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Five Ways to Respond to Mansplaining

You’ve been invited to the table for a reason, and your team needs to hear what you have to say.

You got invited to an important ministry team. You come prepared to your first meeting eager to engage and share your ideas. You’re thankful for a seat at the table and excited for the opportunity to serve. Despite your excitement and hope leading up to the meeting, however, you leave the meeting completely second-guessing yourself, wondering why you were even there. You knew it would be a challenge to be the only woman at the table, but you didn’t expect that you wouldn’t have a chance to share your thoughts. It seemed like every time you started to speak up someone cut you off, talked over you, or dismissed your idea.

Have you ever had that experience?

Recently there has been a plethora of conversation in mainstream business media about the idea of “mansplaining” or “manologues.” Mansplaining is used to describe when a man explains something to a woman in a patronizing or condescending manner, or when a man unnecessarily over-explains an issue, assuming that the woman doesn’t understand. A manologue refers to when a man overshares, veers off topic, or continues to talk after his point has been made.

An article in The New York Times shares:

The prevalence of the manologue is deeply rooted in the fact that men take, and are allocated, more time to talk in almost every professional setting. Women self-censor, edit, apologize for speaking. Men expound.

Of course, some women can be equally long-winded, but it is far less common. The fact that this tendency is masculine has been well established in social science. The larger the group, the more likely men are to speak (unless it is in a social setting like a lunch break). One study, conducted by researchers at Brigham Young University and Princeton, found that when women are outnumbered, they speak for between a quarter and a third less time than the men.

Mansplaining in Ministry

What does this mean for those of us in ministry? How should we handle mansplaining and manalogues in our ministry settings? I have certainly experienced these moments, and my guess is that you have, too. One example occurred during a meeting that I was leading. One of the men on the team began to take over the conversation, effectively mansplaining and manaloguing in one fell swoop. I could feel the tension building in the room. Not only was I annoyed, but the rest of the team was frustrated, as well.

Wrestling my inner dialogue that was arguing over whether it was impolite to interrupt, I finally took charge and asserted myself by confidently speaking up and telling him that he was taking the meeting off track, and we needed to get to the issue at hand. While I was trying to recover from the adrenaline rush that followed the tackling of my fears, I could hear the room heave a sigh of relief. A few other staff gave me a wink to say, “Thank you!” Others stopped me after the meeting to say that they appreciated how I reclaimed control of the meeting.

If you experience mansplaining or manalogues in your ministy setting, here is my advice to you:

1. Give him the benefit of the doubt.

While mansplaining is incredibly insulting, men may not intend for it to be as patronizing or condescending as it is perceived. They may believe they’re being helpful. Many times I have over-explained something to colleagues because I wanted to equip them with the information and only later realized how patronizing I sounded. It may simply be a lack of self-awareness. Assume that the men have the best intentions.

2. Seek to understand.

Over the years I’ve worked with a number of men who grew up in families, cultures, denominations, and churches that taught them (consciously or not) not to treat women as equals. They did not see a model of mutual trust and respect between men and women and, therefore, didn’t have the tools to know how to do it. I know it doesn’t excuse their behavior, but understanding where they’re coming from does help us be more gracious. Consider what you know about his background, and also say something like, “I noticed __. Can you help me understand?”

3. Have an honest conversation.

Now that you’ve defused your emotional reaction by giving him the benefit of the doubt and seeking to understand, it’s time for a conversation. Go to the individual who consistently over-explains, talks down to you, interrupts you, or talks over you, and kindly but firmly share how his behavior is affecting your relationship and your ability to work together. I would hope that when you approach him with a spirit of reconciliation, it would be reciprocated.

4. Don’t shrink back.

When you find yourself in another situation where mansplaining or a manalogue is happening, assert yourself. If you’re interrupted or talked over, speak up firmly. Express that you’d like to finish your thought, and then you’d like to hear his as well. Remember you have a voice at the table for a reason. God has given you this position of influence. Ask God to equip you to be more confident and assertive.

5. Discern when to move on.

If you have done the steps above with no cooperation or understanding from the men you work with, it may be time to move on. While my hope is that we can be conduits of unity and growth for our teams, sometimes others aren’t ready to embrace the same values. If you find yourself serving on a team or for a leader who doesn’t respect you—and it’s damaging your relationship and ability to work together—then it may be best for both of you that you move on to work with a team or an organization where you feel valued and heard.

Gender dynamics are real and very prevalent in our culture and churches today. While there’s still work to be done, I’m quite hopeful because I’ve seen great growth and progress for women in church leadership in the last decade. While terms like “mansplaining” give us language for some of the issues we face, we also must be cautious with labeling because it can actually perpetuate the divide.

Ladies, you have important things to share. You have gifts, talents, and experiences that have equipped you to be at the table. Please, don’t shrink back from your arena of influence. We need you! Seek to build trust and respect. Be courageous and confident. Speak with truth and grace. Be passionately committed to work together—brothers and sisters—for the good of others and the glory of God.

Jenni Catron is a writer, speaker, and leadership coach. She has also served as an executive leader at both Menlo Church in Menlo Park, California, and Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Excerpts of this article are from Jenni’s book The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership: The Power of Leading from Your Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength.

July14, 2016 at 8:00 AM

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