Yesterday, I got a call from my nineteen-year old daughter who is in her first year at college. “Mom, I wanted your advice. I’m dealing with this counselor who is really patronizing. He’s driving me crazy. He’s always mansplaining. I was wondering if you had any suggestions.”
I wish it was something she didn’t have to deal with, but same old same old. Like I told her, good thing she’s figuring out how to handle it early, because she’ll encounter it more in college and she’ll definitely deal with patronizing and mansplaining in the work environment.
If you’re a female teen, you’ve probably been there. That teacher who treats girls and boys differently. The counselor who assumes that since you have a fully-developed vagina, you must not have a fully-developed brain. Tweet This!
Thank God this generation isn’t going to put up with it. Sadly, my generation was the put-up-with-it generation.
Put up with the unnecessary explanations given in a parental tone.
Put up with the fatherly advice that none of the guys ever seemed to receive.
Put up with the unwanted hugs.
Then, extricate gently so as not to poke the bear.
Most of us didn’t know any better. But you do. My daughter’s not going to put up with it and neither are you. Not the MeToo generation. Hell, no.
Andrea’s mansplaining experience
Let’s call my daughter Andrea, for the sake of this story. Andrea is starting a new club at her college, and it turns out the process is complicated. There are a lot of forms and approvals. You have to have a constitution, officers, establish rules, determine times and locations and processes, and get approvals. Lots of approvals.
Hence, the counselor who is supposed to provide guidance. We’ll call him Sam (name changed to protect the not-so-innocent mansplainer).
When Andrea was first assigned this particular counselor, others said, “Oh, Sam. Good luck dealing with him.”
But Andrea is optimistic and likes to make her own judgments, so she set that aside. Unfortunately, her earliest encounters with Sam revealed him to be a problem. He didn’t explain things well and he didn’t respond to questions and emails.
Nevertheless, she persisted.
She worked on all the materials over Spring Break and, yesterday, she had another meeting with Sam. It’s hard in the moment to respond to mansplaining. It can be a subtle thing. Andrea knew something was happening and it made her irritated, but she doesn’t remember all the exact words and instances from the meeting. She remembered enough, though. Here are some things that happened to her and might happen to you, along with my advice.
(Note that I’m not an expert. But as I’ve grown older and dealt with so many of these situations, I’ve grown less tolerant and more direct. Now, I wonder why the hell I didn’t just start out that way. Don’t make my mistake. You don’t owe any man patience with his mansplaining, his differing treatment of women versus men, and definitely not his inappropriate touches. Don’t be afraid to get in his face. That’s my biggest piece of advice.)
Fuzzy answers, i.e. “I’m confused so I’m just going to confuse you.”
The first thing that happened is that Andrea told Sam that the instructions required that she gather certain information, but it wasn’t clear whether she had to provide that information along with the full application for approval, or if she could supply it afterwards.
Some men have trouble saying “I don’t know” and mansplainers especially have trouble saying “I don’t know” to women, and they ESPECIALLY have trouble saying it to young women. Teen. Girls. Tweet This! So, like Sam, they may talk and talk and really say nothing that actually answers the question, just making everything more confusing. That’s obfuscation. They make things less clear so you don’t notice that they don’t know what they are talking about.
Solution: Get the mansplainer back on point and get to a solution. “Excuse me, Sam. The question I asked was…If you aren’t sure of the answer, can you point me to some information online or just find out and get back to me?”
Casting blame, i.e. “You’re the young girl, so it’s your fault even though it’s my fault.”
The hope was to get the constitution and all the forms and paperwork completed before Spring Break so it could be approved at one of the meetings happening before that. Andrea tried, but she’s never done this before and it was a complicated process. (Oh, and there’s all those classes and finals. You know, the education part of college?) And there was another factor…
At the meeting, Sam said, “Well, since you didn’t get this finished when you were supposed to…” Now, here’s the thing. Andrea had emailed Sam SEVERAL times with questions in her attempt to finish the application on time. Sam never replied to her emails. Apparently he’s notorious for this. As well as for not actually knowing what the hell he’s doing. So, Sam’s lack of response held her up.
