#497: On “keeping the peace” with an unlikeable mansplainer

Hello Captain Awkward & Team!

A couple of years ago my mother met a new partner, A. He has many fine qualities such as being handy with building things, generous with his time and always willing to lend a hand. He makes my mother very happy and I am happy for her. He is also the biggest mansplainer ever.

If we talk about something and I make an assertion he disagrees with he questions me, he always demands sources (as in right now at the dinner table I should cite article, author and page number). When he cannot argue his case successfully he’ll just cop to his extensive business travel experience or other business/age-related experience. He does not respect the fact that I am more knowledgeable about my subject of study (I am a grad student in history) and will disagree with me or treat me like I’m ignorant.

If we have a discussion about something and he does not believe me and my boyfriend steps in and says The. Exact. Same. Thing. he will immediately fold. Every single time (my boyfriend has noticed this, too). And then I want to throw my hands into the air and scream, “I’M SORRY, I DIDN’T REALIZE THAT A BAG OF DICKS WAS A PREREQUISITE TO BE ELIGIBLE TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS CONVERSATION.” (I don’t scream that.)

He is insecure and must always have what other people have when it comes to food, candy & similar. He needs constant, repeated validation from all people present for things like setting the table, barbecuing something for dinner etc. (As in, everyone must explicitly say to him, “Well done A, for barbecuing those steaks” or he will fish for it. Forever.) And I feel like everyone just accept this way of things. My mom will do some version of “boys will be boys”. His (adult) children just quietly roll their eyes. Everyone says “That’s just what A is like. It’s stupid but whatever, don’t let it get to you.”

I am an assertive person and I do not as a general rule let people trample all over me. I am not interested in enabling his inner man-child and just writing about this has me angry. But I also want to keep the peace and have a functional relationship with A for my mother’s sake. But I can’t always shut up, never engage in a discussion, tolerate being condescended to and bottle everything up for the sake of “peace”.

How can I deal with all of this in a mature, assertive manner?


Hysterical Historian

Dear Historian:

We talked about dealing with the unpleasant partners of people we otherwise love a little while back (and way, way back and some in the middle), but your question is making me think about this in a slightly different way that I think will apply to many situations.

Let’s talk about what “keeping the peace” means in a family situation like this. A nice person has somehow brought a jerk into the family/social group and exposed everyone to this person’s bad behavior. They feel guilty and awkward, because they love Jerkface but can also see that this person is not treating others well, so their loyalties are torn. They are realistic about the likelihood that Jerkface will ever change (It is unlikely), so they try to prevail upon the more reasonable folks around to be the adults. “That’s just how he is…” “Just ignore him….” “Don’t sink to his level…” “He’s just insecure. You’re so much more together, can’t you just let it go?” etc.  They win if they get to keep Jerkface in their lives without too much friction from the people who Jerkface hurts and tramples all over.

And Jerkface may indeed add something great to their lives. The decision to stay with Jerkface is one they get to make and may be worth some social friction or other trade-offs.  Not everyone will like and get along with everyone else. But pressuring everyone to put up with bad behavior silently  as the cost of a relationship is a really, really difficult thing to ask people to swallow. I wonder how many of the people who ❤ Jerkfaces really get what they are asking of their friends & loved ones. *

Now, on one level, the only person responsible for A’s Jerky behavior is A. It’s not fair to make your mom have to “fix” him or curb his bad behavior.

But the reason you put up with A. is your mom. It is something you do for her sake. If not for her, you would wash your hands of A. entirely. So my question is, when A. is super-condescending to you, what does your mom do or say? Does she join in? Does she try to change the subject? Does she try to police you when your voice starts to rise? Does she laugh it off? Do you feel like she would support you if you told A. where to shove it one of these fine holiday occasions?

Because “keeping the peace” sounds a lot like keeping your mom’s peace. And keeping A.’s peace. At the expense of your own, by which I mean, the peace is already broken. A. breaks the peace every time he talks down to you. Someone who wants & expects you to “keep the peace” in that circumstance is really saying, “just pretend it’s not happening, be silent, take it for the sake of the faaaaaamily.” As Cliff writes about in the great piece about The Missing Stair,

Just about every workplace has that one person who doesn’t do their job, but everyone’s grown accustomed to picking up their slack.  A lot of social groups and families have that one person.  The person whose tip you quietly add a couple bucks to.  (Maybe more than a couple, after how they talked to the server.)  The person you don’t bother arguing with when they get off on one of their rants.  The person you try really, really hard not to make angry, because they’re perfectly nice so long as no one makes them angry.

I know not all these people can be fixed, and sometimes they can’t be escaped either.  But the least you can do is recognize them, and that they are the problem.  Stop thinking that your inability to accommodate them is the problem.”

What you are facing is that everyone has ZERO expectations that A. will behave himself, but tons of expectations that you (a lady & a younger person, which is NOT coincidental here) will behave yourself. And they think that because they have bended & shifted to accommodate him, it obligates you to do the same. So if you really fight back when A. goes at you, the preconception is that you are the one out of line. Because you failed to “keep the peace.” So it’s a double-uphill battle – not only do you have to contend with A., but if things get too testy and the occasion gets awkward, you also have to deal with the worry that everyone will blame you.


This emphasis on “keeping the peace” has pretty large reverberations beyond the Letter Writer’s family dinner table and  into our society and the way that social justice discussions and movements happen. When powerful people are treated with “Boys will be boys” or “What did you expect?” or “That’s just how people are” kid gloves, allowed to endlessly derail conversations or enforce tone arguments, and the people who raise the questions of injustice and fuckery are treated as “impolite”, “attention-seeking” people who “take things too personally,” “play the race card,” “play the victim card”, and ruin everyone’s “fun,” it makes a powerful statement about who is important. You can’t solve injustice until you admit and truthfully reckon with injustice.  If we have the expectation that our institutions will always cater to the wealthy, the white, the able-bodied, the cis-gendered, the straight, and the male and treat people who point out the cracks in that system with contempt and silencing and pleas to be nicer and “keep the peace” (not to mention outright denial that there is a problem), we become the problem. We are saying that this state of affairs is “the peace” that is worth keeping, and acting like the peace isn’t broken over and over again with every instance of injustice, white supremacy, inaccessibility, ableism, transphobia, etc. The peace has already been broken. The emperor has no clothes. I realize this is a digression, but the next time you find yourself pleading with someone to be quiet in order to “keep the peace,” think very hard about whose peace is being kept and at what cost.

Ok, onto practical advice and the actual letter.

1) Be around A. less. 

Depending on how close you live to your mom and how often you communicate, this could mean:

  • Make more solo plans for mother-daughter time.
  • Catch up by phone/Skype with just her regularly.
  • Find a thing that you both enjoy and do it regularly – exercise or other class, playing a certain game.

Do whatever you can to have an adult relationship with your mom where you can enjoy her company without the presence of A.

Script to keep handy for when he tries to tag along or interjects: “Sorry, A., today is just for mom and me to catch up! We’ll see you at lunch, though!”

Script to keep handy for when your mom defaults to inviting him, “Sorry, Mom, I want to hang out with just you for a while. Maybe A. can join us later, for dinner?”

Additional script: “Mom, sometimes it’s really exhausting for me to deal with A. I know he makes you happy, but things will be more enjoyable if I know that I can just see you sometimes.”

Hold out the sweet, sweet carrot of an argument-free ladies-only time. If she won’t go without him? “I’m sorry to hear that, Mom. Let’s do it another time.” As in, maybe don’t go. Rescind the invitation. This will be really, really hard and may take a couple of times to actually follow through with. It will feel like you are punishing her for his behavior. But remember, you gave her a chance to hang out, conflict-free, A-free, and she turned it down. She has choices here, and one choice is not to inflict that dude on you during 100% of your time together.

This is hard, but try to treat each time you try this like a new event where everyone gets to start fresh. Give this time, gentleness, and a lot of chances to work.

1a) Be around A. less…at holidays & other occasions.

You don’t have to explain or justify any of this or make it about A.. “I’m going to boyfriend’s family for x holiday, see you at y holiday!” “We got super-cheap tickets so we’re spending Thanksgiving in Prague this year. We’ll catch up with you as soon as we come back.”

Your mom will miss you. She will be sad and disappointed. It is the way of moms.  You are an adult and there is nothing you “have to” do because of holidays or the way things have always been and you do not have the sole power to “ruin” a holiday by your presence or absence. This (Winter Holiday You Celebrate), maybe give yourself the gift of not dealing with A.’s bullshit. Some years, some months you will decide to go for your mom’s sake and enjoy her company and make the best of it. Other times, if you find yourself dreading something that’s supposed to be a celebration, it is OK to give yourself a break from it all, ok?

2) Find three “safe” topics.

In a weird way, A. might be trying to engage with you (he thinks) positively by showing interest in stuff you like, like history. He’s also a walking bag of insecurities who has to be the smartest & the best at everything, so there is no way this will go well. And he has the unfortunate “arguing until the other person is visibly upset is a form of fun!” chip installed. It’s bad.

I suggest that you find three safe topics to talk about with A.

Topic 1: One where he is the expert or something he is passionate about, like, international business travel or being an old, somewhat privileged dude. Grilling. Fine wine. Sports. What you want is something that is of passing interest to you but you’re not the expert or especially emotionally invested, but it is really interesting to him. And then you ask questions and let him talk.

True story, I once did tech support for a company. There was this older gentleman who was The Guy For Whom Everything Does Not Work As It Should. It was mostly not his fault, just, he had a bad track record of getting broken/shitty equipment or having stuff go wrong. And I was a girl learning the job as I went because it was a temp job & I was filling in for someone, and everything was somehow all my fault and all of our interactions were very negative.

I noticed once that he wore a Cleveland Indians (yes, the team name is racist) polo shirt, and that happened to be on a day where I had glimpsed the front page of the sports section (rare), so I was able to sort of say something like “Great win for the Indians (ugh, so racist) last night, huh?” in an attempt at pleasant small talk. And he lit up and told me about the Indians (That goes for you, too, Blackhawks and DEFINITELY for the Washington D.C. football team) the entire time I fixed his computer. After that, every time I went to see him, I would check and see how the Indians (the logo is even worse) were doing first. Note: I did not pretend to know anything or care about or be a fan of the team. I never said anything beyond “Looks like it was a rough night!” or “What does this mean for the playoffs?” and let him do the rest.

Not only did he decide I was his new best bro-girl, after I left the job he tracked down my info through my temp agency and sent me a “Good luck, if you ever need a reference or a job lead, just call!” greeting card. I know a lot of people genuinely love, live & breathe sports, but until I met that dude I did not realize that even for people who aren’t that into them, sports serve as a magically safe current events topic that anyone can opine on. Epiphany! “How ’bout them Cowboys?”

Topic 2: A TV show or movie you both watch. Preferably something that’s currently on, so you can talk about recent episodes or speculate about upcoming developments. Shared fandom = conversation GOLD. Also you’re working from the same “texts”, so to speak, which makes “debates” less eye-stabbingly annoying.

Topic 3: Something that includes your mom. A trip they are planning. A trip they just went on. Something they are doing to the house. Restaurants or recipes they’ve tried recently.

You don’t have to kiss his ass, fake enthusiasm, or talk about only these things.  But anytime the conversation seems like it’s going to a bad place, redirect the dude to one of these safe things and see what happens.

3) Admit that you really don’t like him. 

He makes your mom happy and has many laudable qualities. Cool. You are probably never going to really warm up to him, though, because he is a super-irritating dude.

That’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up. Give yourself permission to just dislike him on a molecular “bitch-eating-crackers”** level. Give yourself permission to not immediately follow any complaint about his bad behavior with reminders of the good things he does. Let your hate grow and feed the Dark Side of the Force.

In private.

In my experience, it is incredibly liberating to stop trying to convince myself to like someone and admit that I don’t. It helps me interact with them much better in unavoidable “keeping the peace” type situations because the stakes are lowered and I become less invested in any interaction. My expectations of them are non-existent, so when they are uncharacteristically cool I can be pleasantly surprised and when they act like an unfettered shitlord I can say, “Huh, howabout that.

It helps me choose my battles.

A’s attention & praise-seeking behavior? Let it go. Or make gentle fun of it. “Yes, you are smart & pretty and this steak is the best steak!

A’s behavior toward his own kids or anyone who is not you? Not your problem.

A’s behavior toward you? FIGHT.

4) Fuck “Keeping The Peace” on A.’s shitty terms.

It’s well-documented on the blog that my Grampa & dad could be/can be huge mansplainers.

Polite redirects sometimes work. “Huh, I’ll think about it.” “Thanks for telling me, I’ll consider it.” “I really don’t agree, but let’s talk about something else.” “You may be right about that. Huh.” That’s always what I try first.

But when they don’t work, the thing that has helped reset the relationship from Shoulders-Around-Ears to short-term really awkward & horrible interaction but a long-term more pleasant & balanced interaction was to just have the fight already. 

Reset the power balance.

Raise my voice.

Stop behaving.

Make it unpleasant & unproductive for them to keep talking over me.

Demonstrate that I can survive their displeasure and discomfort and an awkward moment.

With my Grampa, it was “I don’t want us to ruin the little time we have left by arguing about politics, so do not bring up political topics with me.” And then I would ignore any email from the Cranky Old Man Internet and end phone calls when he tried to bait me there. “Nope, sorry, Grampa, gotta go. I love you.” :click:  :turn off ringer: :try again in a few weeks:  If it happened in person I would say, “Grampa, we have GOT to change the subject” and if he wouldn’t I’d say, “Ok, can I get you anything from the kitchen?” and just walk away. Rude? Yes. Taking advantage of the fact that he was old and forgetful and probably too weak to follow? Yes. Liberating? Yes.

There’s a thing I’m trying out, of late, when dealing with ‘splainers out in the world. I call it “Two Polite Redirects, Then Fuck Off.”

‘Splainer: Some ignorant piece of blather deliberately designed to bait me.

Me: Huh. I am not sure that’s correct. But let’s talk about something else. Wherever did you get this squash?

‘Splainer: What do you mean it isn’t correct? Where’s your evidence? Why are your girly feelings so allergic to rational debate? If you won’t spend the next three hours point-by-point proving your case to me and explaining it until I agree and understand, I guess that you will have to concede my point. Forever.  GOTCHA!

Me: Huh. If you like I can send you a few pieces that really influenced my thinking about x, and you’re welcome to do the same***, but I am really not interested in discussing it right now. How is that thing you’re working on going? (If other people are present, turn your attention away from the debater and ask someone else a question, preferably about something really positive & fun & innocuous. “Have you seen Pacific Rim yet?” If he’s going to keep going, it makes him more of the asshole because now he’s interrupting fun conversation to have Not Fun conversation).

‘Splainer: blah BLAH blah you just don’t want to admit that you’re WRONG and GIRLY and WRONG that’s why you won’t debate me. What about blah? What about BLAH? Behold, I am the Devil’s Advocate!

Me: (raising voice significantly) I. DO. NOT. WANT. TO. TALK. ABOUT. X TOPIC. WITH. YOU. STOP.

‘Splainer: Jeez, you don’t have to get so senstive. Blah blah blah. I was only trying to have fun.

Me: (loud, cold) STOP.

‘Splainer/Others: If the ‘splainer or others will change the subject, the evening might yet be saved! If not….

Me: (to others)Well, this got awkward.  I guess I’ll catch up with you all another time.

:exeunt, pursued by a bear:

In most real life situations it does not happen so dramatically, but by giving myself permission to end the conversation, leave the room, hang up the phone, hit the “unfriend” button and actually show, with action, that I will not just sit there, that I am not obligated to politely & endlessly educate people or argue a topic on their terms and on their time, has been immensely powerful.

It does make it super-awkward for the witnesses, so if you do this in real life, let me prepare you:

  • The first time you do it, it will be really hard. Your hands & voice might shake. You might cry. You might display emotion that seems out of proportion to what is happening. It’s ok.
  • Everyone else might treat you like you are the one who shit the bed and beg you not to leave and admonish you to be reasonable. “That’s just how he is!” “Don’t let him get to you!” Reframe this as their guilt talking. They feel guilty for standing by and letting you take all the bullshit, so if they can convince you it’s not that bad, they can feel less guilty.
  • The follow-up conversations will be awkward and you will second-guess yourself a lot.

Keep this in mind: It was always that awkward… for you. Other people were willing to let it be that awkward…. for you….for the sake of “keeping the peace.” You don’t owe them the gift of silently accepting that role forever. It is okay to “ruin” a dinner party or two if someone is constantly browbeating you.

With A., let’s take the scenario where he listens to your boyfriend but not you.

You say something. A sinks his teeth into the lovely delicious argument that will dominate you and show everyone how he is the SMRTST EVR. You try to change the subject. You say, directly, “Let’s change the subject, A. Discussing this stuff with you is really not fun for me.” Maybe you argue back and forth a little bit. Maybe he asks for a cite, to which you say “Really? That’s completely unreasonable. So, Mom, tell us about the trip you are planning in October!” but somehow the argument keeps going.  Then your boyfriend makes the point that you just made, and suddenly A accepts the point.

You: (loud)WHOA. I. JUST. SAID. THAT.

A: buh?

You: (loud) That thing that boyfriend just said? I said it right before him. So why is it only true when he says it?

A: That’s not what happened/no you didn’t/he just made the argument better than you/I didn’t hear you.

Boyfriend: She’s right. That is what happened.

You: This is reason number 1,000 that it is not fun for me to have these kinds of discussions with you.



Hopefully a subject change.

If not, cut the visit short.

The next script you’ll likely need is for your mom, who will want to smooth things over.

That script is “Mom, I really, really want to get along with A. I know he makes you happy and has many good qualities, and I accept that he’s around to stay. The other day, I tried really hard to change the subject/keep the peace, and he was just not having it. I can’t always shut up, never engage in a discussion, tolerate being condescended, to and bottle everything up for the sake of “peace”, so when he talks at me like that, what is it that you suggest that I do?”

And then you wait and see if she has your back. I hope she does. If she doesn’t, it makes “be around less” even more necessary.

A. will probably always irritate the heck out of you in some ways. Best-case scenario is that he stops picking these fights with you and lets the subject stay changed when you try to change it. It will take a lot of time & several- many tries, so keep in mind that while this is an ongoing problem for you it will take them some time to adjust to the new reality.

