How to avoid being an accidentally condescending jerk-wad to women.
Men, more than likely, you are not consciously going around Kanye-ing every Taylor Swift you meet; but because of the unconscious nature of mansplaining and manterrupting – and the implicit support from society for those actions – you may want to read this gentleman’s guide to avoid being a dude-bro jerk-wad (I’m purposefully using words that need no explanation).
First, if you’re like me, you probably consider yourself a fairly conscious guy. You’ve probably done some light reading into feminism, maybe you had a strong female role model, and you are the most respectful person you know. If you’d like to find out if you still harbor unconscious biases despite all of your hard work, here is a gender bias test from the Social Psychology Network.
Now, I did some secondary research for this post – I know, please hold your applause. During this research I became depressed and ashamed by the sheer number of accounts of Mansplaining (particularly on the open Tumblr forum titled: Academic Men Explain Things to Me).
Since I’m a white, hetero man attempting to explain mansplaining to other white, hetero men… I realize now how cosmically ironic it will be and therefore doomed I am to accidentally mansplain something during this post. I would like to prematurely apologize and ask for any parties I may offend to please inform me of my blind spots in the comments.
“Let me explain this to you…”
“Mansplaining” was born from a 2008 blog post in which Rebecca Solnit wrote:
“Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about.
…Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being.”
According to The Guardian, “Manterrupting” originated when Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO and the author of Lean In, teamed with Wharton professor Adam Grant to write this post in Time which describes how women speak less in meetings not only because they are often “manterrupted”, but also because, evidence suggests, women are actively punished for making themselves heard.
These words were added to the lexicon and are now rallying points for every woman who has ever felt she had to bear the condescension of a man who felt he needed to interrupt her to explain something she already knew to her.
If you are a man, attempt to put yourself in the shoes of the person you most respect for their pure abilities, and then imagine…
You are sitting in a meeting. You have knowledge that can help the team due to your experience or insider information. You begin to tell the team about the things you know – and you are interrupted by a person who is more junior than you. This person tells you a Wikipedia-style definition of one of the first words you used – just to make sure you understand it – and then either takes credit for the idea you’ve just put forward or flatly denies that you know what you’re saying.
Would you be upset? Would you think of ways to provide even more credibility to prove your intelligence on the matter? Would you stand up for yourself, loudly, and maybe even angrily? Would you begin questioning whether you deserve to be in the room when you are told you’re being too emotional? What would you do when your manager pulls you into their office the next day to tell you that you need to apologize to the junior person? Would any self-doubt be reinforced by the looks of pity or condescension from the other teammates?
This is not just a story. This is real.
In the New York Times article titled, “Speaking While Female,” Sandberg and Grant cite a University of Texas experiment which “asked teams to make strategic decisions for a bookstore. He randomly informed one member that the bookstore’s inventory system was flawed and gave that person data about a better approach. In subsequent analyses, he found that when women challenged the old system and suggested a new one, team leaders viewed them as less loyal and were less likely to act on their suggestions. Even when all team members were informed that one member possessed unique information that would benefit the group, suggestions from women with inside knowledge were discounted.”
Men are so unaware of our shadow and so blind to our privilege that we have to be told bluntly and repeatedly that we’re missing out on perspectives that could reveal our shadows and blind spots.
3 Things You Can Do To Be A Better Man
- Admit you’re probably not totally conscious all the time.
This does not mean you’re a jerk-wad, but it does mean you can’t claim to be ignorant. This begins to open doors for you to ask questions of your female (or any “other” demographic than you) colleagues like, “How am I mansplaining or manterrupting?” Then just sit there and listen. After you’ve listened, thank her, and then go work on any blind spots that came up.
- The No-Kanye Rule
Basically, anytime you are doing something Kanye West would do (in the context of how you interact with women), you are very probably acting like an entitled and condescending jerk-wad. Make all meetings no-interruption meetings. If this isn’t possible for some reason, make sure to support women when they are interrupted by saying to the interruptor, “wait, I want to hear what she has to say.”
- Give Credit where it is due
This is easy. If a meeting ends and something great happened, just say out loud, “Thank you, [person or people who came up with the greatness], that was a great idea.” Do this regardless of whether the person is a woman or a man… but try to pay attention to where the idea really originated, and give the credit to the first person to say the idea instead of the loudest person to say the idea.
Also by Dale Thomas Vaughn
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Photo by flickr/WorldBank