Beyond Mansplaining: A New Lexicon of Misogynist Trolling Behaviors

Mansplaining (verb, gerund) describes the phenomenon of someone (usually a man, but not always) behaving as though he has superior knowledge to someone else (often a woman) who actually knows more about the topic in question than he does.

As Rebecca Solnit famously wrote in Men Explain Things to Me:

Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.

Mansplaining is an excellent term, but it’s not a catch-all. Because what about the other repetitive tactics male trolls use to make women on the Internet miserable, from the mundane to the truly vile?

Often I’ve experienced some repeated questioning that fell short of mansplaining, while being even more annoying. I found it frustrating but didn’t know how to describe it, calling it “manterrogating” until someone pointed me to “sealioning,” named after this Wondermark! cartoon. It involves asking unanswerable questions over and over again. I read a post about it, “Why Sealioning Is Bad,” that made me feel sane, like I’d seen the light:

The purpose of sealioning never to actually learn or become more informed. The purpose is to interrogate. Much like actual interrogators, sealioners bombard the target with question after question, digging and digging until the target either says something stupid or is so pissed off that they react in the extreme.

It was such a relief to have a term for what was happening to me, and to know that it was a universal thing, that I thought I’d invent some terms for trolling that I and other women, queer, minority and feminist writers have experienced.

The reality is, most of these behaviors could be described as simply “being a jerk” or “being sociopathic online” or even “genuinely dangerous behavior.” Yet it provides some catharsis to break it down and, in a lighthearted way, recognize the kind of common unnerving trials that await so many of us who express our opinions on the Internet.

Attempted Gaslighting: This is when commenters respond to a personal anecdote with sheer disbelief: “This can’t have happened. You must have remembered it wrong. There’s no way this would go down this way. When it happened to me…” This kind of nonsense online doesn’t rise to the level of gaslighting within a relationship, which is a form of abuse. But when it happens in big enough numbers, and dozens of dudes are denying your reality, it certainly can cross into abusive territory.

Avatarring: Taking apart a female writer’s appearance, often involving a confused mixed bag of rape threats, lurid objectifying, and “she’s too ugly to rape.”

Couching (or Kneeling at the Confessional): Demanding free therapy for gender-related issues, or absolution for past misogyny. “Forgive, me feminist, for I have sinned… now let me tell you about my previous sexism in great detail.”

Gauntleting (or Gloving): Tagging a writer on social media in the hopes that a fight will start. The modern equivalent of what “I demand satisfaction!” was in the old days, except sexist and cowardly.

In-citing, or “Bibiograbbing”: A version of mansplaining that involves citing texts. One common variation is making a really obvious reference to a source that the person you’re talking to has probably read. For example: the day after a book about Emily Dickinson comes out and gets a front-page review in major papers, the bibliograbber jumps in to the comment section, informing the female reviewer that, hey, there’s a new book on the subject, has she heard about it?

Johnsoning: Dick pics. The lowest of the low.

Lollipopping: Anything meant to infantalize a serious female writer, from calling her “hon” or “sweetie” to telling her she’ll get it when she gets older. Named after the candy that doctors and merchants handed out to young children, to placate them.

Man-handling: Creating a Twitter or Tumblr handle for the specific purpose of trolling a writer; coming up with a secondary online handle just to repeatedly tag someone; and/or making that handle so grotesque that it is, in itself, harassing.

Miss Lonelyheartsing: Sending long, detailed emails to a writer outlining your (likely obvious) argument against a given piece and being shocked — shocked! — that she doesn’t have time to respond to every point, in detail. Naturally, you end up attributing this to her cowardice and unwillingness to be challenged, rather than just a disinclination to give you her precious time.

Page Sixing: Repeatedly mentioning a writer by name without tagging her, in the hopes she’ll notice anyway or that it will mess up her Google search results. The egregiousness of this behavior falls somewhere between subtweeting and gauntleting.

Rubbernecking: Jumping in to Twitter, Facebook, or online forum debates to get a few halfhearted jabs in.

Snit-picking: Emailing in a highfalutin manner to point out a small typo in or perform a highly questionable fact-check on a woman’s blog or social media post.

Trojan Horsing: Using a friendly email or initial tweet — “great piece!” or “excellent points on Tumblr today” — as a way of getting access to unleash a litany of abuse or, at the very least, as the preface to an onslaught of mansplaining and “actually“-ing.