As a man, I sometimes feel attacked by the term “mansplaining.” Aren’t I allowed to explain?
But, as a therapist and a feminist, I’m coming to grips with what people really mean when they use this phrase. Men have been taught that we shouldn’t be emotional. Because of this, we often struggle to really think about how we make others feel.
Instead, our only option is to either get mad about a problem, ignore it, or try to fix it.
This month I forgot to pay my son’s preschool tuition, and they don’t have an online payment option. This seems like a problem in 2021. I generously offered to volunteer my time to help them find a solution. After all, I’m an entrepreneur who accepts online payments for my services.
I received no reply.
Not easily defeated, I doubled down on my offer at preschool drop-off only to be met with the curt response: “I have already looked into options.” She didn’t even thank me.
Now, if you’re a woman, you are probably cringing a little, right? It wasn’t until after I went home and started to think about how I must have come across to the female childcare professional, that I started to get that clammy, sick-to-my-stomach feeling of having really messed up.
But, remember, I’m a FIXER (and therapist). So, I jotted down a short list of ways I could have behaved differently.
First, does this person want my help?
This may quickly help me decide whether or not to proceed. The answer may be a clear “no.” In this case, I can MOVE ON. However, if the answer is not so clear cut, I can simply ask. Crazy, I know.
Secondly, am I approaching this with openness and curiosity?
If not, I need to stop immediately, and ask myself why I am so quick to assume I have a viable solution before I know what has been tried or considered.
In mental health terms, we call this a cognitive distortion, more specifically, “Jumping to Conclusions”. Doing this has always made me look like a total ass.
Approaching a problem with openness and curiosity instead of with our minds already made up is the best way to show consideration for other people’s perspectives.
Finally, have I checked my privilege?
In our culture, men (specifically white men) carry a great deal of power and oftentimes unearned authority. Unless I am constantly checking this possible blind spot, I will typically come off as mansplaining, condescending, and oftentimes, downright aggressive.
Just because I think a problem has a solution, doesn’t mean I understand the complexities of that particular situation.
While I don’t begrudge myself or other men for having this privilege, I must always be sensitive to reality.
“Do you want me to help with a solution or do you want me to just listen?”
Finally, especially with those close to you, try asking what they need from you.
This is an excellent way to let your partner and family know that you see them and that you are there for whatever they may need. It might be a solution or simply active listening.
As I reflect on the situation at my son’s preschool, I could have stopped after step one. I didn’t even ask if they wanted my help.
I can be okay with that. I can use my fixer energies elsewhere on problems that pertain to me - like how to remember to pay the preschool bill on time.
Or, I can tackle new ones - like the lack of resources and support for solving the mansplaining epidemic.
Feel free to check me anytime I barge into your space with my I CAN SOLVE THIS attitude. We’re in this together, guys.
And if you still need a little more 'splaining, head over to this handy decision tree. If you or a someone you know is struggling, please reach out to us at Trailhead Treatment Center. We specialize in men's mental health and we are really good at listening.