Can we talk about mansplaining for a minute? If you're a woman or a non-binary person, chances are good you've been a victim of it. I know I have. It can be tough to know how best respond to a mansplainer; after all, blind rage isn't really productive. These seven ways to respond to mansplaining, however, offer an alternative to drowning in a sea of frustration.
While mansplaining has been around since the dawn of time, it wasn't until Rebecca Solnit published her 2008 essay, "Men Explain Things To Me" that the term itself became part of our lexicon. If you're not sure what it means, mansplaining is when a man explains something to someone, usually a woman (but it can happen to men and non-binary people too), in a manner that is condescending or patronizing — and often when the person getting mansplained at has a level of expertise in the subject that the mansplainer may actually lack. Sound familiar?
Although mansplaining can happen anywhere and at any time, it frequently happens to women at work. And, of course, I have a story about just that: I remember when a company I worked for got a new boss. He met with each of his team members individually, and when it was my turn, he spent the majority of our time together explaining my job to me (a job I had successfully performed for more than four years), despite having no actual knowledge of what my job actually entailed. I remember leaving the meeting feeling disoriented and confused. It took me a few months to realize he was mansplaining.
I often think, how could I have responded in that moment? Since we rarely get do-overs in life, here are seven ways to respond to mansplaining the next time it happens to you.
1. Speak Up
Speaking up when you're being mansplained to can be tricky, as it's likely that the person on the receiving end is going to get defensive. Case in point: The above tweet.
Elle Armageddon created this flowchart, "Should You Explain the Thing to the Lady," in 2015 to outline mansplaining, and the internet went bananas. Armageddon was inspired to create the chart after a man explained the difference between ascending and descending street numbers to her, she told The Huffington Post.
The chart was retweeted more than 1,500 times, and many men were not happy with Armageddon's advice. “I have no idea why men, specifically, feel ‘targeted’ or ‘attacked’ by it, and assertions that it is ‘sexist’ are fascinating (and laughable),” Armageddon told the Huffington Post. “...But it has certainly been my experience that when you say ‘here’s a tool to help you not be an a*****e,’ people who display the behavior illustrated often get very defensive.”
Additionally, Twitter VP Nandini Ramani talked to CNBC about how to handle mansplaining at work. "Find allies or sponsors, male and female, who can advocate for you," she told CNBC. "Over time it helps build your credibility, and things get easier."
The bottom line is that there is no simple solution. But the more you talk about it, point it out, and call it out when you see it, the more likely it is that you can start a productive dialogue. Staying silent often doesn't help.
2. Educate the Mansplainers
As is always the case, it is not the responsibility of a marginalized person to to teach privileged people why their behavior is harmful — but if you're willing to do to it, it can be an effective tool. Consider the below:
Author and women's rights activist Mira Ptacin was in Portland, Maine, this morning when she came across an anti-abortion rally outside of Planned Parenthood. Ptacin wrote Poor Your Soul, published in 2016, about her experience of deciding to terminate her pregnancy at almost six months because her daughter had crippling birth defects and would not survive after birth. At the time she did not have health insurance, and relied on Medicaid for the procedure.
Seeing the protest outside of an organization that protects a woman's right to choose, lit a fire in Ptacin. "The men were yelling the loudest," she tells Bustle. Since a man can literally never understand her experience, and why preserving a women's right to choose is a basic human right, Ptacin was upset about the demonstration of men mansplaining to women about their own bodies. She decided to do something productive after realizing that having a heated yelling match with them was not accomplishing anything.
"We were getting nowhere so I (literally) marched across the street to the bookstore, purchased the remainder of the Poor Your Soul books, and handed them out to the protesters," Ptacin tells Bustle. They said they'd read it, and we'd have a discussion afterwards."
She exchanged emails with a pastor, who promised to continue the conversation with her, and she also gave books (and hugs) to young daughters who had accompanied their fathers to the protest. Education is the only way to change things, and Ptacin took an important step by channeling her rage into action.
3. Ask Questions
Asking questions (see the chart in number one) can help shut down a mansplainer. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. Sexism and misogyny are so deeply rooted in our culture that mansplaining is often a learned behavior. What's more is that many men might not even be aware they're doing it.