Solution: Never let them get away with blaming you inappropriately. Note that I am ALL for owning up when you make a mistake. But this happens way too often, girls and women getting blamed by men for shit that isn’t their fault. Tweet This!
What to do? Politely set the record straight and give it back the way you got it. “Yeah, it sucks I couldn’t finish this in time. If you had answered the five emails I sent you, I probably would have been able to. But since you didn’t, let’s…”
Wow! Really? Yeah, really. Say it just like that. He wouldn’t hesitate to say it like that to you. (But note that it’s always good to propose a solution. Ultimately, you’re trying to get the job done.)
Taking over, i.e. “Obviously you can’t do this [cause you’re a girl—duh], so I’ll handle it.”
Related to this, Sam’s actual sentence above continued with, “I’ll have to take this over to somewhere and do something to make sure it’s in on time.” The taking it over was something Andrea is perfectly capable of doing. When a guy does this, he’s trying to make himself feel bigger. He may not realize it, but he’s saying “you’re not capable” (probably because he feels incompetent and making you feel incompetent makes him feel less so). Tweet This!
Solution: Just say, “That’s ok. I’ll do xyz.” Not “I can” but “I will.” Don’t give him a choice. Ask for the exact information you need to do the task. And then do it.
Over explaining, i.e. “If you have a simple question, you must need me to explain Every Fucking Thing.”
While Andrea was meeting with Sam, in an open space with plenty of other people around, another student had a question. She was working to fill out something on a computer and simply wanted to know “do I put this information at the top or the bottom?” Sam proceeded to pull up a chair, take over the keyboard, and explain the whole form and process to her.
Andrea said the teen kept saying, “Yes, I know that” and “I already did that” but none of this stopped Sam from over explaining.
Solution: Say “Stop!” Pull the keyboard back if you need to and take control. Get your mansplainer back on track. Tweet This! “Sam, stop. I have one, simple question.” Then point to the top of the screen. “Does the information xyz go here”—point to the bottom—“or here.” Customize this to your situation, but basically, cut him off. Speak in simple terms with small words so your mansplainer can understand. Stop the wasted time and over-explaining and refocus him on your actual question.
Inappropriate hugging, i.e. “I want to hug you, so come here, girl!”
Well, fuck. It happened. Not to Andrea, but to another young woman. While Andrea was meeting with Sam, two female students came in, one of whom worked with Sam. She said, “Bye Sam. See you tomorrow.”
And Sam? He stood up and opened his arms in that give-me-a-hug gesture. The girl looked at her friend and rolled her eyes—something Sam should have seen and that should have made him cringe and drop those fucking hugger arms. Tweet This!
Then, the teen made her mistake. She put up with it. She went to give him a quick hug. And guess what? When she tried to pull away, Sam tightened his hug, keeping her there even longer.
Andrea said it turned her stomach and made her VERY uncomfortable, though probably not nearly as uncomfortable as the young woman getting hugged.
Solution: First, you are not obligated to hug, shake hands, or otherwise touch or be touched by anyone no matter what their position. I don’t care if it’s the Principal of your school or the Dean of your college. No obligation. Tweet This! So when a man does that stupid gesture, try one of two things. Ignore it (it’s a gesture, not words) and just wave and say “So, see you tomorrow.” Then turn and leave. Or, respond directly by saying something like, “Yeah, I’m not into hugging, but thanks. See you tomorrow.”
So, there are four incidents that, sadly to say, could easily happen to you. You’ll notice all the solutions have something in common. In all of them, you’re calling out your teacher or counselor. You’re not letting him get away with it. Maybe you’re calling him out nicely, but you’re doing it firmly.
It’s uncomfortable. I get that. It’s also necessary. If you let your mansplainer get away with it once or get away with one type of mansplaining, sexist move, he’s going to think he can get away with all of them.
And here’s the other thing, the more you call out the mansplainers, the easier it gets. And the better if feels. It’s fucking empowering. It’s fucking fun. It feels damn good to not put up with it. To Shut. It. Down. Tweet This!
Best of all. When you train your mansplaining teacher or counselor, you’re helping all the teens that come after you. And that’s a great thing because, you know what? For mansplaining, #TimesUp!
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