*If you suspect that this is you, and that your friends/family are just tolerating your partner for your sake, there is one concrete thing you can do:  YES, theoretically your partner should be welcome most places you are, but listen to your friends when they try to make solo plans. Think, 2 solo events for every double date or group thing. Your friends will thank you and be way more chill around Partner at the group things.

**Credit to whoever coined this, so useful.

***I will not read these. But they are welcome to send them!

268 thoughts on “#497: On “keeping the peace” with an unlikeable mansplainer

  1. Hi Hysterical Historian:

    I really, really feel for you. I have a BA and an MA, both in US history. My liberal mother married a liberal guy who is a fine, generous, kind-hearted person except for one thing: his family has been in the United States for 400 years and they lived in the South. They fought on the Confederate side. I’m a firm believer that the North was right, so we fight the goddamn Civil War every single time I go to visit. He was all excited that I was a US historian, too, and he has history memorabilia all over the place, so he was all set to bond with me over history until he found out that I think the Civil War was at least in good part about the South’s desire to continue slavery at all costs.

    And now they have a child and the child is a proud Reb. I could shoot myself.

    He thinks, like a great many non-historians think, that reading a book (in his case by a guy named Shelby) and knowing a little local history makes him just as informed as a trained historian. This is something that I have come to see happens with most people. They watch History Channel and they read a book (maybe two) and they think that they know just as much about history as trained historians. And what’s worse is that if they choose to focus on one particular topic they may well know many more trivia facts about the subject than a trained historian (I have no idea, for example, where Stonewall Jackson was born), which means if you mess up in any way they will automatically believe they know more than a trained historian and they will never listen to you again.

    I don’t actually think he’s mansplaining. I have noticed the same attitude from a great many non-historians. Your step-father may be mansplaining, but if he focuses his mansplaining solely on history topics, it could just be that he, like most people, thinks that history is simply knowing a whole bunch of trivia facts, probably because that’s all most colleges teach until grad school.

    You have my profound sympathies. As for me, I try to change the subject as much as possible when I’m home, and I hide my winces when they proudly show me pictures of my little brother in his Civil War grey uniform.

    1. You realize this can only be solved one way, right?

      In all seriousness, ugh, that must be totally frustrating. Sympathies.

      1. The chess set is brilliant. I may have to buy it for them. However, none of them would play the North and I’m bad at chess, so I would have to bow out of playing it.

        It’s VERY frustrating, at least in part because I’m an outspoken feminist and spent years researching privilege and oppression in US history, and when I suggest that their attitude regarding the Civil War is kinda racist, they get very upset. (Yes, we’re all white. Whitey-Mc-Whitewhite. His family is still more than 75% Scottish, in fact, which is hard after 400 years in the US.) They don’t understand that their refusal to see the racism at the center of the States’ Rights argument, and their continual clinging to the worst parts of the 10th Amendment are pretty much code for “screw people of color/women/everyone else.” And as I am *their daughter,* I have no credibility either. (I’ve known him since I was 9, but he didn’t marry Mom til I was 20. Brother’s adopted.)

        Thanks for the sympathies.

        1. There is a risk in seeing the world through the lens of hero-villain-victim. If you put people into those boxes, you miss the non-hero aspects of the hero, the non-villain aspects of the villain, and the non-victim aspects of the victim. If you are looking at the Civil War through a lens of ‘racist slaveholders’ vs. ‘non-racist freedom fighters,’ you miss the substantial amount of racism on the Northern side in the antebellum and Civil War period and after–and I mean substantial. That fact excuses exactly none of the racism and bondage on the Southern side, but it does complicate the picture a good deal. Namely, it means that the North’s claim of moral superiority (which you are drawing on now for your own purposes over your grey-wearing stepdad) has a few holes in it. The North did plenty of ‘screwing people of color’ of its own long after it barred formal slavery. It was far from egalitarian. The point, though, is about the fictions we can create in our heads when we think in the hero-villain-victim framework.

          1. It is telling that your first (and only) ever comment here is an attempt to explain the complexities of the Civil War to a Civil War historian and addresses nothing about the original post or the overall topic…except to illustrate the behaviors the letter writer and this commenter were complaining of.

            I am confident that Sarah G. fully understands the complexities of race relations at the time, as she is an expert on such matters. Her comment was not an attempt to explore those matters in more depth, it was her sharing a personal experience.

            The Civil War Chess Set is yours to enjoy.

          2. I have 54 board feet of scholarly works and primary sources on US, Latin American, and Asian history, religious studies, and education in my office. Approximately six board feet of those concern the Antebellum Era, the Civil War, and Reconstruction – and this measure doesn’t include my database of scholarly papers in PDF form of the same. I have studied them all. If I didn’t speak about the racism inherent in the North, it was because it wasn’t germane to the discussion at hand, not because I desperately needed anyone to explain it to me.

            In case you fail to grasp the much shorter comment I made just below, I am grateful to you for ably demonstrating what it looks like when a person with no claimed proficiency in a field explains to a professional and scholar the nuances of her field. By the same token, I have absolutely no interest in debating privilege, oppression, or history with you as it is profoundly clear to me that you exercise not a whit of respect for my mastery.

          3. A little part of me dies inside whenever I see someone who may have possibly graduated high school thinking that seceding to keep your right to own other people isn’t bad enough to earn you villain status.

          4. Alas, Sarah N. The people I’ve argued with on this subject insist that the South did NOT secede because they wanted to own people, but because the North was being a big meanie, economically speaking. I don’t buy it. Unfortunately, my citations of _Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men_ (by a libertarian, no less!) have not convinced them that the Civil War was, yes, actually about slavery. If you feel like recommending any other scholarly works on the subject, I’m interested. 🙂

          5. cinderkeys: There’s a thing where schools actually kind of spin it that way! SRSLY! In elementary school it’s all “Slavery.” But then they want to get more complex, so then it’s not all about slavery. For a while I thought that it was all economic, as if I had gotten the Real Truth Of Things — that it was economic, and not about slavery. I think that was a problem where people were trying to slip into the curriculum that slavery was big business. I mean, I didn’t think the south was being bullied, but I thought it was more about Divergent Economic Forces or somesuch bullshit.

            Then I took another class and read more and decided it was actually because southern politicians were serious fucking assholes and nobody could work with them, and their arrogant assholery meant that if there were another way, it wasn’t gonna be found.

            Recently I started reading Ta-Nehisi Coates who is also not a historian and am like “Oh.” And now I think it is all of those things, and all of those things come down to motherfucking slavery. Which was economic, and made plantation owners unbelievable entitled assholes, and there was never going to be another way around getting rid of slavery, because of money. And *also* other things were going on like brand new shiny northern industrialization and everyone was racist and riots in NYC and all that. That’s what I think now. Probably I will read something else and amend it, because I am not a historian! I have a lot more to learn!

            Splainers are splainers, but it’s also part of high school education in my day in the north even that the civil war wasn’t *really* or wasn’t *just* about slavery.

            …..oh shit, was that splainy? argh. I’m not sure, so I’ll post. If so I will happily accept a “shut up, carbonatedwit”!

          6. ” as it is profoundly clear to me that you exercise not a whit of respect for my mastery.” Adding this to the list of phrases to practice in the mirror!

          7. I’m actually mostly replying here to applaud Sarah G.’s reply, which is masterful.

            I would like to calligraph the last paragraph and frame it. It is an Ivy Compton-Burnett sentence.

            Also, as an active scholar myself (although in another field, not history), I sometimes end ‘splainy arguments (my “first” field is a social science, and I am also in Gender Studies and Queer Studies! So you can imagine that I get the FUN ‘splainers!) by looking at my watch and saying, “I do this for a living. Am I being paid right now? No? Then I cannot be bothered to educate you.”

            On the Internet I usually just lie low or sometimes just leave, taking deep breaths and reminding myself that you will get neither gratitude nor remuneration for attempting to educate trolls. And ‘splainers are often just real-life trolls.

        2. You might need to read this: mansplained.tumblr.com

          It’s primarily academic mansplaining, but it also has some other forms. Actually it’s good for everyone here, but this thread here is a beautiful example.

    2. Another subject people are REALLY insistent that they know more about than the professionals: Psychology, the subject I am working on my masters in.

      If I had a penny for every time someone has explained how we’re all crazy/no one’s really crazy/how psychology is all made-up anyway (unlike English literature, amirite?)/people are totally over-diagnosed these days/can I tell them what’s wrong with their neighbours kid because he’s always struck them as weird… I would be rich. Like, really rich.

      Once people breach the line between ordinary misinformation and mansplaining, I tend to tell them that they are an interesting case study, which usually shuts them up.

      1. Ugh. I am so, so sorry. I know what you’re talking about; I have a friend with a Psy.D. degree and some who are working on their MAs with an eye toward clinical practice and they complain about this ALL THE TIME. And they get the folks who self-diagnose, too.

        As a teacher I often have to put in my 2 cents regarding a student for a medical evaluation regarding behavior. I try very hard to keep it to strictly what I observe and put no assumptions of diagnosis in there. Colleagues of mine are quite fond of saying “oh, he has ADHD” or “ODD” or whatever. Makes me cringe.

      2. Although, to be fair, (clinical) psychology is a subject that directly affects a great number of people, which is going to inform their opinion on the subject. If we’re talking about psychology, I’m definitely going to listen to and value the opinion of someone with mental health issues who has spent a lot of time researching their issues and/or in the mental health system, because that person has the knowledge and lived experience to back up their opinions, whether or not they have a degree in psychology.

        It doesn’t sound like that’s the kind of person you’re generally dealing with, though – more your everyday layperson who has a very poorly informed opinion and thinks it’s equivalent to yours, which would definitely be frustrating.

      3. Oh man, Rachel, I feel you. I study internet sub-cultures and social movements at the graduate level and the mansplainy crap people try to shove my way on a daily basis is staggering. If I’m at a conference or out with friends I usually revert to some version of “This beer in my hand means I don’t want to talk about my research right now.” This is usually respected, but occasionally met with, “But I have opiniooooons about the interneeeeet,” which must then be smacked down with “NO THESIS TALK, BEER TIME” or the more direct and awkward making, “Let me rephrase, I don’t want to talk about my research with *you.*”

        ::awkward crickets::

        I mean, srsly dude, read my published work, that’s what it’s there for.

          1. Squeee, really? That made me happy. 🙂 I’ll send it along! And to you too, Brittany-Ann!

        1. I study internet sub-cultures and social movements at the graduate level

          Wow- fascinating!

      4. Ugh, yeees. I tend to default to brightly smiling and saying, “Once you look at the data, you find that’s really not true,” or “Diagnosis is so complicated, it’s not really possible to get a good idea if you haven’t seen and talked to the person.”

        Also, in social settings, I do not hesitate to pull out my own mental illnesses, and how they got better once I a) realized not everyone feels this way, and b) medicated them, as rhetorical cluebats.

    3. ahahaha *cry* I’m also Whitey McWhiterson after six generations in a country where it’s pretty hard to go sex generations without any intermarriage (white people have only been here for like eight, at most, and assimilation was the government policy for a long time). Technically I study Social Policy rather than history but it has a lot of political history in it. The things people have tried to explain to me… So, so much sympathy.

      1. Wow. Some place in Africa, I take it? I can’t think of anywhere else where white people have only been there for 8 generations or so, though honestly I know nothing about Australian history.

        Sympathy in return.

    4. I think the other thing you can do as an academic is use your trained *uncertainty* rather then your trained certainty. So instead of getting into yes it did / no it didn’t arguments, sidestep them with things like, “yeah, there’s been a lot of debate about whether X or Y was more important. I’ve got a colleague who works on that and there’s so interesting stuff coming out.” Or, if you really want to get someone’s eyes to glaze over, a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the methodology that a particular researcher used to reach their conclusion. As far as possible, avoid taking a position, just respond as if he’s showing a genuine interest in history, but it’s not something your personally invested in, and then change the subject. It’s very difficult to continue an argument with someone who isn’t very invested in arguing.

      Although it’s quite likely that you’ll just naturally get bored of history arguments with non-historians, LW – it’s been my experience that when I’ve been developing a field of expertise I am interested in discussions about it with non-professionals, and then as it’s become more of my obvious background knowledge about the world I just get bored of talking about it outside work, unless people are working pretty hard to draw me out and get me talking about it.

      1. I’ve used a similar strategy when people (to date, always older men) are condescending to me while I’m trying to solve their technical problem. I’m happy to expound on the topic, in highly technical language and with as many acronyms as I can muster, with a smile on my face. Then I pause to let it sink in, then they let me fix their damn problem. Computers aren’t nearly as contentious a topic as the ones being discussed here, so it doesn’t happen very often, but at times I am happy to give people a dose of perspective on our relative levels of knowledge in this field.

    5. Wow, I think you may actually beat me for academic mansplainers! I work in religious history, and publish predominately in early Christian and early Islamic history, and oh god, everyone lectures me about my subject. To be fair, I pretty much knew what I was getting myself into, but it’s still exhausting. I actually found myself spending so much time answering conspiracy theories about Islam that I set up a whole website for it, just it would feel more productive!

      I completely agree with you about the ‘I know history because I read this book/I know these random trivia facts’ problem, although I think that does overlap with mansplaining. I have a lot of people try to dismiss my argument when I can’t chapter and verse them correctly (“but doesn’t it say in verse whatever blah blah blah” “yes, probably – it also says you can’t plant two kinds of crops side by side”). It makes me sad that we think people can’t/won’t/shouldn’t learn theory until they’re in grad school, because honestly, so much of history doesn’t really make sense without it!

      Anyhow, completely unrelated, but I just had to say – congrats on keeping up your research in the face of all that ignorance!

      1. Yeah, the “I read a history book and so now I’m an expert; who cares about your doctorate and all those years teaching” thing gets old. I think the most annoying version I remember was when the guy I mentioned in the comments below was opining at someone about some popular history book he’d read as being the Best Thing Ever. I rather mildly commented, “Well, professional historians aren’t that impressed with author’s work due to reasons x and y” as a way to derail the lecture, and he rather huffily snapped, “Well, who cares what they think?!”

        I have to admit I was offended (as he knows I’m a historian, as does the other person) and made the WTF face before walking away, but in retrospect I think it may be a strategy to remember, because (a) he stopped talking about that subject, and (b) his reaction was notable enough that the other person also made a mild version of the WTF face. (Usually his mode is to play things off when he looks bad by being “charming” or “joking” and only being rude to me when other people aren’t around, so it’s a minor victory when the mask slips.)

        1. I was talking to my husband about how great this thread is (he was a History major in undergrad, and has witnessed the condescending treatment I get as a History PhD) and he reminded me of the zinger: “Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics.”
          – Gen. Robert H. Barrow, USMC (Commandant of the Marine Corps) noted in 1980
          according to http://www.military-quotes.com/forum/logistics-quotes-t511.html

          Though I think the strategies suggested in this thread are much more useful than simply repeating that quote to anyone, I still thought it was on point to share it.

        2. I may need to try that tactic next time (although there are a lot of fringe religion scholars who people like specifically because they’re not well-respected in the field. Because clearly peer review = communist subversion. Or something.)

          I admit, the most successful response I ever came up with was completely by accident – this guy wanted to talk at me about a book on Christian history that happened to be written by someone I know personally. I was so surprised that I started telling stories about the author and his crazy antics around campus. The guy was completely flummoxed! It was like he had never considered that the people who write books are real people who have lives and stuff!

          Also, I currently work with someone who is rude to me when we’re alone and charming to everyone else, so you have all of my sympathy!

      2. I’m currently getting my PhD in Egyptology. Even counting the “aliens did it!” types, I haven’t seen a whole lot of mansplaining happen to my colleagues. Mostly because people are unduly impressed with the difficulty of reading hieroglyphs or think we all do some badass, Indiana Jones-style stuff.

        I have, however, had it happen to me *at the hands of fellow academics.* My specialty is Roman Egypt. I love it because it’s so interdisciplinary — Greeks and Romans in Egypt! Egyptians reading Homer! Early Coptic Christianity! — but it also means that a lot of other fields have their fingers in that pie. I’ve busted my ass to make sure that I was at least *competent* in the relevant fields, but there’s a vocal minority of Classics/New Testament grad students who seem to think that they don’t need to know anything about Egypt outside of classical/biblical/patristic sources to have a qualified opinion on Egyptian history.

        One guy once argued with me that the idea of a will (as in, last will & testament) was an innovation brought to Egypt by those rational, freedom-loving Greeks. Ok, I just assigned my students an Egyptian will from 1800 B.C. (i.e., 1500 years before Alexander conquered Egypt), but you must be right, random Classics dude!

        The best/worst example of this sort of mansplaining I’ve seen happened to a professor giving a brief intro on papyrology. She showed a picture of a typical Ptolemaic Greek legal document. A dude from the Div School would not take her word for it that it was written in Greek: it had to be Hebrew, he said. Handwritten Greek from 2nd-century B.C. Egypt, I’ll admit, looks rather different than modern printed editions of Greek texts — but damn, I think the lady with the PhD in papyrology knows what she’s talking about!

        1. LOL at the “it has to be Hebrew” thing. I mean, I’ve looked at my fair share of papyri, and they don’t look like modern printed Greek, but they don’t look all that much like modern printed Hebrew, either!

          And on behalf of my field (I’m a classicist), I apologize deeply for all the asshole Greece/Rome is the best types you get. I find Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt fascinating precisely because of all the cultural hybridity going on, with the Egyptian awesomeness and the Greek and Roman awesomeness all coexisting and coming together in weird, fascinating ways, not because it’s a great case study of the perfect awesome Greeks and Romans bringing their perfect awesome culture to the poor benighted Egyptians (ugh, even typing that out!). Then again, I’m not one of those classicists who thinks that Greece and Rome are awesome! and the! best! civilizations! ever!. I think they probably kind of sucked in a lot of ways, but are also fascinating in a lot of ways and cool to study, but I really really look down my nose at any classicist who puts any ancient culture up on the awesomeness pedestal.

          1. The overwhelming majority of people I know in Classics are super, super awesome (as it sounds that you are) — I hope I didn’t give the opposite impression! It’s just that tiny contingent of assy ones who ruin everyone else’s fun.