If you find yourself being mansplained to, Jezebel recommends asking these questions to shut it down.
- Ask the person you're in conversation with what knowledge they have on the topics you are discussing.
- Ask them what they hope to accomplish by giving you their "expertise."
- Ask them to really listen to what you are saying instead of formulating their response while you are talking.
- Ask them if they have a personal experience for their frame of reference.
- Ask them what qualifications they have to explain your experience to you.
And, make sure you actually know what you're talking about as well. According to Jezebel, "As Rebecca Solnit pointed out in her original post on the subject, mansplaining at its heart is about the cocksuredness of the ignorant. It's one thing to be an insufferable know-it-all when one actually does know it all. It's another thing — a mansplainy thing — to pretend you know more about botany or fractals or Riot Grrl than you actually do. ... A willingness to admit what one doesn't know, accompanied by a genuine expression of interest in learning something new, is an excellent vaccine against mansplaining."
4. Offer To Explain Mansplaining
So, I said earlier that some men don't actually know they are mansplaining. And, if you are in a conversation with an open-minded mansplainer, you might have an opportunity to point out the behavior to them (although again, you are under no obligation to do so). What's more is they might actually hear you. Life coach Susan Hyatt details this in a podcast about how to respond to mansplainers.
In the podcast, Hyatt details her experience of speaking out to a mansplainer at the gym. "Have you ever heard the term ‘mansplaining’? No? You should really look it up. It’s this thing men do to women," she explains in the podcast what she said to the man. "Like, when you assume that I couldn’t possibly know for myself if my trainer is worth it, or if what we’ve done together for the last six years is working for me, and I need a random guy who doesn’t know me to observe me for 10 minutes and tell me what to do. Like, when you assume that you know better what I should do with my body than I know for myself.”
In this case the man was able to receive the feedback, and he even apologized to Hyatt. "About 10 minutes later, he walks over to the leg machine very sheepishly and says, 'I am really sorry. I just Googled ‘mansplaining’ and I understand your point. I meant no offense'.”
Obviously, not all attempts to explain mansplaining to a mansplainer are going to be successful, but you never know until you try. If you can get even one mansplainer off the streets, you've made a difference.
5. Get Your Girls Together
How do you start a revolution? Gather your like-minded cohorts and resist. If you've experienced mansplaining, chances are your friends have, too. It's important for women to band together to put a stop to all sexist behavior, and we need every woman on our side to succeed.
Ask your friends out for coffee or a drink, and talk to them about mansplaining. If you all work together, and mansplaining is rampant in your office, or place of business, talk to HR, or propose some sensitivity training to your boss.
Having the support of your friends might make you all more likely to stand up for yourselves, because even if the experience is less than ideal, you can lean on each other for support.
6. State The Facts
Here's the thing about data, statistics, and science — they're based in facts that can't be ignored no matter how hard your mansplainer tries. If you find yourself being mansplained to, retaliate with facts.
If the person still tries to dispute you, they clearly don't care what you have to say, and the conversation is no longer worth your time. In this case, see number seven.
7. If All Else Fails — Ignore The Mansplainer
Despite your best efforts to speak out, ask questions, and educate your mansplainer, some of them just don't want to hear it. It's important to know when to cut your losses. For example, a male cousin of mine once started an argument on Facebook with his female cousins over gender inequality. He said that the amount of money men pay for razors, which is not covered by health insurance (because why would it be?) was akin to the amount of money women would pay for birth control if health insurance stops covering it.
There is literally no logic to this argument for many reasons. First of all, many women buy razors too, and we usually pay more because of the pink tax! I actually started buying men's razors because they are so much cheaper. Secondly, preventing an unwanted pregnancy and manscaping your face are not comparable. The argument devolved, and was not productive in any way. It was clear he was not interested in seeing our point of view, so we chose to disengage.
Only you know when it's time to walk away. If you're arguing with someone just for the sake of arguing, it's probably not worth it. If we lived in Sweden, you could report them to the mansplainer tip line, but until that day, tell them to talk to the hand.
In the Huffington Post, Elizabeth C. Fericy says, "Remember, a mansplainer’s advice is unsolicited so you are under no obligation to listen."