Eugenia Yun was just making small talk with a co-worker at a previous job.
The health editor and mother of three said she was explaining that she had recently been too busy to make kimchi, the pickled cabbage that’s a staple in Korean American homes. It’s labor intensive and usually takes a couple days to make.
Yun’s mother-in-law was going to visit and bring several different types of her own homemade kimchi, which would be a big help, Yun said.
Then, Yun said, a White male colleague interjected himself into the conversation, telling Yun that he knew how to make really good “authentic” kimchi — which Yun had been doing regularly for two decades, using a recipe from her husband’s grandmother. He said he had learned from a friend.
“He was going on about how you need to salt it. He didn’t really go into details, I’m guessing because he didn’t know the details,” Yun, now 42, said.
“What can I do?” she said. He outranked her at the company. “I smiled and nodded. … And then he walked away.”
For Yun, it was the combination of her co-worker interjecting himself into a conversation she was having with someone else and the presumption that he could explain kimchi to her — a cultural touchstone as much as a food staple for those of Korean heritage.
“My brain was all, wait, which part is more insulting: The mansplaining in general or the fact that he’s White and we’re talking about kimchi?”
Her story is a familiar one. Most women have their own “mansplaining” story — a term that refers to instances when a man explains something to a woman in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.
In the 1990s, when Nancy Stebbing was working in a science theater, she says a male co-worker interrupted a conversation she and a couple of female colleagues were having about sexism to announce it didn’t exist, because he had never experienced it.
“The three of us looked at each other, like ‘You’re a man,’” she said, “And his response was, ‘Well, I’ve never seen it happen.’”
Stebbing, who at the time had a master’s degree, but was getting paid less than her less-educated male predecessor, said she and her female colleagues shrugged it off and limited interaction with him afterward. “But we did write lyrics from Indigo Girl songs on the whiteboard in the office every day for a month after, just to really get the estrogen going in the office.”
For women like Stebbing and Yun, mansplaining has long been a backdrop of navigating the world. As more Americans return to the office, they will once again more frequently face mansplainers in the casual and formal interactions of daily life. Amy C. Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School and the author of “The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth,” said mansplaining is often unintentional and byproduct of a patriarchal culture.
“Men have been brought up to believe that their thoughts matter,” she said. “They need and deserve feedback, so that they can become more influential, better team members, better contributors.”
In the workplace, she suggests asking questions as a technique to handle mansplainers.
“In the moment, a bit of kind inquiry, good questions, can make a big difference. Pause and ask as if you really wanted to know the answer in a thoughtful, curious way,” she said,
The only part of the situation you have control over, she said, is your own actions and feelings.
For example, Stebbing could have said: “Wow, that’s very unusual. Tell me more,” Edmondson said. “I bet you, most people won’t be able to actually back up that statement. … You can at the very least put them on the spot.”
Tonja Jacobi, a professor at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and the co-author of a famous study that found that female Supreme Court justices were interrupted more frequently than their male counterparts, said that subtlety doesn’t work.
As someone who studies the interactions in judicial proceedings, and navigates the workplace dynamics of academia, she said she finds labeling errant behavior to be effective.
“One thing women can do is just straight call it out. That's why I think having this term mansplaining is really important,” she said.
Jacobi illustrated her point with her own experience. While at an event with a guest speaker, she asked a question. Then one of her male colleagues jumped in and explained her question.
She said: “‘Excuse me, thank you for mansplaining my question, but I’d like my question answered, not your version of it.’ And he shut up and let the speaker actually answer my question.”
Jacobi acknowledged that not everyone has the clout or personality to do this: “You have to be in a position where you’re confident of your power to do that. I know a lot of the time that’s not practical,” she said.
In most other situations, she suggested the “amplification” strategy made famous by women in the Obama White House.
“When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own,” reported Juliet Eilperin in The Post.
The strategy was originally used to combat another situation common to women — suggesting an idea that goes ignored, then having it acknowledged or praised when a man repeats the same idea later. But the general principle also works for mansplanations, Jacobi said.
“In that situation I described when I called out my colleague, I know a lot of women don’t feel comfortable doing that,” she said. “That’s not always practical. And that’s where things like backing each other up can seem much less sort of adversarial.”