Why Sweden launched a 'mansplaining' hotline

One of Sweden's largest unions launched a one-week hotline for members to call and share their experiences with 'mansplaining' after receiving many complaints.

For a week, Swedes who want to vent about “mansplaining” can call a hotline to share their experiences.

The project was set up by one of Sweden’s largest trade unions, Unionen, after its officials said they had received too many complaints about “mansplaining” from its members. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day this week, members can call in and speak to gender experts and academics.

"I think often it's experienced as a sort of condescending exercise whereby the woman feels that the man feels a need to explain in perhaps a patronizing or condescending way, where the woman hasn't actually asked to be informed, and perhaps the woman might already be more knowledgeable or more well informed on the subject,” Swedish gender expert Christina Knight, who was involved in the project, told PRI.

The project has attracted both male and female callers – as well as plenty of detractors on social media. The term mansplaining took off after a 2008 essay from author Rebecca Solnit, “Men Explain Things To Me.” The term covers scenarios in which arrogant men impose their knowledge on women – or, as the Swedish hotline has documented, other men – that the mansplainers assume are either less intelligent or less informed.

“Our objective is to contribute to awareness and start a discussion which we hope will be the first step in changing the way we treat each other and talk about each other in the workplace,” Jennie Zetterström, a union spokeswoman, told the New York Times. “It’s important to create awareness about how seemingly small things that we do or say add up to a larger issue.”

Ms. Knight, who was one of the experts answering the calls, reports receiving a roughly equal number of calls from men and women. Some men call to complain, while others have asked for advice, like one man looking for tips on how to explain the term to his nephews.

"This specific campaign really is inspired by a need, expressed both by members within Unionen and women generally," Knight said. "They say that they have experienced this, and it is troublesome, and it is something they'd like to learn how to handle and make people who are mansplaining aware of what they are doing."

Sweden is already one of the top five countries in the world in terms of gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Report. As an example of the nation’s awareness on gender issues, some cities in Sweden have snow-plowing policies that prioritize women and families, as reported by City Lab.

The phenomena of mansplaining is global and goes far back in history, such as when a man in 1903 tried to explain to women why they didn't really want the vote, as detailed by The Atlantic's Lily Rothman in 2012.

Ellen Dubois, a professor of history and gender studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, tells the Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview that the word is new – but the phenomena is not.

"As women gather both experience and confidence in themselves, it's a repeated phenomenon as women become doctors, lawyers, as they studied and understood political development," she says. "They were able to say with greater confidence, 'Look, I know what I'm talking about.' "

In 2008, Ms. Solnit’s essay about a man who lectured her about a book she should read – without knowing or letting her explain that she wrote it – set off a popular discussion about the phenomena.

Soon, a blog called “Academic Men Explain Things To Me” was set up by women in academia to anonymously share their stories of being slighted by male colleagues. Examples range from male colleagues telling women what is best with no regards to their abilities to differential judgment being passed on students based on gender.

Some have criticized the term mansplaining itself, saying it deepens the gender divide. As Liz Cookman wrote for The Guardian, “They serve to polarize people rather than unite us against gender-based social discrepancies and invite absolutism.”

Knight and some of her fellow hotline operators suggest engaging in conversation with mansplainers.

“Obviously not all men subject all women to mansplaining all of the time,” wrote Peter Tai Christensen, one of the gender experts participating in the project, as translated by the New York Times. “That would be an absurd assertion and not based in reality. But enough women are subjected to it by enough men for it to be a problem that warrants being addressed, discussed, and resolved.”

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