Equal Air Time for Women: Eliminate the Male-Pattern Rudeness of Manterrupting, Mansplaining, and Manologues

Many women were immediately angry when we saw Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren interrupted, chastised, and cut off mid-sentence during US Senate hearings in recent weeks while their male colleagues were allowed to speak. As Renée Graham noted in the Boston Globe, “To be female is to be interrupted. By the time most girls reach their first day of school, they already know how it feels to be drowned out by a chattering group of boys.” It was so obvious to most women watching the Senate hearings that manterrupting was happening—why weren’t the men involved aware of their own rude behavior? There is now an abundance of research documenting that men talk more and take up more air time in meetings (mansplaining and manologues), and that men interrupt women (manterrupting) more. Here is a sample of the studies reporting these findings:

  • A study from Harvard found that the larger the group, the more likely men are to speak.
  • A Princeton and Brigham Young University study found that when women are outnumbered, they speak for between a quarter and a third less time than men.
  • Women are interrupted more by both men and women.
  • The more powerful men become, the more they speak; the same is not true for women. For good reason, women worry about a backlash that can occur when women speak more. A study from Yale found that both male and female listeners were quick to think that women who speak more are talking too much or too aggressively. Men are rewarded for speaking more, and women are punished.
  • A New Zealand study found that in formal contexts, men talk more often and for longer than women. Women use words to explore; men, to explain.
  • A Harvard study found that female students speak more when a female instructor is in the classroom.
Graham reports a new study that shows that female justices, including our three female Supreme Court justices, are three times more likely to be interrupted by their male colleagues. While this treatment crosses political and racial lines, male senators may be overreacting to shut down Senator Kamala Harris, an assertive black woman, even more quickly than is true for their white female colleagues. Susan Chira of the New York Times reports on a new study by Tali Mendelberg and Christopher F. Karpowitz, which found that until women make up 80 percent of a school board, women do not speak as long as men. The study authors also note that even when men are in the minority, they do not speak up less. We need men to become aware of these gendered patterns that silence or ignore women’s voices. Chira reports on one recent hopeful event when Arianna Huffington, as a member of Uber’s board of directors, advocated for more women on Uber’s board. When another director, David Bonderman, objected because he said women talk too much, the other male directors supported Huffington’s call for him to be removed from the board—and he was. Because of the spotlight Uber has been under, due to public outcry, for fostering a culture inhospitable to women, the inappropriateness of Bonderman’s remarks was visible to the other male directors. This is a great example of men acting as allies after becoming aware of the gendered dynamics that shut women down. As I wrote in a previous article, there are some things that both women and male allies can do to create an environment where women can get their voices heard, for example:
  • Form gender-balanced panels in professional conference settings and encourage moderators to equalize the air time allotted to women and men.
  • Institute “no interruptions” rules in meetings.
  • Ensure equal participation in meetings. Keep track of who is and is not speaking and call on people who are speaking less.
  • Increase the number of women in leadership and on teams.
  • Be an ally—draw attention to women’s contributions, and make space for them and for each other.
Maybe someday the men of the Senate will become aware of their behavior—meanwhile, we need to elect a lot more women to public office to insist and persist in women being heard in government and elsewhere.   Photo courtesy of aSilva. CC by-nd 2.0]]>