How do I deal with men mansplaining my emotions or ideas?
August 28, 2013 7:38 AM   Subscribe

Quite frequently, I have to deal with men - not just strangers, but people I care about - mansplaining to me what I "really" feel, what I "really" think, or what I "really" believe. This is absolutely enraging to me. It feels like I am being patronized and denied agency. How do I explain this better or deal with it better?

Some examples of what I mean:

When I've discussed politics, instead of saying "I disagree with your politics, and here's why", I have been told, "No, you don't really believe that. You believe a different thing (one more in line with dude's position)"

When I've talked about my feelings - like being offended - I have been told "You don't feel like that. I know how you feel, you feel afraid and that is making you say that you are offended."

When I've talked about my beliefs about gender relations, I've been told "You're just saying that, you don't really think that." or "You only think that right now. You won't think that when you're feeling better."

When I said that I didn't want to go to a specific place, or didn't want a event for me to be a specific way, I was told that I actually did want to, and I would enjoy it once I was there.

It is at the point where I want to scream. It feels like I am being made into a talking doll - like these people have an image of who I am inside their head and anything that doesn't fit that image gets dismissed. I do not know what to say - I have tried to explain my feelings directly about this and have been, again, dismissed.

How do I better explain this concept so that people will listen? Or how do I deal with it - with strangers, but most particularly, loved ones?
posted by corb to Human Relations (64 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Turn it around on them. "Oh, you don't really mean what you're saying. What you really mean is 'I disagree with you/I'm sorry I offended you/You know your feelings better than I do/Where would you actually like to go/How would you like this event honouring you to go'." Or whatever the appropriate response to your statement would have been.
posted by jeather at 7:44 AM on August 28, 2013 [45 favorites]

Dude, they're being rude. Be rude back. I wouldn't think twice about calling them on it. Yes, it will make the situation awkward, but sometimes it takes that to get people to smarten up.

"I'm sorry, but I think I know better what I am feeling/thinking than you do. Don't be so dismissive and disrespectful."


"Are you seriously telling me what I think? Seriously?"
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:44 AM on August 28, 2013 [22 favorites]

"I'll decide what I feel, thanks."
posted by Melismata at 7:44 AM on August 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

"Who died and left you the psychic powers?"
posted by PMdixon at 7:45 AM on August 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

It feels like I am being made into a talking doll - like these people have an image of who I am inside their head and anything that doesn't fit that image gets dismissed.

I think this is a good observation. I would stop talking, stare at the person rather coldly, and say firmly, "The image you have created of me in your head is not the person I am." Not like you're fighting, just neutrally informing him.

I've had success in somewhat similar situations with conveying that general message.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:52 AM on August 28, 2013 [24 favorites]

I've had a lot of success with saying, "excuse me, I think I know how I feel better than you do", accompanied by a 'not taking your shit any more buddy' expression and briskly continuing with my previous statement.

Otherwise, I would recommend Ding Training.
posted by fight or flight at 7:52 AM on August 28, 2013 [7 favorites]

"Have you noticed that you just told me what I think?"

"Why are you telling me that I agree with you when I know that I don't?"

"I notice that sometimes in conversation you respond to disagreements by saying that I just don't know my own mind and therefore we really don't disagree. I need you to accept that my opinions are not mistakes or accidents but real differences between us. When we disagree, please treat my statements as meaning what they say, not as something that needs to be corrected or translated so that I appear to agree with you."
posted by Frowner at 7:55 AM on August 28, 2013 [19 favorites]

All good advice above, but I wanted to hit one particular example you gave:

When I said that I didn't want to go to a specific place, or didn't want a event for me to be a specific way, I was told that I actually did want to, and I would enjoy it once I was there.

The latter part of this is slightly different. I generally reply with something like, "That is possible, yes, but I think that my [anxiety|distaste] leading up to it will color my experience in a more negative way. I'd really rather not take that risk for this particular event."
posted by Etrigan at 7:56 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

To start with, just push back by restating what you said before. "No, I don't want to go throw poo back at the monkeys in the zoo. I think it's a stupid idea."

If they contradict you again, push back again like they are a clueless child. "Uh... I'm pretty sure I know what's happening in my head better than you do. So, seriously, no, I don't want to go streaking on the High Line."

I tend towards snarky humor as a defense mechanism, so if they immediately followed up with "No, you're just saying that - you really do think that Zombie Reagan would be an awesome president!", I'd say you should go for snarky humor - pause and say "Really. Okay. What am I thinking now? I'll give you a hint - the second word is 'off.'"
posted by rmd1023 at 7:59 AM on August 28, 2013 [11 favorites]

"Gosh it's almost like you're inside my head, reading my very thoughts and feelings! Tell me...what should I have for lunch? As you already know, I'm on the fence about the leftover Chinese."
posted by jquinby at 7:59 AM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Pat them on the head (or pinch their cheek) and say "I know it's hard for you to cope with new ideas. The world's just left you behind a bit recently, hasn't it, sweetie?"

Alternatively, kick 'em in the nuts and tell 'em it doesn't hurt.
posted by Segundus at 8:00 AM on August 28, 2013 [23 favorites]

"OK, here's how it works. You talk about how you feel, and I'll talk about how I feel".

"When I want a psychotherapist I'll pay for one, thanks, and it's not going to be you".

"You know what I really think? What I really think is that you're a patronising fuckface".

(re. going places that you don't want to go)

"Sorry, you've misunderstood. This isn't up for discussion. If you're going (somewhere unpleasant) then I'm going to go (somewhere else) and I'll see you on Friday".
posted by emilyw at 8:00 AM on August 28, 2013 [8 favorites]

This is a human-to-human problem.

