Mansplaining is rampant, as almost any working woman knows. Here’s how to handle one like Theresa May just did.
This is what happens when you mansplain International Women’s Day.
U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday tried connecting the visit of Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman to the injustices faced by women, but his remarks to British Prime Minister Theresa May were as condescending as they come.
“Tomorrow is International Women’s Day,” Corbyn explained, “a chance to celebrate how far we’ve come … but also reflect on how far we have to go.”
“First of all,” May responded, “I want to thank the right honorable gentleman for telling me it was International Women’s Day tomorrow. I think that’s what’s called ‘mansplaining.’” The chamber erupted with a mix of cheers (and some boos) in response.
Actually, Prime Minister, that’s the very definition of mansplaining, which Merriam-Webster just added to its dictionary this week: “to explain something to a woman in a condescending way that assumes she has no knowledge about the topic.”
But Corbyn is not the only one who’s got some ’splaining to do.
Matt “Bad Takes” Damon caught heat in December after weighing in on 2017’s monumental #MeToo movement. First, in an ABC News interview, he mused about the “spectrum of behavior” between “patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation.” Then, he praised this “watershed moment” to Business Insider — but said the nation wasn’t talking enough about men who aren’t predators.
Hollywood and the internet tore Damon to shreds, branding his remarks problematic and accusing him of mansplaining. “Matt Damon is dense AF,” actress Rose McGowan tweeted. “God God, SERIOUSLY?” added Damon’s ex and former co-star, Minnie Driver. “Gosh it’s so *interesting how men with all these opinions about women’s differentiation between sexual misconduct, assault and rape reveal themselves to be utterly tone deaf and as a result, systemically part of the problem (*profoundly unsurprising).”
As almost any working woman knows, mansplaining — the portmanteau for ill-informed men’s condescending explanations popularized by Rebecca Solnit’s 2008 essay, “Men Explain Things to Me” — is rampant. Here’s what to do if it happens to you:
First, figure out if he’s actually mansplaining. The ability to discern between patronizing and constructive feedback is key to your success, said Tiffany Dufu, author of “Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less” and a launch team member for Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Is this person invoking a third source to give a credible opinion? Does he invite your opinion or thoughts on the matter? Do you feel annoyed or disrespected?
Don’t waste your time. Dufu recommends ignoring a mansplainer unless he’s someone you care about in some way. “I spend my persuasion energy on people who I think are really worth persuading,” she said. If you are invested in this person, Dufu added, you could explain why you feel confident in your own understanding of the subject matter — and even point him to resources that might enlighten him.
Bring it to his attention. You might ask, “Do you realize that you just mansplained to me?” Dufu said. “Most of the time, mansplainers are not conscious of what they’re doing. … They’re not like, ‘I think I’m going to mansplain to Tiffany right now.’” Pointing it out in the moment can help bring newfound awareness, she said.
Pivot career coach Rebecca Fraser-Thill, meanwhile, advises against dropping the M-word in the moment. “I’m a big believer in having the biggest chance of having someone hear you,” she said. “If you’ve made them defensive, they are not going to hear your point even more so.”
Use humor, if it comes naturally to you. Dufu’s approach when someone mansplains women’s issues to her: “‘You’re so funny — I actually have a whole career dedicated to the advancement of women.’ And then I might counter what it is that they say.”
“If you can find a way to be self-deprecating and yet clearly pointing to the issue at hand, which is this other person explaining your situation or perspective or idea inappropriately from a man’s perspective, then that would be very skillful,” Fraser-Thill added. “I believe it would be challenging — but, delivered well, highly effective.” Think through beforehand the ways in which you could use humor, she said.
Repeat yourself. We often say something once and assume others understood it, only to later hear them explain it erroneously to someone else. Reiterating your point — “using very slight changes in the words you choose” — may feel redundant to you, Fraser-Thill said, “but likely it isn’t for the person who’s hearing you.” “So it’s OK to keep saying the same thing until it’s mirrored back in a more accurate way — which may or may not happen, depending on how different your perspectives are,” she said.
If you see something, say something. If someone mansplains to a woman during a meeting, for example, Dufu recommends pointing out her credibility or level of expertise on the topic: “Cynthia knows a lot about that; let’s have her weigh in on it.” Restate the woman’s point and then return the focus to her, Fraser-Thill suggested, “putting the ball back into her court intentionally.” “It’s like, ‘No, her perspective is valid. And she’s not saying what you’re saying. Let’s go back to her,’” she said.
This article was originally published on Dec. 20, 2017, and has been updated to include Theresa May.
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