            And I’m so with you on the whole putting the ancients up on a pedestal thing. People get really obnoxious about that, and not just in Classics by a long shot — if anything, some people in my department (Ancient Near East) are really invested in their field of interest being better than everyone else’s: the Hittites are better than the Assyrians, the Egyptians are better than the Greeks, blah blah blah ad infinitum. And I just kind of think, who cares? Can we all just agree that all the cultures in question are (1) really interesting and (2) would probably be kind of shitty to live in?

          2. Nope, you didn’t give me the opposite impression! I know a few of those people too and I’m always embarrassed on behalf of my department/field, because so many of the rest of us are awesome and not at all like that. And a lot of people do view classics as elitist (thanks, 19th century British educational system and imperialism!) but I didn’t think you saw it that way, just commiserating!

          3. Also, yes! re: your comment on weird field elitism. I encounter that kind of thing a ton from archaeologists, who sometimes get all like “Texts! Texts are stupid, and classicists are stupid for using them, who needs texts? We study Ancient Greece through material culture and therefore are for some reason superior to you puny philologists”. Which makes absolutely zero sense to me, because hello, both are pretty damn useful in their way.

        2. Oh yes, I know that conversation all too well. The ‘but the Greeks are the smart/logical/philosophical ones!’ mentality extends into the Late Antique period, as well. I’ve had any number of debates about how all Islamic thought *must* come from the Greeks somehow, nevermind that there are whole literary traditions in Ethiopia, Persia and Syria they could be drawing from (I guess there’s also some intersection with racism here, as a lot of people seem to consider the Classical Greek European).

    6. LOL, Shelby Foote. The first rule of reading him is acknowledging that while he *tried* not to be a CSA apologist, he ultimately failed. Toss a McPherson at your stepdad (or a Foner, if you want to have lots of fun).

      if you mess up in any way they will automatically believe they know more than a trained historian and they will never listen to you again.

      This is so frustrating and accurate. I’m a military historian with a focus on WWII (and you can imagine the lulz of being a woman in that field), but I actually didn’t memorize a minute-by-minute recap of Iwo Jima. Oh, the howls of consternation from my uncles when I get that mixed up!

      1. I was reading an article a few years ago (and sadly, I just moved and my books are packed so I can’t tell you the name of the article, sorry) in which Shelby Foote is quoted along the lines of:
        “We will never have true reconciliation in this country until black people acknowledge that Nathan Bedford Forrest is as much a hero as Martin Luther King, Jr.”
        Nathan Bedford Forrest was the founder of the KKK. So, OMG WTF. I was so glad to stumble upon that quote, because immediately it summed up everything perfectly and I thought “THIS encapsulates why I hate Shelby Foote.”

        I have a PhD in History from a top ten program, with Civil War History as my main area, and I COMPLETELY identify with everything in this thread and comments so far. All the “I have read one book so I know more than you” or “I know this trivia so therefore I know more than you” or “I am a Civil War reenactor and I heard Robert E. Lee was an abolitionist and will argue that with you” [until in this case I took the time to type out sections of the Lee biography “Reading the Man” about him whipping his slaves because I was HULKSMASH that I was being argued with about this point]… etc etc All I can say is one big GRRR for all of us who are going through this.

        Also, because I don’t get the time to comment much on this site [Love you so much, Captain Awkward! xoxo], I will also add that I sent the “Do I have to kill myself to survive grad school?” topic to several friends still in grad programs and they were THRILLED. That plus this plus the “feminist responses to academics” have really made my week 🙂 Thank you, Captain, for all your eloquent, empowering writing, and hard work making this site awesome!

        1. omfg. I never read that Foote quote before (source, if you have a chance?). It’s even more damning than his monographs.

      2. There’s this awesome paper on what it means to become an expert that compares the way trained historians in a variety of fields and US AP history students evaluate primary sources from American history. The researchers found that the high school kids sometimes had a better command of basic facts than the historians, but that the historians, even ones who knew nothing about American history, were better at reading the sources in complex and meaningful ways and that, shockingly, the historians’ conclusions were stronger as a result. I kind of want to throw said paper at everyone who thinks that the most important thing a historian (or even just a history major) should be able to do is recall a bunch of dates at the drop of a hat.

        1. Ooh that sounds really awesome! Any chance you remember the title of the essay or the author(s)? I’d love to read it and throw it at the ‘splainers of the world!

    7. I needed to see this thread tonight! I’m starting my PhD in history this fall– in the hotbed of early modern medicine and female practitioners in England. The hardest parts for me are that either people completely give up on understanding what I do (no matter how hard I try to explain it– I have a series of lovely little anecdotes!) or say “oh yes, just like xyz.” And I appreciate that effort, when they do offer something back. But talking to me about American medicine? Or India? Or the latest fad diet? None of that has anything to do with what I do. I get mansplained and it isn’t even targeting what I want to talk about!

        1. Different time period, but Oursin is a historian and archivist who specializes in gender, sexuality, and medicine in 19th and 20th century England. Her blog and website are fun reading for me.

          1. I’ll look this up! I’ve done a little TA’ing on later sexuality and I love looking at surprising areas of continuity. 🙂

        2. Possibly my favourite of all time is Barbara Duden, The Woman Beneath the Skin, but I also love Katharine Park’s Secrets of Women, which is about the female body and dissection. Another one I’d recommend as an ultimate fangirl is Deborah Harkness. She just came out with The Jewel House, and she’s also a fantastic fiction author, with the All Souls Trilogy. Reading the Jewel House makes the fiction even better!

      1. I understand your pain. My master thesis is on a 10th century Islamic surgical manuscript which was translated in the 12th century into Latin. I am looking at it from an art historical/visual history perspective. Even my classmates/faculty have a hard time understanding exactly what I am interested in (or why). I do get a kick out of the faces people make when I tell them that I spend my time looking at medieval surgical tools.

      2. UGH I understand this SO MUCH. I am working on my masters of science in midwifery and I get the “please comment on whether my paleo diet is going to work or not” all the time and it drives me UP THE WALL. I also get the REALLY fun mansplainers in the form of OBGYN’s* who think that I’m some weird witch doctor who is going to kill their patients.

        Out of actual curiosity would you mind horribly explaining a little bit further about what you are studying?

    8. Hello! LW here!

      And yes! All of this a thousand times! I don’t know how many times I’ve had to explain that being a historian does not make me a bloody dictionary of random trivia. Or that reading about history is not the same as studying it, or doing original research on history. Or that different kinds/eras of history requires vastly different approaches and methodologies (most obvious one being medival studies vs. anything in the modern era).

      I’m not so sure it’s not mainsplaining or at least a corollary to mainsplaining. I’ve yet to run into a woman who will question my expertise in the subject or question the validity of my subject of choice (though at this point whenever someone asks me what the point of studying history is I’ve taken to, very flippantly, just go “So you heard about this guy named Hitler? Yeah? And you know he was a bad guy? YOU’RE WELCOME.” It shuts down any further inquiry pretty effectively). But my dad, my father-in-law and my brother have all at one point or another mainsplained history to me or attempted to question it as a valid field of study. My pool of experience is limited though, of course.

        1. I call it the “Wilson’s second wife” problem.

          Once I had someone ask me, after learning I was a historian, what the name of Woodrow Wilson’s second wife was. The eff if I know… and it was not only random trivia, it was random trivia that had absolutely nothing to do with the topics or issues I was at the time engaged in. But because I have a Ph.D. in history, this apparently means that I have memorized every obscure fact, ever, and can recite them on demand. ARGH.

    9. OMG – I just realized the reason that discussions with my partner are so infuriating exactly because of hir mansplaining. We have argued repeatedly about the Civil War – it’s a real hot button for us right now. Zie keeps spouting libertarian talking points (it took me awhile to figure out where this shit was coming from) and enacting some revisionist argumentation. First it was about states’ rights, and the Civil War was no biggie because the institution of slavery was unsustainable and would have died out on its own. So I brought home an article with an economic analysis of slavery. Then it was because international antislavery efforts were closing off the supply, the value of individual slaves sky-rocketed, so it was unsustainable. Then it was that the North had already acknowledged the Confederacy, and the Civil War never would have happened if the Confederacy hadn’t fired on Ft Sumpter. Blah blah blah. Every time I would challenge hir assertions and bring home articles addressing hir points, the reasoning would change without ever acknowledging the shift.

      Similarly on other topics. Broad generalization or frankly inflammatory assertion with no evidence whatsoever. I ask for some evidence to support it. I am willing to read such things to try to get a better understanding of the issue, or at least viewpoints about the issue. No, no, no. It’s my job to educate myself. So when I call hir on misappropriating social justice language designed to explicitly challenge power imbalances so that zie can derail my challenge, I’m the one who is the problem. I guess I am supposed to just accept hir statements and opinions as facts and the nature of reality. Or else, zie tells me that zie has spent decades wading in this garbage and doesn’t want to do that anymore. But then stop engaging with me! Don’t say something inflammatory and then immeidately try to shut down the conversation. So not okay!

      And when zie starts on a round of mansplaining, I cut it off with a hand-wave, and zie get mad at me for not respecting hir. Seriously.

      We are going to counseling starting next week. I hope it helps, because right now our relationship is flaming out.

  2. I’ve been trying some of these techniques. We actually have rules in our family that certain topics are off-limits. Every now & then someone slips but as soon as the conversation goes south someone speaks up and says “hey don’t we have an agreement not to talk about this stuff” and discussion changes. Now if changing topics would only work on topics not on the forbidden list. I have said I won’t visit if I’m going to be put down when I talk about things important to me & I live far enough away I’m only able to visit in a good year 4 times in a bad year once. And it’s been clear I mean it.

  3. I’d like to add just one potential rephrase from the Captain’s extremely comprehensive list of coping mechanisms. If saying “I don’t want to talk about it” feels weak to you, then you can try “I don’t feel the need to convince you about this. You’re free to disagree with me.” (This is like “agreeing to disagree” but without asking permission for disagreement on your part).

    I know that, for me, “I don’t want to talk about it” would be a tricky thing to say on a topic that I’m an expert about. I’d be worried that I would sound emotional, and while there is nothing wrong with emotion, it’s often counterproductive when you are dealing with sexist people, for obvious reasons.

    The corollary to this is that the statement you’re making should be true. You don’t need to convince him. You don’t need his validation. So go ahead and let him disagree with you. Politely letting your disagreement be known while ending the discussion is a perfectly adequate response.

    1. Thanks very much for this. I plan to use this tactic next time a splainer* tries to lure me into an argument. I think they often take advantage of an assumption that the splainee will be compelled to educate or correct them. Then, in their own minds, they are by default operating from a position of superior logic and objectivity. I’m finished wasting my time trying to argue in good faith under these conditions.

      *Generally defined in the sense of anyone who has power that I don’t and enjoys seeing me get upset trying to point it out

    2. I really like this rephrase.

      I’ve also had some success with “We are not talking about this anymore.” It reminds me that the Why of why I don’t want to discuss it isn’t relevant, and the only thing the splainer needs to know is that the discussion is ending. It’s not just that I want it to end, it’s that it I’ve ended it.

      It’s completely dependant on context, of course. Luckily I’ve only had mild splainers who are more of the “But have you considered….”-variety. Meaning that they will eventually listen to my explanation, but they will be critical all the way through, making it exhausting to discuss. (But they Just Want to be Sure That I’ve Considered All The Problems! Which is in no way treating me like a five-year old.)

    3. I like the directness of “Your aggressive pursuit of this topic is making me feel uncomfortable.” especially if you can deliver it calmly, because it puts the onus directly on their shoulder to end the conversation.

    4. That is a wonderful way of rephrasing it, I will definitely keep it in my back pocket.

    5. I also use a variation of GemmaM’s response, which tends to be something along the lines of “I wasn’t aware I had any obligation whatsoever to debate this with you.” followed by the polite “we’re done here” smile, and then I resume whatever I was doing or take up some other task.

      Sometimes, depending on the person, this whole reply takes on a slightly baffled tone like I cannot possibly imagine where the other person got the idea I was automatically opted into this, or any, interaction.

      If the person persists, I also persist in not giving any ground. I somehow over the years figured out how redirect my RAGE at this into finding the most efficient means to give as little satisfaction to the other person as possible. I still hate it when someone puts me in this position, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy calmly denying them any satisfaction whatsoever.

      It has never ever escaped my notice that I only have to employ this with dudes.

    6. I love all of these rephrases a bajillion! Another one I like to use is, “I’m ok with you thinking that.” And then smiling blithely (usually followed by walking away).

  4. Urg, I’ve had these conversations. And it’s really hard because I am actually invested in being thought of as smart, and it does sort of feel like conceding to the person to go “You know, I don’t want to talk to you about this.” I feel like what everyone is hearing is “You know you’re wrong but can’t admit it”. This goes double for the fact that I’m female, and I remember when I parroted the party line everyone would talk about how smart I was. (Anti-feminism really plays well when you’re a precocious tween girl at my family. Feminism as a 20-something? Not so much).

    But I have been trying hard with remembering that this is not going to be productive. I am not going to convince anyone in the family against what they already have believed since before I was born. At best, I can get them to stop using racial, sexist, and homophobic slurs around me. After the Travyon Martin decision happened, I had to do a lot of blocking of conservative facebook friends, and finally went to one of my friends “Look, I don’t really want to have this discussion with you. I think this relationship works best when we talk about *mutually interesting topics” where I respect your opinion, instead of politics where we are never going to see eye-to-eye”. He respected it and backed-off. It makes me really hurt to know that he holds some really racist beliefs, and I can’t do a damn thing about it, but it’s better than trying to use my limited spoons trying to dig a swimming pool.

    1. Hmm, weird. When I hear someone decide not to argue about something, I generally don’t think they’re giving up so much as I think they’re being the bigger/savvier person, who realizes that arguing about something is probably not going to be a pleasant or productive experience for the people involved (including the people around them, who have to sit and listen to that tiresome shit). To me, someone who thinks electing not to engage in an argument is equivalent to losing an argument… I dunno, that just seems ridiculous to me, I’m not sure I could really take their judgement to heart.

      1. This could be a personal history/context thing. My older brother was a rules-lawyer and a minutia arguer extraordinaire. He was also sensitive. Growing up, backing out of a discussion meant days and days of him using that dodge as part of his Why You Should Let Me Have My Way About ________ Because I Am Always Right and You Are Wrong Schtick. I eventually learned that he would leave you alone after you said something so pointed and usually mean that his feelings were hurt. Really hurt.

        The point of all that family history is… I can relate to someone feeling like backing out is losing, because until I was about 25, with my brother, it could very well have been the case that in terms of discourse and relationships and just getting along, it was a kind of losing.

        It’s a very hard habit and feeling to shake. Especially since some people (not, thank god, my brother, who is terrific and I love and get along with really well and enjoy now, Hi Older Brother If You Are Reading This) who are supposed to be grown-ass ladies and gents will still try and engage you in that way.

        Letting stuff roll of you like oil on marble is a learned skill, and it takes a lot of reconditioning for it to work if you have lots and lots of experience with the other kind of interaction. This is especially true if you are the person in the dynamic with traditionally less power and privilege.

        I found it wasn’t so much I had to win the argument for the sake of the argument. It was I had to stand my ground for the sake of my place in our relationship.

        1. It is dependent on relationships for sure. As someone who was silent in the face of fuckery for a very, very long time, it’s good for ME to say something back. Whether it shuts the other person up or not, or changes minds or not, for me to say “Nope, you’re wrong, that’s not okay” even in some small fashion and letting the chips fall is important to me. It helps me to know that at least I didn’t just take it, and it also gives me information. “Oh, being told you can’t browbeat and insult me makes it weird for everyone around here and everyone will side with you? GOOD TO KNOW, EVERYONE.” It was a learned skill.

          1. Yes! It isn’t so much about what you are doing as in what action are you taking. It is about what outcome are you pursuing. There is the “this situation is dreadful and I want it to stop.” But at the bottom of it all, the outcome is “I want to be recognized as a human being deserving of being treated with respect and dignity.”

            For some of us, that can mean “learning to not engage with the toxic badness, and thus establish a standard of the respect you want and deserve.” For some of us that can mean “speaking up to the toxic badness, and thus establish a standard of the respect you want and deserve.”

            Having all those resources in the tool kit is never a bad thing. Practicing the skills of agency is hard.

  5. Hey, Cap’n! Just wanted to throw in my props. To read your posts (and many of the comments!) is to bask in the presence of a Jedi master. Or three.

    1. I am but a Padawan learner figuring it out as I go, my friend, but thanks for the nice words.

  6. Have you tried just being quiet when he fishes for a compliment? Action speaks louder than words, especially when the person you’re talking to is just itching to convince you of how right and almighty he is. He can’t very well go ”Why aren’t you congratulating me for doing something a 5 year old could do” without sounding ridiculous. IF he says something like that, you can always go with a ”Wow” – awkward silence – and walk away. Let him feel the burn.

    Feel free to fantasize about throwing him into a wall of super-rabies. Good luck!

    1. Splainer is only thinking about himself and his feelings so he’s unlikely to interpret LW’s “just being quiet” as a message that she feels uncomfortable with his present behavior. Even if he picks up on the hint, its unlikely he’d react in a positive manner; more likely he’d escalate his behavior because insecure jerkfaces respond in the exact opposite way we want them to. This is a guy who relentlessly fishes for compliments/baits reactions and doesn’t stop until he gets what he wants. Dropping hints (which is kind of passive aggressive anyway) and/or staying quiet probably won’t work on splainer-types. Which sucks, because eye rolling and ignoring is a hell of a lot easier than confronting the jerk head on.

      I delurked for the first time ever because as a legacy member of the Jerkface Accommodaters Society, I totally hear you about staying quiet and hoping for a change. I’ve got a condescending Angry Uncle whose pushy, yelly insecurities dominate family gatherings to the point where we all just kind of grind our teeth til dinners over. Afterward my cousins, brother and I vent behind his back in an email chain my mom started, we call it “Arthurisms”, a greatest hits compilation of all the mean, fight-baitey things he says that we’re too chicken to respond to.

      Reaction-mode is easy but feels awful. I give LW big virtual high fives for wanting to directly communicate her boundaries.

