The term “mansplaining” is relatively new, but the concept is an old one. If you aren’t familiar, the term refers to when someone (most often a man, thus mansplain) explains something to someone (typically a female) in a condescending or patronising way. If you’re a woman, then chances are this happens to you on a weekly if not daily basis. However, figuring out what to do about it can be a bit challenging.
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About 10 years ago, I worked as a barista part time as an excuse to get out of the house and to satisfy my coffee addiction. I was a pretty successful writer already at the time, but I loved the human interaction on a regular basis (working from home can get lonely!). One day, a regular customer came in and started to explain a new web app to me, and had gotten an important detail wrong. When I politely corrected him he explained to me in a condescending way that I was wrong because he had read an article in PC Magazine about it, and pleasantly suggested I should “see if my dad had a copy” because I “seemed interested in tech”. I had written the article.
When I bought up that fact, I won the argument (and consequently every tech argument with that particular customer for all time). However, it’s remained my favourite mansplaining story, because in this case the man was literally trying to explain to me something he didn’t understand by telling me to read an article I actually wrote in a magazine he implied I would need to get from my father.
Confronting mansplaining can be hard. Debra Bednar-Clark, former Head of Business Strategy and Growth at Facebook’s Creative Shop, and now founder of the career and style coaching form DB+co, recently spoke to Inc. about mansplaining in the office, and how women should deal with it.
Her advice? Confront it straight on.
I know I’ve been in dozens if not hundreds of work situations where a male coworker was being disrespectful, but I wasn’t entirely sure how to approach the problem.
Bednar-Clark suggests confronting mansplaining behaviour when it happens, even if it’s happening in a large group. Rather than be combative, she says to maintain a professional tone and approach the problem head on. Firmly explain what the issue is, and offer a solution on how to solve it.
“Being kind, approachable and strong are not mutually exclusive,” she says. With her coaching clients, she helps develop “scripts” that they can use in situations that happen often. Going in with a plan of what you’re going to say can ensure you don’t get flustered in the moment.
She says that explaining firmly why you’re upset with the offending person will often correct the issue for good, and when it’s done in a group setting send a message to everyone else in the room that the behaviour is unacceptable as well.
Doing it right then, rather than in an email or conversation later, helps that person realise exactly what they did wrong. In some cases, the mansplainer might not truly realise they’re doing it.
It can also help to think about what might be causing the mansplaining behaviour. In many cases, the men that are doing the mansplaining are doing so not because they think someone needs to be talked down to, but because they themselves are insecure.
Once you figure out the root of an issue, it’s much easier to figure about a way to confront it.