Considering the women of this world, ever wonder how many times in a day they are interrupted? Is it more or less when they find themselves in mixed-company? How often do women interrupt men? How often do men interrupt women? One woman who asked herself these gender-specific questions, feminist and gender issues writer Soraya Chemaly, found herself regularly interrupted by men on a daily basis, and she decided to undergo a personal inequality investigation, keeping track of how many times in a day men interrupted her, finished her sentence, or restated an idea back to her she had previously expressed in the conversation. Chemaly referred to the results of her gender inequality experiment as “quite amazing,” and in response developed three empowering, clearly stated phrases for women that most men will need to get used to hearing:
“Stop interrupting me.”
“I just said that.”
“No explanation needed.”
In the words of Chemaly, the problem with interruption begins in early childhood; she refers to boys’ and girls’ “childhood politeness lessons” as being “asymmetrical.” She argues that girls are socialized to listen attentively, refrain from cursory language more so than boys, and to wait their turn to speak. Boys are not pressured by the same social norms. This gender inequality, even at an elementary level, reinforces a subservient female role dominated by a male’s experience to say what he wants whenever he wants to. As far as authority figures, Chemaly states that parents have a tendency to interrupt daughters more than sons, and teachers have a tendency to inadequately engage boys with “disruptive speech” more so than girls, reinforcing speech-patterned dominance as a means for attention and connection.
It is not always so overt. At times, the interruption is symbolically represented by sheer avoidance. Chemaly found this to be true, especially when she was in a male dominated group setting. She discusses a business dinner where a male server never made eye contact with her, yet directed his attention acutely to the men surrounding her. In another situation, she was part of a small circle of comrades, of which she was the only woman, and although she made polite conversation, adequately commenting within the discussion, neither her words nor her person was acknowledged. Chemaly argues that often, even if a women speaks clearly at a pronounced volume, she can say something that no one in the room appears to hear, and then moments later a man will explicate the same idea, often resulting in high praise and further discussion.
According to Chemaly, as women become adults, their speech is granted less prominence. It is not impossible or unheard of for women to become successful, verifiable critics or comediennes, but the road to success is longer and harder and stranger. Women have to overcome a myriad of more obstacles, beginning with the fact that their voices are often bypassed. Although women may appear to dominate celebrity gossip, media outlets such as movies and television cater more screen time and more dialogue to male actors, and male roles predominantly portray more disruptive dialogue than their female counterparts. Hollywood is not the only culprit of this kind of gender inequality. This gender-bend crosses over into the world of the Internet as well. Men are retweeted twice as often as females, and Listserve experiences a higher rate of response on topics suggested by men, according to research done by Chemaly.
Woman are often classified as chatter boxes, the more gregarious of the sexes, but taken from a global perspective, men speak more often and for longer amounts of time than women within mixed groups–the boardroom, the classroom, within legislative groups, consultations, and, unsurprisingly, religious institutions. Women’s voices represent a mere quarter of what is discussed across a broad platform. As the research regarding such gender inequalities has developed, the following quip is often attached to the resolutions: “Having a seat at the table is not the same as having a voice.”
Woman are often told that they need to learn to speak up, but being loud enough, or boisterous enough, or aggressive enough, is not necessarily the issue. Linguists have concluded, Chemaly says, that the popular misunderstanding about the two genders being from two different planets, verbally, is based on “women’s language” being interpreted as “powerless.” Both genders are socialized to think women speak more, because the substance of what they are saying has been diagnosed as insignificant, an irritant. There are many women who have felt that to open their mouths is to walk into a lion’s den of eye rolls. Men’s assumed, learned speaking dominance can eventually graduate into arrogance, which a woman’s voice frustrates by way of a territorial air-space challenge, so it is ignored. Even an asserted presence of voice coming from a woman colleague is not taken with as much credence as coming from a man, for the most part. Perhaps men also need to get used to hearing the questions, “Am I not loud enough?,” “Did I mumble?,” or “Is the pitch of my voice too high?”
Rebecca Solnit, author and winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, wrote an article Men Explain Things to Me, where in which the term “mansplaining” was coined. “Mansplaining” can be defined as the “intersection between overconfidence and cluelessness where some portion of that gender gets stuck.” Solnit asserts that the affliction is not a “universal flaw” of the male gender explicitly, but it is a term that is often granted to men who have a tendency to assume their verbal out-pours are more significant than a woman’s.
In Solnit’s essay, she shares a startling occurrence she encountered while engaging in small talk with a man she had never met before at a dinner party. He had heard that she was an author and quaintly asks her what she has written books about. As she started describing her most recent release, River of Shadows: Eadward Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, as soon as she got out the word “Muybridge,” the man cut her off and asked her, “Have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?” He began to wax on about the significance of the book and how very important it was, drifting off on his own bloated testimonial cloud, before he ever heard Solnit’s friend chanting, “That’s her book. That’s her book. That’s her book.”
As a disclaimer, within their essays both Chemaly and Solnit regard many men in their lives who have been great listeners and supporters of their work, but regarding their daily observations on this particular inequality issue, it was glaringly obvious to them that perhaps many men do not even realize they are speaking over the women within their company. If women begin to practice reciting Chemaly’s three simple phrases, it may help both men and women close the gender cap and become better listeners of each other all around. Communication really is key. In order for this gender inequality to balance out, some men may need take a moment and consider there may be a reason all the women around them are chanting: “Stop interrupting me;” “I just said that;” “No explanation needed”; “Am I loud enough this time?”
Opinion by Stacy Feder