‘Let. Her. Speak. Please’ – Why We Need To Speak Up When We See Women Get Interrupted
The Debrief: The only way to combat manterrupting is to call it out
Manspreading, Mansplaining, Manterrupting. There are now so many words that we have in our lexis to explain the casual acts of sexism that women have to face on a daily basis, and once you hear these words and know what they mean, it’s like a veil has been lifted and you can’t help but notice this behaviour literally everywhere.
There is a seemingly endless list of academic studies and anecdotes from professional women, working at a range of levels in different industries, that demonstrate how being interrupted, talked over, and criticised is a universal experience for women.
One pioneering study conducted in 1975 by sociologists Don Zimmerman and Candace West found that in conversations between men and women, men were interrupted at a dramatically smaller rate to women. A more recent study conducted in 2014 by Adrienne B. Hancock and Benjamin A. Rubin found that a woman was more likely to be interrupted (by both men and women) than a man was. An additional study by Kieran Snyder found that, after observing over 900 minutes of conversations between men and women working in the tech industry, that men interrupted others twice as often as women did, and that men were three times more likely to interrupt a woman than they were a man.
So basically there’s no shortage of evidence to support something that we all already knew…
Another experience that we’re all too familiar with is answering a question only to have our answer regurgitated to us by a man, who’s probably just added a couple of big words to our original response, only to have his comments praised by others whilst your comments are looked over or largely ignored.
The New York Times recently posted an article called ‘The Universal Phenomenon of Men Interrupting Women’ and the response from women retelling their own accounts of this behaviour was overwhelming.
The Article was written in response to two different news stories, the first being about how Uber board member David Bonderman resigned from the company after making sexist remarks about women claiming that they talk too much, and the second news story was about how Senator Kamala Harris was cut off (once again) by Republican senators during a high-profile Senate Intelligence Committee hearing during the investigation into Russian election interference.
The reason that this topic has been brought to attention once again is due to a video which recently went viral which shows how an audience member at the World Science Festival in New York spoke out after hearing a moderator repeatedly talk over and interrupt a female physicist. Theoretical physicist Professor Veronika Hubeny was the only women on the panel of six, which sought to discuss the topic ‘Pondering the imponderables: the biggest questions of cosmology’.
After attending this panel on the 3rd of June, attendee Marilee Talkington shared her account, which has since gone viral, on Facebook, to talk about how she felt outraged that Professor Hubeny was ‘barely given any opportunity to speak’. She goes on to describe how after the moderator for the panel asked Professor Hubeny to describe her theories, that ‘without letting her answer, proceeded to answer for her and describe HER theories in detail without letting her speak for herself.’
Ms Talkington did something which we can all applaud, she spoke out. In her Facebook post she describes, ‘with my hands shaking, I finally say from my seat in the 2nd row of the audience, as clearly, directly and loudly as possible; "Let. Her. Speak. Please!" The moderator stops. They all stop.’
The moment can be seen in this video at 1:05:38.
Professor Hubeny commented on Ms Talkington’s post saying that her behaviour was ‘inspiring’ and applauded her for how ‘you bravely stood up for your principles and values’. However, she did also wish to assure her that in this instance she didn’t necessarily feel as if she was purposefully being talked over and interrupted, ‘you may be amazed to hear it, but during this panel session I genuinely did not feel affronted or discriminated by the moderator’s behaviour. It seemed more amusing to see him try posing a question in a way that at the same time tried answering it. It’s true that this made the question a bit of a moving target for me (and therefore harder to address coherently), but I don’t a-priori assume that the incident was rooted in sexism.’
Whether or not the moderator did intend on displaying behaviour that could be viewed as ‘manterrupting’, the action taken by Ms Talkington reflects how if we feel comfortable and safe to do so, that we should speak out against this behaviour and support other women when we experience them being side-lined and ignored in professional contexts.
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