Most of us are aware of gender discrepancies in the workplace. Studies show that women are paid less than men for equal work, (women of colour make even less), men are valued for characteristics that women are punished for, such as ambition and toughness, and women are more frequently pressured to choose between family and work life while men are seen as capable of having it all. And as much as progress has been made on the quality front, there are still a great many behaviours that men engage in in the workplace, and life in general, that make things needlessly difficult for women.
The latest buzz in gendered power struggles is “mansplaining.” The term, which was added to the Oxford dictionary earlier this year, refers to the manner in which men speak to women in a condescending or patronizing manner. In the most egregious cases, men mansplain things to women who are already experts in their field, like the time a fan took to social media to explain the inspiration for Indiana Jones’ iconic costume – to the woman who designed it.
This isn’t to say that women are exempt from being condescending or patronizing to men, but women are on the receiving end of this behaviour so much that it interferes with their ability to perform or be valued at the same level as their male counterparts. Women are already often stereotyped as being “too emotional”; when they attempt to defend themselves or become upset about unequal or unfair treatment, it sets them back even further. Additionally, it’s not the responsibility of women to confront the men who mansplain to them – it should fall on men to be respectful and aware of the impact they have on equal treatment for women in the workplace.
If you’re a woman reading this, it’s likely that you’re already all too aware of mansplaining and how it plays a role in your work life. If you’re a man reading this, you might require a more in-depth description. In order to help those who may be struggling with the concept, here are a few red flags of mansplaining:
The two words women everywhere dread hearing are “well, actually…”; within those words is an establishment of your own superiority over the thoughts and ideas that were just contributed to the discussion. By responding with these words, you’re inferring that you know more about the subject at hand than the woman you’re speaking with, and belittling her as a result. Variations of “well, actually” include (but are not limited to) “um, actually” or “actually, I looked it up and…”, etc. Each of these is equally as patronizing. If you feel the urge to drop a “well, actually” in a conversation with a woman, take a step back and consider the fact that she most likely knows what she’s talking about.
You don’t have to interrupt to mansplain, but it does take your mansplaining to new heights. Interrupting a female co-worker when she’s making a point in a meeting or discussion isn’t only rude, it undermines her potential contributions and deters her from speaking up in the future. Being respectful of your colleagues’ feedback and opinions is important in a work environment, and it’s simply polite to let someone finish speaking before you weigh in.
This requires little explanation; if you’re not listening to someone, they notice. Specifically in the workplace, you need to be attentive to the women you’re speaking to. Even if you aren’t interrupting or replying with “well, actually,” not listening suggests that you don’t care about what that person has to say and think you know better. As a result, you’re more likely to mansplain something to someone who is already well-versed in the subject, like the Indiana Jones fan mentioned earlier. Genuinely listen to your co-workers and go into every interaction assuming that their opinions are as valid as yours.
What makes mansplaining so difficult to combat is that, for the most part, those perpetrating it are genuinely well-intentioned. It’s important to remember that although you may mean well, the result does more harm than good. Taking steps to ensure your workplace equally values women’s voices begins with respect. If you respect your female co-workers, you’ll listen to them, let them speak without interrupting, and value the information they’ve given you without attempting to assert dominance. Think less about your intentions and more about the impact of your actions. When women have equal opportunities to contribute, your company can and will make progress with the value their contributions add to your workplace.
Jasmine Cormier | Contributing Writer