Respectful Conversation: Dealing with Mansplaining

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I cannot count the number of meetings I attended during my career, which for many years was at a manufacturing facility dominated by men. I recall one in which our manager, who tended to mumble, shared details about one of our foreign facilities, and I missed the location. I leaned over to a co-worker and asked for the name.

H e replied with a lofty smile: “He said, ‘B.K.’ It stands for Belaya Kalitva. One of our factories in Russia.”

I hadn’t asked for a résumé bullet; I only wanted the name.

Besides, I had just visited this facility the prior week, and he knew it.

This experience is called “mansplaining,” when a man “over explains” something to a woman in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.

I hadn’t heard of mansplaining at that time in my career, but my co-worker’s behavior was haughty and overconfident. I was being taken to school by a man who possessed less knowledge, and I hadn’t asked to be educated. I simply missed a name. What if my manager was recounting his wife giving birth? Would my co-worker have given me a step-by-step account of a female experiencing labor pains? Honestly, it has happened, and the man explained that it wasn’t bad, like having a rough period. Seriously? And what do you know about withstanding a menstrual cycle?

Explaining Mansplaining
“The man presumes that in the absence of confirming evidence the female has no information based on the subject. Mansplaining offers some men a remedial definition or explanation to bring you up to speed so that you’re even able to engage in the conversation with them,” noted Gregory Nawalanic, PsyD, clinical director of psychology and behavioral sciences at a Midwest medical university. “Inherently, this skews the conversation because they’ve just moved it in the direction that they wanted to send it.” While it may seem odd that a man is explaining mansplaining, Dr. Nawalanic acknowledged an issue with some of his gender to overshare information in a dismissive tone, no matter if it’s the workplace or in the home.

As women continue to make inroads into the workplace, most have their own mansplaining story to share. But as the pandemic lockdown has given people more time to reflect on the feelings of others, will these dismissive communications be a workday memory? Now that we’re heading back to the office, Dr. Nawalanic predicts women will get hit with another round of mansplaining.
“Mansplaining didn’t stop when we left the office; it didn’t go away. Zoom calls and emails offered opportunities to continue. When we go back to the office, I’m sure it will rear its ugly head,” noted Dr. Nawalanic. “Simply navigating the reopening will be filled with many mansplaining opportunities.”

Because I Say So
What makes mansplaining so infuriating to many women? Often, it’s because some men in our culture are groomed to “share their knowledge” with a belief it should be accepted simply because a male is voicing it. Dr. Nawalanic describes the recipient’s feeling of condescension as the male communicates. “It continues the embodiment of stereotypes that a man will try to enlighten you. It’s dismissive,” he advised. “It’s the man’s belief that it’s impossible you could know anything about this subject so I will bestow my grandeur on you. It’s really ego measuring.” He added that mansplaining is not only an issue endured by women; persons in ethnic groups may experience it as well.

Many times, those who are on the receiving end of mansplaining don’t point out the offense to the mansplainer because they don’t want the negativity from the fallout or to be labeled an agitator. Yet, they’re experiencing adverse emotions that should be addressed in a respectful conversation.

“You need to alert the individual to the behavior that you want them to replace. The first step is raising awareness. ‘I’ve got it, and I didn’t need all of that.’ Sometimes you cut them off in the middle of the explanation with the phrase, ‘I really know more about that than you think,’” noted Dr. Nawalanic. “If it’s someone senior to you, you do it in a more respectful manner. ‘While I appreciate that explanation, I only needed this information.’” He added that physical cues can be helpful, too. If someone is in the middle of a mansplain, look at your phone or start a side conversation with someone else.

“As the gender divide is gradually narrowed, some men need this ‘junk’ to make themselves feel artificially superior. It’s just a defense so don’t take it personally, but understand that you might be more of a threat than you thought,” noted Dr. Nawalanic. “It’s essentially their attempt to put you in your place, passive-aggressively. What they’re doing is creating a dynamic that didn’t exist that’s imaginary and filling it with a rant that they have privileged information.” ■