The art of John Bom – a long neglected PNG great
Prince of peace

Caught somewhere between mansplaining & neo-colonialism


UNBEKNOWN to her, ABC writer and broadcaster Annabel Crabb has sparked a momentous epiphany for me.

The trigger was a word in a splendid article, ‘A crying shame’, which spawned justification for the rage I’ve (barely) contained in my hot little head as jets of steam have cascaded from the cavity between my ears.

And the word? Mansplaining.

When a man explains to a woman something she already knows while the woman works out how best to respond.

So I am enlightened. There is a word for it!

Yes, there is a label for the ubiquitous behaviour I first encountered at university and which followed me into the workplace. But it didn’t end there. It’s stalked me into other aspects of my life. It became an everyday ritual, most notably in Papua New Guinea.

In the office, my responses to mansplaining were an awkward silence and a clenched jaw closely followed by a 180 degree turn on heels and half sprint back to my workstation. Thence my government-issued keyboard would receive the pounding of its life.

There is a long history of PNG women being ‘talked down’ to by men; whether fossils,  progressives or churlish schoolboy types. These moments deserve to be recorded, gazetted and archived  in the annals of PNG literature.

In shining the spotlight on this gender-definitive behaviour, I’m feeling quite the patriot.

Not because I am daring to crucify my male colleagues (well, not this time anyway) but because I include my PNG brothers in the same position as women: people subjected to the insufferable attitudes of temporary visitors to our shores.

Not all of them. Just a good handful. Expatriates. Men and women.

Expatriates: champions of stirring a constant feeling within me of being trapped somewhere between mansplaining and neo-colonialism.

It is enraging, this aura of condescension that precedes expatriates as they come within eyesight of us Papua New Guineans.

The irritating arrogance wafting from ego bubbles that take on sickening intent as banal proclamations are thrown at us.

There is a gall flavoured with master-servant dynamics. A glistening snail trail winding from yesteryear’s condescension into the present day.  

But equally infuriating is how easily Papua New Guineans slide under this blanket of delusional superiority. Accommodation preferred to confrontation.

We’ve all experienced it. Expatriates displaying an onset of stupidity that not even unfamiliarity with and discomfort in the tropics excuses.

It’s the patronising tone assumed by the manager called front of house. Shoppers are subjected to a spectacle of bosman superiority and vocal pyrotechnics at the cashier’s assertion that dealing with customer dissatisfaction is not in her job description.

It’s the bewilderment at seeing photographs in our dailies and on social media of fresh-off-the-tarmac, lei-adorned, paper-pushing advisers cutting ribbons at development program launches. Meanwhile, the fieldwork-hardened, issue-savvy, post-graduate nationals remain a speck in the background.

Or the housewife who barks child-control directives to her mini-army of haus meris during the grocery shop run. These women who, at the end of each day, return home to manage, cook and clean a house full of biological, adopted and random street kids.

Then there’s the old-timer expatriate who strides hurriedly into a restaurant expertly jumping the queue of young PNG women without a whisper of apology or thanks while unashamedly seeking non-verbal cues of forgiveness and tolerance.

Somebody stop me. Better yet, somebody make them stop.

Recently, a clever and wise friend and I talked on the phone critiquing the relevance of paid membership -clubs in a developing nation like PNG: the yacht clubs, golf clubs, country clubs etcetera. Suffice to say, irrelevant was the operative word.

I say to those individuals labouring in their efforts to perfect segregation, feel free to ship yourself off to some land mass far, far away. There your wardrobe matching, superficial conversation and overpriced lifestyle can be undertaken in absolute exclusivity.

But the practice of modern day apartheid in my homeland is unwelcome.

Expatriate behaviour that patronises or demeans nationals has no place in post-independence Papua New Guinea.

But is this consciously exercised? Or is it unintentional? Is its unwelcome intrusion exacerbated by the self-deprecating nature of Papua New Guineans; who so often observe without challenge?

Either way, every day is a good day to nip it in the bud (for new arrivals) or call for a reality-check (veterans).

I won’t hold my breath. But, while we wait, lets remind ourselves PNG is a country in dire of need practical action to produce narrow inequality amongst all its peoples – citizens and expatriates alike.


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Ed Brumby

Rashmii: I understand, and I'm no hero when it comes to confronting others. I should have ended my previous comment with something along the lines of: 'It's easier said than done...'

Elizabeth Bakri Dumu

First, I commend you Rashmii, for sharing with us your own journey and one that other Papua New Guineans are also taking, towards self-confidence. That is how I would like to see it.

Second, for professionals out there, the Workplace is a global playing field, not subject to any one particular culture but its own.

