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10 Words Every Girl Should Learn
July 6, 2014 4:31 PM   Subscribe

10 Words Every Girl Should Learn "Stop interrupting me." "I just said that." "No explanation needed."

It starts in childhood and never ends. Parents interrupt girls twice as often and hold them to stricter politeness norms. Teachers engage boys, who correctly see disruptive speech as a marker of dominant masculinity, more often and more dynamically than girls.

As adults, women's speech is granted less authority and credibility. We aren't thought of as able critics or as funny. Men speak more, more often, and longer than women in mixed groups (classrooms, boardrooms, legislative bodies, expert media commentary and, for obvious reasons religious institutions.) Indeed, in male-dominated problem solving groups including boards, committees and legislatures, men speak 75% more than women, with negative effects on decisions reached. That's why, as researchers summed up, "Having a seat at the table is not the same as having a voice."
posted by triggerfinger (72 comments total) 75 users marked this as a favorite

 
Can somebody please explain to me where/how the "no explanation needed" one fits in? I'm trying to think of examples where this one would apply and am slightly confused by it. Thanks!
posted by iamkimiam at 4:45 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


I think the idea is someone is explaining something to a woman that the woman already knows, because the speaker assumes (consciously or unconsciously) she's can't possibly know about it, due to her being a woman.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:50 PM on July 6 [14 favorites]


iamkimiam - Let me start off by explaining how sexism hurts women and then we can move on to the negative effects of racism. I, as a white man, have thought a lot about this and I'd be happy to give you my insights.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 4:53 PM on July 6 [64 favorites]


Better: "I'm not done." And then, "Just hang on" as a follow-up, and "I'm not done explaining" and/or "Just listen" if they still don't get it. That's what I just used, like a minute ago, with my husband.

I feel like "I'm not done" gets the point across, without giving the person who's interrupting anywhere to hang an argument. If you say "Stop interrupting me," they can just say, "I'm not interrupting you." And then you're derailed. But if you say "I'm not done," well, who are they to say whether you're done? And if they say, "Oh, you're done," then they're quite obviously the jerk.
posted by limeonaire at 4:53 PM on July 6 [86 favorites]


Damnit, were you being sarcastic? Don't do that to me.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 4:54 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


"Stop interrupting me or I'll [verb] you again". 8 words.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:10 PM on July 6


"I'mma let you finish but..."
posted by spock at 5:21 PM on July 6 [7 favorites]


Every time this sort of list comes around I really wish I could add an addendum:

An important part of asserting your power is realizing that people who assert power are often called dicks, assholes, and yes, bitches. Power and resentment together. In fact the surest way to know that your power is recognized is the small but vocal set of people who fall back on name-calling because they feel they have no other recourse.

Men are socialized from an early age to be comfortable with the personal insults that come with power. "Boys being boys" is an extended dominance game that men start at a young age and never really stop playing. Learning to ignore the whiners is an important lesson they learn.

Women are not similarly prepared and can be caught off guard by the vitriol that comes in response to asserting their power. There are times when that response is due to the fact that they are women, but more often it is part of the power dynamics of a male dominated world.

It is important to remember that when being assertive there will be petty and unproductive responses, and that pointedly ignoring them is seen as a strong response among men.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:23 PM on July 6 [51 favorites]


I'm a big fan of, "Fuck off." Once I learned I could tell my peers this (in middle school), things got significantly better.
posted by unknowncommand at 5:24 PM on July 6 [6 favorites]


In other words, we need to work for a society which extends to bitches the same respect it does to assholes?
posted by acb at 5:29 PM on July 6 [11 favorites]


Alternatively, couldn't we teach young men to listen to listen when women speak, and to listen in a way that acknowledges the authority and credibility of the speaker?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:31 PM on July 6 [25 favorites]


In other words, we need to work for a society which extends to bitches the same respect it does to assholes?

Bitch is a word which should drop out of our vocabulary entirely. Asshole is gender neutral. Everyone's got one, usually in a position of authority immediately above oneself.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:34 PM on July 6 [28 favorites]


here are times when that response is due to the fact that they are women, but more often it is part of the power dynamics of a male dominated world.

except for the part where there have been studies that show that women being assertive will not get her the results as a man doing the same. when women push back it's not just a small contingent disliking it, but rather a structural bias against it.
posted by nadawi at 5:37 PM on July 6 [35 favorites]


Bitch is a word which should drop out of our vocabulary entirely.

The implication she is yappy, but when the master says "obey", she'll shut up. Never cared for the word.

But I know these bad habits very well on so many fronts -- I have often held my ground in serious debates with men who will only concede the point or back down if another man happens to agree with me and takes my side, which always irks me because I expect more from people and I often find myself thinking, "Oh, not you, too."

But it is a power play used to plant seeds of doubt in someone's mind so they will eventually defer and be controlled. Nice try, but it doesn't work with me...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 5:51 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


When you're a man, learning not to interrupt people is really hard, because after a long time doing it it's kind of a reflex. It's probably a lifelong process, training yourself out of it. Let me recommend an intermediate step which I've found much easier to get good at -- notice when you've interrupted someone, and stop, and say "I'm sorry, I interrupted you, you were saying -- ?" It's not as good as not interrupting in the first place, but it's a start.
posted by escabeche at 6:11 PM on July 6 [26 favorites]


I'm a female technology executive. Coming up the ranks I had it pretty easy as far as being a lady goes, but I absolutely encountered the thing in meetings where my comment would be ignored and then re-suggested by a man moments later to great acclaim.

I eventually had enough of that crap and started jumping on those occasions where the ignore-repeat-acclaim cycle started. I forced myself to butt in the minute my own idea was recycled with a friendly assertion: "I'm so glad you agree with me, Dave. I can see why that initiative would really benefit your group, because blah blah blah." In this way, I compliment the man for his insight rather than shrilly complaining that he stole my idea, but clearly establish provenance.