What kind of image do you convey?
What kind of inflection and tone is your normal voice?
What topics do you generally talk about?
What is your title at your job?
How sophisticated is your vocabulary?
What age group do you belong to?

Speaking with authority is the lasting solution and it will serve you best in the long term. Example: if you are chirpy, cheery in your natural conversation state, it will be a leap to convey subject matter authority on a dime, because a certain perception of you has settled in.

If loved ones know you to love taking about Perez Hilton and the VMA twitter explosion, you will become defined as outside the realm of expertise on topics of medicine and politics (however unfairly).

If you have a speech tone that reflects lightness more than gravitas, you will be deemed uninformed. Etc.

Both men and women face such problems, but particulary women within certain environments (corporate, legal, politics, etc.). Your best bet is to ignore the current comments and focus on professional coaching for truly rewarding results.
posted by Kruger5 at 8:03 AM on August 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

I don't know how well this would work, since it really depends on the specific individual and your relationship, but my instinct would be to stop the conversation and not continue unless the guy acknowledges what he did and apologizes. So I would put up my hand to stop the flow of speech and say, "Stop. Don't tell me what I'm thinking/feeling." Then I would stop engaging in the discussion or argument, e.g. "I'm not discussing this with you as long as you insist on speaking for me. I feel disrespected."
posted by prefpara at 8:03 AM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Turn it back round on the individual. Closely repeat what they just said to you, in the fashion that they would say it.

You: The sky is blue.
Them: No, you don't think that.
You: No, you don't think that I don't think that. The sky is blue.

Ad infinitum. Say the same thing that they said to you, back to them, as much as you can. This will make them realise what it's like to be spoken to in this fashion and they'll be less likely to have an argument against their own words.

Or maybe just repeat what you said in the first instance:

You: The sky is blue.
Them: No, you don't think that.
You: The sky is blue.

Just keep repeating it until they stop arguing.

Or maybe pick apart their argument.

You: The sky is blue.
Them: No, you don't think that. You think [other thing].
You: Why do I think that? What else do I think about [other thing]? How long have I thought that? How did I come to that conclusion?

The point is to get to the point where them treating you like this really isn't worth it and becomes less easy and fun for them to do than actually listening to what you have to say.
posted by Solomon at 8:18 AM on August 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'd push right back, "NO, I'm sure that I feel or believe X. Are you aware that the way you phrased that sounds downright patronizing to me?"

Another way to handle it is, "Did you mean to just disregard what I said wholesale and replace it with what you wanted to hear? Because that's the way it came out."

Or, as emilyw so eloquently put it, "You know what I really think? What I really think is that you're a patronising fuckface".

Basically, call them on their bullshit. Early and often.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:19 AM on August 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

I find that what is effective is either of the following extremes:

(a) overly conform to their view of you, but in a condescending/sarcastic way:
"You don't feel like that. I know how you feel, you feel afraid and that is making you say that you are offended."
"Oh wow, you're sooo right, I'm terrified, I'd better just get back in the kitchen and make a pie so I can calm down. Silly ovaries, AMIRIGHT?" Then leave.


(b) get mad:
"You don't feel like that. I know how you feel, you feel afraid and that is making you say that you are offended."
"You know what? Go f@*k yourself. I am a grown adult and fully capable of processing and expressing my opinions. Other people may permit your sexist patronizing attitude, but I'm not 'other people.' This conversation is over." Then leave.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:20 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

"You don't tell me what to think/feel." And the conversation ends.

In the specific case of being told you want to go somewhere when you don't and that you will enjoy it once you're there, I would stop them right there and tell them I am no longer comfortable in their presence and they need to go.

The only justification I can think of for talk like that is if one person is talking another down from an anxiety situation. I suppose I have reminded my husband that he really does enjoy X and it's just the presence of Y variable that's distressing (and he has done the same for me, and we both occasionally break out "you know you're going to be so sad later if you don't do this"), but we are speaking in an encouraging/respectful/deliberately calm manner and from past experience. We don't use that sort of talk in disagreements.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:20 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Do you realize how incredibly presumptuous it is of you to tell me that I don't know how I feel? I know how I feel right now. I feel upset and I feel disrespected. Please don't even tell me how I really feel or what I really want. It's rude."

I mean, that's what I'd say because that's how I'd feel. YMMV.
posted by inturnaround at 8:22 AM on August 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

yeah be enraged, rage, they dont feel the need to be sensitive and respectful to you, they are being crap and you should let them know how enraging it is
posted by frequently at 8:24 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some people are really clueless that they do this. I have usually found that when you try to call them out on this type of behavior they have no idea why you are even upset and behave as though you are being irrational.

The bad news is: You can't change or control other people. They will probably continue mansplaining for the rest of their lives.

The good news is: You can spend less time with people who behave this way. It can be easier to shrug your shoulders and say "ok, well that's actually not how I feel about that" and then change the subject. Let people like this talk about themselves and their lives for a while. They usually won't get bored doing that and they won't realize that they have talked for most of the conversation. Later you can go home to your friends/partner and say "You know, I really care about so-and-so, but they sure do like to act like they know how I feel all the time."
posted by donut_princess at 8:24 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

So many good suggestions here. I like prefpara's best, personally. Here is what I will add: whatever you say, don't use the words "please" or "sorry." For maximum shock and awe, be direct and assertive to snap the other person out of the mindset where the believe they're talking to a delicate and sensitive ladyperson with silly fragile ladyfeels.
posted by trunk muffins at 8:28 AM on August 28, 2013 [7 favorites]

Speaking with authority is the lasting solution and it will serve you best in the long term. Example: if you are chirpy, cheery in your natural conversation state, it will be a leap to convey subject matter authority on a dime, because a certain perception of you has settled in.

