Why Don’t We Take Women as Seriously as Men?

Featured Illustration: Zulfa Ishak

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For several weeks or so, I wasn’t sure how to begin writing this piece. This is very much a stream-of-consciousness essay where I will be attempting to tell a narrative that is quite difficult to swallow after 2020. But I believe in any case, a personal anecdote always does the trick, so here goes anything.

I was born into a patriarchal society veiled under the term “tradition”. My ancestors,

my grandmothers

my grandmother’s sisters

my mother

my mother’s sisters

my father’s sisters

my sister

and all the daughters and wives in between the family tree are ruled by a system of male dominance. When I say dominance, I do not mean in attitude or in a relationship. I mean in authority. Authority over finances, education, opportunities, social standing, caste… etc.

Though I cannot speak for my ancestors (both living and dead), I will speak for myself. Throughout my adolescence and approaching adulthood, I have noticed a small pattern (that seems to be escalating by the minute) where the male figures in my life downplay the knowledge and opinions women carry. Through tactics like gaslighting, deflection, and blanket statements, I have seen and been a victim to the utmost egocentric pile of bullshit that is “mansplaining”. But fair warning: I did say this was a personal anecdote. #NotAllMen

These experiences created a fragile blend of frustration and curiosity where I wanted to dive deeper into the matter. A simple Google search: “Why don’t we take women as seriously as men?” quickly took me to a podcast by the University of Oxford: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism titled exactly that.

The Gist

This particular episode of the podcast is led by Mary Ann Sieghart who has previously worked for The Times, The Independent, The Economist, The Financial Times, and the BBC. She is also the author of The Authority Gap.

And throughout this 35-minute episode, she shares with us anecdotal and statistical evidence highlighting the extent of gender-respect inequality in the newsroom and other settings (Reuters Institute, 2019). She begins this process by asking, “why don’t we accord as much authority to women as to men?” Her first step is defining authority. In her findings, there are two types of authority: parental influence and expertise.

From here, Sieghart places an emphasis on the word ‘expertise’ and focuses her narrative on the experiences women in power have in terms of having to constantly prove themselves to their male colleagues. Her rationale for her research was “if even they are experiencing this, what hope for the rest of us?”

What hope for the rest of us indeed. I’m going to pause right here for a bit and share with you one of my favorite anecdotes from Seighart’s Ted Talk which discusses an event that ultimately led to the creation of the trending buzzword “mansplaining” before it was ever coined.

It started when a distinguished academic historian named Rebecca Solnit found herself being lectured by an older man about a book that she had written. And in 2014, Solnit decided to recount her experience in an essay collection titled Men Explain Things to Me.

In her article for Guernica Magazine, Solnit states that “the essay makes it clear mansplaining is not a universal flaw of the gender, just the intersection between overconfidence and cluelessness where some portion of that gender gets stuck.”

It should be noted that Solnit does not take credit for the particular word “mansplaining” which was coined by an unknown blogger shortly after her publication vent viral.

The Data

Now, back to the regularly scheduled programming. In her podcast episode, Seighart states “it is not just a question of being challenged or listened to, it’s often being interrupted. Male or female, this is very annoying.”

So, let’s dig in.

Time and time again, the research is clear. While both sexes interrupt, women are interrupted by men more often. A study titled Sex Roles, Interruptions and Silences in Conversations by sociologists Don Zimmerman and Candace West found that “there are definite and patterned ways in which the power and dominance enjoyed by men in other contexts are exercised in their conversational interaction with women.”

In this study, the authors analyzed “31 two-party conversations that they had tape-recorded in public places such as cafes, drug stores, and university campuses. Of the 31 conversations, 10 were between two men, 10 between two women, and 11 between and man and a woman. In the two same-sex groups combined, the authors found seven instances of interruption. In the male/female group, however, they found 48 interruptions, 46 of which were instances of a man interrupting a woman.”

In 2014, another study from George Washington University found that men interrupted 33 percent more often when they spoke with women than when they spoke with other men.

Lastly, according to a 2017 article on Quartz, “after dissecting years of data on speech patterns in the US Supreme Court, researchers have found that the female justices get interrupted at three times the rate than their male counterparts, on average.”

From Supreme Court justices to academic scholars and journalists to entertainers and entrepreneurs — the implications from previous case studies and research transcend more than just one industry.

The Point

Credibility is a basic survival tool for women, as stated by Solnit in her essay. So, even when experts — women with authority and power across various industries — are met with such an unsettling amount of disrespect and invalidity, I can’t help but feel a little hopeless for the rest of us.

But my key takeaways from the podcast were not only on the origins of mansplaining and the data on interruptions but also on the importance of examining an unconscious bias that is still very much present.

Though I haven’t exactly found a singular and definite answer as to why we don’t take women as seriously as men, I have learned a lot in this process of exploring such a question. And if you find yourself at some point dwelling on this question as well, I highly recommend listening carefully to this podcast.

. . .

Resources:

  • How often are women interrupted by men? Here’s what the research says. (2017, July 07).
  • Kozlowska, H. (n.d.). Women Supreme Court justices get interrupted three times as much as their male counterparts.
  • Martin, R. (2020, March 16). Author Of ‘Men Explain Things To Me’ Has A New Memoir.
  • Sieghart, M. A. (n.d.). Why don’t we take women as seriously as men?
  • Solnit, R. (2020, October 10). Men Explain Things to Me.
  • WomensMedia. (2017, January 03). Gal Interrupted, Why Men Interrupt Women And How To Avert This In The Workplace.