Manspecting Is the New Mansplaining, and It's Not Doing Women Any Favors

manspecting-is-the-new-mansplaining: an illustration of a man swinging a woman.
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Man-spect (verb)

  • To regard a task as likely to happen, without any plan for following through
  • To flagrantly overpromise, typically enacted by the American male after reading an article about gender equity

I recently joined a buzzy committee for my children’s school. The buzz wasn’t about the good work we were doing for the 1st Grade Reading Challenge or spring music workshop. It wasn’t because of our progressive stance on all-gender bathrooms or subsidized lice checks. It was because, after years of being run by the same workhorse women, the committee was helmed by…wait for it…a man! A man with ideas, a man with corporate leadership experience, a man who was going to shake things up and get things done.

And honestly, at first, he was great. He was dynamic and innovative. He guided discussions and organized tasks with the finesse of a project manager who loves a good excel sheet. But suddenly, some time after our fourth or fifth meeting, he started to become harder to pin down. He wouldn’t respond to emails. He showed up late to a Zoom call. And then, just as our final deadline was looming, his (paying) work at his law firm became “insane,” and he had to bow out of the committee entirely. He knew, of course, that the workhorse women would pick up the slack. And he knew, rightly, that we’d make sure the thing got done. But what happened? I had to wonder. How did he go from gung-ho to no-show?

The truth, I think, is that he fully intended to do the job he signed up for. He just bit off more than he could chew and didn’t have a plan for execution. He was manspecting, a state familiar to just about every woman with a household to run and a slew of unpaid, unseen work on her to-do list.

This unseen, or “invisible” work is a focus for Eve Rodsky, author of Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (And More Life to Live). “Women shoulder 2/3 of childcare and housework, regardless of whether they work outside the home,” Rodsky maintains, a statistic that stays persistently stubborn even as women’s household earnings and breadwinner status increases, according to a new Pew Research Center study. The difference, it seems, is that, after a spate of books, articles and social media outrage, many men are starting to see the imbalance and recognize that it’s not, uh, fair. “During the pandemic men definitely took notice that women bore the brunt of domestic tasks and childcare,” Rodsky says. And that’s a good thing, she’s quick to stress: “Offering to share the work equitably starts by understanding what the work actually is.”

The problem is when the offer stays just that: a hypothetical “of course I’d love to help plan Hazel’s birthday party!” with no action taken.

A friend (who shall remain anonymous, for the sake of her marriage), finds this scenario awfully familiar. "My husband is always optimistically saying he'll take on mental load challenges, then bailing,” she confesses. “We actually spelled out a pre-summer camp morning routine and his single responsibility was to give our son his daily multivitamin while I showered. His time allotment? 30 minutes. The other day, I came downstairs, ready to take on my part of the routine (packing the lunch, applying sunscreen, making sure there’s a snack, dry towel and swim goggles in the backpack) and confirmed: ‘Multivitamin is done, right?’ My husband's response: ‘Oops, it's not! But I'll do it right now.’ Insert steam coming out of my ears.”

In other words, good intentions will only get you so far. And while the prospect of a dude willing to take on PTA bake sale duties is pretty damn sexy, that same dude showing up to the brownie table empty-handed is aggressively annoying—perhaps more so than if he never offered in the first place.

The flipside, reminds my own Very Helpful Husband (who has been known to manspect on occasion) is that maternal gatekeeping and arbitrary timelines can set men up for failure. For instance, let’s just say VHH offers to look into afterschool soccer programs, select one and sign up our third grader. In my head, this is a task that needs to be completed by mid-July. In his head, as long as it’s done by the first day of school, we’re golden. Suddenly, it’s early August, he hasn’t taken the lead, and I swoop in to do the task myself, highly irritated by his unrealized manspectations. But did he ever have a fair shot? Yes and no. On the one hand, task delegation needs to come with an element of letting go; maybe it’s not done to my standards, but at least it’s done by a person who isn’t me. On the other, my seemingly arbitrary deadline is actually in the service of other mental load crap he hasn’t thought about—the pickup and drop-off situation, our daughter’s conflicting gymnastics schedule, the uniform that inevitably takes a week to arrive…

Additionally, says the friend with the multivitamin problem, when you have to remind guys constantly about their manspectations, it turns you into a reluctant shrew. “My husband never has to confirm that I did something. It's just done. But if I ask him on repeat, and he ‘forgets,’ I really do start to feel like a broken record and nag. Isn't it faster/easier if I just do it myself? But that's the vicious cycle!”

In a marriage, the solution comes down to three things, says Rodsky: “Boundaries, systems and communication.” We need to clearly align on who does what (you buy Christmas presents for the kids, I get them for extended family), how and when it gets done (by December 10th, using the credit card with the best rewards points, with a grand total of four gifts and four stocking stuffers for each child) and how we communicate about it (in the shared spreadsheet, of course).

But as for my non-conjugal school-committee manspector? That’s on him. Until we can get men to take responsibility for doing mental load work as opposed to just thinking about it, we’ll always be saving their asses—one bake sale brownie at a time.

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jillian quint

Editor-in-Chief, Avid Reader, Wallpaper Enthusiast

Jillian Quint is the Editor-in-Chief of PureWow, where she oversees the editorial staff and all the fabulous content you read every day. Jillian began her career as a book editor...