Mansplaining And How To Avoid It

I’m sure you’ve heard the term before, but here are some definitions of mansplaining from the internet.

Mansplain: delighting in condescending, inaccurate explanations delivered with rock solid confidence of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation. Example: Even though he knew she had an advanced degree in neuroscience, he felt the need to mansplain “there are molecules in the brain called neurotransmitters”
Mansplaining: The tendency of some men to assume that they know more about any given topic than a woman, even if the topic is her area of expertise.

I’m updating this post (originally from 2014) because what was written is still relevant. This is for any men who have embraced the “know-it-all” culture taught to us by the patriarchy. (See also, every TV sitcom centered around a “wise” sort of “Father Knows Best” persona.) So, if you (or someone you know) wishes to avoid unconsciously mansplaining, keep reading. Here are five ways to avoid mansplaining!

ONE Be quiet. Did anyone ask you? If the answer is no, be quiet. Shutting the fuck up is always an option. Scene: You see two women talking about something. Let’s say you’ve recently watched a documentary or a Ted Talk on the subject of their conversation. Let’s say that they’re *gasp* disagreeing with what you learned in that documentary. (You’ve watched an hour and 40 minutes on the subject just yesterday. You’re now an expert on the matter, right!? Probably not.) Take the time to ask yourself, “How does this affect me?” If the conversation you overhear doesn’t affect you, keep it moving and stay in your lane. Even if it does kinda affect you, will the conversation of two people at some house party change the world? Even if they’re talking about a flat earth or their opinions on vaccines, who gives a shit? Being quiet is less stressful than being right.

TWO Remember that unsolicited advice is (you guessed it) unsolicited. I like to use the phrase, “they’ll figure it out” when I’m watching someone attempt to piece a puzzle together. It’s safe to assume that the person doing the thing is a contributing member to society if they are not locked away in a padded cell. So, with that being said, if this human being that has been functioning in society for 20, 30, 40+ years hasn’t asked for my help or advice I won’t offer it. The one exception, of course, is when someone is about to hurt themselves. If that happens, ask for consent to offer advice. “May I offer a suggestion?” and then wait for an enthusiastic yes before you speak. If they say no, just keep it moving. (You’ll notice a common theme in this post about leaving people alone.)

THREE Read body language. There are many forms of communication. There’s written, verbal, eye contact, and body language (just to name a few). Do you know how to read body language? Take a class at the Learning Annex. Google that shit. Figure it out. I’m decent at it because I’m a lifetime student on the subject. Body language can tell you a lot about whether or not someone wants to be bothered with your unsolicited commentary. If you read them right, you can save everyone a waste of time by keeping your distance and checking your ego. It’s worth mentioning that taking a class on body language is a dangerous path to assumption-ville. As an example, I know a lot of dancers (myself included) that get accused of being cocky because we always walk with good posture, head up, chest out, back straight sort of posture. Self-named experts on body language think they can read minds because they took a class and now mansplain to the masses about what my posture means. When you start mansplaining, watch the body language of the people to whom you speak. Do they seem defensive (arms crossing, when they hadn’t been crossed before) or disappointed that someone has arrived to over talk them (shoulders notably slumping)? If you sense a general shift in energy from a lively conversation to a “Who TF is this guy?” vibe, it’s not them, it’s you (and your mansplaining). There are other cues to seek, just know that you should pay attention to how others seem to receive your presence, mansplaining or not.

FOUR Remember that you don’t know everything. There is a difference between your way of doing things and the right way of doing things. The right way is subjective. There are many ways to get a cat’s skin. Ask yourself, “Am I bothered because that person isn’t doing it the way that I would do it?” Keep asking yourself, “Does that make it wrong?” (Hint: It doesn’t.) I remember sending out an email to my colleagues. One of them started to give me her* opinion on it… before she’d finished reading all of it (more on that later). A second person didn’t even read it because (and this is a direct quote) “it was too long”. He went on to claim that he knew exactly what I had to say based on the subject line of the email. Really? Another way that this can be stated is, “Don’t Make Assumptions”. But, if you’ve already read “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz that wouldn’t be a new lesson. It’s been said that wise people know they still have lots to learn. The arrogantly intelligent crowd won’t hesitate to wear their degree on their sleeve and speak of their ‘higher learning’ as if it actually makes them a better human. Shocking news: A Master’s degree means that you were a good student. It doesn’t (necessarily) mean that you’re intelligent. You know nothing in the grand scheme of life and all of the knowledge there is to acquire. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you will continue learning from the world around you and the less likely you’ll be to mansplain to someone. You don’t know everything. None of us do.

