The assumption problem with -splaining and how to combat it
The first time I set foot in a new gym, I was squatting over 1.5 times my body weight for several sets of several reps. I was relieved the squat rack was in a corner—no stranger to the conventional gym, I’m used to guys paying too much attention to what I lift. I warmed up, then went about my squats, focusing only on me and what I was doing.
When I finished, I turned around to a semi-circle of six guys watching me, visibly impressed.
A trainer said, “Damn, girl. When I saw that much weight on the bar, I at least expected you to have shitty form. But you didn’t.”
I smiled tersely.
This insult is better than what usually comes out of the mouth of dudes at the gym: unsolicited advice.
A few months into working out at this gym, I’m lifting in the same spot, next to a pair of guys who are working out hard, and mostly well. But one is stronger than the other, and the other is trying to lift the same weight as the stronger one—sacrificing form and safety just to get the bar up.
The former trainer in me wants to say something, the smug lifter in me wants to say something, the feminist in me wants to say something.
Because to correct a stranger on his form when I’m simply his neighbor in the gym, I have to make all sorts of assumptions: I assume that he doesn’t know what he is doing. In reality, though, I don’t know his training goals or protocol, his background or experience with the lift, how much sleep he had and what psychological battle he and his training partner were having. To say anything would discount his own expertise without knowing if he has any at all.
Liftsplaining to my neighbor why he was lifting too heavy even if it was true would have been falling prey to the exact same false assumptions I, and every other woman, face almost daily: mansplaining.
Gym mansplaining is the assumption that I don’t know what I’m doing (despite my killer legs, years of collegiate athletic experience, external certifications), and a man must explain it to me because all men know more about lifting than any one woman possibly could.
And that clearly illustrates the problem with whateversplaining in general: assumption.
If you didn’t know what mansplaining is and now you do, you can stop reading here. If you’re actively searching for ways to combat mansplaining/racesplaining/agesplaining/gaysplaining, read on.
What’s the polite, easy way to combat -splaining? Exceptional knowledge of everything the opposite sex/race/age/sexual orientation has knowledge of? No, obviously not. May I present three strategies:
One: When you have some familiarity with the subject
This is the best, because there is a simple, sweet way out: “Hey, you’re mansplaining! I’m a competent lifter, but I’d love your specific advice after watching this power clean / I’m thrilled we’re discussing nuclear physics, what’s your opinion on the practical applications of spontaneous nuclear fission?” Friends are probably very open to being approached like this, directly, and may even be grateful if they didn’t realize what they were doing. Acquaintances could fall under this umbrella as well—maybe even gym dudes.
Bosses, clients, and the like are trickier: how to alert them of their biases and assumptions without undermining them (as that would be doing the very thing you are fighting)? A little skill with humor and sass goes a long way here, but you basically have to say the same thing as above: “Hey, you’re covering an area I’m actually quite familiar with. Here’s my insight …” or “Look, I think you’re making some assumption about gender/race/age/gayness that I’d like to address.” At worst, you may have to list those externally-validated creds. Tools in the toolbox.
Two: Something you don’t know but care about
If you’re being mansplained something you don’t know—say, how to fix a jeep—and you do want to be involved in the conversation without the attitude, that’s when you have to really practice some Buddha-like abilities to ignore the attitude and bring it back to the point: the knowledge. “Hey, I want to learn this/am interested in this conversation. Can we back up just enough to explain to me what the problem with which jeep part was?” You might be surprised how much your own humility affects the humility of others.
Three: Being mansplained something you don’t care about by someone you don’t care about?
Walk away. If the mansplainer has enough people walking away, maybe (s)he’ll start to wonder why.
Mansplaining may be the popular term, but we’ve all suffered from a -splaining, a know-it-all talking down to us based on some possibly wrong assumptions. Anyone else have advice for sweet ways to combat this annoying epidemic?
Image: Scene of the crime.