Arguing about mansplaining on Twitter

This Tweet appeared recently. You can see my comment below it, and the 21st comment after that, which got over 200 “Likes”. 















The Reaction

Dozens of tweets followed my “What nonsense!” tweet. Some, from men, were crass and insulting (You’re shit. Shut the fuck up moron), while women preferred joshing and taking the mickey. Just about everybody agreed I was mansplaining. For example, A tweeter called M commented:

This really is quite meta: a historical reference to mansplaining met by the the most peak of mansplainers ever imaginable.

While Raw posted this

I wrote more than 30 replies in 3 hours; a few were angry; many were ill considered; and many had mistakes (in one, I referred to Eleanor Marx as Karl Marx’s sister, for example); so I’m not pretending that I put my case coherently and cohesively and I’m not complaining about the reactions, either. I just want to state my case calmly here and make a couple of comments.

Louise Raw’s view 

From the tweet, I judge Raw’s view to rest on the special status of Eleanor Marx. She was a Marxist scholar; she’d spent years working with Marx; she was chosen by Marx to carry on his work; and Marx entrusted her with the job of publishing the English version of Capital. In a famous quote (Florence, 1975) Karl Marx said “Tussy [Eleanor] is me”. Thus, it is extremely unlikely that the man who stood up at the end of her lecture and told her what Marx really meant knew better than she did what Marx meant. So the man is guilty  of mansplaining.   

My View

Mansplaining is when a man explains something to a woman in a condescending or patronising way. If the man explained what Marx meant to to Eleanor in a condescending or patronising way, then he was mansplaining. But if the man offered an interpretation of some aspect of Marx’s work which contradicted Eleanor’s account, without stooping to condescension or patronisation, then he wasn’t mansplaining. The fact that he was talking to Eleanor Marx doesn’t mean that his remarks were necessarily condescending or patronising – or even wrong. Louise Raw gives no information about the man’s intervention, and without a reliable acount of what the man said and the way he said it, we can’t be sure he was mansplaining. Saying that the man “told her what Marx had really meant” could be seen as implying that he was being patronising & condescending, but Raw’s a historian – she should have supported her assertion of historical mansplaining with a reliable account of the man’s words and actions at the 1893 lecture given by Eleanor Marx in Aberdeen.   

The False Claim: You say that the man knew better than Eleanor what Marx meant. Ergo: you’re anti-feminist.  

Over 50 tweets had the same theme: I was called a “sexist”, “misongynist”, “old white man”, “woman hater” who “despised feminists”. The tweet from Audrey shown above says this: 

So random man knew better what Karl meant than Karl’s own daughter who worked with him…. Were you related to that man by any chance? 

Audrey puts words in my mouth and attributes completely false views to me. In no tweet did I say, or imply, that the man (now “random man” and perhaps my relative) knew better than Eleanor Marx what Marx meant, or question Eleanor’s expert status. But, never mind; the twisting of my words became an established “fact” from then on. Dozens of tweets supposed that I had indeed said that random man knew better, and, on that basis, accused me of bias and sexism.  Today, this was posted:  

That quote is not what I said; I don’t know where bb davey got it from; but there it is again: the false assumption that I had suggested that “random man” knew better.  

A bit later Audrey says:  

Yeah… How dare we thinking that a woman who is also his daughter would know better the subject she was working on?? We’re so silly Louise…. Aren’t we?

I didn’t criticise anybody for thinking that Eleanor knew more than “random man”, but again, never mind; it sounds good and was the cue for merry “I’m in the kitchen, where Geoff thinks I belong” exchanges among some women tweeters, which, stupidly, rattled me enough to call them “dummies”.

Ad Hominens or Gratuitous Insults? 

Louise Raw’s tweets contained these remarks: 

  • (Geoff) is an heroic leftie whose politics are beyond question. As we know, loathing feminists & insulting women is no bar to this. 
  • (Geoff) doesn’t realise Eleanor Marx was one of the feminists he despises.
  • (Geoff) sees no irony in getting furious with having HIS knowledge challenged whilst saying it was fine for a random dude to challenge ELEANOR’S
  • (Eleanor) was absolutely Marx’s literary collaborator, as everyone acknowledges- apart from Geoff!
  •  (Geoff) came to us, calling us dummies and idiotic feminists, but is The Real Victim Here? 
  • Geoff likes to insult women whilst accusing US of ad hominems.

The Appeal to authority 

Louise Raw says this:  Karl Marx: ‘Eleanor IS ME’. He meant politically. So the mansplainer was doing the closest thing he could, after Karl’s death, to correct Marx himself on Marxism.

The actual quotation is ‘”Jenny is most like me, but Tussy (Eleanor) is me” (Florence, 1975, p. 57). I think it’s fair to say he meant politically, but to suggest that Eleanor Marx was the voice of Marx himself is surely taking things too far. Marx trusted his daughter to faithfully interpret hiis work, but that doesn’t mean she always did so. Marx died in 1883, and in 1884 Eleanor, along with other members of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), including William Morris and Ernest Bax left the SDF and formed the Socialist League. It’s a mute point what Karl Marx might have advised. And it’s not sure whether father and daughter were entirely in agreement about sexual politics and the wrongs of the bourgeois family. In any case, while it’s perfectly reasonable to claim that Eleanor was a reliable source of information about Marx’s work – especially the later work, including Capital – that doesn’t mean she had – or should have had- the final word on all the myriad controversies and disagreements that raged in the 1890s about what Marx really meant, or that in her lecture that day she didn’t say anything that might be seen as offending the Marxist canon. 