If loved ones know you to love taking about Perez Hilton and the VMA twitter explosion, you will become defined as outside the realm of expertise on topics of medicine and politics (however unfairly).

I appreciate the input, but this is emphatically not the issue. For clarification, in my sector, I am somewhat notable for political involvement on a national level. In my field/in my work arena is not where I usually receive this type of behavior - it is almost universally on a personal level.

While I am friendly and somewhat cheery in my natural conversational tone, it is in this case because I am speaking to friends and loved ones, not my work colleagues.
posted by corb at 8:34 AM on August 28, 2013 [8 favorites]

I'm a guy and I have a lot of trouble with this too, probably because culturally I was raised lesbian. What I mean by that is that I was raised to Process, to articulate my feelings, to have very very strong emotional control and to expect that of others. I'll call this "emotional literacy" from now on in this response.

In contrast, I think, a lot of guys don't have a good control on their emotions (men don't often get the socialization that women do on emotional control or emotional subtlety and in fact at least in my generation, emotional literacy is discouraged among men) so I think that a lot of guys are threatened by any message or any discussion that involves emotional content or emotional shades and subtleties or any emotional load or expectation at all.

(as an aside, this is one thing that always bemuses me or enrages me depending on my mood - whenever emotion comes up with these guys, the same types of guys who in my experience value their inner and outer strength above all else, they are notably helpless and often lash out and are quite vindictive if I strike too close to whatever it is they're feeling protective of/about.)
(It's also worth noting that because of my culture clash here I've sabotaged a lot of collegial relationships in business simply by expecting too much of my guy colleagues and by asking for what I see as adult behavior but what they seem to see as traitorious womanly behavior. Markedly as well, this seemed to happen to me all the time on the East Coast of the U.S. but not often on the West Coast.)

Guys in leadership positions have often learned that asserting authority over an emotion will sometimes work to inspire or to quell dissent, so I think that's where mansplaining comes from.

There are also a lot of men who seem to confuse personal insight with authority (of knowledge) and who confuse personal epiphany (about how they're feeling) with blanket knowledge of everyone's experience. This seems to me to be a mix of poor emotional literacy, poor upbringing, privilege and entitlement.

Part of what has worked for me in trying to keep myself from doing continual damage to my working relationship with colleagues who are emotionally illiterate guys are the following (apologies to guys who are threatened - I'm answering the OP, not you):
- I got therapy to try to get less anxious. This is a personal issue and I'm not saying you are, but the better calibrated I got to the normal way of seeing things, the better.
- At the same time I got less interested in controlling the flow of conversation.
- I still approach conversations with goals in mind and I still hold my colleagues to that but I get as flexible as I can on how we get there.
- I try not to take their emotional illiteracy personally (this was a hugely hard one for me since I was raised thinking all adults would have good emotional control and literacy, so finding that was not the case was hard not to take personally).
- I try to keep in mind their disabilities and see it from that perspective. I am not there to each them to be emotionally literate but I also don't have to hammer at their weak spots. I'm there to get a job done, so I go toward that goal and try to flow with them and not against them. (In the world of martial arts, esp Aikido, this is called blending, and can be a pleasing practice that's fulfilling for its own sake, if you're into that sort of thing, and it can distract me from the problem of that disability in a professional context)

There are different things that I do in a personal context (where presumably the stakes are higher and I am more interested in a lasting change for the person doing the mansplaining):
- I do active listening and use subtle hints to try to nudge them.
- I do captain's mutinies and use a clue-by-four to try to get them to see what's happening.
- I ask VERY pointed questions and take charge of the conversation to my own ends.
- I don't consort with "friends" like that.
- I shame them and use peer pressure to try to get them to see what skills they lack.
- I make fun of them to use peer pressure again.
- With deeply loved ones who I think could do better, I deconstruct what's going on and try to show them how doing what they do makes me feel. And then I ask them to stop.

I think mostly what I've done with folks I don't love but who are important to me because of who they love or who loves them or complications like that is have it out with them, really have a huge fight about it. And if that doesn't work, draw a boundary around the fight and change the subject or walk away or simply refuse to respond if the boundary is not respected.

Good luck! This sucks, and I wish I could help do more dismantle the whole bloody thing.
posted by kalessin at 8:38 AM on August 28, 2013 [15 favorites]

Sorry, should have previewed more, but you can ignore what I said about work, then, unless it helps you in some way.
posted by kalessin at 8:39 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

You should be blunt, and you should not ignore this. Ignoring behavior like this doesn't make it go away.

And yeah, don't be conciliatory or apologetic. Some people have trouble understanding that a woman being direct is not actually being rude, but fuck 'em (or, you know, don't). When someone tells you what you feel or think, it's really okay to come right back and say "No, that is not what I said, and not what I meant, and you telling me what I *really* think is incredibly presumptuous and rude."
posted by rtha at 8:40 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

While I am friendly and somewhat cheery in my natural conversational tone

You can use this to your advantage then, usually. I am also like this and my response is usually to start laughing and say something like "Oh man you did NOT just tell me that you know what I am thinking better than I do, did you? That is such a tired cliche. Meanwhile back to my feelings on topic X...." I've found that starting off with a "Hey I'm not mad, but this thing you did is crazyoutofline..." gives everyone a chance to pull back without it getting confrontational. If this person persists in doing this sort of thing after you've tried to mannerly and face-savingly (for them) give them an out you can then move to the next "Seriously dude, not cool" level of correction and beyond that, telling them to

- stop it, flat out
- quit insulting your intelligence and/or self-determination
- find some other way to interact with you because it's clear that this one isn't working

And then beyond that your options are to keep this up or stop talking to them.
posted by jessamyn at 8:42 AM on August 28, 2013 [12 favorites]

I hear you on this one. It doesn't happen to me all that often these days, but when it does, I see red. I have a zero tolerance policy for it.