    2. YES!

      I use this when talking to my father (who, funnily enough, we also call “A” because he hasn’t been a father to me and my sister for a very long time) who I’m not really in touch with but sometimes happen to talk to (mostly on the phone).

      The situation’s a bit different in that he doesn’t fish for compliments so much as he tries to get people to be invested in his general wellbeing.
      So he’s like “Aaah, I had such a shitty day!” and the “right”/expected answer would be “Oh no, really? You poor little honey bunny, tell me in great detail what happened and what I can do to make it better and also let me tell you how you are the poorest person on the planet and how everyone has it better than you!”.
      But actually, when he gets to the point of saying “Oooh, I’m feeling soooo bad today!” I always answer with “Yes.” or “Ah.” and then… awkward silence. Makes him either change to topic or hang up pretty fast.

      1. This is not necessarily the kindest or most helpful of things, but in the face of super concern fishing, I tend to Pollyanna. Hard. Them: “Blah blah blah FEEL SORRY FOR ME blah”. Me: “Oh, dear, but at least you’re here now and that’s great!!!!!/similar redirects”. I don’t get sucked in, and have the satisfaction of seeing them squirm because I’m not following the script. It’s little bit wicked, but it suits me (I also have a reputation for being really optimistic, so it works out).

        1. A lot of people do the Pollyanna bit out of a genuine desire to make the sad person feel better. (And make themselves feel better too, because sad cooties!) I find it oddly encouraging to hear of Pollyanna tactics for which the actual results were the intended results.

  7. I have this problem with my dad. He is really smart and cool and I love seeing him. But he doesn’t watch Fox news because he’s too liberal. Seriously.

    I used to get really upset when we would hang out and he would say things that upset me. Then one day some one said something and the weird gypsy got used and I asked him not to say it because it’s a slur and one I really don’t like.

    He argued, said some silly, racist shit and I told him to stop or I would leave the restaurant. My sister joined him in arguing with me and, no lie, in the middle of a fancy steak place, I crawled under the table and left. He called me layer that night and apologized and all was fine.

    Now my family learns that when I ask a subject to be dropped, I mean it. It makes seeing him so much better.

    Also, I refuse to see Pacific Rim because they named one of the things “Gypsy Dancer” and just…no. Uncool Hollywood, uncool.

    1. I don’t know if it makes a difference, but the mecha is named Gipsy Danger after the de Havilland Gipsy engine for airplanes, not after the gypsy slur.

      1. It’s still a slur (the history of white people naming their technology after people they conquered goes back a long way) and nobody needs a reason not to see a film or read a book or listen to a song or otherwise experience a piece of art they feel will hurt or anger them. I personally think it’s a fine movie worth seeing, but I think that was a racist oversight on the part of the film’s creators.

        … also something that should probably be on a subject change list: Someone’s feelings about Why They Will Not Go See/Listen To/Experience That Thing.

        1. “… also something that should probably be on a subject change list: Someone’s feelings about Why They Will Not Go See/Listen To/Experience That Thing.”

          Yep. I am guilty of this sometimes, because, fannish enthusiasm! And I’ve seen the thing, so can tell you how much your perceptions/fears are borne out or not borne out in the actual work. Which is…fansplaining. Not actually cool.

      2. And what is the engine named after? del Toro, screenwriters, etc. may have intended to name it after the engine and not the slur. They still ended up with the slur in their movie. Good reading suggestion: How to be a fan of problematic things. Step 1: “Firstly, acknowledge that the thing you like is problematic and do not attempt to make excuses for it.”

        If we didn’t ever consume media that sometimes portrayed racism, sexism, ableism, etc. we would have not that much to watch. Long-term answer is to have more diversity among creators & more critical examinations of tropes we take for granted. In the short term you can enjoy something while still looking at it critically. I really love old movies from the 1930s, where sometimes, YIKES. S1 E2 Sherlock, anyone? RACIST. Do some of Conan Doyle’s original stories have racist tropes? Yeppers! But you’re adapting work for now and can choose anything you like, so why that story told in that way? FAIL.

        Moderator Note: This is not the opening salvo in a back-and-forth discussion of “Is x racist?” This is the closing of this little subthread.

        Moderator Note 2: I don’t care why you liked Pacific Rim or what its good points are. Your comments about Pacific Rim (20 of them so far, YIKES) will be deleted. They are not helpful right now, and you are fansplaining. This means you. I am sorry I ever mentioned it in the OP.

        1. Beg pardon, I wasn’t intending to open any floodgates. I was just going into etymology, not trying to make anyone feel bad for not feeling comfortable watching a movie that features that word in some way. Everyone is of course totally allowed to object to the movie and not see it for whatever reasons they have, and I didn’t mean to come across as judging the op for their objection.

          1. As long as you realize there is an etymology to your etymology, we’re cool. Thanks for the apology.

  8. Oh, I think your mom is in a relationship with my dad! Weird. My dad is legitimately a good dude, overall, but also an insecure mansplainer who annoys the crap out of me sometimes! I mostly just change the subject when he gets all splainy but last time I was at my parents’ house he explained to me that I was wrong about the causes and triggers of my shin splints because he read a running book years ago. I had talked to my brothers wife who has a doctorate in physical therapy and, yknow, I am kind of an expert in the field of my own body. But nope, we were both wrong and my dad and his running book (written by an ACTUAL MD) know all. And we were only on the shinsplints topic because I brought it up to change the subject from some other lecture. I just had to leave the room.

  9. My go-to tactic in such situations–which arise constantly with my Fox News-watching parents–is to simply agree: “Oh. I’m sure you’re right.” Just say it very dispassionately and peacefully.

    Because what such people want is to DO BATTLE AND WIN THE ARGUMENT AND PROVE THEY ARE RIGHT AND YOU ARE WRONG!!!11!1!!ELEBSNTY!!1!1!! At the first hint of being baited into such a game, just say it: “Oh. I’m sure you’re right.” This immediately takes the wind right out of the sails of such ‘splaining argue-baiters, because there is no social cover of “rationality” or “debating the important topics of the day” for continuing to argue with someone who has–at least superficially–agreed that they are correct. And if they do sputter on a little bit longer, you just repeat in response to each additional salvo, “Yep. I’m sure that’s right.”

    Since you know in your heart that the person is completely delusional and full of shitte and a sadde insecure angry person, you are not giving up anything by outwardly agreeing in that fashion. All you are doing is terminating the game on your own terms, by turning the social convention tables back onto them. Instead of you being put in the position of defending why you are right or wrong, they are put in the position of defending the bizarre behavior of attempting to continue to argue with someone who has conceded the argument.

    It sounds like caving in and letting them win, but it really isn’t, and once you get used to it and reap the benefits of shutting them the motherfucken fucke uppe you will feel great inside when you do it. I promise!

    1. Yeah, it can be REALLY liberating to reframe these things as “what this person desperately wants is to get me all worked up in an argument, and I am not going to give them the pleasure.” Of course, sometimes it is worth it to argue… but it can be tremendously satisfying to straight-up not play that game.

    2. Seconding the “Yes, I am certain you are correct,” tactic for people who love to argue about stupid things.

      Another way I’ve found is to couch your pov in what the other person would assume is best. “You’re a pragmatist, like me, so no matter what side of the issue you’re on, you obviously wouldn’t want to waste money on programs that don’t show results such as xyz, right?”

    3. From my perspective this ends up playing into the same roleplay of the mansplainer being able to control the actions of other people. My experience with the mansplainers in my life is that they get the high out of control – whether that be browbeating or the silence of others. Of course this is a classic, no-win situation the marginalized people deal with all the time. I just get the ickies when I hear stuff like this because it comes awfully close to “ignore the bullies.”

      1. I think the difference to “ignore the bullies” is that you should only take this suggestion, if it works for you. I don’t think that anyone here is proposing that you should agree if it makes you feel powerless or like the other person won – really only if it’s a tool that makes you feel better. I do think there is some power in deciding when the discussion ends. (If it feels like this to you.)
        In case of “ignore the bullies” you are asking people to ignore insults regarding their person and threats to their bodily well-being. That is different in that arguing with an asshole is not an overt attack on your worth as a human being – whereas calling you names and threatening you surely is.
        But all this isn’t to say that you should use this tactic when talking to mansplainers, only what works best for you.

      2. I think there’s also people who really get their high out of the fight, out of causing the other person to get “emotional,” etc. I think it really depends on which type of ‘splainer you’ve got on your hands.

        1. Yeah, that. My bullies got a kick out of getting a particular kind of reaction/interaction out of me (basically, they didn’t want to be right so much as they wanted a fight–which made it impossible to have a discussion even if I wanted to because they’d just keep switching positions to prolong the fight). So for me, safe ways to avoid having that discussion if I don’t want it does not equate to giving them control; on the contrary, it’s frustrating them and allowing me to stay in control of myself. But someone with different kinds of bullies/abusers might need something very different.

          (Another big difference is that when I was a bullied child, I couldn’t get away from my bullies–we were in school together, which mean that if I had to ignore them, I had to ignore them for hours a day, months or years at a time. As an adult, on the other hand, it’s relatively rare for me to be in a situation where I both cannot leave and the situation will recur that frequently. So tactics that didn’t work at all then work well now, because I have the freedom to walk away.)

        2. I hear that. I had an encounter once with someone in a subculture space where they effectively declared, “You’re not REALLY a . You’re just a poser.” This may as well be code, in that particular kind of space, for “I want you to take a swing at me.” (Not sure why she chose me for fighting with. There were plenty of other people around who were widely known to be scrappers.) Instead I just looked at her and said, “Okay.”
          Her reaction was fairly priceless. “Did you hear me? Hey! I said, you’re a poser!”
          “Yeah, I heard you.”
          “See, that proves it, if you were really a you wouldn’t take that.”
          She followed me around for the next ten minutes trying to tell me I was pathetic. The irony was not lost on the viewing public. This strategy only worked, however, because I was familiar with the source of her problem, ie, feeling insecure in a space where you weren’t sure if you fit in. If I’d gotten angry and tried to insist that I did too belong there, it would be a distraction from the possibility that anybody would challenge her on her right to be there. Ignoring her wouldn’t have worked if it were really about her wanting to get rid of me.

          1. See, I like “Okay” better than “I’m sure you’re right” precisely because “Okay” is neither agreeing nor disagreeing, although it can be interpreted as either. “Okay” leaves an opening for any possible allies who might be around to jump in for your, whereas “I’m sure you’re right” doesn’t really welcome involvement from anyone.

            Thinking about it, I kind of get why “I’m sure you’re right” would be preferable in situations where you just want to get the hell off that particular subject. I guess I personally just want to leave an opening for anyone else who may have the energy/ability/possibility to drop a wordbomb on the offending party. (Without them then having to supposedly disagree with me, I mean.)

        3. What Ethyl said. Refusing to get emotional will get you different results depending on who you’re dealing with, but with the right person, it really works.

          When I was 10, I spent a week visiting a friend who’d moved hundreds of miles away. She was tons of fun, but she also had a mean streak, and when she decided to indulge it, I couldn’t just walk home. One afternoon, she decided to pick a fight with me about a number of things, the most memorable being her assertion that Jews always think they’re right. I’m Jewish. I was ready to rumble. I was going to CRUSH my friend’s argument with LOGIC and REASON and FACTS.

          And then a little voice in my head said, “You’re never going to win this.”

          All at once, I understood. I could not sway my friend with logic and reason and facts because her opinions weren’t based in any of those things. She believed what she believed because she wanted to believe it. Nothing I said would move her one millimeter.

          So I resolved to change the rules of the game for myself. Instead of focusing on changing her mind, I would focus on not letting her make me upset.

          The argument continued. I said all the things I would have said when I was riled up and ready to crush her, but I said them all in a calm, reasonable way, as if we were discussing whose favorite TV show was better.

          I don’t remember when she walked away. I do remember hearing her crying in the closet. After she emerged, she was nice to me for the rest of the day.

          This tactic served me well in adulthood, when I worked for Hell Boss. Whenever he became snarky or scarily aggressive, I responded only to the content of his message, didn’t acknowledge his tone, and spoke calmly, as if we were having a normal, unfraught conversation. I never made him cry, sadly, but he didn’t attempt to provoke me nearly as often as he did a lot of my coworkers.

      3. I think it works really well on people who don’t want agreement so much as they want a fight; by refusing to engage, you’re refusing to give them what they actually want.

        Depends on what kind of asshole you’re dealing with, I guess.

    4. Something I’ve used on my brother before is noncommital agreement while CLEARLY not paying any attention. “Mm-hm.” “Yup.” “Sure.” while typing on my laptop and not looking at him. This doesn’t work as well for putting the power of social convention behind you, but was fantastic for totally taking the wind out of his sails, really freeing because I realised I didn’t *have* to argue with him – and, I hope, underscored that he shouldn’t try to get me involved in an argument when I’m WORKING.

      Although I don’t think I’d use this tactic for things like my research, only ridiculous things like whether a book is good or not where I don’t care to argue the point.

  10. This is my uncle all over the place. He is the sort of person who will bait someone into an emotional reaction, and then act surprised and hurt when you get angry with him for being a Grade A Jerk. I am an attorney, and he will argue with me over legal stuff until I am angry, and then will say, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were going to get hysterical. I don’t actually know anything about this.” My dad’s side of the family can be this way, actually, and they are the sort of people who think Democrats/liberals are literally going to hell. I have developed a couple of ways of dealing with it that seem to work.

    1. Find a very neutral statement that no one could possibly disagree with. It doesn’t matter if you believe it or not; all that matters is that THEY believe it. (i.e., general statement about the non-existence of global warming = “you know, God tells us to be good stewards of the earth”). That has the tendency to shut the conversation down because they have to nod and agree unless they want to violate their own beliefs. You may need to brainstorm possible statements ahead of time; enlist friends, boyfriends, anyone who knows A., etc.

    2. Announce ahead of time that you will not be discussing X subject. “You know, I deal with this every day, and I’d really like a break!” Explicitly say, “I do not want to talk about X today because that’s been my entire week. If it comes up, I will have to leave.” When X subject comes up, invariably stand up and say, “Oh, I think that’s my cue to leave! Until next time!” If they protest, remind them of your line in the sand. Depending on how contrite they are, stay or don’t stay. This has the added benefit of enlisting other people who want you to stay in helping you change the subject. If your mom really wants to hang out with you when A is present, your mom will say, “Let’s not go there! How about them Bears?” (I use this on my parents, since my dad LOVES Fox News, and Mom knows I will not hang out with them if it’s on in the background. She gets to be the one to suggest changing the channel. It’s awesome.)

    1. 2. Announce ahead of time that you will not be discussing X subject. “You know, I deal with this every day, and I’d really like a break!”

      I do this a lot. I don’t necessarily announce it upfront, but if it gets to he point where someone is grilling me on the org I work for (or when I was a post grad, my thesis topic) I would just say “look, I’ve been writing/talking about this all day. I’d really like to have a break from it. If you’re really interested I can recommend some websites.”

      Those websites would generally be pretty 101 level, but at least it means I don’t have to have 101 conversations with people who are more interested in grilling me than they are in the actual topic.

  11. Not two minutes went by having read this when in my FB feed I saw the following flowchart that seems amusing if not apropo.

    1. That flowchart is excellent. Can you help me figure out the source? I know there’s a credit at the bottom, but it’s a little too tiny/blurredfor me to see.

      1. It might be from here? http://atheismresource.com/wp-content/uploads/Debate-Flow-Chart1.jpg
        I found it through Google’s search by image; if you paste an image url into google’s search bar it will give you a prompt to search by image and you can look through the results for the original. Very handy, although if the image has been reposted in a large number of places it can be hard/impossible to find the original source.

        1. It is at atheismresource. Only WordPress isn’t letting me post the link I typed out for some reason. It’s at the website in the comment above mine, but after com it goes /2010/my-requirements-for-talking-god
          The chart originally posted here was a modification by someone called WURic. (I think. The “U” could be something different, it was a little blurry.)

        2. Ooh, thank you! I may have to adapt this for use in my history classes (with credit where due, of course).

    2. That treats “evidence” as if it was a nice uncomplicated category that we all agree on. “Do we agree on what constitutes evidence” would probably be my number one box.

    3. I like this, as long as we keep in mind that anyone gets to invoke the first part of the flow-chart and decide something is not a discussion, and that wanting to have the discussion and being 100% open minded and willing to be convinced and examine things logically and rationally does not magically make your argument superior or you the more evolved person. Not everything needs to be a dialectic, and many factors – from how do we decide what evidence is relevant, to the relative power & privilege between the discussers, to whether the person has the energy for or wants to discuss x issue in the first place come into play. Just because someone demands this kind of discussion with you doesn’t mean you have to engage in it.

  12. My father is a mansplainer (as well as a missing stair in some other ways).

    I work in independent retail, and my store’s owner is a giant mansplaining, control-freaking guy who approaches every interaction as though it’s a miniature cage fight in which we staff members prove our worth by a) knowing when he’s kidding and when he’s not, b) reading his mind, and c) taking up the slack created by his terrible management style and hatred for his job.

    Owner recently hired a guy who is barely older than me (I’m 26, one of the oldest staff members who isn’t a manager) and may or may not be meaningfully more experienced, and is making him a de facto manager without ever having the guts to use the word “manager” to describe the position he gave this guy. I was one of the veteran staff who helped train New Guy, but before I knew anything about his quasi-managerial position, he started talking down to me and acting like he knew more about the store than I do. Let me tell you: he did not. He still does not. It is a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad situation.

    I find that in person, I can get along better with both Owner and New Guy than some of my coworkers because I have the kind of “skills” that are honed growing up in a family of lawyers, in which banter passes for dinner conversation and giving each other shit is the official clan sport. But I hate it. I hate that I roll with these guys’ punches instead of shutting them down, letting the silence grow awkward, or giving them the stink eye. I FREQUENTLY have seemingly pleasant, jokey conversations with one of them and then feel crappy afterwards because even though I wasn’t timid or complacent, I did accommodate their stupid bro antics by playing along.

    This got a lot longer than I intended, but suffice to say this post was a total home-run for Captain Awkward and excellent timing for me. I’m not sure I’ll change my behavior at work much — playing along might be the best coping mechanism I have at the moment, given workplace politics, etc. — but it feels great to know I have these strategies at my disposal when necessary.

