The first time Tricia Maddrey Baker of Greenville, NC encountered “mansplaining” it was like she had been “smacked in the face.”
Someone in her office called her a girl. She corrected him by saying, “No, I’m a woman.” He laughed and said, “You’ll want to be called a girl when you turn forty.”
“How dare he,” she thought, “tell me what I think or what I will feel twenty fears in the future!”
Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. Over the years, like almost all women, Tricia has had to endure condescending speech from men who think they know more about a topic than they do and think they know certainly more than the woman to whom they are speaking. In other words, mansplaining.
Tricia gets mansplained so often that she’s “had it and [is] angry about being mansplained to [her] entire life.” She wrote to Women AdvaNCe looking for advice. She said, in situations, like her work, where this occurs, “I want to be diplomatic, because I need to think about the end I want and how I get there. I usually ignore the daily affronts because I’m focused on the end game, but later I’m really pissed. What’s the best way [to handle it] that’s polite and directed so behavior changes?”
Before, I get to my crowd-sourced suggestions, a brief background. The phenomenon came to light from author Rebecca Solnit’s 2008 essay “Men Explain Things To Me”. She didn’t coin the term, however. It started appearing on the internet along with other similar words like “manalogue.” While some people argue that the “death knell” for the word has been sounded because it is being overused and used incorrectly — any time a man tries to explain something — you know when you’ve been mansplained, whether you know what to call it. It can make you feel belittled, exasperated, or, in Tricia’s case, pissed.
So what to do?
This was the overwhelming advice. It’s time to speak up! A colleague of mine suggested walking the other way when a known mansplainer approaches. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. In those situations, it can be helpful to know these three phrases: “Stop interrupting me,” “I know that,” and “I just said that.”
Two women in a Facebook group designated as a safe place to discuss women’s issues suggested the phrases “That’s great. We have a really good idea what your work entails now. What would you like to know about what we do?” and “Oh yes, I’m up to speed on that…Is there something new I should be aware of?”
Meredith who works in IT warned that “unfortunately, as a woman, you still have to soften, thank, complement, and/or respond in the form of a question, or you’re viewed as harsh, uncooperative, rude, not a team player…”
She suggested trying something like “Thank you so much for sharing this info! I especially like the part you shared about [reference one relatively inoffensive or relatively correct thing he said – or truly complement if you can]. I’m curious about this though: [state your salient point, possibly in the form of a question].” State the “I’m curious” part as you turn to another person in the meeting/vicinity and say, “You’ve got some experience/insight in this area. I’d love to get your perspective!” When mansplainer tries to interject again, say gently, “let’s let [other person] finish their point/sentence/thought.”
Let Karma do its work.
Of course, interruptions, no matter how polite or assertive you choose to be, don’t always do the trick, as my friend Kim pointed out: “A colleague with whom I teach actually mansplained the term “mansplaining” to me. I kept interrupting to say, “Yes, I know what it means…” and “Well, actually, Solnit didn’t coin it–she wrote a book that inspired the coining of the term…” All of my verbal interjections were just talked over, as if I had merely exhaled as opposed to having spoken actual words with actual meaning. My strategy for dealing with it? Well, I did try to interrupt/interject, but it had no effect. And so I resorted to the time-honoured strategy of making fun of him behind his back.” She and her sister now have a nickname for this mansplainer that follows him.
I was once at a breakfast meeting for educators at a Panera Restaurant. An older man came up, put his hand on the back of my chair, leaned over, and spoke to the all-female group with such familiarity that I assumed he must know one of the other women. He said, “What group is this? Is it a “what women want” group?” I was speechless, but another woman explained the type of educators we were and he proceeded to tell us about our jobs. They listened politely and asked what he did (sold financial planning services). Had he approached us differently, connections or commissions could have been made. His loss.
Show, don’t tell.
Kristina, who practices Brazilian jiu-jitsu says mansplaining happens to her a lot when she trains: “I’ve been training for two years and guys that have been training for two weeks try to tell me how to do a move because they watched a YouTube video. They do not realize that I’m in the dominant position about to choke them because they’re too busy mansplaining!”
Women I spoke to also cite older men as the most likely to mansplain and say that their work places are more egalitarian than they would have been in the past. If it does happen at work, it usually abates once a woman has proved her credentials.
So, to Tricia and the other women wondering how to handle this: stay pissed, find the interruption that best suits your personality and current environment, and if that doesn’t work, choke them. Hopefully mansplaining is on its way out the door.
Jennifer Brick is a freelance writer and former teacher in Durham, North Carolina. She earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College. Follow her on Twitter @jenbrickwrites.