Of all of the bad things that men do to women, Mansplaining is the one that terrifies me the most on a personal level. This is because I believe that I'm essentially a good person and I'm in control of myself. I know that I can easily avoid most mistakes but mansplaining is different.
It's not so simple to avoid and it is something that sneaks up on me. Sometimes I don't realise that I'm doing it until I'm right in the middle of a conversation -- and then I suddenly feel like I want to run away.
Mansplaining is certainly not "an autism spectrum thing" -- it's not even a "man-only" thing. I think however, that being on the spectrum may increase the likelihood of our conversations being interpreted as "mansplaining". I certainly don't mansplain for a "power trip". If and when I do it, it's usually because I'm so poor at conversation and because I'm partially deaf.
Regardless of the reasons, I'm determined to make this a thing of the past...
What is Mansplaining?Although the term is at least three years old, I only became acquainted with it earlier this year when I saw a comedy show doing a skit on it. (You can ask that: Mansplaining) If you do a YouTube search on the term, you'll find plenty of skits. Sometimes having a laugh about something is also the best way to learn something new. I feel that when you're laughing, you're open to new experiences and new understanding.
The videos on YouTube tend to show extreme examples of mansplaining in which there's no doubt that it's happening. It's important to realise however that standard and generally respectful conversations could still be perceived by others as mansplaining because it's not always our behaviour so much as the perception of our behaviour that is important.
There seems to be two major parts to mansplaining;
• Being Condescending
The worst part of mansplaining is that the person doing the explaining feels that their opinion deserves to be heard more than those being "explained to". This may be because they feel that theirs is the only correct (or fully correct) answer or because they simply don't have enough respect for the other people in the conversation.
When it comes to interrupting, mansplaining often happens because one person in the conversation "shuts down" or talks over the other. Since male voices tend to be deeper and louder than female voices, it's obviously much easier for a man to do this to a woman than it is the other way around.
Is this a Sexist Term?I'd love to be able to say that this is absolutely a sexist term and that being condescending and interrupting others in conversation with the aim of power-tripping or silencing unwanted voices is something that happens with both genders. Unfortunately, the term is what it is and it was coined because it's more commonly a male behaviour directed towards women.
That doesn't mean that women don't "mansplain" -- they do. It's just that usually when a women "mansplains" she's more likely to be doing it for reasons of power over an individual rather than "power over a gender". The other thing of course is that from childhood, men are conditioned to have their voice heard more than women. Hopefully that's changing now...
In any case, regardless of who is doing it to who, it's not a good behaviour in any conversation.
(a very informative page, highly recommended).
Being CondescendingThese days, I don't feel like I'm condescending but I know for sure that in my youth I was. In my teenage years especially, when, like all teenagers, I felt that I knew everything, I would often explain things to my parents and girlfriend in a condescending way.
It's something I regret and also something that I'm now very careful to avoid. I don't talk down to people. I try to respect them for giving up their time to listen to me.
Sometimes it's not easy. Sometimes my head starts racing and I'm thinking further ahead or more deeply in a conversation than the person I'm talking to. People with autism do this a lot, especially when a conversation touches on one of their special interests. When that happens, you have only a couple of choices, try to re-explain your thoughts in a slower, simpler manner, or drop the conversation.
These days, I'll mentally ask myself whether or not someone needs to know what I'm telling them (to the level of detail I'm telling it in) and if I think they don't, I'll trail off and end the conversation. If they're truly interested, they'll ask for more detail -- they almost always don't.
InterruptingThis is by far my biggest problem. I find that I interrupt people for various reasons;
- Not realising that they're still talking: This is 100% my hearing loss problem -- and it does happen much more frequently when I'm talking to women than men due to their softer voices. Sometimes I can stand next to someone and have no idea that they're talking. I have to watch their mouths to see if they're moving.
Of course, if I can't hear them, I'm not getting much out of the conversation and it's rude to "be there" and not "be listening", so whenever possible, I'll take that as my cue to leave a conversation.
- Not reading body language:
People with autism often have problems participating in group discussions because they can't always tell when it's their turn to speak. It's such a common problem that it's included in the diagnostic questions of many autism/Asperger's tests.
When this happens, it's a genuine mistake. To avoid mansplaining, simply stop your conversation, apologise to the person you were talking with "oh I'm sorry, you were talking" and allow them to continue.
A person mansplaining for a "power trip" won't be apologetic and won't stop their conversation to allow others to continue. If you're apologetic, others in your conversation will usually be understanding of your mistake.
- Getting too excited about a topic:
This is a huge deal for people on the spectrum. You've spent ten minutes hanging on the fringe of an impenetrable conversation when suddenly out of the blue, someone mentions something related to your special interest. Suddenly you have a way in -- and you dive in babbling furiously.
If you're sitting down with a group of people who are mostly excluding you from the conversation, then it's okay to give this one a shot. After all, they're being rude to you too. If you've walked up to a group who is already deep in conversation and you're on the outside, it's less okay, particularly if you have to talk over someone to be noticed.
In these circumstances, it's important to sense the mood of the conversation as best you can. If people start changing the topic, they're obviously not interested in your contribution. It's painful but it's better to walk away.
I've often made a quick getaway in these circumstances by faking a phone call (my phone is always only on vibrate). All you have to do is stiffen, reach for your pocket and put the phone against your ear as quickly as possible so that nobody sees the display … and then walk away from the group saying "hello" or "sorry, it's a bit noisy in here". People will excuse you and you'll be able to make an escape on the pretext of moving to a quieter area.
It's little wonder that people on the spectrum are often referred to as the people who befriend the pets at parties.
If you're struggling in groups, you're better off to talk to others who are alone at parties -- or simply not attend. It's better than constantly being rejected by groups or getting a reputation as a person who talks about themselves but never listens.
- Preventing others from talking: This is the key to mansplaining, the idea that your conversation is more important than someone else's. Occasionally there's a good reason for talking over someone, for example to prevent them from saying something that will get themselves or someone else into trouble. Most of the time though the reasons are trivial.
Perhaps they're telling a story wrong or they've left out an important detail. Perhaps they've said that "you" did something that you didn't or they've cited a fact wrong. Whatever it is, they're entitled to finish their conversation. You're not "the boss of them". If you still feel strongly about an issue after they've spoken and you think that it will add to the conversation while not making them feel inferior, then by all means, add your "two cents" at the end.
If there's any chance that your words will hurt. It's best not to say anything. We can all be better conversationalists but only if we think about others when we speak.