    1. You are polishing your resume and putting out feelings for other positions, I hope? They’ve already proven that this place isn’t worth your loyalty.

  13. If not for your American phrasing, I would be seriously worried your mother had hooked up with my ex-stepfather. Although, after he finished mansplaining at length about how the moon landing was faked, he turned out to be a really toxic person. On the bright side: A. is probably not an actualfax con artist!

    Anyway, I second the suggestion to find a common interest, preferably in a field where disagreement won’t make you mad. My stepfather was really into martial arts movies, I like Avatar: The Last Airbender, so we managed to have civil conversations for, like, months until he decided the whitewashed movie was a good adaptation. Then I had to find a new source of common ground.

  14. “What do you mean it isn’t correct? Where’s your evidence? Why are your girly feelings so allergic to rational debate? If you won’t spend the next three hours point-by-point proving your case to me and explaining it until I agree and understand, I guess that you will have to concede my point. Forever. GOTCHA!”

    OMG that’s my boyfriend, but he only does it to me when no one else is around. Got a post about that?

    1. I do have many posts about that. Search terms “breaking up” or “how do I break up” will yield many, many posts.

      Let me sum up for you:

      1) Whatever this guy’s nice qualities are, he is being an asshole when he does this. NO ONE IS THAT HOT.
      2) Someone who treats you one way when you’re in public and another (mean) way when you are alone is doing this deliberately & insidiously. He knows it’s unacceptable, which is why he doesn’t do it in public. This is a big red flag for other bad behaviors.
      3) This is a very good reason to dump someone.

      If you can’t bear to dump him, try out some of the stuff in this post – redirecting, enforcing boundaries, changing subject, telling him straight up that you hate this style of argument and it makes you not want to be around him, leaving the room/conversation if he doesn’t stop it.

      Whatever you decide, I hope you’ll be ok.

      1. True story: I invented “three safe topics” independently as a way to not accidentally murder my ex-husband in public during the last year of our marriage.

        When I retreated to a space of “uh-huh, that’s nice, how interesting, how about last night’s episode of Castle?” we became so much less visibly tense that people thought we were reconciling. It (among other coping mechanisms) bought me the much-needed breathing room and emotional calm to get my life organized to GET OUT.

    2. That was my ex-boyfriend. And trust me, and Captain, when we say you want — nay, need — to leave that. Looking back, it’s hard to believe how much energy I wasted trying to argue every single opinion I had. And when, unsurprisingly, I’d get upset because more often than not my side of the argument was *for people’s rights* and was supported by *lived experience* he would get all “y u so bad at rational debate”. It wears you down so much and you have no idea until you’ve stepped away. He emailed me one day eight months after we broke up and I couldn’t believe how bait-y he was being, I was shocked. He was so clearly TRYING to provoke me, TRYING to get me worked up and involved in an argument. I hadn’t talked to someone who would TRY to make me mad… for eight months. Because I realized then that he had ALWAYS been like that and I had just gotten used to it when I was with him. And after eight months away, breathing fresh air, I never wanted to go back to that ever again.

      I used to tell him that I felt like he didn’t respect me, and he’d always dismiss that like what, that’s crazy, of COURSE I respect you! But respect is in the way someone treats you, and putting you constantly on the defensive for all of your opinions? Making you feel like every discussion or light-hearted vent about something that’s been bothering you might turn into a debate in which you have to cite sources, at any moment? That’s not treating you with respect. That’s wearing you down until you can’t fight anymore.

      1. I am completely worn down. Thanks for that reply. When I tell him he’s not respecting me, he says I’m the one not respecting him by not discussing rationally and answering all his questions. I know I’m so used to it that I can’t see just how bad it is. I’m trying to get out. We live together and I have no job or anywhere to go, so I often feel hopeless. But I’m trying to take it one day at a time so I can get the hell out and get my life back. Thanks again.

        1. There’s some great threads here at CA about how to get out of situations like this. I am sending you internet hugs if you would like them, and hope and positive thoughts. You CAN get out, you just have to plan carefully, and there are lots of folks around here in the comments who can commiserate and offer support and ideas. Good luck.

    3. My boyfriend is awesome! And he still does this. What works best for us is if I ask him either of two questions: Are you trying to make me upset? Do you really care this much about that point you’re arguing?

      Either one of these questions makes him realize that the argument for argument’s sake is not all fun and games for me and that real feelings are involved. He usually realizes that arguing in this way is not fun for either of us.

  15. LW, is your mom dating my dad? Because I think your mom might be dating my dad. (Not really. My dad’s children interact with him as little as they can, so if A. was my dad the LW would likely not know how A. interacts with his children. Also my dad has been dating his girlfriend for like 6 years? I can’t remember, I interact with him as little as I can….)

    One thing that was very important for me, dealing with my father (when he lived locally/was still married to my mom), was explicitly talking to Mr Hypotenuse about needing backup. My sibs and mom were on the side of Keeping The Peace (OMG J Preposterice Stop Making It Awkward By Objecting to Racism and Gross Jokes), and I felt alone and hung out to dry and exhausted by the whole thing. So I had a bunch of discussions with my husband about needing support and how he could give it (both in the moment and when I needed comfort later), and that was such a relief — knowing I wasn’t alone anymore.

    Mr Hypotenuse & I also worked up scenarios! “What do we do when my dad starts talking about [insert whackadoo nonsense here]? What will we say? What is our plan for if it escalates? At what point do we walk out?” That way, we were on the same page, and whoops, well, if my dad hit the “walk out” point when one of us was in the middle of some other perfectly nice conversation in another room, that was OK — part of the support structure was not to question that need to leave.

    We informed my mother and siblings about this, but in a this-is-not-negotiable manner. “Hey. Dad says tons of racist stuff and we don’t like it and aren’t going to put up with it. I know it’s upsetting, but if he makes racist jokes at Thanksgiving dinner, we are walking out, even if it’s the middle of the meal. I just wanted to let you know, so that you aren’t surprised if it happens.” Peculiarly enough, my dad’s jokes became WAY less racist all of a sudden! It’s almost like someone told HIM to keep the peace for a change! Huh.

    1. That sounds like a really great tactic! In my situation, I have no backup (the unmarried daughter, no family nearby). My dad (who sounds a lot like yours) is coming to visit, and I am not sure how to do this when it’s just him and me and I don’t have a built-in escape hatch. Thoughts?

  16. I feel dumb posting just to say how awesome this is, but there you go.

    I cackled in agreement so many times.

  17. This sounds a lot like my mother-in-law so I am going to try many of these suggestions, thanks!

    It also sounds a bit like my husband – the mansplaining (to me and others) and not knowing when to stop an argument (mostly only with others). I’m pretty good at speaking up for myself even if he doesn’t listen. What can I do when he does this to other people? How can I protect our baby from it as she grows up?

    1. I think calling out your husband in front of your daughter would be a good idea. I realize parents like to present as a unified front (at least, mine did) and don’t want to disagree in front of the kids, but having an adult acknowledge your feelings as legitimate is a huge deal when you’re trying to stand your ground against something like mansplaining.

      1. I agree with this. My mom was always careful not to “undermine dad’s authority” by disagreeing with him in front of us kids. As a result I thought she approved of how he treated us. Watching her get visibly angry 20+ years later when I told her about some things she hadn’t been aware of was very healing for me, but it would have been even better if she’d been able to stand up to him in the first place.

        If someone is being rude in public and I’m the person with the most authority to stop them (by virtue of having brought them to the party, being closely related, etc.) my preference is to clearly tell them to quit it. “Honey, I think it’s time to drop that subject. Come over here and help me with ______.” Usually everyone else is grateful and is happy to go along with doing something else now. It does take a reasonable amount of personal confidence and power to pull off, I wouldn’t recommend it in an abusive situation or when the person’s likely to try to take it out on you later. But often when someone is behaving like a five year old, being corrected like a five year old is enough to snap them out of it. YMMV.

        1. Yes to this about having parents that stand up for you.

          I had a lot of experiences like this growing up and getting into arguments with my dad about everything from the proper placement of my backpack to feminism. Being in a screaming match at the dinner table with your dad and your mom sitting opposite and just being absolutely quiet and not saying a word. That silence is pretty deafening. For me the inherited lesson from that (coupled with a few other experiences) meant that I never expected my mom to have my back, never back me up or never be there for me when I really needed her. She’s proven me wrong a couple of times but I really wish she would’ve had the courage in those situations to speak up in my defence.

        2. THIS. My stepmother was…awful, to put it politely. During her ambush attacks, my dad would just sit there, or possibly explain that he didn’t know much about it, but this is why she was probably right and I should just be more understanding. I have sort of forgiven him for this, but I sure as fuck don’t trust him with anything important.

        3. Yes.

          About 5 or 6 years after my father died, my mother and I started talking more about our familial interactions when I was a child, and she’s told me many times over the years that she wishes she’d spoken out and disagreed publicly, and especially in front of me, when she disagreed with things he said or decided for me. The ‘united front’ was what she felt she had to maintain for the parental *unit* but she worries now that decades have passed about how it all affected me at the time. (And it did affect me. I never fully thought of my mother as a trustworthy ally, I’m sad to say, for most of my childhood years, I just assumed she shared his views- so she never knew really how I felt about some of that stuff, since I wouldn’t even tell her.)

    2. I think you’ll have to wait and see whether your daughter needs protecting. Some daughters of men like that find it incredibly threatening and demoralising; some thrive. And there are plenty of mansplainer-fathers for whom being smacked down by their own daughter is the ultimate proof of their success in the world.

      When I was in my early teens, I used to have a choir director and piano teacher who was very rightwing, although I didn’t realise it at the time – I just thought he was very, very wrong. We used to have huge, hour-long arguments about capital punishment and the state of education and sexism and he was patronising and condescending as fuck, but at the same time, it was also adult attention and I knew he respected me a lot for fighting back. I learned so much about making arguments and elitism and music and the world for him, and it was really valuable for me. My mum once said years later that she was sorry for letting him bully me like that, but I hadn’t experienced it as bullying: for me it was really invigorating and exciting and intellectually challenging.

      So definitely keep an eye on your daughter and your husband, but don’t automatically assume that just because she and her father are having standing up arguments all the time that there is something wrong. Make sure she knows that arguing with daddy is a choice and that she doesn’t feel victimised or ground-down or miserable about it, but if she seems happy with it, she probably is.

      1. I think this comes with some pretty substantial caveats. My dad isn’t someone I’d describe as a mansplainer but he does have some hangups around uncited facts (his dad habitually makes things up and presents them as facts, refusing to back down even when confronted with evidence that he’s wrong). This meant that as a kid he regularly challenged me whenever I made an assertion that didn’t sound correct to him. I have a grand total of one memory of proving myself to him and the rest blur into one big ball of stress.

        The thing is, I have a great relationship with my dad and at no point in my childhood would I have described myself as worn down or victimised but as a kid I wasn’t capable of recognising the reasons why my dad behaved the way he did or asking him to stop doing it. It only stopped when I started preempting it by saying things like ‘I think I read somewhere…’ and ‘I could be wrong but…’ which finally convinced him I wasn’t going to turn into my grandpa.

        I have much better memories of being a teenager and having actual debates with my dad, where he would often play devil’s advocate while a) periodically stopping to let me know that that was what he was doing, b) actually listening to me and responding to points I’d made, c) never making me feel like I couldn’t stop the conversation at any time, and perhaps most importantly, d) letting me know how proud he was of my ability to articulate my point and stand my ground.

        Especially with a younger kid it’s more important for the other parent to monitor how she’s being spoken to and step in. Also to make sure she understands that just because she gets ‘splained at doesn’t make her automatically wrong if she can’t make her point.

        1. OK, I’m not trying to be a pain, but which bit of my advice are you caveating? I didn’t mean to say anything stronger than that it’s possible that your daughter will be totally fine to handle herself and not needing protecting, but that obviously as a good parent it’s something you’d keep an eye on and look out for signs that her relationship with her other parent was upsetting her, and act if they are. I am not sure what caveats you’re adding?

          1. My apologies. I thought the majority of your advice was sound but I think that just because the daughter seems fine isn’t necessarily enough. Even if the other parent doesn’t appear to be upsetting her I think it’s still advisable to step in if they are using the sort of language that usually get used by mansplainers.

          2. Cool. 🙂 I was wondering if I’d expressed myself really badly, but yes, I agree that if he’s being really aggressive or nasty or boundary-pushy then the mum stepping in is probably a good idea!

      2. I would be very careful with Mary’s advice, because your daughter learning to take shit from no one, even her dad? Awesome! Your daughter not learning to respect other people’s boundaries when it comes to having discussions and arguments because that’s how her dad does it? Not awesome!

        There are also plenty of ways to teach kids how to have healthy debates and stand by their convictions other than letting a teacher or parent argue with them. There’s also a huge difference between a teacher debating with a teenage student and a father arguing with a young child. If you think this could genuinely be an issue, have a discussion with your husband now. Spell out how you want arguments and respecting other people’s opinions handled in the family and work to find a policy that works for both of you that you can both start enforcing so it becomes habit.

    3. I really believe in trying to work at things from the source, but I know that’s hard as hell sometimes. But since you mention a baby and that might be a foot in the door for learning new things, I’ll try asking: Is your husband willing to read parenting books? This is me making an assumption a bit on how I perceive the typical male mansplainer about what kind of knowledge he values so this could be totally unhelpful but I’ll put it out there. There’s a movement these days towards super-science-based parenting research, which leans really heavily on cognitive neuroscience, that says: kids really need parents who pay attention to their emotional states and honour their inner experiences. There are specific skills and ways of relating to babies and children that really help, and are the opposite of ‘splaining.

      Maybe your husband could read that research and become a splainy expert on that? It might even be something you back off on a bit so he gets to be the authority here. Then he has all the facts on why you should reflect children’s facial expressions or how not to tell kids they don’t really feel what they feel and how to be an active listener (which are super-hard skills!), so he’d at least be a mansplainer in the right direction, and get to feel like a really advanced, modern, scientific parent who’s the expert. Then you telling him to dial it back a bit and listen to the other person isn’t telling him he’s wrong, it’s reminding him that he should do this thing he’s knowledgeable about.

      I haven’t reviewed all the resources that are out there, but I know a few therapists at my work really like recommending Gordon Neufeld’s stuff orAttachment-Focused Parenting by Daniel Hughes. (This is really different than Attachment Parenting a la William Sears, despite the similar name.) The big thing it tries to teach is a type of interpersonal communication that gets you to respect that the other person has a different internal experience from you and connect with them because of that, instead of flipping out because they’re not doing/thinking/feeling what you think they should.

  18. “the peace is already broken”.

    I just had a moment where I nearly started crying. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I am going to keep this in mind when I have to deal with my brother.

  19. Let me tell you a little tale about my awesome fucking mother and her shitty parents and how this advice the captain is giving the LW is totally legit and works.

    My grandparents had a nasty ass divorce in the early 2000s after years of duking it out and sniping at each other during every visit, and it had always been my mom’s job to play therapist. Welp, after crying over yet another conversation in which her mom had ranted for hours about her dad, she decided she was done! Cue seeing less of them, cutting phone conversations short, etc.

    It got awkward. It got weird. It got messy. There were long periods of silence. There were tears.

    But you know what?

    Eventually they got the hint and shut up. About everything, too — politics, racist jokes, religion, criticisms of my sisters and I (not my mother, unfortunately, but she doesn’t give a shit anyway)…EVERYTHING.

    See, in a contest of wills, holding visits with the family hostage wins out. It is fucking hard. It really hurts. It gets icky. But it passes, and eventually you get to a place where the relationship doesn’t make you want to tear your hair out, and the OTHER person is responsible for keeping peace. It’s awesome.

    You can do it, LW. Jedi Hugs and back thumps to you. ❤

    1. I had to do this with my mother. She’s bipolar and when I was 17-ish, she found a new, very intense sort of religion. I’m religious myself, but this was just a whole different flavor of living, and her own personal brand of mania and judgement, and I was ALWAYS her sounding board for what was wrong with the world (and if I ever told my father she wasn’t taking her meds, whooo boy did I get in trouble). When I was 18, it reached a boiling point in the car. When she parked and went inside…I ran off.

      Now, to be fair, it was near my church, I had my grandmother come get me, and from there went to my Dad’s house. She found me and we had one discussion, which was I can’t take it anymore, I’m living here for now.

      And I didn’t take her calls. I didn’t go with my siblings to her house. I kept up radio silence for months and it about killed me, and I still get shaky and want to cry just thinking about those times and how awful they were.

      And then there was a family therapist. And gradual baby steps. There was seeing each other again, there was “what I want for mother’s day is for you to come to church,” and there was “I’m sorry, but that’s not going to happen,” and there were talks, and hanging up, and tears, and fighting, and more baby steps.

      Ten years later, and my mother and I have an excellent relationship. We love each other very much, I usually go up to her house at least once a week for dinner. We have girl days. I even went to a church event with her a few weeks back (a ladies teaparty, not anything particularly preachy) and had a lovely time. And every now and again, yes, she talks religion or politics. But it’s never been like it was during The Bad Times. It was really hard, but establishing those boundaries was worth it, because now my mother and I can both have our major differences, but still have a loving relationship.

      1. Shoot, cut-off.

        So it is hard, LW. I hope it doesn’t come to that for you, that using the smaller steps listed above work to resolve the situation to something everyone can live with comfortably. But if not and if you decide you do need to put distance between you, either temporarily or otherwise, I hope it goes well for you. best of luck.

      2. You should NOT have had to deal with that. I am glad you found a way through. You sound like an amazing, compassionate person.

  20. I think the picking your battles part is key. Both in terms of meeting your mom halfway on this guy she is invested in, and in terms of keeping your sanity when around him. Him mansplaining your field of interest/all other topics of conversation = worth dealing with directly, because you can’t spend the rest of your mom’s life not talking when visiting her and A. Him needing validation for basic tasks, or copying other people’s food preferences = irritating, but not really a big deal, so worth making concessions on.

