Subtle Sexism, Mansplaining and Manterruptions No Longer Tolerated

By Michael Nam


Photo by Shutterstock

Studies have shown what women have been saying for some time: sexism is often hidden, and multiple high profile gaffes have illustrated this point. Men interrupting women, policing the language and tone of women and condescendingly explaining things to women, as opposed to explicitly abusing women through slurs and harassing acts, are increasingly well documented in the media.

An often-overlooked form of sexism is the rate at which men interrupt women during verbal communications. Colloquially termed “manterrupting“, research on 20 men and 20 women under experimental conditions at George Washington University found that “when speaking with a female, participants interrupted more and used more dependent clauses than when speaking with a male.”

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt repeatedly interrupting his panel colleague, the United States’ Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, provided a lesson in this phenomenon to the SXSW audience and the global media. He was even called out for it during the panel, embarrassingly by his own company’sGlobal Diversity and Talent Programs manager, Judith Williams.

Kieran Snyder, a linguist and CEO of Textio, presented some findings in Fortune about how women receive feedback in performance reviews in the tech industry. 87.9 percent of the women’s reviews contained critical feedback as opposed to 58.9 percent of the men’s reviews.

Drilling deeper into those critical reviews, Snyder also noted that there was a distinct difference in how often those criticisms contained negative remarks about personality.

This kind of negative personality criticismwatch your tone! step back! stop being so judgmental!shows up twice in the 83 critical reviews received by men. It shows up in 71 of the 94 critical reviews received by women.

In a recent incident, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio , Amy Spitalnick, emailed editors at The Daily Caller website to get a correction made, and received a textbook display of sexist responses about her “tone”.

According to the emails obtained by BuzzFeed.com, Spitalnick attempted to get the outlet to make a correction, the Daily Caller editor described her request as “fair” but he replied that receiving another “whiny email” would result in “muting this thread.”

When Spitalnick reached out to Tucker Carlson, the founder of the website, his response resulted in more of the same tone policing, “What Bedford complained about was your tone, which, I have to agree, was whiny and annoying, and I say that in the spirit of helpful correction rather than as a criticism.”

Tucker Carlson’s “spirit of helpful correction” comment fits neatly with the type of response Kieran Snyder’s research shows falls more heavily on women, critical feedback with added barbs against Spitalnick’s personality.

Additional incidents like Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella “mansplaining” how women should wait for raises while trusting to karma, or when Warren Buffet opining that Sen. Elizabeth Warren should be “less angry”, highlight the way men condescendingly explain things to women, irrespective of the fact of their own accomplishments and experiences.

While it’s conceivable that this behavior could appear benign, often unintentional, a recent study may show such actions, even presented with a smile, are expressions of ingrained sexism. Researchers found in the journal, Sex Roles, that “more benevolent sexism was associated with more affiliative nonverbal and verbal expressions (e.g., more approachable, more likely to smile, and more positive word usage).”

Such incidents in aggregate present additional challenges for women of color, as a UC Hastings College of Law paper describes with its five biases in STEM:

Prove-It-Again: participants in the study reported needing to prove themselves over and over again as evidence of competence, especially Black women.

Tightrope: walking a tightrope between being seen as either too masculine or too feminine. Asian women encounter more “too feminine” problemsand Black women encounter fewerthan do other women. Asian women more often reported backlash for stereotypically masculine behaviors. Black women have to avoid the “angry Black women” stereotype. Latinas reported that they often were discredited as “angry” or “too emotional” even when they weren’t angry.

Maternal wall: affects women of all races as almost two-thirds or 64 percent of the scientists reported running into challenges when entering motherhood.

Tug of War: (female rivalry) Black women were far less likely than other groups of women to agree that females were supportive of one another. Latinas were far more likely to report finding it difficult to get administrative support personnel (who are typically women) to support them.

Isolation: when women feel that socially engaging with colleagues might damage perceptions of their competence was greatest among Black women, followed by Latinas.

Consciously controlling gender composition in these spaces can go a long way to changing the ways women, and women of color, are perceived in and can actively engage with areas traditionally considered “boys clubs”.

“When women are outnumbered by men, use unanimous rule; when women are a large majority, decide by majority rule. To avoid the maximum inequality, avoid groups with few women and majority rule. To minimize male advantage, assemble groups with a supermajority of women and use majority rule. To maximize women’s individual participation, gender-homogeneous groups are best,” the paper, “Gender Inequality in Deliberative Participation”, concludes.

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