Areas like project management, Risk Management, Auditing, Accounting, IT, etc, have standards that govern what they do, and certifications that must be obtained. In such work places there is no place for inferior thought processes such as those relating to 'mansplaining'.

However, if one does accommodate such thought processes at the workplace, it is due to their own level of self-confidence.

And this is where Chris' wise fathers saying could come into play, "if you behave like a door mat you will be treated as one". This could be improved through a process of self-discovery, filling the gaps that may exist with appropriate trainings and certifications (if need be).

Next, anything outside of the work place, such as 'jumping the queue' should be seen as 'attitude problem', period. There is no need to think too much into such attitudes by ill-mannered individuals, male or white. They are everywhere!

Finally, regarding paid club memberships, I say, it depends. I saw the benefit of playing golf for the sport it truly is, so I joined the Port Moresby Golf Club on my own accord. Then, when I am on the course I play like another 'big shot'.

I have no time to think of how many titles they have or how many wives they have because we are all on the same course playing by the same rules, with the same whether conditions of the day.

The only difference is, after the games when they drive away in their company issued vehicles or expensive private toys, I catch a taxi home to Morata.

Sometimes we just got to define our own lives and live it however we want to, without allowing negativity, such as mansplaining, to get in the way.

Bessielah David

Huh! It's getting a little fiery here. Although I can see and read that each individual's experiences varies from that of another.

Not all people (PNG/Expat) react to such "expat chauvinism" the same way but I have to say a higher wisdom of awareness to your environment and livelihood would transcends the "attitude" in every situation.

"Treating others the way you would want yourself to be treated" is ideal to what Chris mentioned.

Rashmii Amoah

Ed - I agree with you that for practical change to take place - it is far more effective to address the issue (perceived offence) at the time it takes place. Absolutely.

However, speaking for myslef - I find that I am far more eloquent in written form than were I to verbalise my feelings at the time of the incident taking place.

Add to that, wavering self-confidence and an upbringing where I was taught it is wiser a disrepsectful to point out (at the time) others wrong-doings, I really do struggle with this issue.

To be clear - my piece was written with the intention of it hopefully being read by the handful of expatriates who are in PNG and intentionally practicising ignorance, arrogance and all those other ugly and unacceptable behaviours/attitudes.

It was merely an attempt at giving these individuals some insight. It may have a tiny impact on them adjusting their behaviour.

Frequent self-reflection (see my comments below re Phil Fitzpatrick's paper) and also a conscious choice to be a decent human being at all times, irrespective of who you're with or where you are should be every individual's daily goal.

Thank you for your comments.

Ed Brumby

Like other expat readers, I winced when I recalled my own history of hurtful behavior and attitudes while I was in PNG born, as they were, from ignorance and thoughtlessness.

I also remembered, with gratitude, a series of friends and mentors, other expats and Papua New Guineans alike, who had the kindness, and courage, to confront and counsel me regarding those behaviours and attitudes – which made me aware of the hurt and offence I had caused and, for the most part, helped me to change my ways for the better.

I say ‘courage’ because it is never easy to confront another, especially a friend, regarding their bad behavior.

And therein lies a curious irony. In encouraging others to change their ways, we may need to change our own: by overcoming our natural reticence and our wish to avoid confrontation by doing just that – confronting the perpetrator directly and explaining how their behavior is hurtful and unacceptable.

It is much easier, of course, to make ‘a 180 degree turn on heels and half sprint back to (the) workstation’ and vent one’s anger and frustration on a keyboard – and then vent further via an online blog.

You feel better because you’ve expressed, most eloquently, your rage.

But nothing will change back at the office (or supermarket or wherever) unless you are prepared target your eloquence directly at the perpetrator(s).

Rashmii Amoah

I highly recomend a read of Phil's Cross-Cultural Awareness paper.

It is an informative and balanced compare and contrast analysis of expatriate and national cultures as the background to some of the observed behaviourrs I've mentioned in my own peice.

What I found most valuable and quite early on in the paper's discussion is Phil's reference to the notion of 'self-reflection'. Developing this as a habit. Quite often we all, expatriates and nationals, get so focused on steam-rolling ahead and that we forget to stop, think/reflect, evaluate and adjust our attitudes and behaviours.

I think an active committment to this habit would do wonders and minimise this 'feeling'' I was referring to.

Ian Fraser

That's a useful insight -- ex-pat to national as man is to woman, in a bad way.

Rashmii Amoah

Phil - sounds interesting and I'd be keen to get some insight on your suggested approaches. Please email me on [email protected]
Thank you.

