Mansplaining is a pejorative term meaning “to comment on or explain something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner.” Author Rebecca Solnit ascribes the phenomenon to a combination of “overconfidence and cluelessness”. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)
We’ve all had those moments of incredulity “are you seriously explaining this to me? Do you really think I’m that stupid?!“
Man-splaining. Oh how I love that word. For so many women, that word alone causes immediate eye-rolls and increased blood pressure. Our minds begin to spin with examples of circumstances when some clueless human of the opposite sex robbed 10 minutes from our lives to explain to us something that we were already fully educated on or something that 99% of the population fully understands but for some reason they have concluded that we are deserving of mental training wheels. It is infuriating. I’ve been there.
When mansplaining meets your workplace and furthermore, a workplace predominantly staffed by men, mansplaining takes on a whole different personality and meaning for all parties.
The problem with mansplaining is that our knee jerk reaction is to make it mean something negative about ourselves.
He clearly thinks I’m an idiot.
Wow, does he really think I don’t know how to do this?
He can’t possibly believe I’ve never given a presentation, right?!
In reality, mansplaining has more to do with implicit bias and assumptions about each other than it has to do with your intelligence level.
Rather than allowing these thoughts to brew and ignite female indignation and fury, a better solution is to approach those experiences with curiosity and genuine interest in the relationship. You cannot combat mansplaining or implicit bias from a place of wrath. Believe me, I’ve tried. In this day and age, everyone is interested and invested in being better, more accepting, and aware of their blindspots.
First things first. You have to develop an awareness of what you are making it mean you get mansplained.
Are you making it mean that they think you are dumb? That you aren’t good at your job? That you don’t measure up?
This step is critical because if you interpret mansplaining to mean that the other person thinks you are incompetent, my guess is that thought is going to create feminine fury. That level of emotion is not going to compel you toward any productive actions, I promise you. I’ve tried that too. Entertaining for bystanders? Yes. Good for your career? No.
Once you understand what you are making it mean, you can shift into a more curious state:
- Why do you think this person is doing this? Are they invested in your knowledge and success? Are they even aware that they are doing it?
- Is it possible that this person does have some additional kernel of wisdom that you don’t have? If you breathe and listen to the ‘splaining, is it possible to glean something of value?
- Is it possible that this is based upon some implicit bias? Would it be helpful to you and the relationship to talk about it?
These thoughts are going to put you into a much calmer, more open and curious state. From there, you can take authentic action to explore the relationship and understand the situation. From that space, you might consider treating this as an opportunity for a courageous conversation and asking:
Did I give the impression that I didn’t know how to do XYZ or didn’t understand ABC? I just want to understand because when you explain things like this, I can’t help but think that you are unsure of my knowledge and capability and I want you to be confident in my skills.
Ask SINCERELY! Allow them a moment to think about it and consider why they are third-grade leveling this for you. The purpose of asking questions and being curious is to truly understand why they are doing what they are doing. It allows you to truly understand them and move away from fuming that they must think you’re an idiot.
Plain question and plain answer make the shortest road out of most perplexities.Mark Twain
As women on these islands in the professional world, we have to find our voice. We have to stop being afraid of what others will think of us if we are honest with them. If we ask honest questions and seek honest answers. That fear is why these behaviors continue. You cannot create awareness of bias or disconnection by remaining silent and waiting for them to become enlightened.
You may never “fix” the manplainer in your office. You can, however, gain some clarity and understanding of their motives. Because thinking “wow, they must think I’m an idiot” isn’t serving either of you.
Get more support managing your thoughts and conducting difficult conversations here. Become part of the movement to improve male-dominated workplaces. Don’t be another statistic; proof that women can’t hack it.