Teachers: mansplaining happens in your classroom. You may not be able to control when it happens, but you can hold the mansplainers accountable.
After Rebecca Solnit published “Men Explain Things to Me” (the essay credited with originating “mansplaining”) in 2012, studies about gender inequality in classrooms resurfaced.
In a 1994 study, educators Myra and David Sadker reported male students were given more time to talk in elementary classrooms than female students. At Harvard Law School, third-year student Adam M. C. Neufeld found men were 50 per cent more likely than women to comment during class. At Ithaca College, women recounted their experiences with mansplaining in classrooms, with one saying she would “never be comfortable in a politics class again.”
And no, it’s not all men. Solnit writes in her essay, “Mansplaining is not a universal flaw of the male gender, just the intersection between overconfidence and cluelessness where some portion of that gender gets stuck.” Women also interrupt women. White people talk down to people of colour (also known as “whitesplaining,” a term that hasn’t caught on yet). A lot of it comes down to privilege. Who’s given room to speak? Who’s praised for speaking? Who’s interrupted when they speak? And, perhaps most important, who’s silent?
For educators, holding mansplaining accountable is imperative. As someone who’s shared classrooms with men who’ve talked more than anyone else, I’ve wished teachers would have made room for women, people of colour, and non-cis people to speak. Here are some suggestions educators should follow to hold mansplainers accountable:
Work the topic into a discussion on classroom etiquette. Like Solnit said, cluelessness is often the cause of mansplaining. Having a clear set of classroom expectations (i.e., letting every student finish their point before you speak, always raising your hand before talking) gives you something to refer back to in case of a future occurrence.
Acknowledge when someone overtalks. Simple phrases like “We’ve heard a lot from you, let’s give other people a chance” or “How about we hear from someone who hasn’t spoken yet?” can be an effective way to invite more voices into the conversation.
Acknowledge when a student has been interrupted. After the interrupter has made their point, bring the focus back to the student with a phrase like “Sorry, what were you saying?” That way, the student can finish their train of thought.
If all else fails, have a one-on-one conversation with the mansplainer. No, you don’t need to scare them. Yes, you must tell them their behaviour is negatively affecting the classroom environment. Chances are, they’ve never had to think about how much they speak because they’ve always been allowed to.
Teachers have the most power in a classroom. They decide lesson plans, in-class activities, and break times. They also decide who talks when. They have the power to hold mansplaining accountable or to let it slide completely. And — well, actually — the latter can no longer be an option.