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“But I was reading.” Photo by Ash Hernandez, via Cathy De La Cruz (@SadDiego)

Hello Captain!

I have an situation that I don’t think has been discussed: how do you deal with Stranger Mansplainers when you are a lady doing things normally associated with manliness & they can’t fathom how a lady could figure out how to do such things?

For me: I am a lady & I participate in an activity that involves pulling trailers behind trucks. Backing the trailer into a parking space so you can go participate in the actual event is a frequent occurrence. I’m usually at these events by myself & can back up my own trailer, thank you very much. But I frequently encounter dudes who refuse to believe this is the case. I have had them bang on the windows of my truck, yell at me to stop, & block me from backing up my rig, all when I have a completely clear path & am not in danger of hitting anything. I’ve tried the “thank you, but I’m fine” approach but they refuse to move until I follow their directions. Sometimes they tell me to do exactly what I was already doing, other times they want me to follow a completely convoluted path that makes no sense. Even better, they usually follow it up with something along the lines of “if you don’t get hysterical, it’s easy!”

Other than going to the event management, how can I deal with this? It makes even more fun when the Mansplainers have their own rig that they parked like a Picasso painting, but it still sours the event for me. I don’t have any history with these dudes, they’re just total strangers who see a lady driving a truck & trailer and assume incompetence. Please help.

I’ve Been Backing My Own Trailers For A Long Time, Eff Off.

Dear Eff Off,

I think it’s worth reaching out to the organizers with this to see if they can’t send out some kind of safety reminder, like, “Hey, if you offer to help someone back up, and they say they’ve got it, it means they’ve got it. Get out of the way!” Treating it like a safety issue (which it is), rather than a sexism issue (which it also is) is going to have the cleanest chance of getting through.

You could also try a not-moving standoff. Dude won’t move until you take his directions? You won’t move until he gets out of the way.

But the truth of it is: You’re doing everything right already and there is no way to preemptively get these guys to stop acting like jackasses. You can’t control their behavior at all by phrasing things differently. So what remains is to deliver the message very clearly in a way that (hopefully) amuses you.

To do this, first, decline the offers verbally just as you have been. “Thank you, I got this!

If the interrupter persists in standing behind your truck and waving his arms at you, beckon him over, roll down your window, and hand him this flyer from the stack you keep in your glove box.

A photo of Imperator Furiosa from Mad Max Fury Road that says

Prepare for lots of sadface and “I was just TRYING to HELP YOU you are SO RUDE, JEEZ” pouting. Feel no need to smooth it over. No condescending insistence on “helping” complete with condescending “don’t get hysterical” comments? No condescending flyer!

P.S. This comment rules. Consider it.

Hi, Captain and company,

Recently I was reading through your archives and I found a great discussion on how to deal with a parent’s significant other who co-ops all conversations into another round of ‘Who’s right-er?’ with the answer always being “me.” (of course I cannot find that question now to give you context)

You gave some great advice about how to disengage from the conversation, how to change the subject, and how to set boundaries with that person, and I’m wondering if you have any advice on how to take this a step further, with a group discussion where you are not being addressed personally, in which you are one of say, six or so, who does not agree with one person.

Because this all feels very vague and theoretical, let me give you an example:

I am a very liberal person in all aspects of life: political, social, and religious. I am part of an extended family who cares very deeply about these things in a much more conservative way. Most of my family is super cool and can accept that I disagree (while still thinking I’m wrong) and I’ve had good discussions with them about these issues before.

My uncle, however, is mean and loud about it. He says awful, hateful things about our president and social issues and most of the rest of my family lets him talk until he’s done, even though I suspect (and in some cases, know, like with my mother) they do not agree with him or the way he expresses himself. No matter what the group is talking about, he’ll turn it into a discussion of politics, religion, or social issues. As I am writing this I realize that he’s a bit of a missing stair.

I am usually the youngest family member in these conversations, and also a lady person. Leaving the room would mean that I don’t get to spend time with the other family who is there, like my grandparents.

How do I co-opt a conversation from the man who has co-op’ed it in the first place? I’m not as loud as him, nor as pushy, nor as heard in the family, due to my age.

Signed,
There Will Be No Third Term

Dear There Will Be No Third Term,

Hi! Your sign-off made me literally LOL, so, good work there.

I think the old response you are looking for is this one. Or maybe this one.

You’re not the hostess of these gatherings, so you have less standing to say, loudly, “How interesting, Uncle. Cousin, how is your landscaping project going?” and redirect the conversation of the whole table like Ye Dowager Countess of Olde. But one thing you can do is tune him the fuck out on the micro level, by turning to the people sitting close to you and saying, quietly, “Cousin, however did you grow this pumpkin?” or “Grandma, I loved reading about the new church choir in that last letter you sent, how is that going?” and starting up a murmur of side conversations. Do it quietly, so you aren’t challenging your uncle directly , but also rebel by visibly tuning out and physically turning your body away from him while he talks and focusing your attention solely on the person you’re asking.

No lie: It will feel incredibly rude and weird the first time you do it, but no more rude than making the entire group listen to his rants. Think of it as throwing a conversational lifeline to your neighbor. If they pick it up, you two can have a little side conversation. Others may see this and gratefully flock to it. Suddenly the overall subject will be changed, and Uncle will flail, as he will not quite know what happened. If they don’t pick it up, try it again with someone else. You can start small and sort of work your way up to it.

Uncle may attempt to turn the conversation back to himself, and he may pick on you in the process, like “How rude, didn’t you hear that I was talking?” If he just talks louder, or whatever, without picking on you, keep doing what you’re doing without comment. If he makes it about you, this is where the advice to Have The Argument, Already kicks in.

  • “Sorry, Uncle, you seemed to show know sign of stopping, and I really wanted to catch up with Grandma since I’m here for such a short time.”
  • “Wow, Uncle, I wasn’t aware that we’d hired you to lecture us for this gathering. I thought this was a family dinner, and that everyone is allowed to talk.” 
  • “Uncle, I really didn’t feel like arguing with you about politics, so I asked other people at the table to talk quietly about other things.” 
  • “Uncle, I kept waiting for you to come to the end of your point, but then 30 minutes passed, and I wanted to talk to Grandpa while he’s still with us.”

This is one you could deploy in the moment, or one you can ask your parents & grandparents about ahead of time:

  • “I don’t know how everyone else feels about this, but maybe it’s time for a No Politics At The Dinner Table rule. I know I get really fatigued by discussions like that, especially when I get so little time to see you all.” 

Others may be willing to adapt a “no, really, this rule is for everyone!” stance rather than take on your uncle directly. You may get some friction from your family around this, like, you’re the one making it weird. Stay strong and keep trying, little by little! There is *someone* else in that room who is grateful to you and who will pick up your conversational lifelines and throw you lifelines in return.

Finally, when you’re not all at the dinner table together, consider pulling favorite relatives aside and hanging out with them in twos and threes and volunteering for tasks away from the main action. “Let’s go on a nice after-dinner walk.” “We need more milk from the store. Grandma, want to come with me to get some?” “Cousin, want to stay out here with me while I clean the grill?” That way you get some quality time in without anyone having to make a scene.

Readers, what strategies do you have for rescuing a gathering from That Guy or That Lady?

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?

Sincerely,

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.

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