansplaining mansplaining did not escape us.