Recently, I came across an article about this concept of “mansplaining.” Wikipedia defines this term as: “Mansplaining is a portmanteau of the words man and explaining, defined as ‘to explain something to someone, typically a man to woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing’. A few weeks after I read this article, I started at a new job. I had never worked in a business environment before. Before this new job, I worked on the customer service end and I had one supervisor who was more of an academic rather than a “boss.” Anyway, I worked very hard for four years and I was promoted to a higher paying position.
It is important to note that my intelligence and hard-work got me to where I am and that is why I have very little tolerance for any form of belittling and condescension.
Back to the article and my new job. After years of working menial jobs under male authority figures who spoke to their female subordinates as if they just came from another planet, I thought I would finally be able to work under males who did not do this shit. Well, I have not been so lucky at my new job. After only a week, the mainsplaining began. Let me tell you about the first time it happened. It all started with a woman who was supposed to be training me, who I refer to as the “dragon lady.” She was being very antagonistic and plain old rude. I had become upset with her when I found her in my cubicle removing items. I confronted her and she did not seem fazed at all. I think she felt that because I was new, she could just take whatever she needed before I became too comfortable. In my mind, and in most workplaces, this is not appropriate. I mean come on. Everyone knows that you are supposed to take stuff out of an empty cubicle BEFORE the new person comes – not after the newcomer has been there for over a week and is standing right there in front of you! Anyway, I decided to talk to my director, Hector, about the dragon lady’s behavior. I asked Hector, “Could you let me know about this office’s policy on cubicle space and whether or not we can enter each other’s cubicles and start removing things without permission?” My question was deliberately clear and straight to the point. I did not want to beat around the bush. I wanted an answer about the policy. This was very important in case I needed to bring up the incident with the dragon lady. Otherwise, if we have permission to rummage through each other’s cubicles, then I would join the club immediately! Hector’s response was not what I expected.
Let.me.tell.you. I should have pulled out a bag of popcorn or taken out my knitting needles. Better yet, if I had a remote control, I would have just fast forward to the very end. He mansplained me for what seemed like hours (it was probably a minute or two). I wish I remembered everything he said to me, but my eyes glazed over and I lost track. I do recall the last thing he said before I completely interrupted him. He stated that we are lucky to have Linda (who is not dragon lady), a coworker who happens to be a dwarf. Do you want to know why Hector says we are lucky to have Linda? It’s because she is, “Able to get us things very quickly because she is little.” As he’s saying this to me in his very heavy accent, he is gesturing with his hands and referencing Linda’s height. Repeatedly pushing his palm face down towards the floor. I think my mouth may have dropped open or my eyes got big. Who the heck was even talking about Linda anyway? I just put my hand up to signal “enough.” He finally stopped talking. During this pause, I repeated my original question. I really did not know what else to say or do. I just repeated the same question that I asked him before he started mansplaining. I kept thinking, “What the hell just happened here?” I was shocked and perplexed. Luckily, I composed myself enough to reel him back in. Unfortunately, this would not be the last time the Director of Accounting would do this sort of thing to me.
I should have pulled out a bag of popcorn or taken out my knitting needles.
Every once in awhile, I’ve had to go into Hector’s office to update him or to ask for his approval on something. This is rare, but it does happen on occasion. I am fortunate at my new job because I work independently from my coworkers. In other words, my job is completely separate and unique from everyone else’s. As a result, I don’t get micromanaged. But apparently not being micromanaged doesn’t automatically mean you’re no longer subjected to getting mansplained. I remember going in to Hector’s office in passing to let him know that I had figured out how to use the scanners for tagging and that now I would be able to scan items in half the time. I specifically stated this as the reason for my intrusion – just to update him on my progress. What ended up happening? I sat through an entire explanation – no, mansplanation – about how he and my predecessor worked together to clean up a mess that was left behind for them. I mean, that’s all fine and dandy. It’s like listening to war stories from older male figures. Plus, that part was related to my job. But, Mr. Mansplainer could not stop there. He had to tell me the entire history of the accounting department. He explained to me how he and a few other people had to learn an entirely new system and integrate all of the information from the old system into the new one. He went into specific details about this – about how brilliant he and his team must have been in order to figure our the new system. I just want to remind you, I am not an accountant. Everything he was going on about was completely irrelevant to me and my career success.
This is what mansplainers do. They give you information that they feel you should have. Sometimes it is pertinent to your question and/or situation, but most of the time it’s not. Most of the time, it’s extraneous. If I need an answer from you, I do not need supplementary details – I just need an answer. Why does every conversation with Hector turn into a long-winded soliloquy from him about how great he is at his job? It is especially frustrating when the details are unnecessary or even inappropriate. He should not assume that I need the information that he is supplying, but that’s what he’s doing. He’s too busy presuming that I’m missing something relevant. Not only is that rude, but it can really turn into a major issue later. For example, if he believes that I’m not competent enough to do my job, then my evaluations could be negatively impacted. We all know that this sort of thing happens more often than it should. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to overcome these hurdles.
How Do We Deal?
After many years of experiencing mansplaining from my male coworkers and bosses, I have come up with various ways of dealing with these situations when they arise. I mean, other than going to HR or your union rep, you may want to confront it head on and see what happens. Whatever you do, make sure you are direct and non-threatening. One method is to do exactly what I did to Hector. Just find a pause and repeat the original statement/question. Whatever you said before he decided to start mansplaining you was valid and almost certainly worth repeating. You deserve to be heard. Another method is one I learned from the VP of Twitter, Nandini Ramani. She says: “Challenge any and all mansplaining.” That’s right. Do not allow yourself to fall victim to this nonsensical crap. If you know damn well that you do not require a mansplanation – which no woman does – then bring that mansplainer down to his knees. Another interesting thing that I do when I don’t feel like being part of a conversation anymore – in particular, a one way conversation – is to gently interrupt the mansplainer and excuse yourself. I will say I have a meeting or I hear my phone ringing or something. In my experience, he will get the hint after a few times of you doing this to him. However, if you find yourself in a situation where you just sat through an entire mansplanation, it’s OK! A good option if this happens is to send a “follow-up” email. Although, you have to be careful whenever you put something in writing. Mind your words. The idea is to reiterate what you were attempting to discuss in the face-to-face meeting. You can (gently) say that you still need clarification on your original question/statement. Hopefully he doesn’t start mansplaining via email.
Whatever you said before he decided to start mansplaining you was valid and almost certainly worth repeating.
There are so many different ways to handle these awkward situations and plenty of articles to help. Keep in mind that becoming a badass working woman takes time, practice and lot of finessing. However you decide to handle these situations is entirely up to you. But, I want to give you the most important piece of advice: never ever apologize. Don’t even think about it. If you are a badass working woman and this ain’t your first job and you did nothing to deserve being mansplained, then you should not be sorry for anything. I say this because I’ve noticed that some male authority figures have a tendency to mansplain things to women because they feel like we need to have certain information that they think we don’t already possess. Most of the time, we either already know about whatever it is that he is trying to explain or, and this is usually the case for me, we don’t give a shit. So, I say: Be confident. Be assertive. Be smart and competent. Be capable. But don’t be sorry about anything.
To all men who I’m sure are well-intended (I’d like to think so) but can get carried away in their own conversations – I find the flowchart below could be helpful.