Navigating the complex, ever-changing workplace dynamics of the 2020’s can be challenging for anyone. But for women, there’s also an extra dimension to deal with. I’m talking about the age-old tradition of mansplaining, bropriating, and hepeating.
These terms describe instances where women encounter interruptions, dismissals, or the appropriation of their ideas by others, typically those in positions of privilege or power. It happens quite regularly for most women. It’s happened to me more times than I can count. It happens to my clients. It happens to young women. It happens to older women. It happens to professional women, executive women, and business owners. And god help you if you’re a woman of color, or if English isn’t your first language, no matter how well you speak it. Whoever you are, when these behaviors are aimed at you, it’s infuriating at best, and confidence destroying at worst.
Handling these behaviors requires tact, assertiveness, and a nuanced approach to ensure your voice is heard and respected and I’m going to teach you how to deal with them. But first, let’s define what each of them is.
Way back in 2008, Rebecca Solnit wrote an essay called “Men Explain Things To Me” in which she describes an interaction with a man, who after hearing she had just published a book, proceeded to tell her about another “very important book” on the same topic. He continued telling her about the “other” book despite the fact that her friend told him “That’s her book” three or four times during the conversation. And get this, it eventually came out that he’d never even read the book.
Soon after, women coined the word “mansplaining”. And it’s become so well-known, as I write this, my spellchecker moves right past it without batting an eye.
Mansplaining occurs when a man interrupts a woman to explain something to her that she actually knows far more about than he does. And, he often does this in a condescending and dismissive manner.
Hepeating refers to a situation where a man repeats an idea that was previously suggested by a woman. Often, it was literally just suggested by said woman, as in mere seconds before. The idea is then accepted by others present in the conversation as the man’s idea. He then gets the credit and attention.
Bropriating is a close cousin to hepeating. It happens when a man simply steals a woman’s idea and then takes credit for it. He will often say something like, “Yes, that’s what I was just saying”, even though it was definitely not what he was just saying.
Why do men mansplain, hepeat and bropriate?
The behaviors are born of a deep seeded insecurity and need for validation. Deep down, that annoying man doesn’t think he’s your superior. He believes he is inferior to you and everyone else. His deepest fear is that he’s not good enough.
It’s actually quite sad. What a terrible way to live.
How to deal with mansplaining, hepeating, bropriation.
1. Stay Engaged!
At no point should you sit down and shut up in the face of these behaviors. Keep voicing your opinions. Keep challenging. Keep ideating. Keep being your full, amazing, expansive self. No one benefits when women make themselves small.
As the great Margaret Atwood wrote in The Handmaid’s Tale, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”
2. Redirect the Conversation.
The next time you encounter mansplaining, politely interject by saying, "I'm familiar with this topic," or "I'd love to hear your perspective after I finish." This reaffirms your knowledge while maintaining professionalism.
Address a hepeater by drawing attention to the initial idea's origin politely but firmly. Saying, "As I previously mentioned," redirects credit where it's due without appearing confrontational.
Following a bropriation, reinforce your contributions by restating your point if it's overshadowed. Offer credit by saying, "I'm glad you agree with my point about..." This emphasizes your input and encourages fair recognition.
3. Exert Your Expertise.
You know what you’re talking about. Tell them why. You’ve done the research. You have the education and experience. You know the right people. You’ve seen this situation before. Whatever it is, make sure they hear about it!
4. Support Your Sisters!
My favorite part about Rebecca Solnit’s essay is her friend Sallie’s insistence on setting the mansplainer straight by interjecting with “That’s her book!” over and over again until he wised up.
We have to stick up for each other.
The only way these behaviors will stop is if we make them stop. Together.
So, the next time you witness another woman suffering the indignities of mansplaining, hepeating, or bropriating, speak up.
“That’s her book!”
“That was her idea!”
“That’s what she just said!”
"She knows what she's talking about!"
You get my drift.
Remember, handling these behaviors requires a delicate balance of assertiveness and professionalism. By asserting your expertise, redirecting conversations tactfully, and fostering an inclusive workplace culture, you can navigate and mitigate these challenges effectively while ensuring your contributions are valued and respected.