As a nice bonus, it implicitly denigrates everyone in the room who didn't recognize my obvious brilliance the first time.
posted by nev at 6:12 PM on July 6 [127 favorites]


I am really digging this JulybyWomen project. Some really interesting posts and stories are coming out of it.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:13 PM on July 6 [12 favorites]


Man, I would give anything to say, "I just said that," or even, "I said that last week/month/quarter/etc" again when my boss and all the other male managers try to pass off one of my ideas as their own. I got put on probation a few weeks ago for standing up for myself with those exact words this past year. My boss decided I was "insubordinate, not a team player, and a poor leader". Thanks, boss.
posted by Hermione Granger at 6:14 PM on July 6 [17 favorites]


Nev, I was using similar verbiage in my tech company (eg: "Hey, I'm so glad to hear that you feel this is a good fit! When I brought this idea up last week, you had the following reservations. How should we move forward now?") and I was told I'd be fired if I did it again. Sounds like your team is slightly less backwards.
posted by Hermione Granger at 6:18 PM on July 6 [45 favorites]


This is great. I fully support socializing girls to use dominant speech patterns that are currently much more nurtured in boys.

One thing I rarely see in articles about this general topic is this fact: men who are mansplainy to women also tend to be quite mansplainy to men. It isn't always the case, but it often is. But men are much more often socialized to shut it down, so it tends not to bug us as much.

Men also, because of social privilege and conditioning, are often quite willing to let a mansplainy man finish telling them something they already know, so we don't always feel the need to employ "no explanation needed". But boys need to be taught to afford that same courtesy to women, 'cause we often get more impatient with women who tell us things we already know.

And we've also got to socialize boys to have the humility to back off in reaction to these ten words. We're bad at it when we hear them from men, we're worse at it when we hear them from women.

What I see as really challenging here is the task of getting parents and teachers to be gender-blind about both criticizing rudeness and encouraging assertiveness. Boisterous debate and discussion can often involve everybody stepping on everybody's toes a little bit, and that can be perfectly OK.

I'd prefer to see that embraced and equalized, rather than the opposite possibility, where there would be a gender-equal push for every kid to become an ultra-polite little passive wussy, and have situations where everybody goes reaching for the talking stick every time things get a little heated.

Some kids will end up being dominant and some more reserved, that's just the way of the world. But yes, please, let's take the gender bias out of it. More aggro girls, more submissive boys. Even it out, let them all find their natural persona without regard to gender.

PS- Limeonaire is on to something. For both boys and girls, less confrontational ways of demanding respect are a much better idea and much more effective. I find those alternate phrases work really well in dude on dude discussions too.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 6:19 PM on July 6 [5 favorites]


Hermione Granger: That sucks, because that's a good approach. A man who said that would be characterized as a no-nonsense roll-up-your-sleeves results-focused go-getter. I can see how that could backfire on a woman in the wrong climate.
posted by nev at 6:25 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


interrupting...after a long time doing it it's kind of a reflex

Try overcorrecting. On the assumption that you currently don't do a good enough job of listening to women, consciously pay extra attention when women speak. Consciously extend a bit more trust than you otherwise would. Hopefully the conscious correction and your subconscious bias will average out.

When you're a man, learning not to interrupt people is really hard.

Not as hard as being ignored. Do better, no excuses.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:26 PM on July 6 [11 favorites]


"Beat it, shitpants." also works in a pinch.
posted by Pudhoho at 6:27 PM on July 6 [5 favorites]


But men are much more often socialized to shut it down, so it tends not to bug us as much.

In my current work situation it's mostly men most of the time, and if you don't interrupt or otherwise butt in, as well as find ways to aggressively shut down the blowhards (who would no doubt be mansplaining if only there was a woman around to talk down to), you are not going to get heard.

It's actually really toxic and unpleasant, and I severely doubt that it is a dynamic that produces good results, but it's a very common way for a lot of men to have been socialized. The women I interact with who are extremely successful in this setting have had to learn exactly how to position the self and their ideas to avoid the pitfalls, but it would be better if the overall situation was less unpleasant.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:29 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


In my current work situation it's mostly men most of the time.
Absolutely true. And the opposite is also true. Women really don't do that shit to each other. I've watched it not happen in mostly female spaces, and it makes me a little envious to see a rhythm of conversation that's much more collaborative than competitive. I'd like to see more of it among men, but without erasing bravado completely, 'cause it's useful too.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 6:35 PM on July 6


Really digging this. Many of the noted moments are great "mile in my shoes" examples for me, things that I can recognize but too seldom detect.
As for the 10 words, when they're addressed to a semi-self-aware mind, I expect one might occasionally change the interpersonal dynamic for the better. I've definitely been on the receiving end of a few "I'm not dones," and while it might have raised my hackles for a moment, it also led to some valuable introspection. YMMV.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 6:36 PM on July 6


I picked up a habit from my dad who, when interrupted, butts back in with "Maybe it sounded like I was done talking," and continues as if the interruption didn't happen. An guy I dated once asked me to stop doing it because it made him feel bad. I responded that he should stop interrupting me. We didn't last too long.
posted by troika at 6:38 PM on July 6 [56 favorites]


Oh fuck.

When I was working for my non-profit a few years ago, I prevented them from doing something that would get them in serious trouble with a multi-national corporation. One of our attorneys took me aside to thank me for saving their asses.

Five months later, one of my colleagues -- a fellow I liked -- took credit for what I did. And he was the guy who originally pushed back when I said "This really isn't a good ideas."

One of my supervisors complained to HR that I wasn't "warm enough" in my dealings with him.

Seriously?

Fuck all of this.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 6:42 PM on July 6 [46 favorites]


Like Hermione Granger and posmokinghippieoverlord have noted, such strategies really, really can come with costs.

Ladies who stand up for themselves aren't acting like ladies, and start to seem tiresome and whiny.

Ask me how I know this...

