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Do we need a different word for 'mansplaining'?

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The word "mansplaining" is still having a moment.

It made its debut in 2008, inspired by Rebecca Solnit's blog post: "Men Explain Things to Me."

"Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they're talking about," Solnit wrote. "Some men."

Her blog post describes a cringe-worthy moment in which a man interrupts her to talk "smugly about this book I should have known," Solnit said. What he didn't realize was that Solnit had written the book in question. It took several interruptions for him to realize he was explaining a book, which he hadn't read, to the woman who had written it.

The term spread from there. The New York Times declared "mansplainer" a "Word of the Year" in 2010:

mansplainer: A man compelled to explain or give an opinion about everything — especially to a woman. He speaks, often condescendingly, even if he doesn't know what he's talking about or even if it's none of his business. Old term: a boor.

For many women, the term gave them a way to acknowledge and discuss a frustrating phenomenon they encountered at work and in life. It wasn't a new issue, it was just a new way to talk about a very old issue: People underestimating women. 

"By labeling this and giving it a name, and giving some weight to it, it recognizes that this is an experience that is incredibly common for women," said Julie Zeilinger, author of "A Little F'd Up: Why Feminism Is Not a Dirty Word." 

Zeilinger and Georgene Huang, CEO of Fairygodboss, joined MPR News guest host Euan Kerr to discuss the term "mansplaining," and the bigger social issues behind it.

Even as the word has spread it has sparked a wave of criticism.

Is the word itself inherently sexist?

Solnit herself has come out and said "she doesn't necessarily agree with that term because it is so gendered," Zeilinger said. "She has a great line in one of her essays: 'You don't fight patronizing by patronizing in return.'"

"It's worth remembering, despite the term we've given it, it points to a much more systemic problem related to the way we are all trained to think about gender. ... It's about the way we're raised, the way women are raised to make themselves smaller and men have this incredible confidence. It's about interrogating that, rather than blaming men."

Huang agreed: Pointing out the problem of people interrupting or talking over women doesn't require using the word "mansplainer."

"You don't have to use the word 'mansplaining,' because it is kind of divisive and implies the person is sexist. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't and they're just unaware and unintentionally saying something that offends," Huang said. "It's a little offensive to say this is only something men can do. Women can also be rude and interrupting and exert their personalities over a room." 

There are many factors in play with "mansplaining": Age can play a huge role. The term raises the question of gender, but doesn't address the frequent dismissal of young people's opinions. 

Perhaps, despite split opinions on its usage, what the word has done best is spark conversations.

"It can seem unintentional or not that big of a deal, but it really points to this deeper presumption that women don't know what they're talking about, or what they have to say and what they think isn't legitimate," Zeilinger said. "That, in and of itself, is a really big issue and speaks to a much broader systemic way that we treat women in general in this country." 

For the full conversation with Georgene Huang and Julie Zeilinger on "mansplaining," and how it can be confronted and avoided, use the audio player above.