Someone is mansplaining at me; what do I do?

23 February 2014

I've been talking about 'mansplaining' a lot this week; first, to some female friends who hadn't previously heard the term but immediately understood the concept, and then a few days later, to explain to other friends why I particularly disliked certain people at an event I was at; they had spent the afternoon 'mansplaining' at me.

For those who might not have come across the term, it's a mix between 'man' and 'explaining', used to describe the “act of a man speaking to a woman with the assumption that she knows less than he does about the topic being discussed”, purely because she is a woman. I have every faith that women reading this will know exactly what that means, and most likely men reading this will have either been in the presence of mansplaining, or (hopefully not) have mansplained themselves.

My friends who hadn't heard of it before found it a funny term, and sadly we all had stories of being mansplained to. We laughed a lot while trading stories; many of them were hilarious, if only in the tragi-comic sense. For me, being able to put a label on a thing, in this case a social act, often makes it a lot easier to discuss, because you realise that other people share that experience. It's for this reason that I was particularly happy to come across the term 'flirty racism' – finally, a label for one of my most hated things, and with that, the knowledge that other people had experienced it too.

I had thought that being conscious of the label “mansplaining” would also make it a lot easier to recognise when it was actually occurring. It turns out that I was wrong – yesterday, while I was at an event, I had the misfortune of being mansplained to for hours and hours, and it took me about half of those hours to even realise what was happening.

And when I did, I just didn't know what to do. I re-explained gently (probably too gently) that there was no need for the condescending explanations being fired at me, and yet they kept coming. Ideas I came up with were shot down, suggestions for how to get round all the blockers that they brought up were flat out refused, and it made the whole conversation incredibly difficult. Being in a group situation also made it more difficult to be direct, and (this is my own fault entirely) I was too taken aback by the whole thing to call it out in front of the group, for fear of making things even more awkward than they already were.

Long story short; I left the conversation and the group, and ranted to friends at the same event about how annoying the situation had been. But while doing that, I didn't know what I was hoping to achieve either; they didn't find the men in question as terrible as I did as obviously they had never personally had that experience, but they were sympathetic to my rants. I didn't confront the men in question myself because I didn't want to create a scene, and I ended up incredibly frustrated at how I'd been talked down to – or rather, how I'd let myself be talked to like that for much longer than necessary.

And today, I'm left wondering – what would have been the best response in that kind of situation? Taking them aside privately and asking them to reconsider their attitude? Calling it out in front of the group, to save having to repeat the exercise separately? Announcing some basic 'social courtesy' guidelines in front of the group, repeated regularly depending on whether they had internalised what I was saying? (And yes, a small part of me was thinking – should I just punch them in the face, and be done with it? See number 5 in this list)

It was clear that they respected much more anything being said by men, but I definitely didn't want to resort to asking male friends to have a word with them on my behalf. I also wasn't entirely sure what was happening until someone else highlighted it to me – I genuinely thought I was just communicating unusually badly, and this reaction annoys me greatly.

I've actually no idea what the answer is to this question – how does one actually deal with mansplaining, in the most socially acceptable, least awkward, and “best” way?

Answers on a postcard. Or to @zararah.

PS. for male readers who might be worrying if they're mansplaining, here are some tips to make sure you don't become that guy.

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