On Nov. 19, Casey Johnson, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Idaho, spoke at the University of Calgary about her recently published paper on Mansplaining and Illocutionary Force in the Feminist Philosophy Quarterly journal. PHOTO: UNIVERSITY OF IDAHO

Many women have been there. They start talking about a subject they know well, only to have a less knowledgeable man interrupt them and hold court.

It’s called “mansplaining,” and is defined as the act of a man explaining something to a woman in a patronizing manner. 

Casey Johnson is an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Idaho who recently published her paper Mansplaining and Illocutionary Force in the Feminist Philosophy Quarterly journal.

As an expert on the topic of mansplaining, Johnson says that it is a conversational pattern that cannot be solved by simply asking a man to stop.

On Nov. 19, the University of Calgary hosted a virtual event where Johnson spoke about her paper and the concepts in it. She then took questions from attendees where she delved further into the topic of mansplaining and her research. 

She says that a lot of mansplaining takes place in the form of “speech act-confusion.” This is when a statement is made but the listener gives the wrong reaction

An example in motion

Johnson gave an example during her discussion that helped explain this form of mansplaining.

A woman, Rebecca, begins a statement about something she has been researching. Then a man, Ralph, inserts himself into the conversation to further explain the topic Rebecca brought up.

Johnson says Ralph gave the wrong reaction to Rebecca because he thought she would want more information on the topic, even though she is an expert and Ralph is not.

“It’s confusion that’s deeply based in sexism.”

Casey johnson, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Idaho

“This wouldn’t happen if Rebecca were not a woman,” Johnson says. “Ralph’s just doing what we all do in conversation sometimes, but it’s pernicious in that the reason he is doing it is because of her gender.”

Confusion in conversation can often occur due to social status and gender. Mansplainers assume women are asking for assistance in conversation, when women are actually just trying to explain and contribute to the discussion themselves.

“Members of marginalized groups who experience this illocutionary disablement are quite adaptable and have demonstrated lots of work arounds. However, I think it’s massively unfair that we’ve had to do this.”

On identifying the phenomenon

Johnson says there is no real way to combat mansplaining as a victim. It is a conversational pattern that cannot be solved by simply asking a man to stop. However, Johnson’s paper and discussion help explain the phenomenon behind it. 

She says that mansplaining can be reduced through men understanding how and when it can occur.

“You need to observe conversation and possibly ask, ‘Hey are you asking me for information or are you trying to tell me something?’”

Maybe then, she says, those who mansplain or accidentally mansplain, can change their ways to combat this sexism that can take place in conversation.

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