FIVE Ask for permission. There have been times when I had freshly learned something and wanted to tell everyone because I thought it was the greatest information ever! How did I share the info without mansplaining? I asked for permission. A simple, “May I share something with you that I just learned?” will make a huge difference between a mansplanation and sharing knowledge. By stating that I just learned the thing, I’m humbling myself to the person so that they can understand I am not coming from a position of arrogance. Be prepared for “no” to be the answer to a proposition of sharing what you know. No means no, keep it moving and don’t take it personally.

Listen more than you speak. Never stop learning. Your degree in Physics doesn’t mean that you know how to drive a car. Mansplaining isn’t always about men ‘splaining to women. I’ve seen women do it to men (*see the first anecdote in step 4 wherein she tried to share an opinion without all of the information) and every gender combination you can imagine. Mansplaining has more to do with arrogance/assumption than gender. Keep your ego in check. Above all else, seek to understand before attempting to be understood.

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The Magical Mythical Friend Zone

Friendship is a gift and we have the option to accept or reject. However, we shouldn’t lament the offer of such a gift if we desired more from the person making the offer. We’ve all heard that desire is suffering. My take on that statement is because we tend to desire that which we can’t control (e.g. other people), then we tend to suffer. We have no control over the desires of other people. Only in the flicks do we see examples of someone being a good person and then getting the reward of the romantic love interest. That’s a flick, not real life. I’m sure it happens in real life. We shouldn’t assume that such occurrences are the norm.

You’ve certainly heard the term friend zone. For those who haven’t, here’s what Wikipedia has to say. “In popular culture, the friend zone is a situation in which one member of a friendship wishes to enter into a romantic or sexual relationship, while the other does not. It is generally considered to be an undesirable situation for the rejected person.”

I’m of the opinion that the friend zone is a myth. Perhaps you’ve heard your friends talk about it or maybe you’ve been there yourself! It’s such a magical place because it only exists in the minds of boys. Now, before you get butt hurt and try to close this browser window, stay with me for a while and hear me out. Have you or one of your friends ever lamented being placed in the mythical friend zone? Maybe you should keep reading. The entire concept of a friend zone wreaks of male entitlement and the fallacy that we (cis/het men) are owed something by women just because we’ve expressed an interest or executed some kind gesture (helped her move, provided emotional support, etc.). When I listen to the reactions that men shout after women ignore their cat calls, they often have an undertone of consternation. “Someone’s acknowledging you!”, this one dude yelled as a woman ignored his elevator eyes and “how you doooin” with the intonation of dick-in-hand readiness. Really? Well, she should drop to her knees and thank you profusely for acknowledging her existence, right? No. She owes you nothing.

According to an Urban Dictionary user from 2003: Friendzone – What you attain after you fail to impress a woman you’re attracted to. Usually initiated by the woman saying, “You’re such a good friend”. Usually associated with long days of suffering and watching your love interest hop from one bad relationship to another. Verb tense is “Friend-ed”. “I spent all that money on a date, just to find out she put me in the Friendzone (said with eerie echo).” “You know that hot girl I’ve been talking to? She just Friend-ed me.”

Here are some of the cringeworthy bits from that definition. Fail to impress implies that there’s an ulterior motive to what should have been a genuine act of kindness. I’ll never forget a night that I was slightly drunk and a woman friend was drunker than myself. She wanted some company just because she wanted someone to talk to and she didn’t want to be alone that night. When I suggested that we go to her place and make sweet love (suggestions are safer than assumptions) she put me in check by saying, “I need you to be a friend right now, not a guy.” I found her phrasing to be quite sobering. That happened a decade ago and I still hear that phrase in my head when I’m thinking with my dick and my brain is reminding me not to be a dick.

