“Mansplaining” was a New York Times Word of the Year after the publication of Rebecca Solnit’s classic essay “Men Explain Things to Me” back in 2008. Before long, the word had morphed to explain the experience of other groups who are often dismissed: whitesplaining, straightsplaining and, for those who reject the gender binary, gonadvising.
It struck a chord with anyone who routinely encounters the assumption that someone else knows better than they do about their own experience. Like men explaining feminism to women, or white people telling people of color, “This is not a race issue.”
The term caught on partly because it’s funny. But its consequences can be deadly serious.
In Texas, mansplaining is propelling recent legislation—some of the most draconian in the country–restricting women’s access to abortion.
State Sen. Wendy Davis, running for governor in Texas, attracted nationwide attention when she led a filibuster last summer that aimed to defeat the legislation, which required all abortion clinics in the state to meet the same building, equipment and staffing standards as hospital-style surgical centers—even though abortion is an outpatient procedure. It eventually passed anyway, and went into effect in March.
The number of clinics offering abortion services in Texas dropped from 44 to eight. In the poorest areas of the state, such care is now hundreds of miles away and requires days of travel. The aim of the law was clear: Abortion may not be illegal, but if it’s unavailable it might as well be.
A district judge blocked the Texas statute earlier this year, but the decision was reversed by the Fifth Circuit, one of the most conservative appeals bench in the nation. In mid-October, the U.S. Supreme Court has once again stayed the order for the surgical-center provision to go into action, allowing 13 closed clinics to re-open. But the court’s move does not resolve the issue permanently; the stay lasts only until the completion of the appeals process.
This is where the mansplaining comes in. In the looking-glass world of Texas politics, this legislation closing medical clinics was cast as—wait for it–an effort to improve health care for women.
“We are pleased that women will never again receive substandard care from these abortion facilities,” said Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, in an interview with The New York Times.
In fact, legal abortion by a trained provider is one of the safest medical procedures a woman can undergo. And these same clinics also provide much-needed preventative care, cancer screenings, and birth control—so the law meant to stem abortions effectively placed mammograms and Pap smears out of reach for a lot of Texas women as well.
Yet the junior U.S. Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, cast this as “commonsense legislation” that protects “the life and health” of women. Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the law would “ensure the women of our state aren’t exposed to any more of the abortion-mill horror stories.”
Attorney General Greg Abbott, running to be the next governor of Texas, defended the law when it was appealed to the Supreme Court. Ahead in the polls, Abbott said, “I’m proud to say there is nobody in the state of Texas who has done more to fight to help women than I have in the past decade.”
His main piece of evidence?
This law, which his spokeswoman described as the result of “careful deliberation by the Texas Legislature to craft a law to protect the health and safety of Texas women.”
Men like Pojman, Cruz, Perry and Abbott have mansplained to women how little we understand about how to take care of our own bodies. Pap smears? Birth control? Mammograms? You don’t need those, sweetheart. Trust me.
It would almost be hilarious if our health—and our lives—were not at stake.