If you've ever found yourself engaged in a conversation where a man has condescendingly explained something to you that you likely knew more about, you probably just experienced mansplaining. It's a tough situation to navigate, especially if it happens in a professional setting, where you have to watch your tongue. There are, however, a number of ways to respond to mansplaining at work that won't land you in hot water and might even help said mansplainer understand their wrongdoing.
To be clear, there's a difference between a boss being a boss — teaching, guiding, leading — and mansplaining. The latter is patronizing and belittling, even when they don't realize they're doing it. That's perhaps one of the stickiest parts of this: This kind of interaction has been so normalized that it often goes unrecognized — except, maybe, to the person on the receiving end, who might leave the conversation feeling a little bit... small.
For example, I once had a male boss explain to me how the female mind works. That was mansplaining. (Also, I didn't realize all of our minds worked the same. Who knew?!) Another male boss thoroughly explained to a male employee the proper way to answer the phone — something, he clarified, this employee couldn't possibly be adept at because women are naturally better at it. This is also mansplaining. And sexist. (And yes, mansplaining can happen to anyone, at any time, and at the hands of anyone else.)
I understand that responding to mansplaining at work might be difficult, because we women are ruled by our emotions, especially when we're on our periods (hi there, sarcasm); but if you're looking for a way to conquer the situation, here are a few suggestions.
1. Make Sure You're Still One Half Of The Conversation
When someone is mansplaining, they're talking at you, not with you. It's a speech, not a conversation. You can reverse this, or at least try to, by contributing to the conversation in equal parts, as opposed to simply reacting to everything he says.
For example, in the previous story about the boss who once tried to explain to me how my own mind works, I could've politely corrected him, and clarified that despite having emotions (like every human being does), they do not hamper my ability to be a good worker. In fact, they enhance it. And on this note...
2. Don't Let Inaccurate Information Go Unacknowledged
Would you correct someone if they called you by the wrong name? I'd like to think so. Why is it any different to politely correct a mansplainer whose mansplanation (that's a word, right?) has a few inaccuracies? It might be your colleague pointing out mistakes in your work, even though only you are qualified for the position you hold and work you do. No human being is put on this earth to agree with and accept everything everyone says. Correcting false information isn't even necessarily about feminism — it's simply the difference between true and false.
3. Ask For Evidence
When it comes to a someone who feels qualified in telling you how to do your job, ask them about their experiences in your position. If they're dumbfounded and have no response, then you've just pointed out the fallacies in their little speech. Yes, it's important to respect everyone, whether they're your superior, whether they're at the same level as you, or whether you're higher in the chain of command. But you're being paid to do your job because you're especially qualified for it, while others aren't. Is the mansplainer? Maybe. Maybe not. Find out.
4. Address The Mansplaining
As I mentioned earlier, mansplaining often goes unnoticed because we've become so accustomed to it. This doesn't justify the act; however, it's important to acknowledge that a man might not know he's doing it. (The first step to getting woke is... getting woke.) If that's the case, how can he fix it? By pointing it out to them. Even your superior doesn't have the right to treat you poorly. If they are, you can try calling them out on it. Someone needs to put their foot down, and that someone is you.
5. Turn The Tables
If your colleague just finished (unjustifiably) lecturing you on how to do your job, why not try the reverse? Start giving them unsolicited advice and see how that goes over. Create a dialogue around it. Ask them how they feel being told what to do by someone who has no business offering their two cents. Sometimes, it just takes a little role reversal to shed light on something.
6. Ignore It Completely
Of course, ignoring your boss probably isn't in your best interest; but a coworker that you're not being paid to answer to? That's another story entirely. You're not obligated to follow a coworker's orders, so feel free to let them go in one ear and out the other. "Thanks for your input" — nothing more, nothing less — can be powerful words indeed.
7. Don't Shy Away From Defending Yourself
You can defend yourself without coming across as that nervous, desperate type of defensive we're all so terrified of. It's perfectly alright to stand up for yourself and your work. A mansplainer will be quick to point out how you could have done it better or differently; don't be afraid to explain why you made the decisions you made. Your choices were educated and well-informed, and you're not required to agree with everything he's saying.