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Another cringeworthy bit was, long days of suffering. Because, you know, that’s the only woman in the world for you and you must become a martyr as she unwittingly breaks your heart. Give me a fucking break! Just bounce. Explain to her in clear terms that you can’t be her friend because you like/love/lust her so much that it hurts your throbbing lonely boner and then bounce! [To explain in clear terms means that you must speak actual words to her ears, not a goddamned text message. Express your feelings with full use of vocal tone, body language, sock puppets, and an interpretive dance if necessary. But, for fuck’s sake, don’t send anyone a text message to tell them how you feel about them.]

I spent all that money on a date, just to find out… that you’re a dumbass and expected her to repay you in emotional currency? She owes you nothing. No one owes anyone anything. Establish a baseline of what your bond is with someone before asking them out. Is your adventure going to be a date or a hang out? Will sweet love be made afterwards? Get an understanding for these things before the adventure begins. Obviously, I’m not suggesting that you just ask her, “Hey! Are we boning later on?” But, you can have a mature conversation about how you’re attracted to her and suggest going Dutch. (Many women, who are not from the Netherlands, insist on going Dutch because they don’t want to feel as if there’s an expectation to end the night. She knows that she owes you nothing. She wants to make sure that you know this as well.)

Why is the friend zone a myth? Because being accepted as a friend should be a mutually beneficial relationship wherein the only reward you seek is the pleasure of the other person’s company. (Having a good time with your clothes on is a real thing.) We should be grateful for the friendship of a good human the same way we should be grateful when someone trusts us with a valued possession. The first time my mom gave me the keys to her precious Lincoln Town Car, I was honored because I knew how much it meant to her. I didn’t like the thing and it drove like a boat. But, I still honored her gift by taking care of it and filling its enormous gas tank before returning it to her. Assuming that everyone that offers up their friendship values that relationship as much as my mom loved her Town Car, all friendships should be honored (or dismissed). Accept friendship with gratitude or reject it with grace. Say it with me gentlemen, “Oh, I’d like to be more than just your friend. *cue Prince* I wanna be your… Lover!” *dance moves for emphasis* At that point, the two of you can have a grown up conversation about what each of you wants from a friendship or a romantic relationship. That conversation could be the start of something beautiful or the end of something frustrating before it gets that far. The friend zone only exists in the mind of those who choose not to communicate their feelings. Once again for the people in the back. The friend zone only exists in the mind of those who choose not to communicate their feelings.

“Come on, Jet! She knows how I feel about her it’s so obvious.” Look, I’ll be the first to call bullshit when a woman claims that she had no idea that someone was interested in her. It’s hard for me to believe that as emotionally intelligent as many women are, that they’re constantly oblivious to someone’s attraction to them. But, whether they’re aware of your feelings or not, it’s not a woman’s responsibility to know how you feel. It’s your job to express it clearly. Don’t express it with chores. Don’t be her handyman in hopes that someday she’ll slip and fall on your dick (and thusly fall in love with you because sex means love, right?). That only happens in porn and it’s laughable then. Express your feelings with your words *gasp*. Be vulnerable for a few seconds and be brave enough to know that your love/like/lust may be unrequited. She owes you nothing.

It’s worth mentioning… I’ve always had more women friends than men. I fucking live in the friend zone and I love it! Here are three reasons why.

1.) I know my friends better than I’ve known many of my lovers and many of my lovers have become my best friends. I once read some dumbass internet meme or e-card that read “If two past lovers can remain friends, either they never were in love or they still are.” WTF!? I disagree with that statement, 100% and I’m willing to bet that it was written by a butt-hurt bitter bear. Here’s a better angle on post relationship friendships, IMO.

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2.) Friendships tend to last longer than relationships and no one judges you for being polyplatonic* like they do when you tell them that you’re polyamorous. *Polyplatonic is a word that I’m intending to mean one who sustains multiple friendships. You’ll find different interpretations of this made-up word on the webs. Every non-asshole sustains multiple friendships. A mother of a 10 year-old told a group of us how she explained polyamory to her daughter. She explained, “the same way that you have friends you take to the movies and different friends that you play with outside, I have different friends that I do different things with.” She left out the details of her grown-up play dates. Nevertheless, the kid understood the gist of it. We are all polyplatonic (with the exception of assholes). Many of us can boast several decade-long friendships. How many of us can boast several decade-long romantic relationships? While we may have high expectations for our friendships, those expectations aren’t anywhere near as high as what we expect from a romantic partner.

