Sweden, that liberal Scandinavian country which brought the world offensive four-letter words like ABBA and IKEA, has just set up a hotline for those who take offense at mansplaining. You call and report incidents of mansplaining, which is when men explain things in unnecessary detail, thereby demeaning women who are forced to endure our tedious, often patronising mansplanation.
Oops, I just mansplained Sweden, then mansplained mansplaining itself. How typical is that?
But do you know what? My mansplanation of mansplaining proves an important point, which is that mansplaining is a thing we men do unwittingly. It's not necessarily a thing we're proud of, and like our tendency to leave the toilet seat up, it's probably something we could work a little harder at changing.
But we don't deserve to be shamed for mansplaining. When women mention that it's a windy afternoon, we can hardly stop ourselves from launching into a mansplanation of how sea breezes work. It's just the way we operate.
The term mansplaining was coined by U.S. writer Rebecca Solnit in one of those delicious moments that don't happen often enough in life. Solnit was at a party where a bloke insisted on mansplaining what he called a "very important book" to her. Solnit listened patiently. Have you guessed already that she was the author of the very important book?
The first serious womansplanation of why men mansplain appeared a decade earlier, even though the word mansplain didn't exist yet. U.S. linguistics professor Deborah Tannen wrote a book called You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, which was a best-seller.
Here's part of what Tannen wrote, reflecting upon a conversation in which she'd just been mansplained-to.
"For most women, the language of conversation is primarily a language of rapport: a way of establishing connections and negotiating relationships... For most men, talk is primarily a means to preserve independence and negotiate and maintain status in a hierarchical social order."
The Economist nicely summed up Tannen's point about men talking to achieve status, and women talking to seek connection, in a 2014 article which in part read:
"For men life is a ladder and the better spots are up high. For women, life is a network, and the better spots have greater connections.
A man lays down a marker by mentioning something he knows, an opening bid in establishing his status. A woman acknowledges the man's point, hoping that she will in turn be expected to share and a connection will be made. The man takes this as if it were offered by someone who thinks like him: a sign of submission to his higher status. And so on goes the mansplaining.
See? There's actually a moment in many conversations between men and women where we men go "oh, you actually WANT us to mansplain".
So what do we do? Mansplain, obviously. Are we completely misreading the dynamic of the conversation? Absolutely. Does this make us condescending bastards? No. Are self-answered rhetorical questions a subtle yet particularly insidious form of mansplaining? Yes.
Now at this point in my extended mansplanation of mansplaining, there are two ways I can go. I can stay defiant, or I can go all conciliatory. (See? I'm even mansplaining my train of thought? I really am the worst but I just can't help it.)
I opt for defiance.
The first thing I'll do is mansplain a major piece of hypocrisy in progressive social theory. It is this. We've been hearing the "celebrate diversity, embrace difference" message for years now. Why should the Swedes or anyone else seek to belittle us fellas for a trait which experts have shown is endemic to men?
Next, I'm going to tell you that the best journalists I know are habitual 'splainers, be they men or women, because they don't rely on assumed knowledge or clunky acronyms, but strike that beautiful balance between stuff you don't know, and stuff you already know but could use a refresher on.
Thirdly, and mindful that one of the most annoying tendencies of mansplanation is the signalling of what comes next in a conversation, I'm going to leave you with a thought. Here goes. If you really hate mansplanation, try thinking of it differently. Portray it as a quirk, rather than an annoyance. File it in #Dadjoke territory.
Hey by the way, what did one snowman mansplain to the other? "Let me tell you why everything smells like carrots."
Know what's next? I'm going to ring that damn Swedish hotline, that's what.
"Hello, Sweden? That you? OK, so when you find a better way of telling me how to assemble my flatpack f--king furniture than those indecipherable f--cking pictograms, MAYBE I'LL STOP MANSPLAINING. DEAL?"
Man, that felt even better than a full-blown mansplanation.