    I often have this issue when I dislike someone, because my rational reasons for disliking them color how I view *everything* about them until everything they do becomes annoying to me. Even things that would probably roll right off my back (or at most inspire a discrete eye roll) grate until I am grinding my teeth and fixated on them. When it’s someone I know I have to get along with, I really have to force myself to pause when I feel my jaw clenching and ask myself “does this matter?” When it’s their bad table manners or weird laugh or habit of repeating a punch line, the answer is usually no. When it’s their dismissal of my opinions or rudeness to other people or racist remarks, then it’s a battle worth fighting.

    Added benefit: since you’re likely going to provoke some (irrationally, unjustly) hurt feelings or anger when you shut down the mansplaining, it will help smooth things over–for your mom’s sake–if you pair that with a compliment about grilling the steaks or a friendly smile when he orders the same thing you do.

    1. “I often have this issue when I dislike someone, because my rational reasons for disliking them color how I view *everything* about them until everything they do becomes annoying to me.”

      Oh, so very much this! You find yourself thinking stuff like “He wore that shirt DELIBERATELY to piss me off!” or “can nobody else see how weirdly she breathes?!”

      1. I think there was a comment here a while back about this phenomenon, which the person named “bitch eating crackers.” As in, “Did you see her? Oh my god, she was eating crackers! She’s so awful!”

  21. Wow. I would say LW’s experience sounds like she might be my cousin, except our extended family has mostly taken a “keep him the hell away from us” stance toward my mansplaining uncle (who has bonus “super inappropriate comments to my younger cousins” ickness I won’t even go into further). I’d love to see my aunt more, but not if it means putting up with her husband. Though I guess at least his mansplaining is actually everyonesplaining, because it is by no means limited to the women. He tried to tell my husband, who has a ph.d and years of experience beyond that in the field in which they were discussing, that he was wrong. Even my grandma, who gets along with literally everyone else, finally told this guy to shove it. Until she finally spoke up, we had all basically been playing nice with a side of musical dinner chairs of avoidance. It has made family get-togethers a lot more bearable since then, because he knows his behavior isn’t welcome. So we see a lot less of him, thank god. And hopefully, LW, with the Captain’s advice, you’ll get some similar results. I am certain, if everyone else hates his behavior, they will come to thank you for standing up to him, even if they don’t at first, because they will be so damn happy they won’t have to walk on conversational eggshells around A anymore.

    Admittedly my aunt has not taken our family’s approach very well, and sent the whole family a “You may not believe it, but X is a good husband and good in-law, and you should all appreciate him more” email. To which we all went, he might be a good husband, but huge eyeroll on the good in-law part. And oh, silly us for not appreciating a guy who knows more about construction, science, math, raising horses, speaking a foreign language he’s never studied, a university he’s never attended, accounting, videography, photography, and every other area/place than any of the rest of us who have actually studied or lived in those areas. We’re totally missing out.

  22. Oh yes. I studied education policy–specifically urban public education–at an undergrad and graduate level. It’s a subject full of sociology and psychology and messy racial history. But when some people (often old white male people) hear the word “education,” they think, “I went to school! We have a shared and equal knowledge base!” Statements from me like, “*fact based on years of statistical analysis*,” are met with “You’re wrong, because *my extremely limited, privileged experience*.”

    Recently I had this conversation with my (lovely, liberal, equality-minded) father, in front of my family, in the middle of a restaurant. When my exasperated “I am uncomfortable with this conversation!” was met with absolutely no acknowledgement of my feelings and the repetition of his point, I gave up. I gave up on ever impressing him with my expertise and have opted instead to impress myself with my own sanity. Now I’m happy to talk about Mad Men and his recollections of the 60s for the rest of both our lives.

  23. As a lifelong Clevelander/Cleveland sports fan I do want to apologize for our racist mascot. I think we’re mostly peripherally aware that it’s racist and weird but we’re so used to it that the Cleveland would be weirder to us.


    I like a lot of these tactics, especially the “Two nice subject changes and then leave” thing. I’m a really non-confrontational person and I don’t always know how to deal with people like A here, so I just shut up and take it.

    I also really like the disclaimer there. “Hey, if you get unreasonably emotional and/or cry, THIS IS TOTALLY OKAY.”

    That’s good to hear. I feel like this is good advice for dealing with my mom. I straight up quit contact with her and I don’t know how to start again because I know the first thing out of her mouth is going to be “BLAH BLAH ABANDONMENT ALL ALONE TERRIBLE DAUGHTER TERRIBLE DAUGHTER” and I’d prefer to have a better response than “AND THIS IS WHY I DON’T LIKE TALKING TO YOU” when this happens.

    Good luck, LW. Be strong,

    1. This is a bit of a digression from the overall post, but your* defense/explanation of Cleveland holding onto its racist mascot seems to fit right into this discussion of what we mean by “keeping the peace” and who we expect to do so. You’re right that Cleveland baseball fans would find it a little strange to adjust to a new mascot, and they’d have to find new words to describe the fandom (no more “Tribe”) and new hand-motions to go along with their chants and cheers (no more “tomahawk chop”). But! That weirdness (over how to relate to/support a professional sports team!) has to be outweighed by the discrimination and discomfort that using the mascot causes actual Native Americans (and their allies/folks who like baseball but don’t want to offend others). The peace is already broken, or maybe, given this particular history, never was really there to begin with.

      And it’s not surprising that efforts to make such changes, in Cleveland and elsewhere, are met with cries of “Why does everything have to be so PC these days?! Can’t you/they just take a joke?!” [As ThatHat notes below, “‘PC’ of course, is short for: ‘I do not want to have to make the effort to take into account the thoughts, feelings, and life experiences of people who are unlike me, because doing that would validate them, and really if these people are having problems, it’s just their fault for not choosing to be more like me. I do not want to make the effort to refrain from a handful of bad words/phrases to make anyone else comfortable.’]

      *FindAStone, I don’t want this to be an attack on you, more of a comment on how we deal with this issue as a society. You’re definitely not the only person I’ve heard make this argument, and it’s not just about Cleveland. Horrible mascot choices can be found from k-12 schools on up to professional sports, and everyone has the same reason(s) for holding on to them.

      1. My son’s university uses Native imagery for its athletic teams — but with the permission of the state tribal council, and with proceeds of merchandise sales going to a scholarship fund for Native students. (And every year a new bunch of people have to be pulled aside and told “NO we do not wear war bonnets to games; knock that shit off”.)

      2. Yes. It’s disorienting and sometimes sad when things change from the way you’ve known them forever… but if Cleveland found another, any other mascot, then they’d make it possible for Native American baseball fans to cheer for their team or attend their games without having to be surrounded by people continuously mocking their culture and being constantly reminded that the people in charge don’t give a damn about fighting racism. Because for them, it’s not just something they’re peripherally aware of.

  24. I was once stuck in the car with my whole family when my folks were in town visiting. We reached the “trying to change the subject” stage with my dad, first gently, then explicitly. When it didn’t take after a few tries, and I didn’t exactly have the option to physically exit the conversation (being in the car), I told him that if we were unable to talk about something else, I’d revoke all Fox News watching privileges in my house while they were visiting. The silence that resulted was indeed awkward, but it was far better than the opinions dump that had just been going on.

  25. I’ve got an argue-and-complain-about-everything coworker, so unfortunately, I can’t just refuse to visit to make him stop, but I’ve used many of tricks here, like subject change and “just walk way” to some success. Other ones I add in is: agree with him about everything, like literally everything. It annoys him real fast to have no one to argue with and to have me parroting every ridiculous thing he says “I agree green is the worst color. You are right, we should totally feed all the babies to the wolves”. Doesn’t work though if the person’s saying something super awful though. Works better for the general arguer.

    But my favorite technique is to confuse. When he starts into his arguing voice, I widen my eyes and say something like “It’s going to be ok. We’ll make it through this together” in a super soothing voice and he stops and looks perplexed long enough for me to hijack the conversation away. Purposefully misinterpreting his arguing tone into a panicky one gives you all sorts of confusing responses to throw his way. “This seems to really stress you out. Let’s talk about something else” “Let’s take some deep calming breaths” “Don’t panic. This too shall pass” all spoken in your most neutral therapist/yoga instructor voice. It’s served me well so far.

  26. Oh, boy, this does sound familiar. All of it. Plus, the ‘splainer in our family has the additional annoying tendency to try to pass things off as “jokes” – if you’re offended by something, he was “just joking” or “just teasing” – if you manage to make a convincing point, he was just making the argument “for fun.” It got old, really, really fast.

    Luckily, most of our other family members recognize that the two of us are like two cats in too small of a room, and do their best to make it easy for us to avoid or ignore each other, and he’s _just_ self-aware enough to not stir up shit when he can’t do so without looking like a jerk.

    Still, it is tiring.

    1. Something Mr Hypotenuse used on my father’s “just jokes” with success: outright denying that it was a joke. “No, you weren’t joking. You’re just a coward who doesn’t like being called on your bullshit.”

      1. When people make jokes of a certain kind, it might be true that it’s a joke in that they intend for you to laugh, but “just” a joke it isn’t. They think it’s funny because they think it’s true, even if they haven’t fully examined their opinion on it and admitted to themselves that they think it’s true. I have long made it a policy to challenge that sort of bullshit. It has given me the reputation of a humourless bitch in some circles, but they would be just the sort of people whose opinions of me I give zero fucks about.

      2. My sisters and I tend to use, “Oooh, I get it now! It’s funny because [minority] are all [negative value implied by “joke”]!” It tends to work better when it is just an implication rather than a bald statement though, and the more ludicrously awful it is when spelled out the better.

    2. If he tries to make out as though it was all a joke that you got offended, maybe try treating his arguments as if he’s genuinely joking (not just using it as a “get out of jail free card”). When he’s being a jerk, just laugh, as in: laugh completely uproariously as though he couldn’t possibly be serious and must be trying to be satirical or something. This doesn’t work for everyone, but in tense situations it can sometimes just confuse the hell out of people and get them to change the subject out of discomfort.

      1. These are all good points, but they don’t actually work in this particular case. It’s less that he thinks what he’s saying is funny, or that my being offended is funny, and more that if he’s caught out, he tries to pass it off as he intended it to be read as teasing, and thus not important. So if you’re offended, he acts all surprised – it was just him fooling around, couldn’t you tell? Or if you succeed in demonstrating that his point was wrong, well, then, he wasn’t serious about it in the first place, and you shouldn’t have made the mistake of thinking he was. And half the time he succeeds in persuading the other people nearby that he’s just a charming joker, and oh, isn’t Rana so terribly serious, ha ha, and can’t tell when people are teasing, ha ha.

        Given that I’m a person who has difficulty discerning teasing from bullying on the best of days, this dynamic got old really, really quickly. Now I find it’s better to just not engage with him when he baits me like this.

    3. I was raised in a whole family of insults, backstabs, put downs, snark wars, you name it, and in an age gone by I’m sure that above the manor house fireplace the family crest (two badgers, rampant, hissing at each other) emblazoned with the ancient motto “you can’t take a joke.”

      Now that I am no longer speaking to any of them I have discovered that I’m actually pretty funny, and that real humor does not rely on derogatory putdowns for a punchline. “Punch upward,” as the saying goes.

      so I guess I can take a joke, the problem was THEY didn’t know how to tell one right.

  27. “What you are facing is that everyone has ZERO expectations that A. will behave himself, but tons of expectations that you (a lady & a younger person, which is NOT coincidental here) will behave yourself. And they think that because they have bended & shifted to accommodate him, it obligates you to do the same. So if you really fight back when A. goes at you, the preconception is that you are the one out of line. Because you failed to “keep the peace.” So it’s a double-uphill battle – not only do you have to contend with A., but if things get too testy and the occasion gets awkward, you also have to deal with the worry that everyone will blame you.”

    Oh my, this. I needed to hear this. My sister-in-law-to-be is horrible and rude to everyone. Fiance and his family put up with it because “she’s family.” When I finally snapped and said something rude back (granted, not the best behaviour on my part, but what I said to her wasn’t any worse than what she says to people on a regular basis) suddenly *I* was the one who was expected to know better, to be the bigger person, to not sink to her level etc.

    I find it so frustrating, to the point of tears and panic attacks even though I haven’t seen her for months (I refuse to attend anything she is attending). And, because it’s so frustrating, I have a really hard time articulating why. I should just print off a copy of this post and leave it laying around where Fiance and future in-laws can read it.

  28. How does one stop the “missing stair”/mansplainer from causing utter chaos in one’s social life? My mansplainer is suddenly interested in befriending people I know, and while I can’t stop him, I remember too well what happened the last time he took an interest. Should I write my new friends off now, or…?

    1. Can you African Violet him out of your own life? Like, “Hey, this is awkward, but I don’t really enjoy being your friend, let’s cool it. Have a good life.” + Unfriend/Block + DO NOT INVITE.

      Then with new friends when and if it come sup, “Yeah, we used to be friends, but it wasn’t working out.”

      You’re not badmouthing him, or telling them how to feel, just telling your truth. It’s awkward and not easy, but people will pretty quickly figure out who is nice and who is annoying.

    2. If your friends are pressured to put up with his crap because they want to keep the peace with you, take the pressure off. Make sure they know that they don’t have to like or be nice to them. Give ample opportunities to socialize without him, and say, “Sorry, Friend X and I are going alone this time.”

      If this person will not let you have friends of your own that he does not also have/does not care that he is ruining your new friendships/puts enormous pressure on you to “fix” his social life for him, I recommend that you scroll back up to the top of the page, find the part labelled “Search CaptainAwkward.com”, and search for the term “breaking up.” This does not sound like a relationship with someone who has your best interests at heart.

  29. I’m pretty fond of just stopping everything dead with a very loud “Excuse me?” and just waiting for however long it takes for the other person to run themselves down when things go too far. I have had an entire gaggle of mansplainy co-workers*, and after a few repetitions this has worked on most of them. But this does depend on the people around you being willing to actively back you up. Otherwise being loud about it just nets them an audience.

    For when you don’t want to have the fight for whatever reason and can’t get away, I’m pretty fond of noncommittal noises and no actual responses. “Mm” and “Huh” don’t give people who want to pick a fight much to latch on to, which means they wander off to other targets to another subject. Usually. Results may vary depending on the individual.

    *Book stores are a magnet for MRAs. Also for Ayn Rand fans, people who think dinosaurs are a vast Scientific Conspiracy, and people who ask for ‘a version of the Koran that the Muslims haven’t glorified’.

        1. This actually exists, it’s called “the Jewish Annotated New Testament” and it is awesome.

          But your point is well taken 🙂

      1. He went on to explain to me in great detail about the version of the Koran he wanted, which apparently was the ‘Islam is a religion of baby-eating murderers only practiced by Arab terrorists’ version that is apparently what Mohammed really said and the Muslims (who are all a hive-minded singular entity) have glossed over all the murder and baby eating in subsequent translations. I told him that I didn’t think we had that version, but he was welcome to look at the shelf we kept the Korans on to see if we did. Then I went and hid in the back room for a while, shamelessly using the many extremely tall dudes I worked with at the time as a shield.

        1. As a Muslim, I can assure you that we are in fact a hive-minded entity. All the vigorous debates, the existence of multiple schools of thought, and that whole Arab Spring thing? That’s all just a front. We’re secretly getting our instructions from the imam and then going out and pretending to be fighting for change in our communities, just to confuse people.

          And there totally is a secret version of the Qur’an which you only get to read if you have advanced to the highest inner circle. Spoiler alert: it mostly contains recipes for how to simmer babies to perfection in the tears of innocents. Try adding a bay leaf!

          So next time you get a customer like that, you can tell them some Muslim on the internet confessed it all! 😀

        2. [Although, sarcasm aside, subsequent translations WUT? I mean, translations definitely exist, but the gold standard is for translations to also contain the original Arabic text, which non-Arabs are encouraged to learn how to read, precisely because translations are considered inadequate for serious study. AND when it comes to the Arabic text, if a certain printing contains one single typo, all of those copies have to be burned. It’s not like this is a book that’s been through multiple versions.]

          1. I’m pretty sure this dude would have told me I was being brainwashed by the PC police if I’d tried to tell him that. Knowledge was not actually what he was looking for.

            We also had a regular who was in every day for years complaining about how gray the weather is in the Puget Sound region and all the gay people everywhere. So he moved to San Francisco.

          2. This whole thread is full of hilarity and wonderfulness but that finally made me laugh out loud. XD

  30. I’m willing to enter into debate with combative people from time to time. A friend’s husband argues as his default method of communication; he’s literally unaware that his voice is rising until he sounds angry and that it sounds like he’s jumping on people and saying they’re wrong when I think he means to say, “Yes, and…”

    With such people, when I feel like the conversation is going off the rails, I pull up short and say, “It feels like we’re not quite hearing each other. Can you tell me, in your words, what it is I just said? How do you interpret that? Do you think it’s true?” Because I find often they’ve rushed ahead to argue with me so readily, they just haven’t processed what I’m saying. I like to slow the tempo of the conversation down and make sure that we’re really listening to each other, not just slinging arguments back and forth as fast as we can word them.

  31. I had a similar situation with my brother in law. So I bought a big floppy dildo and when he started arguing (about computers – he’s never used a computer, I’m an IT professional), I plopped this on the table. “Now, since you automatically agree with anything that has a penis, and automatically disagree with everything that doesn’t have a penis, I now have a penis, so you can shut the hell up and listen to the expert, okay?”

    Everyone was mortified, but man, it stopped right then, right there. He still talks to my sister like she’s a moron, but he doesn’t argue with me any more, or my (female) cousin who borrowed the dildo at their next dinner party. Big red and black rubber dildo shuts him right up!

        1. Oh! it’s like the talking stone. The lady with the penis gets to do the talking and be listened to.
          I just bummed myself out with that.

    1. I have occasionally used this rhetorically (“Oh my god, do I need to go buy a dildo before you will believe me?”) but never actually laid my thing down like that. Maybe I’ll put a dildo in my purse before the next time I go to a party guaranteed to contain a ‘splainer.

  32. ‘the people who raise the questions of injustice and fuckery are treated as “impolite”, “attention-seeking” people who “take things too personally,” “play the race card,” “play the victim card”, and ruin everyone’s “fun,’

    Don’t forget the ever popular, “Gah, why doesn’t everything have to be so PC!”

