International Women’s Day: Thou Shall Not Mansplain!
Crammed into a small office on the third floor of the WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) headquarters in Tel Aviv, the four of us, three female co-workers, and me, the lone male on the Publicity & Communications Division team, silently waited for the meeting to begin.
“It’s almost March 8th,” our Director said as she briefly looked up from her notes. “What are we doing for International Women’s Day?”
“Let’s organize a competition where men have to race 100-meters in high heels,” one of my colleagues suggested. “So men can know what it feels like.”
“What about creating a “glass ceiling” on a major Tel Aviv walkway so that pedestrians have to duck in order to walk under it,” another offered. “It will represent the obstacles working women in Israel face.”
Now armed with a couple of great ideas, we were off to the races. Everyone began talking at once, giving opinions and suggestions, yet I remained silent.
You see, I still had my boss’s opening words ringing in my head. “What are we doing for International Women’s Day?”
I was too ashamed to admit it publicly, but I didn’t have an answer to that question for a very simple reason. I am a man who has never celebrated International Women’s Day before.
It got me thinking. How hard would it really be? I already observe Mother’s Day, Independence Day and Jerusalem Day. In fact, the last time I was in America I observed “International Talk Like A Pirate Day”. I even earned a free Krispy Kreme doughnut for talking like a pirate. Had I walked into the store dressed like a pirate, I could have gotten a dozen free doughnuts. Sadly, Krispy Kreme has now stopped that promotion. Aargh!
All kidding aside, International Women’s Day (IWD) is serious business. WIZO works all year long to raise awareness of women’s issues, promote discussion and create real change. International Women’s Day is an ideal opportunity to take the discussion to another level, place a spotlight on the status of women’s issues in Israel, and display WIZO’s efforts on behalf of women.
According to the official IWD website, March 8th, International Women’s Day, is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
That’s wonderful. It really is. But it’s too broad (no pun intended – I swear). I just wish there was a starter kit for the uninitiated. You know, a Guide to the Perplexed for those of us males who have never celebrated International Women’s Day Before.
The internet offers many suggestions. Join a march, promote gender diversity in the workplace, attend a women’s networking event, donate to your local women’s shelter (that’s a really good one!), watch empowering TED Talks online by women, and finally, and perhaps the most commonly observed suggestion, do something kind for a woman you love.
Those are all great ideas and there are tons more. But I discovered one specific thing, one trait, that I, and I believe many other men too, can start working on this very IWD, curbing our “mansplaining”.
Mansplaining, is a new term that describes when a man interrupts and explains something to a woman in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing. Or, as Lily Rothman defined it in The Atlantic, “explaining without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer”. I could provide specific examples, but I fear I would be guilty of mansplaining myself. Oops, I did it again (with apologies to Britney Spears).
Although some might dismiss mansplaining as a minor offense, those on the receiving end of it do not see it that way.
“Men are more likely to interrupt, particularly in an intrusive manner,” Elizabeth Aura McClintock Ph.D, wrote in a 2016 article entitled, “The Psychology of Mansplaining” in Psychology Today. “Compared to men, women are more likely to be interrupted. Mansplaining is problematic because the behavior itself reinforces gender inequality. When a man explains something to a woman in a patronizing or condescending way, he reinforces gender stereotypes about women’s presumed lesser knowledge and intellectual ability. This is especially true when the woman is in fact more knowledgeable on the subject.”
So, how can we men prevent ourselves from constantly mansplaining?
Listen. Just listen.
I admit that in the past I often had the urge to speak up and interrupt others, especially women, with my own opinions or comments, but I now have begun to realize that I’d be much better served by listening more, especially now that I am the Head of English Content in a women’s organization, working almost exclusively among women who know a whole lot more than I do about the business of promoting women.
So maybe there was another reason I didn’t speak up at that staff meeting. No splain – all gain.