Speak­ing up doesn’t make a woman ‘hys­ter­i­cal’

Toronto Star - - NEWS - Shree Parad­kar

“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.

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