She explains ‘Mansplaining’ with help from 17th-century art
By Alisha Haridasani Gupta
This story begins, as so many do these days, on Twitter.
In May 2019, Nicole Tersigni, a Detroit-based writer, logged onto the social media platform at the end of a long day. She was tired and frazzled from looking after her 8-year-old daughter, who was home sick at the time.
“So I go online just to kind of scroll through Twitter and zone out for a little bit,” she said, “and I see a dude explaining to a woman her own joke back to her — something that has happened to me many times.”
In the past, Tersigni had let those kinds of irritating conversations go, but this one sparked something in her. She Googled “woman surrounded by men” (“because that is what that moment feels like when you’re online,” she said) and stumbled upon a 17th-century oil painting by Jobst Harrich of a woman baring one breast in the middle of a scrum of bald men.
She combined that image with the caption: “Maybe if I take my tit out they will stop explaining my own joke back to me.”
In another post, Tersigni placed an 18th-century painting titled “Conversation in a Park” by Thomas Gainsborough next to the caption, “you would be so much prettier if you smiled,” turning what seems like a vignette of a man flirting with a woman into a laugh-out-loud scene.
She kept tweeting, and her posts went viral, garnering tens of thousands of likes and retweets, including by actors Busy Philipps (“THIS THREAD IS GENIUS,” she proclaimed) and Alyssa Milano (“Might be my all time favorite thread ever”) — a platform-specific indication that Tersigni had playfully captured everyday instances of misogyny that many women found uncomfortably familiar.
“It just snowballed from there because it was just so easy to consume and relate to and laugh about,” Tersigni said. (Several men chimed in to explain her joke to her or point out that not all men do these things.)
Within days, an agent got in touch, suggesting she turn her tweets into a book. Two weeks later, they were meeting with editors, Tersigni said, and struck a deal with Chronicle Books.
“I remember I got it, looked at it and just cracked up,” said Rebecca Hunt, editorial director at Chronicle Books, who works on pop culture and humor books.
“When it was time for me to share it with our editorial team, I printed out a lot of the pages and spread them on the table. We all didn’t even need to say anything, we were all just reading and laughing,” she said. “That’s how you know right away that something will resonate.”
Just over a year after that first tweet, Tersigni’s vision will leap from social media to print with “Men to Avoid in Art and Life,” to be released Tuesday.
Each chapter of the coffee-table book, which brings together works of art and razor-sharp captions, explores the different “types” of men that Tersigni and many women encounter on a regular basis. She describes five of them, with some examples from pop culture, here.
“The mansplainer explains things in a condescending way,” Tersigni said. “Their thoughts are always unsolicited. Nobody is asking for them. One of my favorite jokes that I used in the thread and also in the book for the mansplainer is, ‘Let me explain your lived experience.’”
The Concern Troll
Concern trolls approach women with a sense of worry about something they are saying or doing, but it isn’t sincere, Tersigni said. “They use their faux worry to undermine or criticize you.”
Think Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast,” who feigns concern for Belle’s well-being when he sees her with a book (“It’s not right for a woman to read. Soon she starts getting ideas — and thinking!”).
In the real world, Tersigni said, “They’ll say things like, ‘I agree with your point, but you shouldn’t use that tone or you’ll alienate your audience.’”
The comedian is not just someone who tells jokes. He is the unfunny person who is convinced of his funniness, “but if you don’t laugh at his jokes, which are really tired, sexist, racist jokes, it’s because you just don’t understand comedy or you need to get a sense of humor,” Tersigni said.
“Todd Packer, from ‘The Office,’ is a great example of this guy,” she added. “He tells the worst jokes and gets so mad when people don’t like him that he gives them laxative cupcakes.”
This is what you call the heterosexual man who believes he has all the answers when it comes to women and sex. “The sexpert thinks he knows your body better than you do,” Tersigni said. “They think they know what’s going on with you internally.”
“Harry, from ‘When Harry Met Sally,’ is a total sexpert,” she added, something that Meg Ryan’s character, Sally, finds so annoying that it leads to her memorable performance at Katz’s Deli in New York City.
A close relative of the concern troll, patronizers minimize women by harping on their (imagined) feelings. “The patronizer uses your emotions as weapons against you and makes you feel small, so that he can feel big,” Tersigni said. “That guy will say things like ‘I can’t talk to you if you’re going to be hysterical,’ which is like nails-on-the-chalkboard annoying.”