    “PC” of course, is short for: “I do not want to have to make the effort to take into account the thoughts, feelings, and life experiences of people who are unlike me, because doing that would validate them, and really if these people are having problems, it’s just their fault for not choosing to be more like me. I do not want to make the effort to refrain from a handful of bad words/phrases to make anyone else comfortable.”

    The “safe subjects” thing is a lifesaver. And not just with unpleasant people. My stepfather is a wonderful man, but he’s very quiet and we have little in common, and my mother gets upset at me and my siblings for not taking him into account in our conversations. But he loves gardening. So I ask him about that. And now I can get him to explain card games as well. For someone like me, who has a hard time having a conversation with people who are quiet and not geeky, having a handful of subjects in your pocket that you pull out like a magic trick is like a Social Cheatcode.

    (And since there are some subjects that my mother occasionally brings up that I Will Not Talk About with her, like politics or religion, it’s handy to have something I can switch the conversation to.)

    But there’s a lot to be said for not keeping silent. If he makes your mother happy, that’s good. If she acts like he makes her happy, that’s less good. And sometimes, someone is willing to pretend, even to themselves, that the person their with is the one they want to be with UNTIL situations like what you described start happening and keep happening, and peace is not had. If someone is repeatedly called out on their shenanigans, and makes a jerk of themselves each time, it starts to wear on the partner.

    1. This. I have a cousin-in-law with Aspergers. He doesn’t talk much. The older generation of our family is all Concern Troll-y about him; will he ever get a job, girlfriend, happiness?! At first cousin Itt didn’t talk much to me either. But then I asked him a question about a programming thing he was working on and now we always have a safe subject to talk about if he wants. I like to think that I’m a welcome person to flee too if things get to noisy and crowded around him during family get-togethers, I always let him speak about his interests and last time I even got a hug goodbye. The fam is all “Oooh, Kellis Amberlee, the cousin whispererer” but it’s really about finding a safe subject and respecting the person you’re talking with. If they’d bother to respect his Aspergers instead of trying to make him something he’s not, they too would see how wonderful he is.

      Ending this potential derail now, but I feel you.

  33. This reminds me of a very Republican coworker during the Clinton administration who was not well informed (to say the least) and loved to have “discussions” about politics. Nothing I said would deter him so one day I engaged on a Clinton issue, countered every assertion with facts for about 15 minutes. He got so flustered he finally shouted, “it doesn’t matter you’re a commie!” OMG, I started laughing and could not stop. After that I had fun with him and it became a game to see how fast I could get him to the “you’re a commie” statement. Once he figured it out he stopped trying to argue politics with me 🙂

    1. Yes, I left out “CRUSH THEM on the merits of the argument” in the OP. A tragic oversight! 🙂

    2. I once derailed a mansplainer by just bursting into uncontrollable, tears-running-down-my-face-laughter right at the start, from the absurd wrongness of what he was saying. Worked beautifully, but I’m a bad actress, so I’m not sure it’s something I could ever use strategically.

  34. Another anecdote about successfully escaping a conversation with a ‘splainer:

    I supervise a team of folks who help low-income tenants fight their evictions in housing court. My team goes to court with their clients every week but because I am a boring boss lady, I’m stuck at the office. Which is how I ended up making chit-chat with someone at the locker next to mine at the gym (while I was getting undressed, for double awkward fun) and discovering that she’s in housing court every week representing landlords.

    She immediately launched into “blah blah people who live in Section 8 housing are basically stealing from the government, blah blah welfare queens, blah blah.” Instead of launching back with one of the laundry list of reasons why she is wrong, I said, “Yeah, but what possible benefit would there be for me to agree with you?”

    She was kind of flabbergasted, so I was able to escape and take a shower. My experience of ‘splainers has been that they don’t actually even care that much about proving their point, they just want to go on a power trip. It was liberating for me to decide I didn’t care about proving my point either, I just cared about whether there was any benefit to me in letting her go on a power trip. Spoilers: there was zero benefit.

    (Caveat here being that I don’t mean for this to come across as some kind of privileged “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” bullshit, just that this approach worked for me once, and made me feel good.)

  35. The problem is, I look at things like this and I come up with scripts like “No, you should tell him to stop attacking me. I will not be Czechoslovakia so you can have Peace in Our Time.”

    Rationally, I suspect that would (a) stop them from insisting that I had to be the bigger person but (b) not actually achieve the rest of what I wanted, even if they had never heard of Godwin’s Law. Or at most it would let me feel more satisfied about walking out on the conversation with Enabling Relatives than if the yelling was about something else. (Fortunately, I don’t have that sort of relatives anymore; when I did, I had no idea of how to deflect and wound up taking the extreme option of entirely refusing to speak to the person whose idea of fun conversation was to escalate any argument until I fled the room in tears.)

    1. I love this script. I’m keeping this in my back pocket. I probably won’t ever use it, but it’ll amuse me.

      (And make me fantasize about ending topics of conversation by intentionally Godwin’s Lawing it. “Oh yeah, you know who else used arguments to make points? Hitler! Boom! Godwin’s Lawed you, clearly this discussion is over.” “But that means you lose!” “Just like Germany! Oops, did it again.”)

      Sometimes I feel it helps to have all the over-the-top stuff in the back of your mind, if only to know that if you truly don’t care anymore, you COULD use it. Not that you have to. But you totally could.

  36. Urgh.
    I think all of us know an older person who can’t deal with a younger person who might *shock!* know more/have done their research.
    From time to time, I have this probably with my Dad. We have great conversations about all kinds of things, and more often than not, agree on them. But just sometimes, he can Not Deal with being the one who is haven’t to be educated.

    Example: At Christmas, mum is doing a crossword, “something, something, measurement of paper…(??)”
    Dad: Oh, that’s a quire.
    Me: How funny, a quire is also where the choir sit in churches.
    Dad: Quire?!? That’s so wrong, blah blah blah!! You’re stupid! Blah blah blah.
    Me: I’m pretty sure I’m right… I’ll just google it.
    Sure enough. I was right.

    Couple of days ago:
    Me: I’m thinking of doing a day trip to X town I’ve never been to before.
    Dad: That’ll be nice. It’s pretty far away isn’t it though?
    Me: Not that bad. Only 2 hours according to Google Maps.
    Dad: 2 hours?!? It’s way more than that!!! More like 4!!! Blah, blah, stupid, blah.
    Me: Well, I trust Google, it’s never got this wrong for me before.
    Sure enough. 2 hours drive, literally to the minute.

    And now I’m going to phone him up to request an apology! lol

      1. If it comes up again, just reassure him that you’re sure he’s right, if you’re travelling by horse and buggy, or avoid New Highway Built 20 Years Ago…

  37. Ugh. I know a splainer who not only thinks she’s always right, she also loudly accuses people of lying whenever they say something that doesn’t match what she thinks. I once told her I didn’t remember the girl she was talking about and it was “Yes you do, you liar”. As you can imagine, being accused of lying for no reason frustrates people and usually leads to them exasperatedly correcting her, at which point she shouts “Well how was I supposed to know that? Hmmm?” She is an awful person to be around.

  38. Two of the (not at all nice) ones I’ve used when people are ‘splaining – I’m in the sciences so a lot of times, there is a right and wrong answer.
    1) nope. That’s not right. [response] well, you’re still wrong but that’s okay. (disengage; keep tone completely neutral.
    2) that doesn’t make sense on a (incredibly detailed) level. Because (incredibly technical, detailed, multisyllabic world inundated explanation that involves a lot of trade knowledge). How does X fit in? (the goal is to make their eyes glaze over.)
    3) oh, I didn’t realize you had a degree in X/had studied X professionally! (this can be either completely innocently or totally sarcastic.)

    these are not nice comments but they have worked when nice hasn’t.

  39. I’ve dealt with the ‘keep the peace!!’ mantra for years within my own family. I have a cousin who could fill a bingo card for racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. etc. And a sister who gets on my very last nerve for any number of reasons, mostly related to her giving ‘helpful’ advice when it comes to being our mother’s primary caretaker. Like, I’m here, sis (NJ) and you’re way the hell out there (AZ)…you don’t have a single clue what life is like here in the trenches. You can take your condescending advice like ‘take her to a therapist!” and choke on it.

    But always I’ve bitten my tongue because my mother begged me to ‘keep the peace’ and not ‘make waves.’ This year, though, something just snapped in my head and I decided I wasn’t going to do it anymore. My script for my mother went thusly:

    “I get that you don’t like confrontation. That’s fine. But I get to have my own relationships with people. I even get to decide I don’t want a relationship at all. It is not fair that you except me to moderate my relationships based on your desires.”

    Now, if my cousin says something awful my response is “Oh, WOW… *dead stare*”

    If she does it again: “Sorry, I know we’ve talked about this before and I have no intention of revisiting the topic. Would you like to change the topic, or should I go upstairs?”

    It’s worked so well that if someone else brings up a touchy topic, cousin is now the one to request a subject change.

    My sister I just outright avoid as much as possible. I will update her on issues considering our mother’s health. but I’ve stopped replying to any attempts to make small talk and I will not answer the phone. I gave mom a script for dealing with ‘but WHY” questions…

    Sister: “But WHY won’t she talk to me?”
    Mom: “That’s between the two of you. Please don’t try to get me involved *subject change*

    To the LW…personally, I would take the tactic of calling him out on it. Make him explain himself for once. “I’m pretty sure that’s what I just said. Could you explain why you don’t argue with ‘boyfriend’ like you do with me?’

    There’s also a good chance he thinks you enjoy this behavior. For some reason ‘explainers’ seem to think they’re being really engaging and that because you have an interest in something, you must love debating about it. So…”I am not enjoying this. Let’s talk about something else” as directly as possible. If he won’t listen to you, have your boyfriend say the same thing…the goal here isn’t to win the battle (though it’s really, really hard to let the battle go) but rather the war.

    1. TC, that’s awesome to hear! I remember when you showed up; Iwas sad to hear how totally dispirited you were after years of putting up with that crap. Now it sounds like you’ve managed to set some boundaries for yourself to get some breathing space. I hope it makes things better for you!

      1. I’m afraid the truth is my new-found strength in boundary making is just a reflection of my utter inability to deal. I am *barely* keeping my head above water and I just have no energy to waste on those people. My mother’s mental state continues to deteriorate and she’s starting to cross over into outright emotionally abusive behavior. She won’t trust me to make decisions for her medically, but she’s not capable of doing it herself…so it’s this absolutely excruciating cycle of her making a bad choice, then forcing me to clean things up and try to fix it. She’ll just follow me around the house screaming about her pills or her doctors and I’m just…battered. She’s also completely incapable of understanding cause and effect, or that time is linear (no, the pills you JUST started could not possibly be responsible for the headaches that started four months ago.)

        Sorry, I don’t mean to post a sob story. But yeah…things ain’t so good here..

        1. Oh ugh, out of the frying pan and into the fire. I’m really sorry. Sounds like you must be running ragged.

        2. Aw, man. I’m sorry. I hope some kind of alternative arrangement becomes possible, because the current one obviously isn’t working for anybody.

    2. Did your sister preface a lot of her advice with “Why don’t you just …” As in, “Why don’t you just take her to a therapist?”

      I don’t blame you for the avoidance. Too bad there’s no easy way to get her to cover for you while you go on an extended vacation. (Presumably there’s no easy way — I remember your letter and am still angry on your behalf.) Assuming that she wouldn’t do anything to put your mother in danger, which I suppose I shouldn’t assume, you’d get a nice break and she’d get an education.

      1. No…she was supposed to take her for a week earlier this year. When Mom gets pushed out of her comfort zone, she immediately starts feeling ‘sick’ and trying to back out of things. I was sure I could push her past it and get her on the plane, but it became very evident my sister regretted offering at all. The whole thing blew up (I’m still trying to get the money back for the ticket.) So, there went that, and she won’t come here.

        And yep, it’s always “why don’t you just talk to her about her medication…” I do. Daily. In excruciating detail. It does not help because the woman is no longer rational. Every once in awhile she’ll say or do something that seems to drive that point semi-home with my siblings (and it annoys the piss out of me how *shocked* they always are), but they never seem to grasp just how serious the situation is.

        1. Gah. I’m sorry. That sucks.

          My rule of advice: Any suggestion that begins “Why don’t you just …” is going to be worthless.

          1. I agree with your rule of advice. Is there a term, commentariat, for “why don’t you just…”? My family says it CONSTANTLY to me.

          2. In my own head, I simply call it a “Why Don’t You Just.” Could be shortened to WDYJ, but that’s even more syllables. Stupid Ws. 🙂 Can anyone else think of a more concise term?

          3. It’s the just bit that makes me stabby. It always comes across as, “You’re too incompetent to have considered this, but I am Always Right and As Someone Who’s Always Right, I will tell you this blindingly obvious fact and you will bow down and worship me.” When in reality it’s either A) not possible or B) irrelevent to the subject or C) both.

          4. ‘xactly, Aurora. It’s fine to ask, “What would happen if you did X?” (Even that gets tiresome when you have to answer it a hundred times in a hundred different conversations, but at least it’s respectful.) “Why don’t you just X?” = “Why are you so dumb?”

  40. One zen like thing I have tried hard to master. The only way you can ‘win’ against a mansplainer is to not feel bad afterwards. So whatever tactics you take are all valid.

    An example would be, my father will say “the sky is blue” I will say “The sky is clear, blah blah, Tyndall Effect, blah blah.” “Now listen here, I know it may not have crossed your mind, but… blah blah. The sky is BLUE.” “Nope! Have a mountain of research papers printed off Just For You offering inarguable proof that the sky is clear.”
    “…. As I’ve been saying for the past 10 minutes, the sky is CLEAR! Why can’t you get it through your head that it’s not blue. Sheesh.”

    And that is, sadly, the only way I can ever ‘win’ is to change the argument from if A or B is right, to gaslighting duck season rabbit season. I take my small victories when I can. But… never in the history of the universe will he ever admit he was flat out wrong and I was right. Never. And that’s nothing I did, it’s not my responsibility, that’s his flaw to bear, not mine.

    And it’s hard! Oh it’s hard to live with because movies and books and TV and everything loves the fantasy that the perfect speech, zinger, comeback, or script will make even the most hardheaded person blink and go “You were right all along!”

    But I think it’s such a persistent fantasy because it almost never happens in the real world.

    1. Movies and books and TV, after all, are created by writers, people good with words whose art reflects their inner dreams and longings. 😉

      1. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that! It just shouldn’t slip to the point where people think the reason they’re not having a heartwarming “You were right and I was wrong.” moment is because they’re doing something wrong .

        I saw a study where they asked participants “Do you like or dislike *politician*?” recorded the result, then gave them an ‘article’ with various untrue facts in it. “*Politician* eats babies for breakfast.” “*Politician* never tips his server.” and then tried various methods of “Oops! We goofed. We meant to say eats Wheaties, and always tips.” Then they gave them a quiz on the politician. And they discovered that if the person liked or disliked *politician* was a much greater factor in if they remembered/believed the corrected information, or the information they’d been flat out told was wrong, than the method used to correct them.

        So I hold that in mind and try not to take it as personally when I’m being mansplained to. It’s their flawed thinking, in real life, Hiccup’s father would still be going “Don’t care if they saved everyone and my only son, dragons still suck and are evil and we’re going to kill them all.” because.. that’s why we use fantasy to escape from the fact people just suck sometimes.

    2. The only way you can ‘win’ against a mansplainer is to not feel bad afterwards. So whatever tactics you take are all valid.

      This is a brilliant way of thinking about these kinds of situations that I didn’t have before. Thank you!

  41. Hello Captain Awkward!

    I just wanted to say that your post is filled with win and awesome and I will be making use of a lot of the tactics you mentioned.

    I especially wanted to comment on the idea of spending alone time with my mom and limiting time with A. A while ago me and mom had dinner together because A was on a trip with some buddies and it was So. Incredibly. Nice. I’d forgotten how nice it could be to talk to my mom! I’d forgotten that when A is not around we get to talk to *each other*! I think more lunches and dinner’s on our own is in order.

    I’ve also noticed that I have a limit on my patience in dealing with A and using various techniques in handling him. An evening is just fine. A weekend is fine. Four days is the limit. After that it’s all just grating. So I will be limiting the time we stay with them in their summer cottage and how long we spend holidays with them.

    And as a long-term solution me and boyfriend will be getting our driver’s licenses and a car. I live in an area where you can get by excellently with only using mass-transit and a lot of people will not get around to getting their licence until they decide to have kids because of the expense. But there have been so many holiday situations where I feel trapped by the fact that we can’t get out of there independently that it really has to change.

    1. The driving thing is so helpful! Even if you’re not at the point of, say, walking out and cutting the trip short, being able to get away and spend a few hours on your own is so incredibly helpful in dealing with people like A. My grandma is kind of an annoying argumentative type like A. (luckily she’s never tried to ‘splain my field of expertise to me, or AFAIK done anything similar to my mom, dad, or brother, but she will argue and she will be sure she’s right. About the smallest things. I think the biggest argument I had with her was whether there was any black tea in all of China (she claimed there was none because she’d been to China and none of the restaurants served black tea; I couldn’t let that stand and sputtered that black tea was *invented* in China, cue huge argument). Unfortunately I’m not good at letting things go either, although I’m working on it). One Thanksgiving when I was a teenager, the most helpful thing my dad did for me was to see how fed up I was getting with the nitpicking and criticism, and just take me and my brother out for a couple of hours. I mean, we just went to the grocery store to get pie ingredients and got lunch at White Castle or somewhere, and vented a bit about how Grandma could be so annoying sometimes. But it was such a good thing for me, just to have a break from all that so I could come back and try to be pleasant and enjoy the good qualities of my family members rather than arguing.

  42. Just wondering (sorry if anyone has mentioned this, but couldn’t see it in the comments): Since LW’s boyfriend has noticed the “will accept statement if it comes from person with penis but reject otherwise” behaviour, is it possible that *he* could be the one to call A. on it, thus making it much more difficult for A. to pull the “woman being overemotional about this” card? Come to think of it, he could even chime in deliberately with the same point just to draw A. into this situation & call him on it, thus:

    A: The sky is green [or whatever].
    LW: No, honestly, it’s blue.
    A. Patronising blah blah rejection of idea that sky is blue.
    Boyfriend (chiming in in the tone of someone to whom a totally new point has just occurred): You know, A, I’ve noticed the sky is blue.
    A: Yes, you’re absolutely right – how astute of you to notice it’s blue.
    Boyfriend: WHOA, WTF? I just said the SAME EXACT THING LW has been saying all along – how come you were convinced she was wrong about it?
    A: Oh, no, I didn’t!
    Boyfriend: No, you definitely did. What is it with you?

