We've all been there. You are sharing an idea at your weekly office meeting, when your colleague interrupts you (the subject of our blog post on manterrupting) and in a condescending tone explains to you what you actually mean. Thank you, Brent. Thank you for explaining my own proposal to me.
Or perhaps you finally decided to raise your hand in your political science class to comment on how neoliberalism is based on the domination of labor by capital, when another fellow student speaks over you to explain the forces of supply and demand, something you clearly already know, but in their mind you don't.
Or perhaps you have been invited to speak at a panel as an expert on European migration policy, when someone in the audience decides to mansplain how the European Commission works, even though you are a staff member of the Commission department responsible for EU policy on migration and home affairs.
Basically, mansplaining is "when a man interrupts or speaks over a woman to explain something that she already knows — something in which she may already be an expert — on the assumption that he must know more than she does". Let's be clear that this can also happen to non-binary individuals.
The tone is patronizing, the explanation is possibly inaccurate and the mansplainer feels fully entitled to speak over you. We all know a Brent.
It's important to remember that information and explanations are great. We live in an age of disinformation, alternative facts, and post-truths, so please don't get me wrong. We need more inspired ideas based on vigorous research and sound expertise. One of the greatest myths going around the internet is that feminists are using the concept of mansplaining to silence men.
I believe that both men and women are fully capable of providing insightful explanations. Most of the time there’s nothing wrong with men explaining things (and sometimes men also get mansplained).
Explanations become a gendered issue, when it arises from a culture that implicitly values men’s voices over women’s. This is why mansplaining is so prevalent in work environments, where women's knowledge, expertise and creativity are too often overlooked or dismissed. What men are really saying when they mansplain is: “Be quiet and listen to me, because I know best.” Mansplaining is ultimately a story about power.
Our culture has developed a pattern of behavior that has prioritized men's voices and contributions for so long, that it's difficult to untangle and confront it.
It's also difficult to know how best to respond to a mansplainer. You want to get your message across, but you also want to stay civil and calm. There is no simple solution. So, what can you do the next time you are face to face with a mansplainer?
I have compiled a few protips that you can try or customize for your specific needs and circumstances (a big shout out to Jessica Bennett and women around the internet for inspiring so many of these).
This is not a strict Betty Crocker recipe for you to follow. As women our lives vary greatly, and so do our mansplainers and the contexts in which they mansplain, so find what works for you.
1. Call it out
I know it is easier said than done, but one of the quickest and most effective ways to confront a mansplainer is to make it clear to them that you do not need their explanation. You could say: "no explanation needed" or "you're not telling me anything that I didn't already know."
Very often mansplaining is accompanied by manterrupting. When they stop you to mansplain, you could say: "please listen to what I am saying" or "please let me finish."
2. Ask questions
This is particularly relevant when speaking on a panel. If someone blocks you from sharing your knowledge or experiences, first find out how much they actually know, and then, challenge what they say. It is of vital importance to fact-check before launching any 'counter-attack' as you may end up in a sticky situation. You can ask them what knowledge or qualifications they have on the topics you are discussing.
If you think that your co-panelist is being disrespectful by treating you and your contributions as inferior and mansplaining basic concepts to you, you can say: "Ok, which aspect is confusing you?" or "it seems like you have the basics down; would you like me to recommend some good articles so you can get a more nuanced understanding?"
What often also happens is that men like to mansplain women's experiences of sexism. They also like to mansplain women's bodies. In these instances you can respond by asking: "what are your qualifications in this field?" or "do you have personal experience with this?"
3. Offer to explain mansplaining
Some men don't actually know they are mansplaining. They may never have heard of it, much less analyzed whether they contribute to it. Bustle recommends confronting this by saying: "Have you ever heard the term ‘mansplaining’? No? You should really look it up. It’s this thing men do to women..."
4. Use facts
When you have called the mansplainer out, but the mansplainer still feels entitled to talk over you because he has an in-built opinion that he knows better, you have one last option: use data, statistics, and science.
These are tried and tested strategies for winning any argument. They give your voice additional credibility and legitimacy. Sadly we still live in a culture where women, including women of color and non-binary individuals, have to jump through burning hoops just to be heard and taken seriously.
But facts are facts. Your mansplainer will have to listen and take them into account.
5. If all else fails, ignore and plan to smash the patriarchy
If you have exhausted all your options, it's best to take a deep breath and when you are ready, plan to topple the patriarchy, hand in hand with other feminists out there. The patriarchy simply won't smash itself.
- Rebecca Solnit, 2014, "Men Explain Things to Me"
- Jessica Bennett, 2016, "Feminist Fight Club"
- Mary Beard, 2017, "Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard"
- Bustle, "7 Ways To Respond To Mansplaining", https://www.bustle.com/p/7-ways-to-respond-to-mansplaining-43514
- Academic Men Explain Things to Me, http://mansplained.tumblr.com/