As Women’s History month drifts to a close I feel like we are running in place with once step forward, two steps back on improving gender equity.  And don’t get me started on intersectionality.

I read the article reposted below and agreed 100%. But I can’t count the number of times I have advised women clients on how to be more assertive without crossing the invisible line into being “a bitch.”

Saying ‘Stop interrupting me’ sounds like a good idea until you get called uncooperative and hostile. And saying ‘I just said that’ may feel good until you’re told you always try to take credit for everything.

It’s a dilemma, and a dance, and a lousy reality. So please don’t tell me that we don’t need these “special months,” or that we should have a “men’s history month if we are going to be equal.” I write a lot about gender and racial equity in this blog, so you can look up all my radical opinions that support my argument if you like.

Or you can ponder the fact a post tagged “Girly Things” gets double the click rate of a post tagged “Feminism.”

The post below is long. And true. And makes me wonder if teaching my daughter manners has hobbled her for life. Bad feminist. Bad mommy.


By Soraya Chemaly / alternet.org

“Stop interrupting me.”  “I just said that.” “No explanation needed.”

In fifth grade, I won the school courtesy prize. In other words, I won an award for being polite. My brother, on the other hand, was considered the class comedian. We were very typically socialized as a “young lady” and a “boy being a boy.” Globally, childhood politeness lessons are gender asymmetrical. We socialize girls to take turns, listen more carefully, not curse and resist interrupting in ways we do not expect boys to. Put another way, we generally teach girls subservient habits and boys to exercise dominance.

I routinely find myself in mixed-gender environments (life) where men interrupt me. Now that I’ve decided to try and keep track, just out of curiosity, it’s quite amazing how often it happens. It’s particularly pronounced when other men are around.

This irksome reality goes along with another — men who make no eye contact. For example, a waiter who only directs information and questions to men at a table, or the man last week who simply pretended I wasn’t part of a circle of five people (I was the only woman). We’d never met before and barely exchanged 10 words, so it couldn’t have been my not-so-shrinking-violet opinions.

These two ways of establishing dominance in conversation, frequently based on gender, go hand-in-hand with this last one: A woman, speaking clearly and out loud, can say something that no one appears to hear, only to have a man repeat it minutes, maybe seconds later, to accolades and group discussion.

After I wrote about the gender confidence gap recently, of the 10 items on a list, the one that resonated the most was the issue of whose speech is considered important. In sympathetic response to what I wrote, a person on Twitter sent me a cartoon in which one woman and five men sit around a conference table. The caption reads, “That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.” I don’t think there is a woman alive who has not had this happen.

The cartoon may seem funny, until you realize exactly how often it seriously happens. And — as in the cases of Elizabeth Warren or say, Brooksley Born — how broadly consequential the impact can be. When you add race and class to the equation the incidence of this marginalization is even higher.

This suppressing of women’s voices, in case you are trying to figure out what Miss Triggs was wearing or drinking or might have said to provoke this response, is what sexism sounds like.

These behaviors, the interrupting and the over-talking, also happen as the result of difference in status, but gender rules. For example, male doctors invariably interrupt patients when they speak, especially female patients, but patients rarely interrupt doctors in return. Unless the doctor is a woman. When that is the case, she interrupts far less and is herself interrupted more. This is also true of senior managers in the workplace. Male bosses are not frequently talked over or stopped by those working for them, especially if they are women; however, female bosses are routinely interrupted by their male subordinates.

This preference for what men have to say, supported by men and women both, is a variant on “mansplaining.” The word came out of an article by writer Rebecca Solnit, who explained that the tendency some men have to grant their own speech greater import than a perfectly competent woman’s is not a universal male trait, but the “intersection between overconfidence and cluelessness where some portion of that gender gets stuck.”

