Adam Falklind noticed something weird happening whenever he would go rock climbing with his spouse at the gym.
His partner, Ylva, would get odd comments thrown her way. Even though she had been an avid rock climber for seven years, a lot of people at the gym would talk to her like a newbie. The remarks, Falklind noticed, seemed to come from one specific type of person: dudes.
Many of the guys who felt a need to chime in — mainly the "big biceps kind," as Falklind describes them — assumed she needed some extra help getting up the wall. They assumed wrong.
"They will say [to her], 'Oh no, you have to do it like this,’" says Falklind. "When actually, she’s the one that has better technique and footwork.”
When the outdoorsy couple, who live in Sweden, have gone on scuba diving adventures, Richert encountered the same sort of unsolicited comments from guys there, too.
So what gives?
A few weeks ago, Falklind spotted a post on Facebook that put a name to this weird phenomenon: mansplaining.
It's not officially a real word (yet). But "mansplaining" (a term coined after Rebecca Solnit's 2008 essay "Men Explain Things To Me") is one that Merriam-Webster has been keeping a close eye on lately:
Mansplaining is "what occurs when a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of, with the mistaken assumption that he knows more about it than the person he's talking to does."
This was it — the thing Falklind's spouse had been dealing with from male divers and rock climbers alike.
The Facebook post Falklind spotted was promoting a Mansplaining Hotline, launched by Unionen, Sweden's largest workers' union. It was meant for both men and women across the country to call in to vent, ask questions, and — most importantly — start conversations about mansplaining and other forms of harassment as they exist in their own workspace.
As a guy, Falklind was curious: How prevalent is mansplaining? How can it be avoided? And was he a perpetrator without even realizing it?
He decided to give it a ring. “I wanted to dig a little deeper," he says, noting he had discussed it with Richert before phoning in. “I felt like I wanted to know more about this."
He definitely wasn't alone.
According to Unionen, the Mansplaining Hotline blew up. 60% of the callers — believe it or not — were men.
"It exceeded our expectations — by far," says Gabriel Wernstedt, a Unionen press officer.
The hotline was slammed with hundreds of calls throughout the five-day span it operated in mid-November, with news of the service spreading as far as Ireland, India, Australia, and the U.S.
Many women who called in felt a great sense of relief, says Christina Knight, an expert on gender who helped answer calls. They learned they weren't alone or being overly sensitive about their condescending coworkers; they finally had a word to refer to what they were experiencing at the individual level.
Among men, however, some were irritated, feeling as though this whole mansplaining concept was some sort of personal, gendered attack against them.
Those male callers were in the minority, though. "In many men," Knight explains, "it brought to their attention a phenomenon they might not even have been aware of. It evoked an interest and a desire to try and understand and avoid mansplaining."
One man in his 30s, for instance, hoped to give some good feedback to his young nephews in order to stomp out a potential future generation of mansplainers, Knight recalls. Another man — the head of his department at work — specifically asked for tips on how to avoid being that guy in a managerial role, since he often had to train his employees, Wernstedt says.
“I asked, ‘How can I help myself?’” Falklind recalls of his own chat with a hotline operator. “It awoke a lot of interesting reflections in me.”
Wernstedt was careful to note that women can also be condescending toward others, of course, and that the point of the hotline was about people of all genders being more proactive in fighting for change — not pitting genders against one another.
But there is a reason why this phenomenon has been dubbed mansplaining, after all: Men do seem more likely to want to exhibit control and strut their knowledge at the office, Wernstedt says. And that's part of the reason why this sneaky form of sexism exists in far too many workplaces around the world.
The best piece of advice hotline workers gave men who called in was simple: Listen.
Hotline operators — volunteers in various career fields who all had some expertise in workplace harassment, like Knight — were happy to lend a helping hand. "Asking questions and listening is an easy way to have a dialogue instead of a monologue," Knight notes.
The best way for men to avoid mansplaining is to be more cognizant of their own behavior, she says — stop "going on autopilot," simply assuming something needs to be taught. Instead, show a genuine interest in and respect for the women you work with by listening and responding to them. Or, as Wernstedt puts it, understand why "we have two ears and one mouth.”
Falklind, who's well aware he's likely mansplained at some point or another, knows he's a work in progress.
“It’s hard to admit when you’re wrong in any situation, despite gender," he says. "It’s something that I try to work on every day."
As far as all the hoopla around the hotline ... does it mean there will be another one down the road? Possibly, says Wernstedt. But Unionen is still climbing out from under the overwhelming responses to this one, which ended nearly two weeks ago.
“We’re still amazed by the interest," he says.
It seems the world could use quite a few more Mansplaining Hotlines — there's certainly no shortage of men with an urge to pick up the phone and dial in.