Critical Thinking

Here’s a tweet from Bygone (sic) Jim:  

The pompous adage in the first sentence is followed by a completely unsupported criticism in the second. But my argument during the exchange, and now, more calmly here, is based on the first principle of critical thinking: Question everything: examine the logic of any assertion and ask for evidence; don’t believe what you’re told. In a polite exchange with Sue Lyon-Jones, she agrees that mansplaining is when a man tells a woman something she already knows in a way that is patronising and dismissive, and she thinks that Louise Raw’s tweet demonstrates that the man was guilty of it. Where’s the evidence? I ask. She replies: 

That is how I read it. As a woman, it rings a fairly loud bell for me.
I replied, a bit hysterically
But you don’t know what he said! …..  WE NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED!  
And there’s the rub. I don’t think we should take Louise Raw’s word for it that the man was “obviously” mansplaining and I think she failed as a historian to give the evidence that would have allowed us to judge for ourselves. Either Raw doesn’t have the evidence, in which case she shouldn’t have made the accusation, or she has it, and for some reason decided not to give it in a follow up to her original tweet. 



 Florence, R. (1975) Marx’s Daughters. Dial Press,    

Synthetic and Analytic Syllabuses

In on-going discussions about the weaknesses of coursebook-driven ELT, references are made to two types of syllabuses: synthetic and analytic. The distinction was first made by Wilkins (1974), and ammended by Long and Crookes (1992). There seems to be some confusion about them, so here’s a summary of what Long (2015) says. My apologies to Mike for the awful liberties I’ve taken with his much more carefully written text.

‘Synthetic’ and ‘analytic’ refer to the learner’s role in the learning process.

A synthetic approach focuses on the language to be taught (the L2). The L2 is divided into units: words, collocations, grammar rules, sentence patterns, notions and functions. These units, or items, are then sequenced according to criteria (normally intuitively defined ‘difficulty’) and presented one by one.

Synthetic syllabuses assume a central role for explicit instruction and explicit learning, followed by proceduralization of declarative knowledge, and automatization of procedural knowledge. Language teaching is seen “as a process of filling the learner’s linguistic quiver one shiny new arrow at a time” (Long, 2015).

Students are exposed to “simplified” dialogues and reading passages “seeded” with the structure(s) of the day. Practice of the structure(s) is followed by “freer practice”. The approach relies on a battery of exercises, and linguistically focused tasks for intensive practice during the proceduralization and automatization phases.

Analytic Syllabus 

An analytic approach does the reverse. It starts with the learner and learning processes. Students are exposed to samples of the L2, and engaged in meaningful target language production. The learner’s job is to analyze the input, and thereby to induce rules of grammar and use. There is no overt or covert linguistic syllabus. More attention is paid to message and pedagogy than to language. The idea is that, much in the way children learn their L1, adults can best learn a L2 incidentally, through using it.

Analytic syllabuses are implemented using spoken and written activities and texts, modified for L2 learners, chosen for their content, interest value, and comprehensibility. Classroom language use is predominant. Grammar rules, drills, and error correction are seldom, if ever, employed.


Synthetic syllabuses view L2 learning as a process of skill building. Declarative knowledge (conscious knowledge that) is implanted first. It’s gradually converted into procedural knowledge (unconscious knowledge how). Reflecting the power law of practice, performance moves from controlled to automatic processing, with increasingly faster access to, and more fluent control over, new structures achieved through intensive linguistically focused rehearsal.

Skill-building models contradict research findings on interlanguage (IL) development. IL development of individual structures has very rarely been found to be linear. Accuracy in a given grammatical domain typically progresses in a zigzag fashion, with backsliding, occasional U-shaped behavior, over-suppliance and under-suppliance of target forms, flooding and bleeding of a grammatical domain (Huebner 1983), and considerable synchronic variation, volatility  (Long 2003a), and diachronic variation.

The assumption of synthetic syllabuses, that learners can move from zero knowledge to mastery of formal parts of the L2  one at a time and move on to the next item on a list is a fantasy.

Explicit instruction in a particular structure can produce measurable learning. However, studies that have shown this have usually devoted far more extensive periods of time to intensive practice of the targeted feature than is available in a typical course. Also, the few studies that have followed students who receive such instruction over time (e.g., Lightbown 1983) have found that once the pedagogic focus shifts to new linguistic targets, learners revert to an earlier stage on the normal path to acquisition of the structure they had supposedly mastered in isolation and “ahead of schedule.”

IL development is regulated by common cognitive processes and what Corder (1967) referred to as the internal “learner syllabus,” not the external linguistic syllabus embodied in synthetic teaching materials. Students do not – in fact, cannot – learn (as opposed to learn about) target forms and structures on demand, when and how a teacher or a textbook decree that they should, but only when they are developmentally ready to do so.

In instructed SLA contexts, research (see, for example, Sok et. al., 2019; Kang,, 2019) increasingly shows that following a grammar-based, synthetic syllabus is not as efficacious as using an analytic syllabus such as that recommended by Long (2015), which treats the L2 holistically and leads students through a series of scaffolded tasks where the focus is on meaning, and where focus on form is used to deal with problems which arise when the students indicate a need for it.


Kang, E. Y., Sok, S., & Han, Z. (2019). Thirty-five years of ISLA on form-focused instruction: A meta-analysis. Language Teaching Research23, 4, 428–453.

Long, M. (2015) SLA and TBLT. Oxford, Wiley.

Long, M., and Crookes, G. (1992). Three Approaches to Task-Based Syllabus Design. TESOL Quarterly, v26 n1 p27-56 Spr 1992.

Sok, S. Kang, E. Han, S. (2019). Thirty-five years of ISLA on form-focused instruction: A methodological synthesis. Language Teaching Research 23, 4, 403-427).

Wilkins, D. (1974). Notional syllabuses and the concept of a minimum adequate grammar. In S.P. Corder, & E. Roulet (Eds.). Linguistic Insights in Applied Linguistics. AIMAV/Didier.