A trade union in Sweden has been accused of being sexist for launching a 'mansplaining' hotline service. Unionen, Sweden's second-biggest trade union, started a campaign to encourage a discussion about discriminatory behaviour and harassment in the workplace. As part of the campaign, they set up a mansplaining – explaining things in an over-simplified manner – hotline between 14 and 18 November.
"Anyone can call to ask about mansplaining based on their own experiences and perhaps get tips on how to act to create more inclusive workplaces," the initiative's announcement read.
The union's initiative was immediately met with scepticism as well as hostility on social media, with people taking issue with the word 'mansplaining'.
The term's popular use was recognised in 2014 when it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary, and it is defined as such: "(of a man) explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing."
In March, US comedian Jimmy Kimmel used it in a sketch with Hillary Clinton in which he joked that mansplaining was "a way we men can help women be better".
But many social-media users who commented on Unionen's initiative complained that the word is discriminatory towards men. "Why are you using the word 'mansplaining'? It's sexist," one Facebook user posted. Another person recommended the union to be more inclusive: "Why are you picking up this ridiculous concept? Many of your members are men. Don't you realise that it is seen [as] extremely provocative. Try to be inclusive instead next time," he wrote.
Several people pledged to cancel their union membership. "I'm not going to continue my membership in a trade union that choose to blame a whole group of this disgusting way!" one wrote. "Thank you union because you actively work against all men. I will end my membership immediately," another commented.
Others took the backlash as evidence of the campaign's necessity: "There seems to be a great need for this campaign within the union. A little funny that those who have objections to the campaign can't realise that it is their behaviour which is at the root of why the campaign is needed," one union member wrote.
Unionen has replied to some of the most negative comments, explaining they take all cases of discrimination seriously. According to the union, mansplaining is symptomatic of inequality in the workplace, which can manifest itself in dismissive attitudes towards women's expertise, as well as the gender pay gap and lack of women in leadership positions.
"Sweden is well advanced when it comes to gender equality, but still much remains to be done – not least in our workplaces. To achieve change, Unionen believes that it's important to create awareness about how seemingly small things that we do or say add up to a larger issue. It's really about how we talk to and about each other," a union spokesperson told IBTimes UK.
"The campaign is not intended to point the finger at or blame all men. Of course, it's regretful if someone feels offended. On the other hand, the lively debate shows that this is an important topic to discuss. Awareness and discussion is the first step towards change," she added.
One union member said that talking about mansplaining helped him understand what it was and adjust his behaviour. He wrote: "I realised that I myself have done it several times and how stupid it really is. It happens automatically because that's what men do or is expected to do. We brought up to believe that we know better.
"But when you highlight a pattern you can take a step back and see what it is you actually do, then you can start doing things differently and pass it on to the next generation."