My response goes something like this:

"Look, man, you're either calling me a liar, or saying that I don't know my own mind. Which one is it?"

This shifts the burden back to them to explain themselves.

If they persist in being boorish, I bounce. "This conversation is over."
posted by nacho fries at 9:06 AM on August 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Augh. My dad does this all the damn time, and it drives me nutty. I've repeatedly asked him to stop doing it, but he persists. Since it's easier to change my reaction to his behavior than his actual behavior, I deal by pretending that he's phrased it as a question, but that his intonation is off. Thus, "You don't really want to do X" becomes, "You don't really want to do X?"

That way, it's easier to respond by firmly saying, "Yes, I really do want to do X." I have found that mirroring his phrasing back to him is effective, because it subtly draws his attention to how he's phrased his statement. Then I elaborate on why I really do want to do X, or not, depending on the circumstance.
posted by coppermoss at 9:09 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

The people who do this are, frequently, majorly controlling assholes, whether they know it or not. And if this is happening mostly in your personal life, and you feel the need to find some new friends who actually respect you, I hereby give you permission to say, "Did you really just try to tell me how I feel? Fuck you, dude," and walk off.

You don't have to do that. Everyone else has great suggestions. But if the "fuck you" route is the one you secretly want to take, and you want some confirmation that it's okay to be pissed off enough to sever friendships over it, consider this your confirmation. 'Cause that is some insidious bullshit.
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:22 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is not about gender relations in general, it just sounds like you are talking with arrogant, manipulative bastards. There are plenty of those in both genders. If this is in a personal situation you have the option to not fall into the trap. Change the topic, or firmly tell them not to be manipulative. In a professional situation you have to be more diplomatic but I think an explanation of how the modern world works is appropriate.
posted by JJ86 at 9:25 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I get the same thing from some women, some of whom believe my Y-chromosome disqualifies me from having the emotional sense, high degree of articulation, +3 sigma self-awareness, and a willingness to discuss and engage emotional issues. I have all of these things and well in excess of most people, male or female.

Perhaps it isn't men, per se, though as a generalization we sometimes explore our positions by declarative sentences instead of inquiry. Among other men, we usually just keep quiet, though aggressive inquiry and defense, coupled with competition and ridicule are habits of the club. IF these get expressed in the feminine sub-culture, it can cause problems.

As far as dealing, who knows? It's rudeness, isn't it? I respond to being called gently on rudeness. Might be worth a try?
posted by FauxScot at 9:28 AM on August 28, 2013

This is a human-to-human problem.

Frankly, no, this is a man-to-woman problem far more often than it is a man-to-man problem or a woman-to-woman problem.

To the OP: I find that the phrase "with all due respect...." is kind of like "bless your heart" when it comes to politely-but-firmly telling someone to fuck off. So trying to preface your retorts with that may work:

"No, you don't really believe that. You believe a different thing (one more in line with dude's position)"
"With all due respect, I know what I actually believe."

"You don't feel like that. I know how you feel, you feel afraid and that is making you say that you are offended."
"With all due respect, I know what I really feel."

"You only think that right now. You won't think that when you're feeling better."
"With all due respect, I know what I really think."

"You really do want to go do this, and you'll enjoy it once I you're there."
"With all due respect, I know whether or not I really want to go do that."

You know? It's polite, but they know they overstepped. If they persist after that, then the ultimate blow-off is one a friend of mine uses - smile sweetly, say "...I'll take your suggestions under advisement," and then stop talking to them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:28 AM on August 28, 2013 [20 favorites]

Or another idea - if you're in a group of people, and it's just one guy who does this, you can just look at him for a couple seconds when he finishes, and then just say, "....Wow." With a tone of voice that implies that you're shocked that anyone would be so presumptuous.

And then go on with your conversation with the others as if that guy hadn't said anything.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:38 AM on August 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Lots of the responses given upthread are quite curt, which might be fine for some circumstances but - merited or not - are quite damaging out of the box to people who aren't meaning to be rude and who you've got to have a decent relationship with once the conversation is over.

Super acerbic responses might work on the worst offenders or people you really don't care for but for me (i.e. me thinking about me using them) they feel a bit like l'esprit de l'escalier - better on paper than in real life.

Another way to deal with "you don't feel/think/believe" x is just say - "no, I do [believe/feel/think]", smile and hold their look. The smile is important IMHO: it is there to turn the emphasis back on your conversation partner.

a) You're not encouraging further debate about what whether you do hold the views you've just stated. b) It becomes ridiculous to argue with the statement of fact reduced down to its minimum. c) Going down the lines of attacking the attacker "you're doing x to me" just invites a whole different argument which I doubt you want unless you're really sick of it and want to ram home the point.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:41 AM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

"Wow, no. I feel what I feel, and I mean what I say. Are we clear on that?"
posted by tomboko at 9:55 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

"You know something, I am the world's biggest expert on what I think."

I also saw a guy on a talk show who was being hectored with that "Oh come on you can't really believe that" line respond by saying, "It is perfectly possible to believe that and indeed I do."

These are both wordy and if you say them slowly and emphatically, followed by a meaningful pause, it stops that line of "I know what you think" rhetoric from acquiring momentum.

