Speaking up doesn’t make a woman ‘hysterical’
“I have an idea. How about we — “That happened because — “My startup deserves venture — “My favourite video g — Annoying, isn’t it, reading incomplete sentences? Yet, that’s the sound of many women wading upstream in the working world trying to speak before being cut off by the friendly dude, or the manly man’s grunt, or that rational guy who feels the need to calm us down. Woman, Interrupted. That would be an apt name for a film chronicling the social disease that afflicts the world.
Women are speaking up, but many find their voices still being framed as “hysterical” — as a former aide to U.S. President Donald Trump recently described Sen. Kamala Harris’s grilling of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, or “shrill” as Trump said of his rival Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, or less than adult for having a “meltdown” as Canadian MP Gerry Ritz said after International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland — gasp — shed tears after a contentious Canada-EU trade deal.
Earlier this month, a panel of five men and one woman held court at the World Science Festival in New York City. Remember, this is science, the world of geek and nerd, the self-proclaimed natural habitat of the bro, a world in which even a PayPal panel on gender diversity is all male.
The moderator, Jim Holt of the New Yorker, received a polite but public rap on his knuckles for trying to explain scientist Veronika Hubeny’s own theories to her and because Hubeny hadn’t been called on to speak for the first hour of the 90-minute talk that was being livestreamed around the world. At one point, he mentions her “giggling.”
A woman named Marilee Talkington sitting in the second row in the John Jay College auditorium, waiting to hear Hubeny, describes her experience — and the action she took — in an illuminating Facebook post that quickly went viral.
“I am in full outrage. My body is actually beginning to shake. The sexism is beyond blatant. It is happening on stage and NO ONE, not a single other physicist or panelist is stepping in to say anything about it.”
So she did something about it. She spoke up, loudly and clearly. “Let. Her. Speak. Please!” Then this, from her post: “The moderator stops. They all stop. The auditorium drops into silence. You could hear a pin drop. And then the audience explodes with applause and screams.”
Two days after this event, Apple held its Worldwide Developers Conference, where men spoke for approximately 117 minutes in the keynote, women spoke for approximately nine minutes, as calculated by the news site Mic.
It’s one thing to be equal in the eyes of the law. It’s another to be treated as equal by society. Women know this. People of colour know this. As the Canadian Senate passed Bill C-16 on Thursday that explicitly recognizes gender-diverse citizens as equal under the law, women on this continent are still fighting for equality of expression.
U.S. Sen. Harris was shown her place this week when assertively questioning Sessions during his public testimony.
If you listen to the clippings of the admonitions by Sens. John McCain and Richard Burr they might even sound reasonable — they are interrupting Harris’s interruption of Sessions. Let the man answer, they say. If you watched the entirety of Sessions’ testimony, you would know that:
a) She was stopping Sessions from taking refuge in a non-answer he had already provided multiple times and time was at a premium, and
b) He had been interrupted multiple times in that same hearing by others, including Sens. Mark Warner, James Risch and Angus King to name a few. None of them was admonished.
These examples are incidents working women face in the public domain. Away from a camera lens, how many times have we argued and defended an idea with a man only to hear him present it at a meeting? How often do men walk into our conversations with other women without an apology?
The act of having to respond to male dominance to make it a fair workplace takes away from the work women are employed to do. Some don’t challenge it, others deny its existence; you don’t have to deal with something you don’t see.
Others come up with creative ways around it. Think of the amplification strategy adopted by female staffers in the Obama White House, when a woman would put forth an idea and another woman would repeat it with credit to the originator, all in a bid to be heard. (It worked.)
Workplace interruptions are not always malicious, but then neither is saying “I’m not done yet” — each time.
To pre-empt the gender shaming that will follow, I suggest we co-opt our favourite Sen.-Mitch-McConnell-putdown of Senator Elizabeth Warren and make this our screensaver:
“Nevertheless, she persisted, that office bitch.” Shree Paradkar tackles issues of gender and race. You can follow her @shreeparadkar
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris was interrupted by male colleagues during her questioning of Jeff Sessions.