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Why Psychologists Like the Term ‘Mansplaining,’ and You Should, Too

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If you've spent any time at all in the blogosphere lately, you've probably heard the term "mansplaining." Even if portmanteaus make you cringe, this one is worth dealing with. Psychologists and sociologists believe that by embracing incendiary language we can, over time, successfully combat pervasive, sexist attitudes in the workplace and everywhere else.

If you’ve spent any time at all in the blogosphere lately, you’ve probably heard the term “mansplaining.” Even if portmanteaus make you cringe, this one is worth dealing with. Psychologists and sociologists believe that by embracing incendiary language we can, over time, successfully combat pervasive, sexist attitudes in the workplace and everywhere else.

men at work

(Photo Credit: catherinecronin/Flickr)

Most of us would like better conditions for women in the workplace. The challenge is how to accomplish this goal. People are divided about the value of incendiary language such as “mansplaining” and “bropropriating.” On the one hand, they are insulting terms and could potentially offend men who are innocent of such attitudes and behaviors. On the other hand, using these terms both call attention to the problem and use a bit humor at the same time.

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It is extremely difficult to changed embedded cultural norms. Victor Ray, an assistant professor in the University of Tennessee’s (UT) sociology department, believes that if a term such as “mansplain” describes an empirical reality, then it is useful. And adopting this language when we see it happening may help women get their needs met in the workplace.

For the Women

It may not always be politic to tell your boss to stop mansplaining things at you, don’t second-guess yourself. Women know when the men they work with are treating them in a condescending manner.

It’s perfectly reasonable to inform someone who has interrupted you that, “I wasn’t finished speaking. You can’t respond when you didn’t listen to what I had to say.” If a colleague calls you, “sweetie,” you can always call him “darling,” or simply point out that you don’t think the two of you are close enough for public displays of affection.

Having things mansplained at you may be more difficult to point out while it’s happening, but don’t allow anyone to stop you from expressing your ideas and taking credit for them. In the end, your own words and deeds should speak for themselves. And never apologize. You don’t have to be sorry for being competent, educated, intelligent, or capable.

For the Men

Instead of asking women to defend the term “mansplain” consider making a point of simply not doing it. Social habits are hard to break and non-verbal cues can be quite subtle. We’ve progressed to the point that women in the office are, for the most part, no longer referred to as “girls” except by older men who, for their own reasons, never broke the habit. We can get past mansplanations if we try.

Check your tone. Women are constantly being told they are too emotional, and a woman making a strong argument is considered overly aggressive and unreasonable when a man making a strong argument is considered assertive and having leadership qualities. If you want to have a respectful conversation, don’t use a condescending tone.

Remember you don’t know everything. Listening to somebody else will broaden your understanding of things in general. Make respectful arguments. Have a conversation in which you exchange ideas, and resist the temptation to lecture. Not only will your own network grow, you will earn strong allies on both sides of the gender divide.

Using these incendiary terms calls attention to a pervasive problem in the workplace, and by paying attention to it, we empower ourselves to change it.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have experience with mansplaining? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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