I think at a certain point with loved ones who keep doing this, you can tell them, "OK, if you don't cut that out, I'm done for now." My partner has a few friends who basically use disbelief, real or feigned, as a way to keep conversation going. It's clear that they know what they're doing; they just don't think it's a problem. But it makes my head hurt and I'll walk out if it comes to that.
posted by BibiRose at 9:56 AM on August 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

I have tried to explain my feelings directly about this and have been, again, dismissed.

This is why approaches like smiling and holding a look aren't feasible, I don't think. The OP isn't happy or feeling like smiling; why should she fake it? She's already exhausted the nice approach. These people, friends or not, are trying to elbow their way into her mind. They're being intellectual bullies. Smiley-faces ain't gonna cut it.
posted by nacho fries at 10:05 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

"It sounds like you are saying I don't actually know what I believe/think/feel. Is that what you're saying? What would make you say that?"

Starting with "Sounds like . . . " and reflecting their content/feeling/meaning back to them may help those who are capable of insight hear themselves.

If the person is not capable of insight or unwilling to hear why their assertion that you somehow lack introspection and self-knowledge might bother you, then I'd end the conversation there and avoid engaging in future. Their behavior is bullying and manipulative.

I wish you luck.
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy at 10:11 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have been told "You don't feel like that. I know how you feel, you feel afraid and that is making you say that you are offended."

A lot has been covered, but I just wanted to observe that I don't see this as mansplaining (says the man), but that there is a strain of interpretation that I've noticed among, let's call them, "certain people familiar with the Western psychological canon," where every criticism, offense, or negative reaction is due to "fear." It can be maddening, I see it as their refusal or inability to engage, but I pretty much just write these reactions off like I would if they said, "Well Spongebob says..."
posted by rhizome at 10:11 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another thing that could work. Stop talking and ask them, genuinely, if they mean what they're implying.

"No, you don't really believe that. You believe a different thing (one more in line with dude's position)"

You: Do you think I am not intelligent enough to understand what I believe?

"You don't feel like that. I know how you feel, you feel afraid and that is making you say that you are offended."

You: Wait, why do you think I'd pretend to be offended if I was afraid? Do you think I'm being fake, or that I'm literally too stupid to distinguish between fear and anger?

"You're just saying that, you don't really think that."

You: For what purpose would I do a thing like that? Do you think I'm a dishonest person?


I assuming that these are people you otherwise like well enough, and that it wouldn't help to use some of the very clever but reality-show-fight-esque lines above. I'm also assuming these people are not worthless jerks all the time, but that they have a (very common) blind spot where they pigeonhole someone and cling to a belief about her despite evidence. If this is true, letting them know what they're doing without actually getting into a discussion about it OR displaying all your rage about the problem will probably work better. It's totally enraging, yes, but I don't know how often expressing that to guys like this does anything other than making them say "Calm down, I didn't mean it." (Grr.)

If they are worthless jerks all around, then that's another question I think.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 10:12 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

One response to "you don't actually feel X, you actually feel Y, you just say you're feeling X" or "you don't actually think/believe/want X really, it's just because of situation Z" comments is to call them on their armchair psychoanalysis.
"Hmm... it IS hard for some people to detangle their true emotions from situational effects, so that's great that you're trying to be more aware of when that's affecting you. But actually, I've put enough thought into this that I do know what I honestly feel/think/believe, and your assumption that I haven't is kind of insulting."
posted by aimedwander at 10:21 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

How you respond might vary based on where you live. For example, in the South, you might say something like, "Oh honey, that's sweet of you to say, but I think what I really meant was blah blah blah." But in New Jersey it would be more acceptable (and more effective) to simply reply, "Oh, go fuck yourself."
posted by spilon at 10:23 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

"I'm sorry, but I think I know better what I am feeling/thinking than you do. Don't be so dismissive and disrespectful."

Leave off the "I'm sorry." Never be sorry. Never even SAY "I'm sorry."

Yes, I feel strongly about this.
posted by BostonTerrier at 10:38 AM on August 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

[Folks, this needs to not turn into a general argument about the genderedness-or-not of discourse. Focus on the question.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:00 AM on August 28, 2013

Opinions are like assholes. Everybody's got one.

I'm gonna take a different approach here. It sounds like these dudes are pushing your buttons. Mansplaining, ok, taking away your agency, sure, whatever, but it could also be that you have a really really sensitive spot for having your opinion/feelings negated. So when someone directly opposes your pov, your first reaction is to feel indignation, like you're being suppressed. And then you want to fight back. Maybe you even feel like your way is right, and thus must be heard. And that's what weakens you.

It could also be that you have really really opinionated friends. Know-it-all friends.

So short of getting new friends, I would disentangle the frustrated feeling. If it pushes your buttons less, it might clear your mind enough see how much of a non-issue their opinion is. If they negate your opinion, do you feel wrong? Or if they look down on you, does a small part of you believe it? It's THEIR problem, not yours. Just figure out what part of you still kinda believes the how they're framing you as "less than", and erase it.

So just remember... no one gives you permission, and you don't need it. When they start up, they're just being opinionated blowhards. Don't get attached to trying to change their opinion of your opinion! So then when they tell you "yeah you don't think that," instead of being angry you will just find it ridiculous, and funny. Or just roll your eyes and don't engage. Or respond with, "why would you say that?", and then watch them hang themselves with their own rope. But at least it won't piss you off so damn much. And it's kind of backwards, but when you realize in your heart that you don't need them to validate your opinion, you don't need to stand up to them or "put them in their place," then these people just kinda stop (or go terrorize someone else!).

It's also kind of sad - people can't truly get to know other people if they have such control issues like this. They're afraid to be equals with you. Their problem, not yours.

tl;dr: There may be a part of you that still thinks you're less than these people, and as thus fights to be heard & acknowledged by these blowhards. Heal this part and their assholery will roll off your back.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:07 AM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Just thought of this.....

