“Hey, guess what I’m doing?” That’s normally how my late sister Nita began a phone conversation. As usual, I had no idea, because Nita was one of the most creative and clever people I’ve ever known. When it came to intelligence, she was off the charts. Because it was nearing Christmastime, I thought it was related to the holidays. Turns out I was right. Nita had a small piece of land near Marble Falls, Texas and decided she needed a rooster. Unfortunately, she had buyer’s remorse pretty soon after the purchase because the rooster took his job very seriously. Every morning at 5 a.m., rain or shine, the rooster crowed. So Nita had a problem, but being the intelligent woman she was, she soon hatched a plan. When the usual “white elephant” Christmas party at her friend’s house rolled around, all the Christmas gifts were tucked neatly under the tree. Unfortunately, the family dog was not pleased with one of the gifts and went berserk (probably because the gift box had air holes in it and kept moving on its own.) Problem solved. One lucky guest opened a box containing a live rooster. The rooster went to a new happy farm and Nita didn’t have to wake up at 5 a.m. any more.
Our family was big on education. My mother raised a physicist, an endocrinologist, an invertebrate paleontologist…all six of us had degrees. Nita decided to opt for a two-year nursing degree. At times, as an RN with a two-year degree, there were supervisors or others with more advanced degrees that assumed their intelligence or knowledge exceeded hers. Boy, were they wrong. Out of the six of us, we always knew that Nita was the smartest. There was no doubt. She was a life-long learner, and if she didn’t know it, you can bet that she would “look it up,” just like our parents taught us. We now have a word for condescending behavior by so-called experts-“nerdsplaining.” When one “nerdsplains,” they wrongly assume that someone doesn’t know as much as they do. The nerdsplainer endeavors to “help” with lengthy explanations on a variety of topics. When the listener tries to get a word in edgewise, the nerdsplainer may cut off the speaker mid-sentence. After all, how can anyone possibly know more than the nerdsplainer? If the victim of the nerdsplainer does manage to relay their knowledge on a particular topic, the nerdsplainer will quickly change subjects to a new “more challenging” topic.
Mansplaining and nerdsplaining are two sides of the same coin. In an effort to be “helpful,” men sometimes assume women don’t understand as much about a topic due to their gender. (I once had the “pleasure” of listening to a lecture on the merits of various barbecue grills for 45 minutes.) Most of the time, we politely listen, because it’s clear the speaker is trying to be helpful. Sometimes, however, mansplaining can have negative consequences. When a woman is cut off mid-sentence, because the listener assumes she doesn’t understand a topic, she might not speak up as often. A lot of brilliant ideas may have been mansplained away, and that’s a tragedy. It’s a mistake to assume a woman isn’t an expert in a traditionally male arena. In order to pay her way through medical school, my sister Karen joined the Army. Karen was always very precise, which made her an excellent medical student. And when it came to military training, it also made her a crack shot. When she’s mansplained regarding weapons, she politely lets them know that she was first in her class in the operation of an M-16. Just because we look “ladylike,” doesn’t mean we can’t hit a target.
There are some simple cures for mansplaining and nerdsplaining. Listen to other people. Try not to cut them off until they’ve finished speaking. Hear them out and be patient. Avoid dismissing their ideas. It isn’t necessary to continually offer suggestions. Just because they’re listening to you, doesn’t mean they appreciate your “help.” Most people will ask if they want your advice. Unless you have the ability to crawl inside someone else’s head, you have no idea of their expertise or intelligence. So as the holiday season approaches and the gatherings of family and friends begin, just remember to nix the mansplaining and nerdsplaining. We “got it.” And even if we don’t “get it,” we will ask if we need help or advice.