Solnit’s tipping point experience really did take the cake. She was talking to a man at a cocktail party when he asked her what she did. She replied that she wrote books and she described her most recent one, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild WestThe man interrupted her soon after she said the word Muybridge and asked, “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?” He then waxed on, based on his reading of a review of the book, not even the book itself, until finally, a friend said, “That’s her book.” He ignored that friend (also a woman) and she had to say it more than three times before “he went ashen” and walked away. If you are not a woman, ask any woman you know what this is like, because it is not fun and happens to all of us.

In the wake of Larry Summers’ “women can’t do math” controversy several years ago, scientist Ben Barres wrote publicly about his experiences, first as a woman and later in life, as a male. As a female student at MIT, Barbara Barres was told by a professor after solving a particularly difficult math problem, “Your boyfriend must have solved it for you.” Several years after, as Ben Barres, he gave a well-received scientific speech and he overhead a member of the audience say, “His work is much better than his sister’s.”

Most notably, he concluded that one of the major benefits of being male was that he could now “even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.”

I’ve had teenage boys, irritatingly but hysterically, excuse what they think is “lack of understanding” to [my] “youthful indiscretion.” 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.” After I suggested, smiling cheerily, that the images were beyond denigrating and definitively injurious to women’s dignity, free speech and parity in culture, he drifted off.

It’s not hard to fathom why so many men tend to assume they are great and that what they have to say is more legitimate. 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 moremore often, and longer than women in mixed groups (classroomsboardroomslegislative bodiesexpert 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.”

Even in movies and television, male actors engage in more disruptive speech and garner twice as much speaking and screen time as their female peers. This is by no means limited by history or to old media but is replicated online. Listserve topics introduced by men have a much higher rate of response and on Twitter, people retweet men two times as often as women.

These linguistic patterns are consequential in many ways, not the least of which is the way that they result in unjust courtroom dynamics, where adversarial speech governs proceedings and gendered expression results in women’s testimonies being interrupted, discounted and portrayed as not credible according to masculinized speech norms. Courtrooms also show exactly how credibility and status, women’s being lower, are also doubly affected by race. If Black women testifying in court adopt what is often categorized as “[white] women’s language,” they are considered less credible. However, if they are more assertive, white jurors find them “rude, hostile, out of control, and, hence [again], less credible.” Silence might be an approach taken by women to adapt to the double bind, but silence doesn’t help when you’re testifying.

The best part though is that we are socialized to think women talk more. Listener bias results in most people thinking that women are hogging the floor when men are actually dominating. Linguists have concluded that much of what is popularly understood about women and men being from different planets, verbally, confuses “women’s language” with “powerless language.”

There are, of course, exceptions that illustrate the role that gender (and not biological sex) plays. For example, I have a very funny child who regularly engages in simultaneous speech, disruptively interrupts and randomly changes topics. If you read a script of one of our typical conversations, you would probably guess the child is a boy based on the fact that these speech habits are what we think of as “masculine.” The child is a girl, however. She’s more comfortable with overt displays of assertiveness and confidence than the average girl speaker. It’s hard to balance making sure she keeps her confidence with teaching her to be polite. However, excessive politeness norms for girls, expected to set an example for boys, have real impact on women who are, as we constantly hear, supposed to override their childhood socialization and learn to talk like men to succeed (learn to negotiate, demand higher pay, etc.).

The first time I ran this post, I kid you not, the first response I got was from a Twitter user, a man, who, without a shred of self-awareness, asked, “What would you say if a man said those things to you mid-conversation?”

Socialized male speech dominance is a significant issue, not just in school, but everywhere. If you doubt me, sit quietly and keep track of speech dynamics at your own dinner table, workplace, classroom. In the school bus, the sidelines of fields, in places of worship. It’s significant and consequential.

People often ask me what to teach girls or what they themselves can do to challenge sexism when they see it. “What can I do if I encounter sexism? It’s hard to say anything, especially at school.” In general, I’m loathe to take the approach that girls should be responsible for the world’s responses to them, but I say to them, practice these words, every day:

“Stop interrupting me,”

“I just said that,” and

“No explanation needed.”

It will do both boys and girls a world of good. And no small number of adults, as well.