"I do realize that feelings aren't facts, Bob. But they are mine and I feel what I feel. It will be very hard to get me to deny what I'm feeling because other people don't agree with it. I like you but, it's kind of rude to suggest I don't know what I'm feeling, don't you think? I mean, I am an adult, you know? We're going to have to ban you to the kids table if you want to judge my feelings!"

Does several things. Educates Bob, twice. Once, it tells him and anyone who is listening that feelings are legit and subjective. It also describes what he did, suggests (without declaring) that it's rude. He doesn't apparently know this. Then, it reinforces your status as an adult and re-emphasizes that they are your feelings. Shows a tiny bit of teeth, too, that the perceptive jerk will detect.

Lots of different ways to phrase stuff. Being fast on your feet verbally takes practice and usually age. I would almost think "Thanks for mansplaining, Bob! But these ARE my feelings and they aren't up for debate. I'm a grownup!" could work, but the receiver personality is the variable. There's probably not a one-size-fits-all response, but there may be a one-attitude-fits-all?

There is a book called "The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense" that might be worth finding.

I like being a guy in these situations. I can just belt other guys in the face or kick their 'nads.
posted by FauxScot at 11:36 AM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Don't phrase your response as an incredulous question, e.g. "Are are you trying to tell me that I don't know what I think?" You'll mean it as a rebuke, but in a manner of speaking, you're giving them a chance to be the decider.

Don't cushion your response with faux uncertainty, e.g. "I'm pretty sure I know what I think." You'll mean it as, again, incredulousness or sarcasm, but it can be uncharitably taken as insecurity.

Don't react to their statement with accusations and hurt feelings, e.g. telling them "you are disrespecting me." They will have no idea how their words offended you and will file the whole thing under "WTF, women are crazy amirite, what did I say that was wrong or un-PC or whatever?" It's their behavior which is indeed insulting to you, of course, but their words were not an attack on you personally, they just feel absolutely entitled to share their opinions as if it's fact.

So, what can you do? Focus on your own facts and avoid sounding defensive. I agree with the suggestion to just repeat your statement. "I believe [foo]" or "I do not want to attend [bar]." If you want to be more curt, you can preface it with "no, you're wrong --". Also, I love BibiRose's example of "It is perfectly possible to believe that and indeed I do."

Yeah, I would like to spend less energy on getting the person standing right in front of my face to listen to me, so that I can put more energy into good ideas and progress. I would like the sea-change to happen faster. But I also know that the office hallway is not an effective place to bring someone to meaningful recognition of how a statement they made in conversation (the precise phrasing of which they have likely forgotten) is actually an example of a relentless pattern of dismissive behavior that women experience due to a pervasive strain of societal sexism which is blind spot among even the most well-intentioned men, oftentimes.
posted by desuetude at 11:41 AM on August 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

I like the above "Why would you say that". Or pulling a Homer Simpson "That doesn't sound like something I would say" might work as well.

I get a lot of mileage out of "Did I stutter?" or "I think you'd better clean your ears out because you apparently didn't hear what I said"

Getting into long winded arguments with guys like this gets you nowhere fast and will likely just end up leaving you exasperated.
posted by Beacon Inbound at 11:42 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

"Please stop managing my experience."
posted by SillyShepherd at 11:56 AM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I get that treatment all the time, and I agree that it is frustrating and enraging. I agree, they are playing a dominance game. (As well as just mimicking jerkoffs they hear on talk radio, where the "they may say that, but what they're really saying is this" game is played all the time.)

Just as it is not their job to reinterpret your feelings and motivations, neither is it your job to "educate" them on anything. Except the direct impact of the words they are saying to you, as it pertains to you. Don't appeal to any authority except yourself- appeals to authority allow the conversation to derail or stall. Instead of presuming bad faith or societal influence on their behavior, make them responsible for the things that come out of their mouths.

A: I feel X.
B: No, you just *think* you feel X, but you really feel Y.
A: Are you doing that on purpose?
B: What?
A: Telling me how I feel about something, when I just told you the opposite?
B: But that's what I think!
A: You can think that if you want, but please don't put words in my mouth.
B: That's not what I meant. I was just trying to explain why you are mistaken.
A: You did it again.
B: Huh?
A: The way you said that implies that my opinions and feelings are mistakes, and yours are fact. You might not mean it that way, but that's how it sounds. If you think I'm wrong, convince my why. Don't just correct me like you are some kind of wise philosopher whose job it is to disabuse people of their silly notions.
posted by gjc at 12:22 PM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I had this problem too, for a while -- yes, the gendered form, usually consisting of responding to a statement of a thing that I was angry about (sometimes, disastrously, a thing that I was angry with the person about) with "... do you have PMS?"

What finally put a stop to it was being firm and direct about the issue. So... "I am mad about X because Y. Your statement implies that my anger is due merely to biologically-influenced emotional instability. That is disrespectful. (If appropriate: It also leads me to think that you do not take seriously my complaint about X.) Do not do it again. (If appropriate: Now, as to the issue of X...)" I had in my back pocket the strategy of ending conversations, but it turned out not to be necessary -- after a few rounds of firm explanation in tones of seriousness, the problem went away.

I don't recommend being snarky, indirect, wordy, or putting a lot of sugar on your statements. The idea of including these elements doesn't come from bad motivations -- it seems like a hope of getting the point across without actually having to be srs bizness with a friend, colleague, or family member. (It's also consistent with female social training, incidentally.) The problem with this, particularly given that the root of the behavior is not taking your knowledge of your inner experience seriously, is that these approaches give a lot of wiggle room for not hearing the message or not taking it seriously, and as a result blithely continuing the problematic behavior.

