Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Why do we need the mansplaining hotline when there's plenty of men around to explain it for us?

Tedious as it is, more than an irate phone call is required to impose a lifetime ban on Harry from distribution piping up about the calorie-busting properties of cardio when you return after a lunchtime yoga session

Gwendolyn Smith
Wednesday 16 November 2016 11:38 GMT
Sweden's largest union has set up a mansplaining hotline
Sweden's largest union has set up a mansplaining hotline (Getty)

Men have explained that a campaign calling out mansplaining is sexist. I am truly grateful – after all, as a woman I have trouble fathoming anything more complex than kitten grooming and jam varieties without a kindly male on hand to nudge me in the direction of enlightenment. How (pray gentleman, do tell) should I comprehend my deepest thoughts, desires and – as became clear during a particularly memorable dinner on holiday in the south of France – what my taste buds really make of foie gras without a gracious gent frowning slightly and saying ‘I think you’ll find…’ in a carrying tone every time I start a sentence?

That said, I have a nagging doubt that something is amiss here.

This week Unionen, Sweden’s largest union, created a hotline for women to report mansplaining in the workplace. If this modern portmanteau alludes you – or indeed, if you’re a man hoping to bellow a pithy definition into the face of the next available female colleague – the union, which represents more than half a million workers, defines it as when “a man explains something to a woman without being asked, particularly something which she might already know more about than the man”.

In an article introducing the venture, Unionen quoted an American Psychological Association study that claims men “tend to overestimate their intelligence to a much greater extent than women”. It went on to point out how the study also showed that self-assurance in men grows with age, which doesn’t sound correct if you consider, say, the paragons of humility seen in senior political and business positions in recent times, such as Phillip Green, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, and – [pauses briefly to wipe vomit from keyboard] – the new American President-elect.

Steve Bannon calls liberal women 'a bunch of dykes'

Women: you’re not happy about this hotline, are you? You’re not glad that someone’s attempting, in however gimmicky a manner, to shine a spotlight on this infuriating practice that has you plotting to murder your male co-workers at least twice before the ten o’clock tea round takes place every morning? Are your thoughts scudding back to that time a few months ago when your boss was loudly pontificating about a brilliant new novelist he’d discovered, Sadie Smith (sic), never pausing for breath long enough to allow you to remark that you spent most of your third year at university researching and writing a 3,000-word essay on the novels of your favourite author, Zadie Smith?

Are images flooding to mind of that toerag you met on Tinder? You know, the one who expounded confidently that in this modern era the unequal division of household labour is “all in women’s heads”, later warning that he wouldn’t go out for dinner because his mum had left a portion of cannelloni out on the side for him.

Perhaps it’s less introspective. Could it be that you’re trying to block out memories of Donald Trump, who mansplained so tenaciously through the US presidential debates it seemed he had studied the phenomenon at degree level? This is inextricable from your guy friend attempting to mansplain Trump’s mansplaining to you, even though he once, in a less insufferable incarnation, confided he’d forgotten the name of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in an interview for a job at a political publishing house.

Well, purge your frail lady minds of those erroneous ideas, girlfriends. Men of the internet – yes, that adorable tribe – have resoundingly dismissed Unionen’s enterprise as discriminatory. Keen to register their offence at what they called the unjust way it targeted men, enraged males took to the union’s Facebook group in droves to admonish the hotline for promoting a polarised culture. This rather overlooks how the campaign rallies against not a gender but a behaviour, nevertheless gaining back brownie points by neatly fulfilling Unionen’s overall aim – to drag the existence of mansplaining into the open.

Obviously, the hotline is simply a stunt. Tedious as it is, more than an aerated phone call is required to impose a lifetime ban on Harry from distribution piping up about the calorie-busting properties of cardio when you return to your desk after a lunchtime yoga session. Still, it’s a worthwhile stab at making offenders scrutinise their sermonising. Men just mansplained the problem with mansplaining.

Confused? Don’t worry, there will be a man to go through it with you.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in