Thanks Mansplainer, But Why Don’t You Take Your Advice and Shove It.
Two friends of mine, Kait Dugan and Brandy Daniels, recently taught me about “Mansplaining.” Lauren Rae Orsini poignantly summarizes the phenomenon: “Are you a competent professional who doesn’t need to be told how to do your job? Are you also a woman? If so, you’ve probably experienced the phenomenon known as mansplaining, in which a member of the opposite sex attempts to inform you—often poorly—about something you already know how to do. For example, consider the tile manufacturer who tries to outsmart a female materials engineer at her own game or a presenter who blows off a female researcher, not realizing that she’s responsible for the majority of the research in his field. Examples like these clarify that mansplaining takes place when a man explains in a patronizing manner, assuming total ignorance on the part of those listening. The mansplainer is often shocked and hurt when their mansplanation is not taken as absolute fact, criticized or even rejected altogether. Kait and Brandy assure that mansplaining is ubiquitous and epidemic in the academy. And it also exists outside the academy. I’ve mansplained all kinds of shit. I am deeply implicated in mansplaining. And it’s difficult to not be. The male privilege that allows mansplaining to go on un-rivaled is woven so deeply into the fabric of our culture and my own family that even as an adult my parents still mansplain the hell out of me at nearly every turn in the conversation.
It seems to me that the patronizing and patriarchal dynamics involved in mansplaining are also evident in the even more ubiquitous act of giving and seeking advice. Consider the dynamics involved:
– Giving unsolicited advice is a passive aggressive way of telling someone else what to do.
– Giving advice is inherently infantilizing: it assumes the other is incapable of thinking or doing for themselves.
– Giving advice is paternalistic: it imposes preferences and decisions on another based on the assumption that “I know best” or what is in their best interest.
– Giving advice is insulting: it presumes that what another is doing or is figuring out how to do is somehow not good enough, deficient, and doesn’t meet acceptable standards.
No doubt, seeking advice from another often indicates a developing partnership wherein the person feels free to assert their needs and express their curiosity. The vulnerability involved in asking questions is a challenge to patriarchy and ought to be encouraged. And in crisis circumstances, certain agencies and other organizations will require advice giving. When one is sought out as a professional in such circumstances, advice may be in order. But caution is warranted, for when children and clients ask what we would do if we were in their situation, or which one is right, or what they should do, advice too often creates further dependence. At the very least, we should acknowledge our inability to know all the possible courses and outcomes of another person’s choices and actions. They will be better off if we stop giving advice and instead work with them as they discern what courses of action are best for themselves.
Longhofer, Kubek, and Floersch (2010) lend clarity to this point. When clients or children do seek advice, a better option is to “explore first the reasons, your own and others’, for seeking advice.” They observe that when feelings are clarified, advice is often unnecessary, and the advice seeker can then take full responsibility for his or her actions. The same holds, I think, for advice givers. When our own feelings are managed in appropriately adult ways, our motivations in giving advice are often revealed for what they are, and the need to give advice seems to dissipate.
So instead of giving advice we might ask ourselves: Does my giving advice create further dependence? Why do I usually give advice? Who do I tend to give advice to? When do I tend to give advice? What do I usually give advice about? Do I give advice because its easier than directly communicating my feelings? Do I give advice because I feel incapable of helping this person find their own solutions? Do I give advice because that seems easier?
And maybe instead of asking for advice, and maybe instead of answering our clients’ requests for advice, we might instead learn to ask ourselves and them: Why do I/you usually seek advice? When do I/you tend to seek advice? What do I/you usually seek advice about? Do I/you seek advice because it allows me to avoid my feelings? Do I/you seek advice because I/you think and feel incapable of helping myself or finding my own solutions? Do I/you seek advice because it seems easier?
Mansplaining and advice giving need to be challenged; they need to stop. More truthful and helpful is to begin the exploration process with something like:
– I know you’d like me to give you the answer. Trouble is, I don’t have it.
– I appreciate your confidence in me, but this must be a tough issue or you would have solved it without me.
– Maybe when I know you and your situation better I can let you know what I think. For now, however, I think you know a lot more about it than I do.
– I don’t know who’s right. Probably you both have valid points.
Maybe then, as patriarchy and paternalism give way to something much more vulnerable, humane, and honest, empowerment for all will emerge in their place.
* the irony of this this post is not unnoticed.