The whole thing is a result of Marilyn Frye's "double-bind" notion again -- because the problem is institutional, acting along with stereotype and acting against stereotype are equally easy for the institution (sexism, misogyny, whatever) to absorb. The woman who stands up for herself in such a case needs backup, like whoa, and even then might get written up for not being a team player, and/or willing to share credit, etc.
posted by allthinky at 6:50 PM on July 6 [11 favorites]


Sigh. Thank you for posting this. I once got in trouble at work for "not being a team player" as allthinky described. I was not written up, but now the all-male department that was involved has completely cut me out of all projects for their department, and this was a year ago. I wasn't rude to them or insubordinate -- I simply refused to do the administrative work they were trying to dump on me as I am a project manager.
posted by Librarypt at 7:29 PM on July 6 [6 favorites]


Sigh. Yeah, not having your say isn't even the worst thing. I once worked somewhere where in meetings, the women would frequently have to push through the discussion to speak in the first place, then would throw out detailed ideas that would be greeted with silence from the male boss. Then a little later in the discussion, a male subordinate (or a favored woman colleague, more on that in a sec) would say the same idea in a slightly different way, and get hearty conversational pats on the back.

The women would make efforts to include each other in the conversation, e.g., "You look like you have something to say, Anne" or "What were you starting to say, Sarah?" or "Is that in line with what you were thinking, Jenny?" But even if the women got their say, the male boss rarely praised their contributions. Rather, he often seemed to just be silently waiting them out—unless it was the one token woman, older than him, who he ran everything past and directed all of his dialogue toward in meetings. Her ideas were heard. Unfortunately, while at first, she would advocate for the other women, she eventually stopped.

So for the rest of us women, what mattered was what got written down in his notes. You might often win the battle of having your say but lose the war in terms of getting your ideas actually recognized or put into effect. Many ideas never made the cut, and you'd know it, 'cause his pen just wouldn't be moving. It made it hard to keep talking, because sometimes, even if he praised the idea out loud, he wouldn't add it to the list. Other times, your ideas would just get cut for unknown reasons later in the process.

And then even if your idea did make it, it would often be assigned to someone else. It would make you want to stop coming up with ideas, but if you didn't bring ideas, you knew that at some point, it might be held against you, as we had several women coworkers who were put on probation or even fired by this boss for a litany of things they'd never been told were a problem.

Or if your idea made the cut and you got the assignment, you might already be so busy, you wouldn't be able to meet about it immediately, but the male boss would want to meet about it sooner than you were ready to, so he'd sometimes schedule the meeting about your project without you. Your women coworkers would generally let you know and try to loop you back in on it, but then you'd have almost no time to prepare for a meeting that was crucial to your project. And then, even if you were able to jump through hoops in order to attend, you would sometimes find that the entire direction of your project had been plotted out ahead of time in "informal" conversations between the male boss and one of your male subordinates, without your input. And then sometimes, even if you did get the project you wanted and got to be in the planning meeting for it and got to have your say about any changes that had been made to its direction, some other excuse would emerge for why it needed to change to be closer to the male boss's vision, or why you couldn't have the space or budget for it that you had been promised, or why you were too busy to really be in charge of the project.

Funny thing, being too busy. Along those lines, your male subordinate would throw out an idea for a new project, one that would dramatically change the way your existing projects worked and would also necessitate his being taken off of one of the only two projects he managed. He would get his way...and then proceed to gradually stop working on the new project. Nothing would ever be said to him about this.

And then your male boss would take you off of managing a project you'd managed for literally years. He would take it over, the only communication about the change being an email sent on a Friday afternoon when you were already leaving early, so you wouldn't even find out about it until the following week. Nothing would ever be spoken about it, but suddenly, you would have less responsibility than you did before.

Anyway...having your say and being heard and being respected are all very different things.
posted by limeonaire at 8:07 PM on July 6 [17 favorites]


I'm a female technology executive. Coming up the ranks I had it pretty easy as far as being a lady goes, but I absolutely encountered the thing in meetings where my comment would be ignored and then re-suggested by a man moments later to great acclaim.

This happened to me in my last job all the time. I noticed that other guys would refer back to me as much as they did with each other, i.e. "I agree with/like what triggerfinger said earlier about...". It was my manager (who ran the meetings) who was the main offender. I didn't speak up much for reasons like the one I'm giving now, but when I did, I would talk in great detail for a minute or two about the subject at hand and my thoughts and suggestions. I knew I wasn't talking out of my ass because I never spoke in meetings without having thoroughly researched what I was talking about and knowing that I was speaking knowledgeably about it. So I would go off on a speech for a few minutes on something and bring up points that no one had touched on and aspects that a lot of people didn't even know. When I was done my manager would pause and then say "Okay. Anyone else?" or "Well, when we're talking about x, we're talking about [super basic aspect/definition of x which I thought was assumed]." As if I didn't understand the basic definition of the thing I was talking about with some complexity! Within five minutes, one of the guys would make the exact same point I was making and the manager would say "Wow John, that is a great idea!".

And then he was always complaining why neither I nor any of the other three women ever spoke.

I tried to counteract this a little bit by touching on or reiterating what other women had said - "I really like what Mary said earlier about x. That was a really good point that [blah blah blah] and I agree wholeheartedly with it." I did that both to help as much as I could to ensure that other women's good ideas and comments were heard but also because I was hoping that some of the supportive guys that I worked with would pick up on it and start doing the same.

Man, I would give anything to say, "I just said that," or even, "I said that last week/month/quarter/etc" again when my boss and all the other male managers try to pass off one of my ideas as their own. I got put on probation a few weeks ago for standing up for myself with those exact words this past year. My boss decided I was "insubordinate, not a team player, and a poor leader". Thanks, boss.

I'm sorry that this happened to you. Something similar happened to me a few months back. The same manager from above gave me a written warning (note: I have never been disciplined in any job I've had) because of an error I made. It was technically an error (in the same way that driving 60 in a 55 is breaking the law) but one that I had never made before and which didn't cost the company/client or anyone anything. It's a relatively common and minor error but technically it was an error and he had every right to give me a formal warning. The shitty part of it was my boss told me that he wasn't writing me up because I made the error, but because he didn't like the way I reacted to it (I went into his office and told him I take full responsibility, so.....??). He told me that one of the guys had made the same error a few days earlier but he didn't get written up because he had a better attitude (?!?) about it. This was not even two months after same manager had given me an above average performance review and an extra bonus. It was kind of the final straw for me in a long line of stuff from this guy and two months later I got another job offer and put in my notice. But I know how much that sucks and I hope things turn around there for you.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:08 PM on July 6 [7 favorites]


I think a major factor here is that being an asshole is an effective strategy. Society rewards asshole-ry (and other anti-social behaviour) constantly in the case of men. I'd go so far as to say that it's almost a requirement for high level success in certain occupations and social contexts. We don't really lack for real life and fictional examples and I'm certain I've read a research paper or two that supports this general idea.

