The neologism “mansplain” offends me, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. It’s one of those neologisms whose sense I don’t have a problem with. A pithy term for “male-chauvinistically patronising explanations”, given the prevalence of such in various discussions, seems a useful thing to have around. (It would be rather ironic if I stood up on a soapbox and told women everywhere that this “mansplaining” thing they complain about doesn’t exist, wouldn’t it?)
However, constructing the portmanteau simply by tacking “man” onto “explain” seems…well, rather offensive. “Explain” is if anyting morally positive; “mansplain” is highly negative; ergo the modifier that turns it all negative seems to be “man”. That is, a gender role is used as a negative. That seems prima facie wrong. Alienating and wrong, which I find an unfortunate feature in language.¹
Note that well: I’m not saying that the phenomenon referred to as “mansplaining” does not exist; I am not denying that it is associated with and usefully labelled as associated with a set of people arguing from a position of male privelege (i.e. a set of men). But by slapping the label “man” on there, it makes me feel, whenever I see the word, as though its author is referring derogatorily to any explanation made by a man, any man.
We wouldn’t have this problem if the neologism were instead “malechauvinisplain”, but I will concede that this is not nearly as pithy. I suppose you could abbreviate it as “[to] male-chauvinistically, patronisingly explain” ⇒ “macsplain”, but that sounds like a poor justification for franchised fast food rather than a comment on gender debate.
Of course, you might well argue that yes, it’s offensive, but that’s okay, because &c. &c., and I won’t say that’s wrong; but that would be in agreement with the post above, and is not a conversation that I care to have right now.
Parenthetically, I am of course often offended by neologisms simply because I’m in many respects a linguistic conservative; unless a term is a technical term referring to a new technology or similar, I tend to cringe slightly at many a word until it’s relaxed in the OED for a few decades. “Guesstimate”, “automagic”, and what not still make me cringe a little. —As do the attempts at gender-neutral pronouns like “zhe” or “hir”², even though I think that English really does need such pronouns.
¹ Most feminists do not hate men, but there are a few loudmouths who equate maleness with evil. If I wanted to describe the behaviour of those very few women who discount any argument made by men on the basis of their sex, in the favour of any argument made by a woman, as “womansplaining”, I think I would draw a lot of well-earned ire. The proportions are very different, since “mansplaining” is very common and since the balance of power is what it is, but the formation is otherwise completely isomorphic. And, I would argue, isomorphically offensive. We could also shudder at such awful, hypothetical neologistic abortions as “gaysplain”. (Or even worse, “homosplain” or “fagsplain”, but those would come pre-loaded with already-derogatory terms.)
On a personal note, I really do find such alienating language extremely off-putting. Reading many major feminist blogs, for instance, does not so much fill me with passion and ardour to better myself as make me feel the target of a generic and faceless pressure of guilt and accusation of crimes I did not personally commit, on the basis of my gender (as though I were to blame for the history and culture that place me in a position of privilege), and phrases like “mansplain” play no small part. Other bloggers, like Greta Christina, frame it in a different way, “humans for women”, again in no small part due to choice of language. I’m not arguing that it’s anyone’s place or duty to court me as an ally; what I decry is not lack of actively inviting language, but presence of actively alienating such.
² “Hir” also has the problem that its spelling suggests it be pronounced identically to “her”, which invites confusion with precisely one of the words it was specifically designed to avoid.