Phil Fitzpatrick

I've run orientation courses for expats coming to PNG, mostly in the mining and oil and gas sector. Waste of time really, you can't change attitudes with an orientation course.

What I found a lot more productive was running courses for PNG employees about how to understand and deal with expats.

Before I could do that however I had to work out what makes expats tick. That was a very sobering exercise. Then I had to work out the PNG equivalents and run them to together to see where they conflicted.

As an example, expats come from a society that believes in individualism. That's a concept that just doesn't work in PNG society. However, once the PNG workers were aware that this was where their expat co-workers were coming from they worked out strategies to deal with it.

If anyone's interested I can provide a copy of a paper I wrote about this approach.

Rashmii Amoah

Chris - your third sentence encapsulates my general sentiments around this issue.

Funny you should cite my use of the house wives/haus meri scenario. It's most possibly, by far, the prime example of abuse of a a privelleged situation and one that gets me quite riled up about! Can't speak for other countries but in Australia, the majority of mothers (and the demographic of which Australian expat women in PNG come from) would be lucky if not a rarity to afford one regular baby-sitter. So they make do and soldier on. Yet, come to PNG and all of a sudden there's a need to assign a babysitter per child, then you have the haus meri, garden girls and so on...all there to run the show whilst mummy runs off to a charity luncheon to raise funds for the empowerment of PNG women!! Ok, ok - I'll stop.

Thank you for your comments.

Rashmii Amoah

Gary - I agree with you that changing of attitudes is not easy but is certainly something we all need to keep chipping
away at.

Interesting to hear cultural awareness was run by MI. I've seen that there's quite a few blogs out there now with tips, advice from expats working/living overseas - I guess they're always an avenue for people wanting first-hand accounts.

Although, I guess the best foundation of all is getting back to the basics - treat others as you would have them treat you, do your best to be a decent human being and all that. Many thanks for your comments.

Rashmii Amoah

Bessielah - thank you for reading:)

Chris Overland

There is nothing worse when travelling overseas than to see one's country men and women behaving like ***holes.

Somehow, going to another country, especially a developing country like PNG, brings out the absolute worst in some people.

This is especially true where those people enjoy, usually for the first and only time in their lives, an unusually privileged socio-economic status compared to the local people.

Instead of understanding this to be purely a matter of chance, far too many people wrongly assume that it is due to their inherently superior culture, intelligence or skills.

Thus, as Rashmii points out, the expatriate "yummy mummy" becomes a domestic tyrant to her long suffering PNG employees, displaying no insight or empathy for their situation.

Papua New Guineans are, in the main, polite to a fault, so this works against them when dealing with over confident and over bearing expatriates.

The only thing to be done is to confront such bad behaviour directly, by bluntly pointing out to the offender that common courtesy should be extended to all, not just a privileged few.

As my wise father used to say: "if you behave like a door mat you will be treated as one".

Garry Roche

When I first came to PNG we had to attend an “Orientation Course” run by what is now the “Melanesian Institute”.

This course was designed to assist newcomers from all the various churches to understand and adapt themselves to PNG peoples and cultures. Looking back it did not deal adequately with “male expatriate chauvinism”.

If MI are still running such courses, I think that Rashmii Bell should be asked to give input.

As one who probably has also at times been guilty of the patronizing condescending approach that Rashmii describes so succinctly, I welcome this “reality check” from Rashmii.

Too often we underestimate the ability and the professionalism of the PNG people we work with, - especially PNG females.

Attitudinal change is not easy but is possible. Thank you Rashmii.

Rashmii Amoah

Absolutely, Phil! In relation to the queue-jumping behaviour, my own expereince and those of I've heard from friends etc- these rude expats are quite aware of what they're doing and seem quite nonchalant about it. Annoying. But you're right - I don't know what it is about the PNGns who think that expats always know the answer/ know better etc. So annoying.

Anyway, all I know is that I'd feel like an aboslute, incredible fool if I tried to carry on (in a foreign country) the way the 'bad apples' do in PNG. Especially when it's behaviour/attitude not condoned in their own homeland.

Bessielah David

Rashmii, Loved reading this piece. Great insight and very provoking. Thanks for writing.

Phil Fitzpatrick

And of course, Rashmii, you would have noticed it in the comments of some of the expatriates on PNG Attitude, including my own.

I know from my own experience that it is a very difficult thing to control - not so much the overt gratuitous advice and queue-jumping behaviour but the subtle version. Half the time you don't know you are doing it.

In PNG its just the same. And it isn't helped by Papua New Guineans who look at you expecting some sort of superior advice, as if all expatriates naturally know better.

It also permeates the very relationship between PNG and Australia. Condescension as foreign policy, very strange.

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