(I'm assuming an asshole continuum which starts at "assertive" and goes to "Lance Armstrong" or something. You're a hero until you do something really transgressive.)

Just on a personal level, not interrupting is something I've always had a problem with, just in general. I became aware of it as I got older and have made an effort to change it, but it's a hard habit to break. Not in the least part because I learned at a very young age that if you don't speak up for yourself, no one else will. Just off the top of my head I can think of instances where dominating a conversation or making sure that I was heard, at someone else's expense or otherwise, earned me a job offer I wouldn't have received or attracted new friends/lovers. (I think the effect I'm describing might be particularly acute in my case because I'm not a physically imposing person.)

I'd love to hear someone else's insight into how we could go about dismantling this toxic aspect of social culture because I'm at a bit of a loss.
posted by Maugrim at 8:23 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


It sounds like a good way to interrupt male discourse. But is discourse gendered?
posted by linear_arborescent_thought at 8:38 PM on July 6


Ugh. I'm lucky not to have to deal with this so much in my current job due to the gender balance of the team*, though I've certainly experience it in previous jobs**. Currently, I've been having trouble with a male friend the last couple of months where he just. will. not. stop. being a bombastic asshole. It's been helpful to read this article as well as many of the links within it.

* We actually hired a male employee a while back who would get visibly freaked out being in a meeting with three or four women vigorously debating how to solve technical problems.

** The guy who wouldn't look at me or speak to me the entire meeting, even though there were only three of us in the room! (That one was at least so deeply weird that it was interesting.) The manager who wouldn't let anyone else get a word in edgewise in meetings and then would chastise me for not speaking up!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 8:53 PM on July 6


It's not being an asshole it's taking what is your right to take. Please let's not call being assertive or commanding or a strong leader bitchy or assholish. It's my job to run projects and tell people what to do because they work for me on those projects and I'm in charge. I'm a benign dictator but let's not kid around, I run this shit. There are sub parts to my projects other people run and they have the power there. Good leadership establishes a chain of command to get stuff done, it's ok for women to own that. You don't always need buy-in from the men who work for you.

Being an asshole or bitchy is when you make someone feel bad for no real reason. When I assert my (earned) power that's what I'm paid to do. If I work on someone else's project I respect that they are in charge and I do my part and go home.

Also I find just laying out the plan and then saying "anyone have any input?" is the best way to avoid all this. Even if I'm technically not in charge of the plan, it keeps people mission focused to structure all discussions that way.
posted by fshgrl at 8:54 PM on July 6 [9 favorites]


I think a major factor here is that being an asshole is an effective strategy. Society rewards asshole-ry (and other anti-social behaviour) constantly in the case of men.

Well, sort of. If a male boss was being as actively disrespectful to me as has been repeatedly described in anecdotes above, I'd be an asshole right back --- and the shitty thing is that as a man, that would probably be rewarded ("Wow, Dip sure is assertive and confident, let's invite him out for drinks with the managers!") while a woman would be punished ("Geez, what a bitch, let's go get drinks with Dip and bond over this").

The "sort of" is that being an asshole downwards gets rewarded in the above anecdotes, but isn't rewarded if you do it to someone who can push back. It's a kind of bullying, and only works if you pick your targets carefully.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:54 PM on July 6 [6 favorites]


It sounds like a good way to interrupt male discourse. But is discourse gendered?

I think its intention to give women skills to interrupt the interruptions they encounter regularly9 in business / social / educational / domestic / technological / scientific / agricultural / artistic / media / industrial / physical / medical ... etc ... etc ... discourses.
posted by Kerasia at 8:57 PM on July 6 [5 favorites]


Bitch is a word which should drop out of our vocabulary entirely. Asshole is gender neutral. Everyone's got one...

Right, calling a man an asshole is "gender neutral" (after all, everyone has one) in the same kind of way that telling a woman to smile is "gender neutral" (after all, everyone has a mouth to smile with).
posted by John Cohen at 11:34 PM on July 6


Good post and I'm glad I got to read it!
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:11 AM on July 7


[Comment deleted. You know that thing where you want to prove that everything is equal and/or relative and Women Do It Too, and you decide to really double down on that and call it B*-splaining or C*-splaining, because somehow those prefixes seem the same to you as saying "man"? Yeah, we don't do that here.]
posted by taz at 1:38 AM on July 7 [40 favorites]


I'm interested in how calling a man an asshole is equivalent or similar to telling a woman to smile. Seriously. I cannot see it and I am very curious as to its deeply gendered roots in control, performance and expectations.
posted by geek anachronism at 1:39 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


Yeah, 'asshole' is gender neutral. You can't really call it the male equivalent to 'bitch', it's really more like 'jerk' but more proud to display the behavior (like a peacock whose tail is a bouquet of Vonnegut-style asterisks instead of eye-spots). A jerk takes up two parking spaces if no one is around. Assholes take up two parking spots when you were waiting for one of them, and then they wave to you as they walk into the store. Either one of them might key your car if you park too close to theirs, though.

