Françoise Hardy and Yves Montand on the set of Grand Prix, 1965.
For some of us, even the title of this piece sparks some heat. A little itch, maybe a clenched fist. Yeah. We’ve all been there. And believe it or not, it has happened to everyone. Even men get mansplained from time to time.
Though we absolutely know that you know what it is, we’ll break mansplaining down for those non-believers who think mansplaining can’t possibly happen to other men. It’s essentially when, yes, a man, explains something (oftentimes frustratingly obvious) to someone, usually a woman, in a way that is oversimplified, condescending, or patronizing, or even all three. How fun. This can happen to other men, typically in a game of power. See politics. Also a blast.
Most annoyingly in life, and often when it’s happening to women, not much so-called power is actually involved, unless we count the “power” a male might feel he has over a woman by simply being male. But don’t get us wrong, this isn’t a man-hating piece at all. We love men. This is a specific-circumstance piece.
Perhaps an even more intricate scenario to navigate is when a friend or loved one mansplains to you without even understanding himself what he is doing, or the prospective dynamic he is painting. It can be difficult to school someone when they have no idea that they are doing something wrong. That’s why we spoke with licensed marriage and family therapist Vienna Pharaon about how to approach this tricky, cringey situation.
Pharaon jumps into discussing a relationship dynamic, so a little reminder that a relationship can be with anyone, not just your lover … e.g. a friend, colleague, peer, or even boss. “An act of mansplaining can feel like a tear in the relationship. What normally happens when a dynamic feels torn, is we move into our defense mechanisms. We might respond by fighting, fleeing, freezing, or fawning. These responses have a lot to do with what we’ve been conditioned to do our entire lives.” No freezing or fawning. Here are some of Pharaon’s top tips.
“Notice what comes up for you.
When someone mansplains, pay attention to your internal world for a bit. Instead of reacting, notice what you feel in your body, where you feel it, and what inner narratives begin to arise. You may think to yourself, ‘Do you actually think I’m an idiot?’ or ‘I literally know more about this than you do,’ or ‘Shuutttt up [insert eye roll].’ The list goes on. Notice. Observe. Feel. Pause.
You are responsible for you.
You may want said mansplainer to understand their actions and their impact, to understand why they feel the need to position themselves in a one-up spot while putting you in a one-down. I get that, and think it’s important for them to understand, too. But that is their work. Your work is to decide how you want to respond. And the goal? To do so in an empowered way, not a disempowered way.
Name the experience. That might sound like, ‘What you are doing is mansplaining.’ No need to teach what it is.
Share the impact. That might sound like, “It feels insulting and condescending.’
Hold your position. That might sound like, ‘I actually know what you just described.’
Inquire further. That might sound like, ‘Do we need to talk about this more?’
Be direct. That might sound like, ‘Please be mindful of mansplaining in the future. You can always ask me if I know the thing you want to teach me before teaching me.’”
Before the next mansplanation drives you to rip your hair out, or someone else’s head off, take a breath, and heed these steps.
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