Mansplaining and his distant cousin, Penis Validation

Today, I was in an all day workshop, primarily composed of fellow engineers. Of the fifteen people in the room, there were five ladies, myself included. Honestly, a third is a pretty good percentage for a group of engineers.

In the middle of a breakout session, I hear a female colleague exclaim: "I can read, [name of male colleague]!" Ah, mansplaining at its finest.

Moments prior, in the middle of a lengthy discussion on how we might use one tool, a different male colleague interrupts my female coworker and I to explain the tool, using small words and simple examples. We inform him we get the concept and purpose of the tool, we are talking about it's application in our current process. Using Bloom's taxonomy, we are all the way to applying, maybe even analyzing, information!

According to Know Your Meme, the term 'mansplaining' has been around since 2008. It has developed a feminist connotation but generally refers to a man explaining something to a woman or group of women in a condescending manner. The explanation may be inaccurate and the audience of his explanation usually knows at least as much as, if not more than, he does on the subject.

I wasn't aware of this phenomenon until a little over a year ago, when a colleague complained about it to me. And suddenly, I find mansplaining everywhere. I notice it in meetings and one on one side conversations. I even notice it in conversations with my dad and grandfather. Though it does usually come from men, I have even noticed it from other women. And while I have seen it directed at other female colleagues, very rarely is it ever directed to the other sex. Regardless of the scenario, it's frustrating. I know what the hell I'm talking about! Promise! Just listen to the words coming out of my mouth! Mansplaining slows down discussions, causes frustration from both sides, and can lower the respect of the person to whom the explanation is directed at. It's hard to be taken seriously in a meeting when a male colleague just took five minutes to explain a basic concept to you in front of everyone.

And then there's the other side of it - what my colleagues and I have taken to calling 'penis validation.' The scenario - you are the only lady in a meeting. You put forward an idea; it is ignored or rejected. Then a male colleague brings up the same idea. Suddenly everyone supports this idea - it just needed penis validation! For some colleagues, the idea just need to come from a man to have weight and validity.

Unfortunately, this idea is just as recognizable and prevalent as the mansplaining. Recently, I had a one on one discussion with a fellow engineer. I spent a very frustrated hour trying to explain to him a business decision. I tried multiple approaches, mentioned different reasons. Nothing. We ended the meeting with the agreement we would take it back to our Product Manager. A day later, we met with the Product Manager. Male colleague posed his question regarding this business decision, and the PM just reiterated a few points I had made the previous day, with much less support and reasoning that what I had provided. Did my colleague continue to push and question as he did with me the previous day? Nope. Instead he just said 'oh, that makes sense' and moved on. I guess he just needed to hear it from someone with a penis.

There are colleagues my female coworkers and I have tagged as those needing penis validation. It doesn't matter the validator's title or role or experience - if he has a penis, these colleagues will be more receptive to his ideas. It's useful to know - just make sure there's a penis validator supporting your idea in the meeting! It does make the job more difficult with these men, but at least you can skip a step by making sure a validator is around, when necessary

Like mansplaining, penis validation can derail discussions. In my example, our one on one discussion was a waste of time, leaving both of us frustrated. If my colleague would have accepted my explanations as readily as he did our Product Manager's, we could have moved forward in our discussion and been more productive. Additionally, our next meeting with the PM could have started from a place of agreement and progression instead of revisiting the business decision. And like mansplaining, it can make gaining respect and authority difficult. How can you be authoritative if most of your decisions or suggestions have to go through someone of the opposite sex first? I wonder how many careers have been built on this - men just need to wait for the disrespected woman to say something, then swoop in and repeat it in slightly different terms, and then take credit.

I should start going by Nic. At least then maybe my emails would be taken more seriously.