I think it's actually kinder and gentler to take the person aside once or a handful of times and tell them exactly what you don't want them to do and why.
posted by sparktinker at 12:28 PM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have to say as an addendum to my earlier comments, I think that one of the most effective things I learned when trying to communicate anger (and honestly it seems like a lot of guys are oblivious to the subtleties of getting pissed off) was that I learned to stop being polite.

I really didn't change anything other than, when getting near but not on or past the red line, dropping the "please" and the "thank you" and the other niceties of speech and instead focusing on the point of what I wanted to get across. I learned to talk over people, to keep going despite social pressure to stop and look sheepish.

Men seem to really respect this kind of behavior, and it also leaves them less leeway to say that my getting pissed off "came out of nowhere".
posted by kalessin at 12:37 PM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would just say "huh", and walk away. You know what you think/feel/believe. Who gives a shit what they think?
posted by lyssabee at 12:44 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would take an incremental approach and begin with helpful advice.

There's a chance the individual(s) in question may not be aware of how they are coming across, and may even (in their own minds) think they are being helpful, e.g. by bridging differences and creating a consensus, like forcing everyone into an awkward group hug and giving everyone noogies. It may even be an unfortunate speech pattern, an unconscious cliche for seguing to a counterpoint. Or they may just be clueless, insensitive jerks. (I've encountered examples of all of these)

Whatever the reason, nobody likes being corrected. Whether or not you care about hurting their feelings, they might be better about respecting your feelings if they don't feel snubbed by your correction (they could end up nursing resentment and hurt feelings for some time, making it worse).

Humor, per Jessamyn's suggestion, is a good option. Another might be to call them on it gently by acknowledging their disagreement and presuming their good intentions, but informing them how it could be taken as dismissiveness, e.g. "I know you mean well, and are just expressing a difference opinion, but when you tell someone that they don't know what they really feel, it can come across as though you're dismissing their feelings/opinions or even discounting them as people."

How you segue from there depends on your personality and theirs. But my thought is that you'd want to prevent an awkward silence by immediately giving them a friendly push down the right path, e.g. "So did you mean to say X?" or "Sorry, I interrupted you, you were saying...?" or "Would you care to restate your point again?" or "Anyway, just thought I'd mention it in case you weren't aware. You were saying?"

Also, chances are they won't be able to break the bad habit overnight, so a few subtle 'kidding on the square' reminders may be helpful to have in your back pocket, e.g. raised eyebrow, cocking your head to one side (baroo?), squinting, etc.

If it continues, or it's clear they don't care, use more and more direct verbal corrections, e.g. "(You may not be aware but) you're doing it again" to "You really need to stop doing that" to eventually calling out their motives entirely, e.g. "are you doing this deliberately to insult me?"

The one thing I've found is that when you call most people on rude behavior and ask them if they intended to be insulting (even in situations where you both know they meant it as an insult) they will usually deny it. Good - you just got the upper hand. Let them off the hook if you want. Or not.

And if they admit they intended it as an insult, then repeat the question to confirm their answer. Maybe even follow it up with a final "really?", to let them really dig their own petulant grave. Because once it's loud and clear that they were deliberately trying to insult you, then you pretty much have carte blanche to respond in whatever way best suits you - dismissing them entirely, insulting them, whatever works for your personality.

With luck, a few gentle and understanding corrections may be enough to set people on the right path. And they may even thank you for it later. Others may certainly owe you a debt of gratitude, too :)

Good luck!
posted by Davenhill at 12:48 PM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

"Look, I know this conversation isn't going the way you're imagining, but right now I need you to hear. The words. I'm saying." Depending on the situation, this might be prefaced with "What the fuck?" If the other person persists once or twice I'll cut them off and tell them that no matter how many times they say [THING] it won't make it true, and then continue talking. More than that and I'll let them know they can have their imaginary conversation by themselves, and walk away.

The point is, it's a bit like, Did I stutter? without derailing the conversation into a meta conversation or even entertaining their notions. I usually don't have a problem being blunt, so YMMV.

(This is also one of those situations where I ask myself, WWJJD: What Would Judge Judy Do?)
posted by Room 641-A at 1:21 PM on August 28, 2013

You wrote, "It feels like I am being made into a talking doll - like these people have an image of who I am inside their head and anything that doesn't fit that image gets dismissed. I do not know what to say - I have tried to explain my feelings directly about this and have been, again, dismissed. How do I better explain this concept so that people will listen? Or how do I deal with it - with strangers, but most particularly, loved ones?"

This is a tough question. I think the best track is to stay focused on the primary discussion and avoid "going meta" on people. It will only be more confusing and people will get defensive if you steer the conversation from (say) the new Health Care law to, "now you're being sexist and trying to tell me how I feel."

Sorry for being blunt, but I think fully 50% of the advice above is downright awful and plays into your feelings of victimhood. To me, only two of the commenters (lyssabee and st.peepsburg) nailed it:

"You know what you think/feel/believe. Who gives a shit what they think?"