    Or, alternatively, keep interrupting the ‘patronising blah blah rejection of idea’ bit with lots of turning to LW looking interested, talking over A, and saying “Hey, that’s really interesting, could you tell me more about your studies in sky colour?”

    Obviously, BF may not feel up to all of this script, and will often not be around anyway, but I’m thinking even a little bit of having someone *male* call A. out on the “LW just said the same thing and you disagreed when she said it” in a tone that makes it clear that this is not-OK behaviour could go a long way here.

    1. If BF enjoys being politely passive-aggressive, he could also cheerfully credit his point to LW in the same tone you’d use to be like “I read about it in college” or whatever.

      A: The sky is green [or whatever].
      LW: No, honestly, it’s blue.
      A. Patronising blah blah rejection of idea that sky is blue.
      Boyfriend (chiming in in the tone of someone to whom a totally new point has just occurred): You know, A, I’ve noticed the sky is blue.
      A: Yes, you’re absolutely right – how astute of you to notice it’s blue.
      Boyfriend: Thanks! I got the idea from LW, who just said it about thirty seconds ago.

      If A denies that LW said any such thing, which he probably will, BF can just shrug and be like “Well, that’s what I heard her say,” then change (or try to change) the subject.

      1. I’m occasionally the person who gets recognized for somebody else’s point. I think I’ll start using this!

  43. A friend’s husband is a terrible mansplainer. For example, he once told a group of women that women only want to have sex to have babies. Despite having lived through the sexual revolution and the introduction of the Pill, he has apparently forgotten all about it. Anyway, I happen to enjoy a good argument now and again and really sunk my teeth into him on that occasion. BUT. I do not enjoy arguing all the time and while I usually try to do “girl’s nights” only events with that friend, he generally finds a way to “just show up”.

    I no longer try to be nice about it and refuse to engage in any conversation with him. The only way I can derail his ridiculous monologues – and admittedly, you have to be perfectly okay acting like a bitch-on-wheels to use this one – is: “I don’t have the patience to explain all the ways you are wrong on this one, R. I am here to have fun, not school you on X.” I will then pointedly ignore him, talk over him, and interrupt him until he (finally!) drops the subject. This may also mean turning my back to him and leading other people away from him. Because he does it on purpose. He loves to make people flustered. Even when I take the time to tear his argument to shreds, he just considers it a “scintillating discussion” while I am ready to rend him limb-from-limb. Once I realized that seriously pissing people off with mansplaining was fun for him, I realized that playing his game his way just made him worse. Even if I won one argument, he would take that as a pretext to come up with an even more outrageous subject the next time.

    And now I feel the need to reassure everyone that he is the only person I can/will do that too, probably because I don’t like him and he is not a member of my family, (or a co-worker, or customer that I would feel more pressure to not rock the boat with) and that I’m not normally like that. lol

  44. Oh number 3. Number 3 is, paradoxically, the reason I am able to have a relationship with my mother. My stepfather is a bully and a misogynist and there have been times that just the cadences of his voice give me an anxiety attack. Admitting to myself (and to people with whom it’s safe to talk about) that I absolutely do not like him and never ever will has made it possible for me to go over to my mother’s house/see him at social events, greet him politely, and make a little brief small talk. Which, in turn, takes some tension out of my relationship with my mom.

    And, as per one of the Captain’s comments above, some of that started with standing up to him and watching it get really awkward (where by awkward I mean he shouted at me so loud his voice was breaking, walked out and slammed the door, and then my mother sided with him against me), because it gave me a lot of valuable information. Like, that he will lose his shit even more if someone points out to him that there are modes of communicating other than yelling. And that my mother will probably never have my back when it comes to dealing with him, so I don’t expect her to.

    I did have to spell out for her explicitly that no, I don’t hate him (which may have been a bit of an exaggeration, but sometime honesty is not the best policy). And that right now, I have a really okay, civil sort of relationship with him, and that even if it’s not the relationship Mom wished I had with him it is the one I do have and she needs not to keep trying to fix it, because it is not broken.

    1. …What kind of relationship does she want you to have with him? Just how much do you get shouted at in that one?

      1. I think in her idealized version of reality, if I’d just be nicer to him and pretend he was my biological father–part of the game is she’s allergic to me acknowledging that he’s my *step*father–or at least someone who’d been in my life all along and not someone I had to get to know as a teenager, then he wouldn’t need to shout at me. Or if he did need to shout at me (because, you know, sometimes he can’t help it) I’d apologize right away and maybe bake him some cookies just to show how very sorry I am that I made him angry.

  45. Ulg!
    I’ve had these conversations. I’m not a grad-student, but I majored in wildlife management/biology and have worked in the field for a number of years on several projects.

    All the ‘old timers’ try to tell me why deer do this or that, when I’ve just spent 2 years in the field, sitting out in winter freezing my butt off studying those same deer, reading papers about those deer, seeing the damn deer in my sleep…..

    Not to mention other scientific topics, global warming, my crazy bible-tossing uncle who insists that vaccines are the reason why people get cancer, I am grinding my teeth just thinking about it. On top of everything else I am an atheist, so they use that as a topic derailment even though religious opinions are not at all related to the subject at hand.

    The Captain is right on this, pick your battles, rally your troops, and if the right time comes send them your publications so they can read the citations for themselves. Most won’t, and if they start again you can ask them some technical question and watch them struggle with it. For me it’s usually something along the lines of “which diversity index/statistical analysis should they have used instead, do you think?”

  46. Thanks a lot for this post, Captain. I was in a very similar situation a few years ago and had a lot of bad times until I figured out what to do (which is what you said) by trial and error.

  47. I had an uncle. Loved him to bits, but he was a dittohead and it was infuriating. It was the kind of household where there’d end up being political yelling matches at every holiday because too many people were in the house and somebody would say something.

    One time, I tried an experiment. I managed to express my liberal position in a way that involved zero typical buzzwords and he agreed completely, because fundamentally he is a decent guy. It took a while to do so because there were a lot of words I had no idea were buzzwords but I kept at it. Finally, after we came to agreement, I pointed out what I had done and he…. didn’t believe me, or didn’t believe that what we had agreed on was actually a liberal principal, or I was being cute, or something. I don’t know. I didn’t teach him anything, I don’t think.

    I did teach myself something, though. Probably not worth it unless you’re very, very bored, the kind of bored that wants to wrestle the pig in the muck because you’ve got a theory that the pig knows how to waltz. Even if the pig does waltz, you’ve still got to convince it that it’s doing so.

    1. I have just one uncle in the immediate family who does this — somewhere midway through GBW’s presidency, he turned into a bafflingly infuriating liberal-baiter who acts the part of any number of “isms” — but unfortunately the rest of the family thinks watching me get outraged by others’ hatefulness is damned entertaining.

      What put a stop to it was this: At the first hint of baiting, my immediate response was, “Uncle X, why are you trying to pick a fight? That doesn’t sound like my idea of a good time.”

      I think I’ve had to pull out this script exactly twice. The second time, my aunt/his wife chimed in with, “Yeah, X, why you gotta do that, huh?” and a chuckle as though she were half-joking.

      That was it. He hasn’t tried this crap on me in years. For a little while, I was worried he’d eventually come back with, “You keep saying that, it’s going to get old” or something like that; then I’d have to be all “Yes, and I will choose to keep saying it any time you try to pick a fight. Sick of hearing it? Quit trying to pick a fight.” But it never came to that. Since then, the closest he’s come to baiting me is to deliberately say something squicky racist in my hearing. Since he wasn’t saying it t me, I pretended not to hear him, and he didn’t push.

      Like most responses to troublesome ‘splainers in the family, it won’t work in every situation, but it it works for anyone reading this, have at it and welcome to it.

  48. I’m in science (medical research), and I had two people in my life who used to love ‘bonding’ with me by reading a report on some research on the local paper, repeating the mangled version to me, and then arguing with me about it because “I think the journalist knows more about this than you do, person who works in the field”. If I had read the actual article, they would assume that the report was on a different publication put out by that lab, and that the idea they’d cemented in their heads was the right one.

    So my default response has become “Yeah, no.”

    “I saw in the paper that science has invented a new type of jellyfish.”
    “Yeah, no.”

    The good thing about this response is that it forces them to either defend their statement, or ask me to elaborate on my stance.

    “What do you mean, ‘no’?”
    “I mean that’s not what the paper was about / Nothing actually works in the way you’ve just said that it does.”


    “Yeah, but [details from the newspaper article].”
    [small smile] “Yeahhh, no.”

    It’s very hard for people to argue with a flat, calm “no”, and it’s very easy to keep bringing it out. Usually they’d get huffy and ask “Well, what do you think the article was about then?” and I’d explain it to them if I felt like it. Other times I’d say “Wow, you’re really fired up about some article in the local paper that we both hate. Anyway, [change of topic].” Pointing out that they were getting ’emotional’ over my disagreement usually derailed them, because if they kept arguing it would be about how they were NOT emotional, and, okay. Sure. Now let’s talk about that other thing anyway.

    One person stopped having these kind of conversations with me altogether (win!) and the second still tries sometimes but backs away sooner, because he knows that it’s likely that the conversation will be annoying for him (making the conversation difficult for him, like he has done to me in the past? Also a win). It isn’t always a great tactic – if I don’t have a one-line reply on why everything that came out of their mouths was inaccurate, then I’d be grilled on every critique. But the beauty of “Yeah, no” is that it’s also a solid response to “Justify your stance on this so I can attack it some more.” “Yeah, no. I’m not playing that game this time.”

  49. Here’s a tactic I occasionally use:

    Splainer: This thing here is upsetting to me. Validate my righteousness!
    Me: Gosh, no wonder it’s upsetting. As *of course you already know*, [how the thing actually works, with as much in-group jargon as you can think of, delivered with a sympathetic tone that wordlessly underscores the ‘no wonder it’s upsetting’ thing you said out loud].

    Few splainers will cop to not actually knowing the thing you’ve out-loud given them credit for totally knowing and understanding. They can’t make you cite further without admitting they don’t actually know the thing you’ve just given them out-loud credit for knowing. Knees: cut off at. More often than not in my experience, it is the splainer that changes the subject.

  50. Best conversation I ever had with an office ‘splainer.

    Me “Man PETA is finally getting into trouble for all their sexist advertising.”
    Him “Is their advertising really sexist?”
    Me “Yes.”
    Him “I doubt it really is.”
    Me “I do not actually care, because it is.”
    Him “well I think.”
    Me “I do not care what you think, nor am I going to sit here and convince you of something that is true. Conversational pivot to Bear’s game.”
    Him *confusion followed by rage*

    I heard he later spent like hours telling someone else what a raging bitch I am. Glee is what that makes me feel.

    1. You just out-splained him and he is now really cross because that puts you above him in the social hierarchy.

  51. Jumping in late to this, but I’ve always liked “Would you like me to recommend some books to you on the topic? I can pass those on to you later.”

    Doesn’t work for everything, but it can help shut that conversation down, (“Clearly, you don’t know what you’re on about and I’m not going to act like you do”) or put a pin in it til later (“When you’ve read up on this a bit more, we can discuss it again.”).

    Worse comes to worst, you can sometimes steer it to a “where are you getting your sources from” thing, which can mean an exchange of news articles and books, but also means that right in that moment, you can use it as an escape clause.

  52. The method that’s always effective for me (especially for ‘splainers who hate to look unintelligent) is the Socratic method. You basically take them gently through critical theory, by asking them questions about how they got to their conclusion.

    X: I heard offensive thing!
    You: Where did you hear offensive thing?
    X: From Person A
    You: How did Person A reach this conclusion?

    Usually here is where people stop because they don’t know. And then you gently reply: Sounds like something you should look into.

    If they do know and go further, you can keep asking them questions. It just makes them explain themselves so much that the flaws in their arguments are apparent to them and everyone else, while also allowing you to not argue at all.

  53. These are great ways of minimizing time with a relative who is a pain in the ass, and it sucks to be talked down too.

    Calling the behavior mansplaining seems a bit odd to me, because men do that to each other, and last night I witnessed the female principle of my college (an archaeologist) mansplain to a male PhD student about diabetes, his PhD is on diabetes.

    These interactions are about power. The splainer is making it clear that they are in charge. The topic of conversation or any expertise is irrelevant. Splaining is something done to people that the splainer considers subordinate.

    In a society where some men consider women subordinate, these men will exhibit behaviors that “put people in their place”, including splaining. I think that you know this, and that is why splaining makes you so angry.

    The usual male response is to splain back, and have a non-violent, indirect, argument about who is in charge; just like two cows headbutting each other to establish a dominance hierarchy. Or, alternatively to accept the subbordination, and accept that the splainer is above you in the hierarchy, which is what my friend did when he was splained at by the female principle.

    I think that it is best to engage with the underlying power dynamic, where somone is trying to subbordinate you, rather than trying to genderise the behavior, by calling it mansplaining.

    1. “Mansplaining” is that rare thing, a word that assumes a female POV. It was invented by women, talking among each other about their experiences with this phenomenon. So if you’re a man, doubtless it feels weird and disorienting to have a word where you always have to mentally say, “Oh, I am not the default gender in this worldview; I have to stop and picture things from the other gender’s point of view to make this word make sense.”

      Most women have had to do that mental displacement trick since we were small children trying to understand language the first time around when there are phrases like “farmer’s wife” but not “farmer’s husband”. Our attempts to change language to make it less essentially disorienting (eg. “policeman” to “police officer”) have been difficult and frustrating. So when a man says, “This term which makes perfect sense to you is disorienting to me because I am not the default gender of its point of view” we tend to know exactly where he is coming from… but to us, finding a gender-neutral “mansplaining” falls down on the priority list past finding a gender-neutral entire rest of the English language. We’ll get around to it! …Eventually.

      Is it the most noble and strictly egalitarian impulse in the world? No. We get criticized a lot for our “hypocrisy” in having such an explicitly female-POV word. But on the other hand, having the word in our lexicon is an excellent litmus test. If a male ally is not willing to bear with the potential discomfort hearing it or using it gives him, he is probably not ready to do the more advanced work of re-examining his own privilege either.

      1. It’s about power. To make it explicitly about men and women is to take a very narrow view and leave out all those who might be your ally. If that’s what you want to do in order to revel in your own self-righteousness go ahead but don’t pretend it’s for the benefit of having a litmus test in order to exclude those who you don’t feel are worthy.

        1. You were never going to be an ally if one internet comment could completely alienate you from feminism. “You must always center men and be deferential & nice to them, or else, we won’t help you become less oppressed” isn’t exactly a seller.

          To say that “it’s about power” but that gender dynamics don’t come into play is to ignore who has traditionally had power, or who thinks they get to exert power at the expense of another.

          Also, don’t post here.

        2. I am very sorry that you feel upset with my perspective on language, but I am happy with my choice.

          If someone wants to ally with me, they be willing to deal with some uncomfortable stuff to do so. Since I don’t actually think you need to be my ally to be a good person living a good life, I’m okay with some people not feeling up to that. I know this forces you to deal with me as an individual person and not an avatar of feminism as a whole because this contradicts many things other feminists say, but hey, you’re the person who made it about me and my self-righteousness; I’m just stepping up to the plate.

          I specifically am not a good person to chew out over “excluding” potential allies because for me, liberation work is a vocation that I put up with a lot of shit to be able to do. It’s the kind of work where I have to confront the grotty, uncomfortable bits of my privilege because I’m a helping professional. I like to think I’m helping people who need help, but to be brutally honest my position in society is to mop up after oppression and make sure the underclass doesn’t get so angry or desperate that they agitate for real change. If I only follow my job description I’m greasing the wheels of the kyriarchy, not fighting it. To do meaningful work I have to confront how the job I love is ultimately insufficient and hurtful if I don’t radically question the work I do. So don’t even start with me on being an ally being hard. If I follow my vocation the way it demands of me I’ll end up putting myself out of a job and raising up the people I have power over and it will probably be really personally unpleasant. So I understand where you’re coming from but I don’t have sympathy for you.

          Tho really: the litmus test is not the point. The litmus test is just a handy side perk. If someone’s going to throw a snitfit over “mansplaining” there’s no way they can handle the rest of my feminism. But it’s not the point.

    2. The underlying power dynamic IS an inherently gendered dynamic though. There is no gender neutral version of ‘splaining, Lucille Ball notwithstanding.
      Yes, these interactions are about power, and so we have to consider who exactly has power in our society.

      1. I’d argue that there are versions that operate along different axes of power that gender are more irrelevant to; it’s just that those should be given different names. Abledsplaining, whitesplaining, richsplaining, and so on.

    3. Sure, there can be different kinds of ‘splaining. I definitely know a mom-splainer, for example, and personally, I might amend the term if I feel the situation calls for it .(This does NOT mean that I think everyone should do the same thing.)

      But the point is: Using the term Mansplaining IS “engaging with the underlying power dynamic”. It is explicitly remarking that someone is trying to subordinate you, while AT THE SAME TIME remarking that the dynamic in play is highly gendered. When someone is ‘splaining at a woman and then immediately accepts her argument when a man says the same thing, they are trying to subordinate her based on her sex. It is appropriate to refer to that behaviour as Mansplaining. It is about power dynamics, yes, but it is about gendered power dynamics.

      1. staranise just made this point so much better than me.

        Abledsplaining, whitesplaining, richsplaining…
        the term can change according to what axis of power we’re discussing. That doesn’t negate the use of Mansplaining when we’re talking about gendered occurences.

  54. Super late to this conversation, but I go look up football stuff every time I go home to visit my parents to fuel conversations with my dad. My college team, his fav pro team, and my local team. Guaranteed friendy convos all weekend.

  55. I love so many things about this post, including the bigger-picture idea of not keeping the peace at the expense of social justice! My question is this: what do you do when the difficult, missing-stair-type person isn’t your mother’s partner but your mother?

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