“Sweetie, you should hold the steering wheel with both hands. Remember, 10 and 2!”; “Isn’t your middle name supposed to be with an ‘E’?”; “It’s your time of the month? You should take something for the pain.” A car, a middle name and some painkillers might not seem to have much in common, but these remarks are all part of a phenomenon known as “mansplaining”. The term is used to refer to the process of a man explaining to a woman something she already knows, or may even be an expert on. These unwanted remarks can arise in lots of contexts, especially at work, where some men try to take on the role of “teacher”. Lucile Quillet, a journalist specialising in women’s work and an expert from The Lab by Welcome to the Jungle gives her advice on how to reclaim your rightful place in the professional world.
There is nothing more annoying than a man who explains – often condescendingly – something we already know like the back of our hand. Just like ruffling our hair, this paternalistic habit challenges our expertise: in reality, being told how to do your job implies you don’t already know, or at least don’t know well enough to do it properly. If you feel like telling this hypothetical guy to get lost as he tries to teach you about life, imagine him being your colleague. In both private and professional life it is important to assert yourself, to preserve your ego as well as your self-confidence. Here is a lesson in self-defence against mansplaining in a professional environment.
1. Don’t be passive
Whether it’s through weariness, lack of self-confidence or fear of confrontation, refusing to reply – though tempting – not only causes doubt, it can also discredit us. Especially if the scene takes place in front of other people: in a meeting, for instance. Witnessing this recurring passivity, a hierarchical superior might think, even unconsciously, that we have no authority and therefore would not be able to lead a team. “We must not retreat into passivity at the risk of allowing a man to think he is really teaching us how to do our job,” says Lucile Quillet. “Instead, by responding, we can restore justice, prevent someone from depriving us of our expertise and defend the image that we present to others.”
In the restaurant where she works, Camille has put up with constant remarks from her male colleagues in the kitchen for a long time. “It was things like, ‘Wait, you did it like that?’; ‘Why are you heating the milk?’; ‘Are you sure you put two eggs in?’; or ‘I would have done it like this’,” she says. One day, a colleague of the same rank even threw away a dish because the presentation was not to his liking. “At first I bit my tongue and tried to ignore it, but over time I started to assert myself and clearly show my annoyance. Some of my colleagues realised that sometimes they went too far.”
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2. Remind them of your skills
Without turning it into a lecture, Camille no longer hesitates to point out the difficulty of being a woman in a kitchen made up almost exclusively of men. She makes sure to remind her colleagues that she has the same qualifications as them to let them know that their explanations are inappropriate. Having to highlight your skills and talents may seem daunting, but think of it as simply setting the record straight. You don’t necessarily need to detail your entire CV – reminding them of your job title may be enough: “We have to get back to the facts, starting with job title. No one can accuse you of exaggerating or having an oversized ego when you say that you are responsible for developing a project,” says Quillet. If the man in question is a colleague of the same rank, you should feel free to remind him that he is not your superior and that correcting you is not part of his remit.
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3. Don’t get heated
Responding is good, but doing it calmly is even better. Resist the temptation to roll your eyes and crank up the decibels. Instead, maintain full self-control in order to have a bigger and better impact on the conversation. “It’s OK to get angry, but unfortunately you have to keep in mind the sexist stereotypes that reduce women to their emotions,” says Quillet. Instead of listening to what we say, our colleagues are likely to remember only our outbursts of anger or annoyance, however fleeting they may be. In order to be truly listened to, it’s better to remain composed: “You have to answer as calmly as possible, show that you are not destabilised or unsettled by silence – that shows confidence.”
While journalist Laetitia was in New York to cover Comic-Con, an event she knows very well, she interviewed actors without consulting a list of questions. It was only on the way out that a colleague called out to her. “He grabbed my wrist and asked to see my questions. I told him that I didn’t have them written down and that it was all in my head, and he said, ‘Listen, junior, I’m going to tell you how things work here…’ before describing how to conduct an interview. I told him coldly that I knew my job, which I had been doing for several years, and that I didn’t need a lesson in journalism. You should have seen it: my 5ft self with pink hair versus a 6ft-something man looking like a deer in the headlights. He was ridiculous.” The efficacy of incredible wit, coupled with a cool, calm and collected attitude.
4. Own your work
The shift between mansplaining and owning work you have done is as easy as it is subtle, and a paternalistic colleague could quickly reap the fruits of your labours. Quillet advises leaving a written trace where appropriate: “For example, you can remind people discreetly in a group email that you, or your team if you have one, were the brains behind a certain project or campaign.” Without being too direct, this kind of tactic allows you to clearly establish each person’s role and avoid being robbed of your achievements, by discreetly sowing the seeds of your legitimacy.
Fighting against mansplaining, which makes women’s work invisible, calls for factual information that will support our legitimacy while showing a level of composure. On top of that, a few well-chosen words will bring us the immediate satisfaction of putting a man who engages in casual sexism firmly in his place.
Transalted by: Kim Cunningham
Photo by Welcome to the Jungle
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