"There may be a part of you that still thinks you're less than these people, and as thus fights to be heard & acknowledged by these blowhards. Heal this part and their assholery will roll off your back."
posted by see_change at 2:40 PM on August 28, 2013

I'd give a shit what they think if they are people I have to see a lot, and I would make it clear that they need to stop saying stuff like that to me. Random strangers? Whatever. But co-workers, friends, people in my social circle - they get a talking-to, certainly if I mostly otherwise like them except for that obnoxious habit. It's okay to draw boundaries and tell people where and what they are.
posted by rtha at 3:13 PM on August 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

My partner and his brother, in the course of managing our lives around my anxiety disorder, can drop into this sort of emotional management without even realising it. So yes, it is helpful during an anxiety attack to remind me that there is indeed no lion in the room, it stops being helpful when there is a lion in the room, or I am talking about my feelings about a lion previously being in the room (so to speak). It took me a while to work it out but I've settled on a few verbal reminders:

"Dude, step back a little."
"You aren't my dad, and he doesn't get to tell me what to do either."
"You aren't my Jaeger copilot."

But all this happens now, I still had to have a little sit-down with them and point out just how partronising, infantilising and controlling they had inadvertently become. I pointed out that I am not their project, that I am right about my feelings, that I do actually engage in activities which are difficult and that I am not good at (so if I say "I'm afraid I got this wrong/I'm doing this wrong" the answer is not "stop being silly, you're great!"), and that I am not theirs to control. So now it's safe to joke about, but only because they realised that I was actually right and they were getting a little patronising and extrapolating 'useful behaviours during an anxiety attack' to 'useful at every opportunity'.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:41 PM on August 28, 2013

"You're wrong. I believe/think exactly that, which is why I just said so. I'd be happy to discuss why I believe/think what I do, but first you need to accept that I know my own mind."
posted by epj at 5:44 PM on August 28, 2013

i don't know, if this isn't family then i think i'd probably just ditch these guys or at the least drastically reduce any time spent around them and not discuss controversial subjects with them. this is horrible behavior on their part and not something i'd tolerate. what is keeping you in relationship with people who act like this?
posted by wildflower at 6:36 PM on August 28, 2013

This has only happened to me once and it never even registered to me that they could be serious until after the moment had passed because this is really such laughably rude and cliched behaviour.

What I did was pause for a second while looking in their eyes, and then I LAUGHED because I honestly though oh right this is a joke I geddit and then I just resumed what I was saying "right.. HAHA... And when you did X it made me feel OFFENDED because Y so in the future please could you Z otherwise (consequences)."

If you feel uncomfortable with this, even just deliberately pausing and looking irritated but too invested in following your original train of thought to be sidetracked by their insulting comment and continuing what you were saying as though they never said their insulting comment would have a similar effect.

Hopefully they will play along and feel emabarassed by their bigotry. If they do not see the ludicrity and continue telling you how you feel then apply any of the sassy comebacks listed above or just say firmly, 'No, I feel OFFENDED. Please stop interrupting me, clearly I am more qualified to talk about this than you are. It's my brain that is firing the neurochemicals, NOT YOURS."

Focus on what you want them to do rather than how you feel. If they are thick enough to suggest that they know better than you on something like this then they might just be dummies, and everyone knows that reasoning with dummies is a waste of time. Get what you want and moonwalk out.
posted by dinosaurprincess at 7:59 PM on August 28, 2013

To my husband, whom I adore, but who will occasionally insist that I do/do not like something when that is not at all the case (for some reason, my alleged love for rice-stuffed vegetables is a regular on this circuit), or that I attended some event that I actually did not, for example: "No, no, that's not me, definitely not; hmmm... you must be thinking of some other wife you've lived with for the last 20 years." It doesn't really help, because it's usually just a persistent memory glitch, but it makes us laugh a little and bypass the old "yes you do / no I don't" tiresome bit of the conversation.

But generally, with the sort of "let me explain to you what you really think / feel / mean" sort of arguments, I take my cues from dog training, and just make it a totally uninteresting, unrewarding strategy or behavior by completely disengaging / ignoring (ie: if you are going to act that way, you aren't getting any attention from me.). So, I'll just walk away / discontinue participation: "Yeah, no. If you're going to carry on supplying both sides of this discussion all by yourself, you don't need me for that." [exit]

The thing is, it depends a great deal on how important the conversation is, and what your relationship is to the person trying to dominate the conversation and tell you about yourself. An important, must-have conversation about stuff that affects / will affect your lives? And with someone you trust, but who tends to auto-react with these sorts of discussion maneuvers? I will do this thing where I kind of make an over-exaggerated (but quite serious) plea: "Look at me now; it's important that you look at me and hear what I'm going to say now. Please do not speak until I'm finished, okay? Please do not start thinking about what you are going to say instead of hearing me, okay? Just listen first, really listen, and then you talk as much as you'd like. Deal?"

If they cannot do that, or if they insist on telling me afterwards that what I went to so much trouble to frame and articulate with the promise of their full attention is not what I really think or feel, then this is not someone I'm going to have much to do with. I'll just do whatever I want to do anyway (unless they are my boss, or I'm otherwise somehow bound to "obey," but I'm talking about personal relationships here, not work relationships), and have as little to do with them as possible. This would definitely not be someone I would tolerate as a partner or friend.
posted by taz at 6:06 AM on August 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

Thanks everyone for trying to help, there are so many great answers here that I definitely have a lot of tacks to try. Even the really kind of in-your-face stuff that I probably won't try with loved ones is still useful for when the people are acquaintances - or for pacifying my inner voice.

I think I've probably gotten too caught up in the process of explaining precisely why it is offensive to dismiss women's feelings and thoughts, which is maybe hard for people to understand who aren't already six steps there. I'm going to try some of the really direct approaches - "It sounds like you are saying this, is that what you meant to say?" "What you meant to say was 'something better'", etc.

But I also think I may have been engaging too long when I did not need to. I am going to definitely try giving it a certain amount of time, and then refusing to continue the conversation if they are not acknowledging those points.

Thanks again everyone! I'll report back with how it works.
posted by corb at 6:57 AM on August 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

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