Building Confidence as a Woman: How to Handle Mansplaining

Have you ever tried to speak up during discussions in class, only to find your voice drowned out by louder voices in the group? Do you notice that they are often male? Research by Dartmouth College showed that men speak up 1.6 times more than women in the classroom. Even outside of class, many women feel like they inevitably have to give in to men’s assertiveness. 

Due to a deep-seated culture in most patriarchal societies where men are expected to display dominance and women stay quiet and yielding, women often struggle to find their self-worth as they are made to suppress their thoughts and actions. In recent years, the phenomena of ‘mansplaining’ has been on the rise and is particularly apparent on the Internet.

‘Mansplaining’, a portmanteau of the words ‘man’ and ‘explaining’, is used when a man attempts to correct or belittle what a woman is saying even if they don’t know any more about the subject matter than she does. Here’s how to identify mansplaining, navigate through it and eventually boost your confidence in being a woman.


Identifying mansplaining

women and man looking at computer Photo by Icons8 Team from Unsplash Of course, not everything explained by a man is classified as mansplaining. Since the line between helpful explanations and mansplaining is so fine, Kim Goodwin of the BBC created a simple chart to help everyone identify what mansplaining is.

The crux of it is that if the woman asked for an explanation, or if the man has good reason to be giving an explanation (for example, if he is a teacher or manager with a greater amount of experience), it’s generally not considered mansplaining. For example, if a woman is taking a class for the first time, a male teaching assistant (TA) explaining the course material to her would not be considered mansplaining, since he is likely to have a greater amount of expertise. In the same vein, if she asked a male classmate to explain something to her, it would also not be mansplaining.

On the flip side, if the woman declined help, never asked for help, or is more or equally experienced, this could be classified as mansplaining. Using the same example from above, if her male classmate approached her unsolicited and started telling her how she ought to do her assignments, that would most definitely be mansplaining, regardless of any difference in experience level. Ultimately, it still boils down to asking for consent when trying to provide help in such situations.


Navigating mansplaining

After identifying what mansplaining is, the real question is: how do we handle it? We explore how to deal with mansplaining as it happens, along with some habits you can incorporate into your life to build your self-confidence in the long run.

The way you handle the situation could differ between social settings. For example, if someone starts mansplaining during a meeting, you’d be hard-pressed to have a serious talk about it on the spot, lest it distracts from the focus of the meeting. Kristi Hedges of Forbes writes about several ways for women to deal with mansplaining.

You could choose to adopt a light-hearted tone, with one-liners such as: “Thanks for the enthusiasm! Let’s hold on to that thought for a moment while I finish talking about this,” or “Hey, I appreciate the comment, and I’ve got it covered!”

Adopting a casual tone or using humour helps to ease the tension in the situation, making other listeners more inclined to listen to you rather than the mansplainer. Using short and simple statements helps you handle the distraction smoothly without detracting from your speech or the point that you’re making.

However, some recalcitrant mansplainers might make it difficult for you to continue without being more assertive. In such cases, you could most certainly take on a more firm and serious tone, saying things like: “I haven’t finished, so please don’t interrupt me,” or “Thanks for the suggestions, but I believe I’m qualified enough to be talking about this subject on my own.”

If you feel comfortable doing so, sometimes sitting down with him separately and talking about the issue at length may help to solve it, especially if he’s a classmate or committee member you’ll be working with in the long run. Regardless of how you choose to handle it, what matters is what makes you comfortable and allows you to make your point clearly.


Recognise your own capabilities

woman in colorful dress and hands on hips Photo by Leon Ell' from Unsplash

For many years, women, including myself, are told that being proud of our achievements is undesirable. Some of you may be familiar with the old adage that a man would never want a woman who is more educated, higher on the corporate ladder or earns a higher salary than himself, therefore discouraging women from being vocal about their qualifications. This notion pushes forth the idea that a woman’s worth is dependent upon their desirability to men. Many women are also discouraged from being as ambitious and career-driven as men so that they can “focus on taking care of the household.”

Remember that all of these notions are merely social constructs — you are allowed to feel proud of yourself and credit yourself for your strengths and achievements. Recognise what you are good at and don’t be afraid to give your opinions on issues you know about and that you are involved in.


Speak up when you face microaggressions

Perhaps this is easier said than done, but one way to build your self-confidence is to call out misogynistic or malicious comments, even if those comments were spoken in a casual setting. Of course, this is not to say that women are responsible for correcting toxic masculinity and not every woman will feel comfortable being vocal about such comments. However, this could help you to build confidence on an individual level.

Vikki Pryor, the former CEO of insurance company SBLI, told Diversity Woman Magazine that many women hold back from speaking up because they are afraid that others won’t like them if they do. However, it’s important that women focus on being respected, rather than being liked. Being more assertive when faced with microaggressions lets other people know that they should accord you with the respect you deserve.


The process of gaining confidence in your womanhood is not a quick or easy process, especially if your personality leans to the less confrontational side. While the onus is on men to learn and catch themselves before they start mansplaining, it’s also important that women recognise their inherent worth and establish that they deserve basic respect in any social setting.