I visualize an entire Linnaean taxonomy of horrible people and their odious antisocial behaviors. Like Darwin's finches, the differences may be slight, but they matter.
posted by Lou Stuells at 2:25 AM on July 7 [16 favorites]


The thing that makes me think this will take a long time to sort out is that I've observed two men with whom I was very close and whom I knew to be feminists both in what their ideals were and in how they made a conscious effort at self-awareness and actively tried to use what power and influence they had to correct gender imbalances, etc. - and both of them had issues like we're discussing here. One seemed to be programmed to start talking the instant a woman did, and the other couldn't seem to perceive a woman solving problems - it seemed to provoke some sort of cognitive dissonance that needed to be resolved by distorting reality to something he was more comfortable with. On more than one occasion he would listen to a woman solve a problem or offer an idea that he loved and within five seconds he would have assigned the credit out loud to someone else - in one case, to another man who was present who had responded to the woman's suggestion with 'Yeah, that's a good idea. I think she's right'. In other cases, he would hear a woman offer the same idea over and over and not get it and disagree and correct what she was saying, and then suddenly he'd offer the solution she'd been pounding on for the last 15 minutes/6 months as if he'd just had an epiphany, in some cases giving her credit to the extent that somewhere in the noises that had been coming out of her mouth she'd accidentally said something - like an infinity of monkeys on typewriters coming up with a Shakespeare play - that had suggested the solution/idea to him.

Again - good people, both of them. Ardent feminists, vocal feminists, people who used their positions to achieve gender parity in their workplaces, people who looked to promote the interests and equality of women. It just reminds me of the Far Side cartoon 'What we say to dogs/What they hear'. There's something cultural happening that is insidious and imperceptible to the people it affects when things like these examples happen - both men in my examples were unwilling oppressors, unknowing assholes. What they were doing was just flat out invisible to them but deeply offensive once they saw it, which was hard to accomplish because it was honestly so antithetical to who and what they perceived themselves to be, so antithetical to their values - it was very hard to make them see they were doing it, and very hard for them to self-police afterwards because of whatever weird mind-worm had been allowing it to happen unobserved for their whole lives.

I'm not saying there aren't genuine, irredeemable, simple assholes, btw. Just. You know. In short, the patriarchy is a land of contrasts.

Also, while I loved the linked article, I'm not optimistic about the effects of women learning to say things like 'I just said that', etc. I'm a very aggressive talker, very assertive, an interrupter/overtalker/highly-involved conversationalist, and wasn't socialised in a gendered way, so while I'm a woman, I wasn't conditioned to perform femininity - and this shit still happens to me in spite of having an aggressive and possibly 'male' conversational style. The problem is more complex, more systemic, and while I think we'll see improvement over the next generation, it will be because of a cultural shift due to attention to the issue and dialogue and changing media and raising our kids differently rather than women finding what slot to put the male-recognised currency in to get respect out.
posted by you must supply a verb at 3:41 AM on July 7 [17 favorites]


Back in the days of dial-up internet, I owned/operated an ISP with my brother. He was the idea guy (Hey, we should be an ISP!), I actually put together the servers, designed the network, and kept the thing running as it grew. I had root on the boxes, he did the advertising and the webpages. So when we went to trade shows, both of us would go because it was ours. And we'd talk to people. He talked (he likes people better than I do) but when the conversation turned technical (What's your AS? Who are your bandwidth providers? What mail server do you run? What sort of user to modem ratio do you have? What stats do you track?) he would look at me and say "She handles that stuff. Ask her." and it would be as if he had never spoken. It was as though I was invisible, over and over and over... this with an actual dude standing RIGHT THERE and saying that I was the person to ask about the tech side of things. Argh.

I went to buy a car. Took my brother along (because I didn't have a car and needed to be driven to the dealership). Introduced self to car salesperson, made eye contact, shook hand. "Hello, I'm which_chick and I am shopping for a car. This is my brother, he drove me here but he does not have any money and is not involved in the car purchasing decisions. Do not talk to him. Talk to me." Watched three different salespersons at three different dealerships IMMEDIATELY turn to my brother and ask him what sort of car he was interested in buying FOR ME as if I were invisible and/or helpless. And so I went over it again, for each of the salespeople. After the second time, two of them did turn to talk to me. The other one grinned the "Isn't she cute" smile and kept talking to my brother. I walked off the lot for that one after telling him (at what was apparently embarrassingly high volume) that he lost a sale because he failed to recognize my agency as a human being. (Brother chided me for being rude. I am rude a lot.)

So yeah, conversational bias is a problem even for competent, assured, technically-adept women who have a certain amount of power in their workplaces and lives. It's like running in sand -- bloody well exhausting. Guys get the school track, but you have to run in the sand and it's twice as hard and meanwhile everybody is all Why you run so slow, girl? It sucks but at least you're allowed to try to compete now. Used to be you were handed some pom-poms and told to stand on the sidelines and cheer for your best guy. At least they're letting you run now -- that's progress, right? Besides, you'll get to run on the track real soon now, especially if you start winning to show 'em you're a serious competitor. Get out there in the sand and show 'em what you're made of, kiddo!
posted by which_chick at 4:05 AM on July 7 [33 favorites]


I'm not sure this is always a sexist thing. Assholes will interrupt and talk over anyone. Whether women experience this even more than other men, I can't really say first hand, although I would certainly believe it. There are definitely people who are only assholes to women and are relatively normal to "the guys" as long as they're not too effeminate or weird. But there's plenty of people who are equal opportunity assholes.
posted by donkeymon at 4:05 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


Maybe, but your equal opportunity assholes is not the systemic problem people are talking about in this thread.
posted by moody cow at 4:23 AM on July 7 [9 favorites]


Something strange is happening. I work in tech, I've always worked in very small teams with very progressive people and have never had an incident where someone has talked over me or repeatedly interrupted me more than we all interrupt each other.

But suddenly I'm re-thinking all of these interactions, and I'm just... not sure anymore. Do I work with a team made up of feminists? That time when Joe and a bunch of guys went out for lunch and I only found out about it when I realised I was the only one left in the office... was it because...? And the fact that, more often than not, we just never get through to my stuff in an iteration, it just gets moved to the next one and the next one and the next one...

I love being a woman, but I hate being female.
posted by third word on a random page at 5:12 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]


> Whether women experience this even more than other men, I can't really say first hand

That's not a problem, because conveniently, there are plenty of first-hand accounts available, even in this thread. So we don't have to be all "we just don't know" because as a group, we do know and we can say.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:33 AM on July 7 [31 favorites]


>It's not being an asshole it's taking what is your right to take. Please let's not call being assertive or commanding or a strong leader bitchy or assholish.

