ILLUMINATION
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ILLUMINATION

Why Men Mansplain

3 Reasons That May Soften Your Heart

“Stop! You’re mansplaining! I don’t need that from you!”

Photo by Georgina Vigliecca on Unsplash

It’s an interaction I’ve seen many times, both in my private practice and in life. A man, often a dad or a husband, gets called out for mansplaining.

It’s not a gentle correction. The offending man often appears stung, confused. No matter what he offers in explanation for his behavior, it’s a guaranteed fail.

As the mom of young adult women, and a psychologist specializing in teen girls, I applaud the empowerment of this generation. I love the attention they bring to everything from fat-shaming and slut-shaming to sexism and racism.

Even when I’m on the corrected end of an interaction (“Mom, that’s considered cultural appropriation”), I’m grateful.

Like most of us, I want to learn where my blind spots are. I want to become a more educated and enlightened person who navigates with informed sensitivity.

Is getting called out sharply uncomfortable? YES!

But the practices and patterns that my generation accepted, perpetuated, and suffered do not fly with this generation — and they’re going to let us know.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

There’s another shift happening and I’m not the only therapist noticing it:

More men are coming to therapy. More men are stretching far outside of their comfort zones and cultural conditioning to say they need to talk about their emotions and their lives.

They come in alone, and sometimes with the women in their lives. The opening quote is from a recent session in my office.

It was the first time this dad invited his college-age daughter into his therapy, hoping to improve their relationship. In response to her mansplaining outburst, I turned to her in the session:

“You have a great point, and I think your dad can hear it. But first, what INTENTION is driving your dad’s mansplaining in this moment?”

She softened. She didn’t want to blast him as much as she wanted him to see her as the competent person who she is in her life.

He softened. He didn’t want to stay stuck in fear of what he considered her frequent “call outs”. They’d always been close, and it hurt him to think that she saw him as little more than a privileged member of the toxic patriarchy.

She let him know that his frequent and lengthy monologues about everything from car maintenance to door locking did not translate as love to her.

They translated as a vote of no-confidence.

He responded with understanding and vulnerability. (Men are so tired of hiding their vulnerability.) He admitted he was unsure about how to connect with her now that she was so independent and grown up. So, he defaulted to what he’d learned from his father.

While toxic mansplaining is absolutely a real problem, characterized by a presumption that women are less knowledgeable and capable, it isn’t always driven by an intention to demean, dismiss, or patronize others.

These are the 3 reasons I see most often:

#1) Mansplaining to protect and care take

As in the example above, I see dads and husbands (sometimes brothers) falling into a mansplain motivated by a strong and often primal desire to keep a loved one safe.

It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be corrected. Like everyone else in the world, men learn better when they’re educated, not shamed.

“Hey, I know you’re coming from a place of care and concern, but what I’d prefer to hear from you is __________” OR “I’d prefer that you assume I already have that handled, and that I will ask for your help if I need it.”

#2) Mansplaining as a conditioned behavior

Just as women are socialized to be pleasing and polite, men are socialized that their value relies on adding value. Many men mansplain because they believe the content they’re sharing is the value they offer.

It doesn’t mean they can’t be redirected. Here’s an example:

“Hey dad, I know you love to watch my games. It doesn’t really help me when you give me the post-game commentary about what would help us next tournament. It’s actually frustrating because we already talk about that in our team meetings. I just like you there, cheering us on. And if you want to ask me about the game afterwards, instead of telling me about it, that would feel better to me.”

#3) Mansplaining as a love language

Some men don’t know how to connect on an emotional level. They weren’t raised with anyone asking them about their feelings — so engaging on an emotional level doesn’t feel natural.

As one man shared in session,

“I’d love to talk to my wife and daughters the way they talk to each other. I’m odd-guy out with no way in.”

He was shocked by how easy and successful it was when he learned a new way in! We talked about ways he could tune in more to the emotions of the household. He learned to express interest and ask questions, instead of initiating teaching moments and taking over the conversations - as he was often accused of doing.

It’s noteworthy that none of my examples pertain to male behavior in the workplace with women. I’m guessing that much more toxicity occurs in that context, with some men interrupting, marginalizing, and patronizing the women they should be regarding as equals.

In intimate relationships, people have a reflex to become defensive when called out for anything. Overriding that reflex to access non-defensive openness and genuine curiosity transforms the relationship.

A well-prepared response is the magic ingredient that invites an expansion in understanding and a growth spurt of closeness. (For actual scripts that work gangbusters, I created a free downloadable cheat sheet to help you, which you can find here.)

Our young people appreciate their chance to be teachers and expanders of our consciousness. They have much to offer us. Our willingness to listen and learn shows respect, maturity, and strength.

For all the dads called out, take a breath and open your heart to the message.

For the messengers, thank you! And know that many of us really want to hear what you have to say, because we do.

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Lucie Hemmen

Lucie Hemmen

Lucie Hemmen is a Clinical Psychologist and author with over 25 years experience. View her offerings here: https://linktr.ee/LucieHemmen