Everything you need to know about mansplaining
There's been a lot of buzz around the word, which found its way to the Oxford English Dictionary this year. So, what does it mean to mansplain?Saana Azzam, Communication expert and managing director of MENA speakers, breaks it down
Earlier this year, over 1,100 new words were added to the Oxford English Dictionary. From 'hangry' to 'snowflake', anyone who has ever been on social media - or even converses with millennials on a regular basis - will probably recognise some of these words. 'Mansplain', happened to be another entry to make its way to the roster, and one I found particularly intriguing because of its ability to draw extreme reactions from people. Some women swear it is real and rampant. Meanwhile, it has drawn negative reactions from others. A quick Google search saw Urban Dictionary define the word (not that this should be taken as an official definition in any way) as, 'Basically when a man explains something to a woman and gets chastised for it!'
Well, it is the #MeToo era and, as more women speak out about the problems they face, there are bound to be clashes, confusion and much finger-pointing. A quick social experiment I ran by asking friends (both men and women) about their opinion on mansplaining threw up answers ranging from "I don't know what that word means" to "people are too sensitive these days" to "of course, mansplaining exists". Others incorrectly thought mansplaining was when a man interrupted a woman to say something sexist. Lastly, there were plenty of men who were too afraid to share their opinion. "I don't want to 'mansplain' mansplaining to you," was a term I often heard.
So, what exactly is mansplaining, and is it an issue worth noting? Saana Azzam, the managing director of MENA Speakers, undoubtedly thinks it is. As the founder of a Dubai-based specialist agency that provides keynote speakers, event hosts and moderators for corporations and public sector institutions, Saana is a communication expert with experience in multiple countries. So, here's what she has to say on the topic.
(Saana Azzam is Communication expert and managing director of MENA speakers)
How long have you been working in the region?
My career has stretched over several countries and continents. I was educated in Scandinavia and have since operated in 15 countries across the globe. I have lived in the UAE since 2011 and seen the country go from strength to strength. I run MENA Speakers, a first-of-its-kind agency that specialises in providing Arab thought leaders and experts to the market. When it comes to communication, we are very passionate and dedicated to mastering it, understanding all of its nuances and teaching it.
What exactly is mansplaining? How would you describe it?
The introduction of 'mansplaining' as a word may be new, but the phenomenon of a mansplainer has existed for much longer. Rebecca Solnit's 2008 essay, Men Explain Things To Me, brought the term forward, and although the its meaning has been disputed and reinterpreted, the term, as Solnit uses it, deals with patronising men. According to the Oxford English Dictionary editors, mansplaining is "to explain something to someone, typically a man to woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronising".
In your experience, have you seen it happen?
Mansplaining is another form of interrupting and speaking condescendingly, and I can only imagine that we have all seen it happen. Sometimes we don't notice it and sometimes it is so apparent that it shocks us. For example, in a 2016 US presidential debate, TIME counted 84 times in which either Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Holt or the audience cut off the current speaker. Trump was responsible for 55 of those 84 interruptions, while Clinton contributed 11. Most frequently, mansplaining happens to women at work. In fact, according to a study titled Meta-Analyses of Gender Effects on Conversational Interruption, men are more likely to interrupt, particularly in an intrusive manner.
We host public speaking workshops dedicated to women and in these personal conversations, this topic has repeatedly come up. Women need to look at different approaches while dealing with mansplaining, so we teach them how to gently stop it or discourage it from happening again.
Does it happen often?
It was shown in a 2014 study at George Washington University that when men were talking with women, they interrupted 33 per cent more often than when they were talking with men. Reasonably, focus should be on having respectful conversations and avoid this from occurring whatsoever.
Why is understanding - and preventing
mansplaining - so important?
When people speak, you get diversity and you avoid something we call 'groupthink'. If you have the same voices speaking up from the demographics, and having the same style, then we are decreasing productivity and efficiency. High performing groups are proven to be inclusive and distribute the level of communication quite evenly between all parties. This point is to foster a gentle and respectful way of communicating to ensure there is a profitable discussion.
Is mansplaining very gender oriented? For example, what about cases of women interrupting other women?
It is indeed because it is more prevalent amongst men. However, another study, also showed that compared to men, women are more likely to be interrupted, both by men and by other women as well. I believe that great things can happen if we don't just hear things but we all collectively lean in and listening actively.
My personal opinion is that poor communication, especially poor listening skills is a root cause for a lot of disputes and misunderstandings. If that is improved, then there will definitely be a ripple effect on our personal and professional lives. Skillful sales people are really good listeners and they understand what their clients want. Now, imagine if we brought that type of attentiveness to all aspects of our life.
Are there any reverse mansplaining cases? For example, when women talk down to men?
Interruption and talking over people is a power move. It is a phenomenon where one person talks down to another by explaining simple concepts as if to 'enlighten' them. In my line of work, I have seen it in classrooms, business meetings and all walks of life.
Does mansplaining mostly occur in corporate areas? Or has it now also moved outside corporate situations?
It has always existed in all domains of life. If you evaluate situations where there is a slight power struggle or different power dynamics, you will notice it quite quickly. I recall in one of my first live TV interviews years ago, I was sitting with two other gentlemen and being interviewed by the presenter. In the middle of my sentence one of the men picked up from my last word, dialed up his volume and hijacked the conversation. If this can happen on live TV, then it can definitely happen in smaller conversations.
Name some of the things women can do to tackle mansplaining?
. Be patient and don't lose your cool - be methodical and timely.
. Simply remind the mansplainer that you are smart and capable too. If someone at the workplace tries to enlighten you about how to do your job, just simply say something along the lines of, "Don't worry. I'm already ahead of you on that one." And then give more information on the topic - use their own tactic against them.
. Make a point using your eyes. Maintain eye contact with the mansplainer as he is in the midst of the interruption and keep talking to your audience nonetheless. This will signal that you are noticing the mainsplaining and that you will maintain your role as main speaker despite the attempt.
Any advice on what men should keep in mind regarding mansplaining?
. It all starts with awareness. Take note of your own speech patterns and notice if you are mansplaining. If this is something that you need help with, then there are numerous speech and communication experts in our roster at MENA Speakers that can help.
. Remember that you might miss out on key information that could be beneficial to you if you are not listening. When you are inclusive in a team, you are allowing better performance. Google is a great example of a company that has understood that inclusion and equal communication leads to peak performance.
. Finally, if this is something you've consciously been doing, remember that it is not nice. You don't want to be that guy that interrupts people and has a reputation of being obnoxious. Connect with people, truly and sincerely, and you will notice your quality of life getting better. I promise, just 'Google' it!