I was thinking more of peer group situations (e.g., classroom) where you can dominate a conversation simply by taking the initiative of speaking up, rather than a situation in which you get to dictate the flow of conversation because you're an authority.

I know full well that women/girls speak up less in mixed group situations and that the opinions of men/boys are often taken more seriously. At what point does me being always willing to answer a question in class or raise a point in a discussion group become me being an asshole when I'm cognizant of my inherent advantage? That's why I'd put assertive on slightest end of the asshole continuum. It's a fine line between good assertive and bad assertive.

For what it's worth, I do my best to ensure that everyone gets a fair shake in a discussion. I've occasionally even gone so far as to say "X has an idea" when someone doing that funny up up and down half-hearted hand raise. Although, I suppose a cynic would say that I'm simply controlling the conversation in a different way.

One way I've found to mitigate the problem is, if you happen to be the moderator, keep a list of who's been speaking and who hasn't and call on people who haven't contributed. Another helpful tip, perhaps specific to a classroom situation, is to train yourself to accept a little bit of dead air. Too often people don't wait long enough before answering their own questions or picking people who are always ready to reply. A little wait time gives people time to gather their thoughts before replying and, in my experience, reduces the advantage that natural talkers have.

As an aside, one thing about the discrepancy between male/female participation time that I've never been very comfortable with is why we see the same results on message forums that we do in person. In a pseudonymous environment I'd expect that there'd still be some difference in participation rates/assertiveness (because socialization and all that) but a significantly smaller one that there seems to be.
posted by Maugrim at 5:51 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


UGH, I'm still trying to calm down after a conversation yesterday with one of my father's friends, who didn't like the way I was talking about poverty and asked me how I defined poverty and then kept interrupting me to rules lawyer everything I said. He was also quite scornful of my descriptions of people I know ACTUALLY LIVING IN POVERTY, because I didn't have a chart of what level of income or clean water or having refrigerators (yep, he went there) means a person is not actually living in poverty.

And then he asked me what the scope of government was and I started my answer by saying "I think the benefit of government is..." and he interrupted, saying "I'm not asking about the benefits of government, I'm asking what the scope of government should be" and I started again and he did it AGAIN, and I had to stop and say "If you want me to answer your question, you need to let me answer the question with my own words and in my own way. Stop telling me that I cannot choose my own words. You might not agree with them, but I get to decide how to express my own opinion. And please don't roll your eyes at me."

This is a guy who greeted me when we went over to his house with a grin and a hug and a "good-to-see-you". It wasn't surprising, really, but it was exasperating, and exhausting.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:18 AM on July 7 [15 favorites]


I've spoken before on Metafilter about my experience attempting to renovate an apartment - a situation where this very syndrome grew so extreme that i threw the builders out for three weeks - and they refused to leave the site until my husband, who had no affiliation with the build whatsoever, called them to tell them to go. After which the builders called me, to ask me why, if my husband was so upset, i hadn't said anything.
So that's life, right? I moved on. What i never expected was that I'd run into this problem in a doctors office. Last week I went to see my cardiologist. There were layers upon layers of what was wrong with that visit - starting with him telling me to smile because the management of orthostatic intolerance syndrome is all in the way a woman holds her mouth, moving on up to telling me I shouldn't fret over my exciting new symptoms because I'd managed to get married, hadn't i? (emphasis his) and since i had a man, what really did i have to complain about? and topping out with frowning ferociously at my disagreement and talking darkly of disturbed female minds.
But what left me sobbing in fury and humiliation in the restroom after the appointment was that he had never let me speak. The way he never heard me when I spoke. The way he over-rode me, "let-me-finish"ed me, the way he re-framed my words about my health as his brilliant diagnostic insights, all so that he could shoot them down and tell me to see a psychiatrist because happy ladies are healthy ladies.
(I've never seen a smile regularize a systemic blood pressure drop, but I sure as hell have seen a male asshole cause it to rise. Perhaps I need to visit him more often?)
And instead of telling that misogynistic little twerp where he could shove it, i smiled like he wanted, and told him how grateful i was to have him looking out for me -
And he looked immensely gratified and wrote me the referral that i needed. Because he, unfortunately, is the gatekeeper for my personal medical specialty in the country where i live, and being patronized rigid is the price i pay for medical care.
I'm at the point where I'm going to be bringing my husband along to all my medical appointments from this point forward. He's had plenty of practice standing up and hollering "What This Woman is trying to say is -!" and while i suppose i should be pleased that the doctors listen to him (even as they lob that hoary old chestnut "well, why didn't she tell me then?") at this moment I'm having trouble seeing it as gaming the system. It feels more like surrender.
posted by tabubilgirl at 7:22 AM on July 7 [17 favorites]


Whether women experience this even more than other men, I can't really say first hand, although I would certainly believe it.

They do. So believe it.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:27 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]


Whether women experience this even more than other men, I can't really say first hand, although I would certainly believe it.

Now you can say "first hand" because you literally just ignored the multiple comments from different women and a few men describing their experience with this phenomenon.
posted by LizBoBiz at 7:38 AM on July 7 [24 favorites]


there are some great stories in this thread and in the article. Not all men read this and say to themselves "Yes, this week is the week where I over-correct" but that is what I am saying right now.
posted by rebent at 7:44 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


" Last week as I sat in a cafe, a man in his 60s stopped to ask me what I was writing. I told him I was writing a book about gender and media and he said, "I went to a conference where someone talked about that a few years ago. I read a paper about it a few years ago. Did you know that car manufacturers use slightly denigrating images of women to sell cars? I'd be happy to help you."

I think this is less mansplaining and more somebody - naively - really wanting to show you that they aren't totally ignorant of what it is you are doing. I got this a lot as a linguistics student - people knew it was vaguely to do with language or phonetics, and would ask me if I knew about things like the Initial Teaching Alphabet, to which I would smile politely, because it almost always felt like a way to establish common ground than someone trying to assert their superior knowledge.

i've known some world champion mansplainers in my time, both at home and work, and this anecdote read to me a bit more like my mum giving me computer advice such as 'if you restart it, sometimes it works better!'
posted by mippy at 9:11 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


who didn't like the way I was talking about poverty and asked me how I defined poverty and then kept interrupting me to rules lawyer everything I said.