3.) The platonic friendships that I have with women help me to communicate better in my romantic relationships. Men, how many times have you had a communication breakdown with a woman and chose to seek counsel from another man on how to communicate with that woman? It should be obvious why that’s problematic. I’m not suggesting that all women know how to communicate with all other women. I’m just saying that men should seek the counsel of someone that thinks differently (not just one of their bros) when faced with a communication breakdown. It’s the same logic as to why you shouldn’t represent yourself in a court of law. Please know that women in our lives shouldn’t be required to give free emotional labor for the sake of our evolution. Seek consent first, then seek counsel from the sage women in your life.

It’s worth mentioning… Women experience unrequited love and lust. Through an entire conversation with a friend on the matter she never lamented being placed in the magical mythical friend zone. She actually said, “Women “friend zoning” men is a totally absurd and sexist concept… that being said, I have had sex with quite a few of my friends and I don’t see why good friendship and occasional fun sex can’t peacefully coexist.” Here’s one of her stories (in her own words-pasted here with her consent):

“There was a guy with whom I briefly hooked up in [city name] and he contacted me because he saw I moved to [new city name] and he lives there too. I presumed it was for sex, and I was totally fine with that, invited him over to “hang”. About twenty minutes and a few beers in I start making a move on him and he protested “Wait, was this a booty call? Aw, man! I thought you wanted to be friends!” I apologized, and then somehow we still had sex (despite the booty call being framed as some kind of insult) and the next day I apologized again in a text. It felt like I talked him into something and I felt bad about it. Then he completely just disappeared, never responded to my texts, never heard from him again. I guess what I’m saying here is that some people cannot disconnect sex from monogamous love and can’t connect friendship with intimate sexual contact.”

I’ve never heard any woman complain of being put in the friend zone. I think that’s because women haven’t been conditioned to believe they’re owed something by the object of their affection. “I came over to his house, helped him study for that big test, and I didn’t even get so much as a reach around! He must have put me in the friend zone, m’eh!” I’m willing to bet that sentence has never been uttered by a woman, ever.

There’s this unspoken mentality associated with dating culture about the order of operations for friendships, loverships, and partnerships. I get the impression that many people are more comfortable going from first date with a stranger and moving towards a romantic connection than they are being friends first and then moving towards a romantic connection. I think this is why so many men dread the mythical friend zone. “If she thinks of me as a friend, we’ll never transcend into a romance! G’ahhh!” While everyone is entitled to their own idea of how to go about dating, that will never make sense to me. Shouldn’t we be friends and get to know each other without the mask of trying to present our best selves? I’d rather get romantic with a friend I know well, over a stranger who just looks/smells good. As an alternative, let’s just be friends and stay friends with no sexpectations! That would be nice.

“Jet! Men and women can never be just friends. One will always want to fuck the other.” I don’t know what world you live in, but we can be and we are friends. There are women in my life with whom I’ve been friends for 20 years. I can’t speak for them, but I have not desired sexual relations with them… and before you assume… yes they’re attractive (to me). On the flipside, I’m able to compartmentalize sexual contact and not turn it into a need for romantic involvement. i.e. I’ve totally had sex with friends who (we’ve agreed) will never be more than friends and no… things never got weird. How is that possible? We spoke to each other. We had deep conversations about our emotional needs/wants and we spoke from a place of compassion and respect. There were no assumptions or entitlement.

Release your entitlement and hold your desires lightly. Remember, don’t nobody owe you shit. If the woman you desire offers her friendship, accept it or reject it with respect and grace. Just because we crush on someone doesn’t mean that she’ll feel the same or reward you with a moral dessert because you were a “nice guy”. People should have agency over their body and their emotional adventures. It may break your heart that she doesn’t like you in return, but that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that you’re in any zone, friend.