I think it has to do with a very specific kind of female communication, an intimate sharing of knowledge between and across generations, that was practiced by Mrs Gaskell in the nineteenth century, and is practiced by me and my peers in the twenty-first.
I still remember vividly the day when, as a pre-teen, I went to a friend’s house to play and, instead of pretending we were movie stars or dressing up her dog or whatever else we normally did, we sat in her room and talked. It felt revelatory: that this could be a way of spending time, that hours could be devoted to something as simple as speaking and listening and exchanging experiences. We knew this was something our brothers and their mates did not do. We knew, even then, that we had inadvertently initiated ourselves into something feminine and important.
In my period of indecision about single parenthood, it is only natural, then, that I seek advice from the women around me: child-free women, mothers, grandmothers, single and married, gay and straight. It is to women I turn, have always turned, for knowledge and comfort and help, and they have always been there to guide me. If mansplaining is the unnecessary interjection of unwanted information, then womansplaining, in my experience, is this earnest sharing of hard-earned wisdom between mothers and daughters, aunts and nieces, between friends.