Oh god, the guy at a party who once tried to convince me that there was no such thing as child poverty in this country. 'Well, living below the breadline means that you're ACTUALLY STARVING', he told me with a smug and-what-about-that grin. 'Yes, many children are.' 'Well, that's down to parental incompetence, surely!' As someone who had lived below the breadline as a child for a while - thanks to government agency incompetence, and with parents who did absolutely everything possible to ensure that I got what I needed - I was tempted to smack the mouth off his face.
posted by mippy at 9:14 AM on July 7 [6 favorites]


>It is important to remember that when being assertive there will be petty and unproductive responses, and that pointedly ignoring them is seen as a strong response among men.

One of the things I work on with my daughter is standing up to people who pick on her, boys or girls (but mostly boys). She's not very confident with asserting herself in conflict situations and she worries about what people say to her more than anything. Getting her over the "ignore them" hump is a constant challenge. I realize it's anecdotal, but part of me wonders whether this is an issue that is not social, but natural. Of course, she's being socialized in ways that we as parents cannot control.

But seriously, she just needs to stand up and say "cut that shit out" sometimes and ignore them when they get mad. All conflict is not sexism, sometimes people are just assholes who use a person's sex as the weapon rather than the reason.
posted by Jacks Dented Yugo at 9:24 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


Thank you to all of the women who have spoken out about their own experiences in this thread - I don't have enough favorites for all that I want to give.

That said, being the paranoid type, I can't help but worry that, though I am female, I may have internalized this discriminatory behaviour and be similarly dismissive of my fellow women in conversation, particularly those with more female gendered conversation patterns. I want to be more aware of my own behaviour and whether I give other women the same respect and space to speak that I grant men.
posted by jb at 9:25 AM on July 7 [5 favorites]


Recently I had a conversation with some coworkers about how a lot of the "here is how women can respond to being discriminated against"-type literature made me feel uncomfortable because it felt like victim-blaming. One of them brought up the point that it helps them go from feeling like a victim to feeling empowered and in charge of a situation. So I think there is certainly room for these types of "every girl should learn" discussions. It's a good thing to tell girls that they aren't powerless.

But I think it definitely does need to be part of an overarching narrative about how not to discriminate in the way we treat others. For me personally, I have a problem with interrupting others. I know I have this problem and I've been wrestling with it for ages. Something like escabeche's strategy of saying "I'm sorry, I interrupted you, you were saying?" has been the only thing to work for me so far. So yes. I think we should all learn these seven words too. (And I really do mean "all" because I am female.)
posted by capricorn at 9:37 AM on July 7 [6 favorites]


I've occasionally even gone so far as to say "X has an idea" when someone doing that funny up up and down half-hearted hand raise. Although, I suppose a cynic would say that I'm simply controlling the conversation in a different way.

No, this is a good thing to do and I do it too. If you're senior in the meeting, or male, you have the ability to give junior people and women permission to speak. Sometimes that ability is earned/positional and sometimes it's illegitimate/unearned, but it's helpful ally behaviour regardless to use it to give voice to people who wouldn't otherwise have it. It's also super-helpful to say things like "X hasn't spoken and I'd like to hear what she thinks -- X, what do you think?" or "I believe that's the same point X was making earlier and yes, it's a good one."

I quote the Quaker principle a lot, because I think it's really useful. The quiet people should aim to speak more, and the talkative people should aim to hold back. Giving voice to others is part of holding back: it helps.
posted by Susan PG at 9:47 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]


I am loving all of the comments in this thread.

My husband and I bought a boat recently. He was there two of the three interactions, with the second only for him to sign the final agreement, with me in the lead for all three and actually striking the deal. I filled out all of the paperwork with my name first and his second. Our checks have my name first and his second.

Somehow, the legal paperwork we received had his name first on them - the check for slight overpayment, the title, the registration... But the box of "thank you" cookies had my name on them first.

I'm not sure if it was the dealership or the state licensing office that swapped our names. But it irritates the shit out of me.
posted by jillithd at 9:55 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


...I can't help but worry that, though I am female, I may have internalized this discriminatory behaviour and be similarly dismissive of my fellow women in conversation, particularly those with more female gendered conversation patterns. I want to be more aware of my own behaviour and whether I give other women the same respect and space to speak that I grant men.

This is a huge thing for me. I am very guilty of being a female sexist, totally a part of the problem. Not 100% of the time, not with every fibre of my being, but the amount of anti-female sexist bullshit in my head - and in my behaviour, when things slip - is disturbing. Not just in the space-to-speak context, but in how I value or pre-judge people and what labels I put on people, how I categorise value and interpret things using the totally wrong concepts. This xkcd, pretty much - not that specific example, but that sort of error.

Constant. Vigilance.
posted by you must supply a verb at 10:00 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, FOX news tells women to speak softly and to be sure not to talk too much.yes, really.
posted by sotonohito at 10:34 AM on July 7


In addition to teaching girls to have more assertive traits, we should also expect society to better value traditionally feminine traits, such as sympathy, consideration, inclusion and active listening. There should not be shame in winning the school courtesy prize. Courteous, quiet or thoughtful boys and girls should be recognized equally.

The problem here is with interrupters of all types and our mainstream culture of domination. I have enjoyed my experiences in cultures that value mindfulness and quiet and I suppose it should be no surprise that those cultures are some of the most marginalized and harmed by the world's Westernization.

Likewise, I've seen many would-be valuable conversations derailed by the escalation that is necessary to overcome dominating personalities. Those of us who are naturally inclined to quiet ways have to really struggle to rise to the level of domination that's required to compete. Often I find myself doing this and sounding nearly incomprehensible because I have to step so far out of my natural way of being to even get a word in.

That is all to say, I am not convinced that the trait to emphasize to and teach to children is the trait of dominance. The trait that creates productive dialogues is the trait of inclusion and helping others to have a voice. Those are traditionally feminine traits that we should teach to adults and boys.
posted by Skwirl at 11:18 AM on July 7 [13 favorites]


UGH, I'm still trying to calm down after a conversation yesterday with one of my father's friends, who didn't like the way I was talking about poverty and asked me how I defined poverty and then kept interrupting me to rules lawyer everything I said.

It's actually tremendously helpful to read about other women experiencing this. After encounters like that, I frequently feel like I should be better at this kind of debate, instead of realizing that the other person is being a jerk. In the case of my argumentative friend, the conversation is usually masquerading as "a discussion of current events" but is actually "I feel like being contrary and crapping on whatever you say regardless of its actual content". Which is... zero fun for me for sure.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 12:06 PM on July 7 [5 favorites]


The repeated pattern - woman speaks, no one reacts, man repeats woman's idea to great accolade - certainly puts a new spin on the idea of the Muses.

Thalia is a lot more sardonic than I expected.
posted by Lou Stuells at 1:14 PM on July 7 [9 favorites]


Yeah, I like reading other women's stories too, so I'll share two of my own.

When I was young I had an older mentor guy who I admired in part because he was really good at controlling a room. He had a particular trick of staying silent through a meeting, during which everybody present would eventually start to look at him and wonder what he was thinking. At the very end when everybody had exhausted themselves he'd summarize the views that had been given so far and then say what he thought -- which, invariably, everyone would write down and go do. I thought that was clever and tried a couple of times to emulate it. Reader, it did not work. It quickly became obvious to me that unless I was objectively and by a million miles the most senior person in the room, as a quiet woman I was utterly ignore-able. Lesson learned, that women need to speak. Pick your moments and all that, but you need to assert yourself, because people will only very rarely invite you to do it.

Second story. Later on I started noticing how frequently men interrupted me. Initially I'd let them, because I wanted to be polite and because I figured what they wanted to say might be important. Eventually though I started experimenting with just keeping talking, maybe slightly more loudly, and pretending the interruption wasn't happening. For a while it was kind of fun to see how long a man would keep talking, even when I made it super-clear I had no intention of ceding the floor. The record was a guy, junior to me, who cross-talked over me for a solid, fairly excruciating four or five sentences, before finally looking confused and stopping and letting me finish. He never said anything to me about it and I am guessing he didn't consciously reflect on it afterwards, but I was happy to see that he never interrupted me again. (I am guessing, sadly, that if he took away anything from it it was more "don't interrupt senior people" rather than "don't interrupt.")

That said, Swirl is right and all these are dominance games. They're not the right path to healthy interactions, they're just the right path to winning a game with stupid, unhealthy rules.
posted by Susan PG at 1:57 PM on July 7 [10 favorites]


I am quite frequently the only senior woman in meetings in my department and while I do speak up, something I've noticed is that what I say quite regularly does not appear in the minutes of the meeting, even if at the time it prompted quite significant discussion. The minutes are usually taken by an administrator or secretary, usually the only other woman in the room. So it's not just that the men in the room are afflicted with an inability to hear women's voices, it affects women too, and the silencing extends even beyond the meeting. I then compound this by not bringing it up partly because I don't want to create yet more work for my female colleague, and partly because I don't want to get a reputation for pedantry or being 'difficult'.
posted by melisande at 3:23 PM on July 7 [5 favorites]


Oh yeah, being erased in the minutes is the worst -- it's so annoying!

I tend to think and talk in a pretty structured way, and in meetings I will often tick off, like, the three necessary preconditions for X or the two pieces of information we'd need before Y. Meanwhile some guy beside me will get woken up from a daydream and just riff a bunch of bullshit. His words get lovingly documented in "objective" voice (as factual, consensus), whereas mine get either missed entirely or captured half-assedly, and when captured, are sometimes undermined by being framed as an opinion. Blahhh.

(This is actually most obvious when the note-taker doesn't have any subject-matter expertise, which I guess makes sense, because in the absence of knowledge a note-taker would probably default to heuristics like generic power/status cues.)

I did figure out how to fix this, though. What I do now is, with any new note-taker at some point early on I'll make eye contact with him or her and say "You will need to capture this part, [Name], it's important," and then go on to say whatever. I just do it once per person, and I've found it solves the problem forever with them -- afterwards my stuff gets documented fine. I like it because it's not a reprimand, which means the note-taker doesn't get defensive, it puts the note-taker and the rest of the room on notice that I expect people to listen when I talk, and I feel like the minutes get better overall, because the note-taker's been reminded that at least one person actually gives a shit about their work. Win win win :)
posted by Susan PG at 5:04 PM on July 7 [12 favorites]


In the case of my argumentative friend, the conversation is usually masquerading as "a discussion of current events" but is actually "I feel like being contrary and crapping on whatever you say regardless of its actual content".

Oh geez, yes. This same guy came over for a dinner party tonight, and he was doing the same crap-- making that dismissive scoffing noise in his throat, rolling his eyes, smirking, demanding evidence and then claiming that any evidence I provided was biased and unreliable, interrupting interrupting interrupting.

I stopped and said "please stop treating me with contempt. You are rolling your eyes and dismissing everything I say and I do not appreciate it. I cannot have a conversation with you if you treat me with scorn." He said he wasn't rolling his eyes at me (he was) and demanded that I define contempt (I refused) and I just held eye contact with him after asking him to be respectful of my perspective. It was scary. I just looked at him, and he looked back, and he was ANGRY.

Finally someone else said something, this guy said he didn't want to talk about that topic anymore, and the night moved on. But man, my pulse was racing for the next hour or so. Because I engaged in the high adrenaline activity of...asking a fellow adult to engage in conversation without denigrating everything I had to say.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:21 PM on July 7 [15 favorites]


a fiendish thingy, the first time can be scary but before you know it you'll be doing it for kicks. You'll find yourself brightly and eagerly debating conversational topics with grumpy fellows and holding them to an intellectually rigorous standard just to feel the rush and get your fix. From there it's a slippery slope right into participating as an equal in the public forum of human discourse and they'll never shut us you up.
posted by Lou Stuells at 9:48 PM on July 7 [7 favorites]


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