Soraya L. Chemaly writes about feminism, gender and culture. She writes for the Huffington Post, Feminist Wire, BitchFlicks and Fem2.0 among others.

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I made a mistake the other day of responding to a Tweet about the Sandy Hook school shooting. Got a flurry of replies and personal messages from folks saying things like “quit living in fantasy land”, “gun laws don’t work” and “I protect my children with a Glock”. Continue reading

The news from Syria is hard to follow. Not that its difficult to track what is going on, who the players are or the international stakeholders, but the very real, very specific civilian death, injury and destruction. I know some people in our local Syrian community and it’s very hard not to see their faces in the images on Al Jazeera English.

I am starting think that Syria may help decide the fundamental direction of our global society for the next thirty years. Here’s why.

The Arab Spring was possible in part because of the information stream going in and out freed people of their isolation. The world was watching. So even if the government shot them down in the street someone would find out about it, someone would be accountable. Cold comfort if you are the one dead in the street, but if what you are fighting for is worth dying, for at least you will not be invisible.

Now the Chinese are using weibo to protest. And getting away with it if they are taking on the provincial or municipal government. Not quite Twitter, the Chinese micro-blogging has more than 300 million users. That’s a lot of messages to filter for “human rights”, “democracy” and “Tienanmen”. I was reminded how many layers there can be in Chinese communication when I heard last month that the Chinese government blocked Ai Weiwei’s “Gangnam Style” video because the homophones he uses in the parody are roughly “F**k your Mother” (the Communist Govt). And its got a good beat.

So what does this have to do with Syria? In the midst of the Internet and cell phone black out the Syrian government has imposed across the country, the UN is working on an International Internet Treaty. Who owns the Internet. The answer to this question will be our future.

Formerly the Age of Information, in the new Age of Participation when we are all citizen journalists and a Twitter alert can cause a riot, who controls the flow of information controls the world. If the UN decides that each Government has to have the right to shut down Internet and cell phone usage (like Syria is doing) at their discretion, then we are headed for a Sci-Fi future that is anyone guess. The pressure is coming from (surprise) China, Russia, Iran and other Arab countries.

The UN should focus on creating some treaty that calls for checks and balances in times of turmoil (like Google & Twitter providing dial-up numbers to Syrian activists) so every member nation has to adhere to information protocols like the Geneva Conventions. Hell lets just add it to the Geneva Conventions since these situations will always come up in times of war/coup.

This is really the final frontier for free speech. If we do not make a global commitment to ensure globally diversified Internet access we have chosen our future. The fewer telecommunications providers the easier it is to flip a switch.

Decisions are being made. Attention must be paid.

I am starting to seriously worry that we are about to lose our daily newspaper.

Another long-time reporter had a farewell column today and just last week the publisher announced that he was retiring (at age 55) to “start a new chapter in his life.” With roughly another 30 years to live he could probably squeeze out two chapters if he tries hard. Who retires at 55 anymore in this economy? It sounds suspiciously like gettin’ out while the gettin’ is good.

I don’t blame him for making choices that suit his life. The paper’s online edition has dozens of comments about this announcement, half of them blaming him for the paper’s decline. It would be nice if there was someone to blame, but I doubt it is the publisher who has only been in residence for 6 years.

The thing that worries me is that we may actually lose our daily. If you have read this blog in the past you know I am serious about my local daily. I think we may be on a path to go to a three day a week paper like the Times-Picayune and I think that would be tragic. I need written words for news in order to process and review, to check the byline and have some semblance of trust that actual journalism is taking place. I don’t want to watch TV for my news and I don’t want to have to get everything off the Internet either. I want a newspaper dammit!

And you can’t have any good lunatic letters to the editor online, because then every yahoo in the world can comment on them. I want to comment on the letters out loud, to my husband, over coffee, not read someones inarticulate name calling. Spoils the whole thing.

I am also concerned that “citizen journalism” will devolve into something that only barely resembles reporting. Like lots of folks I rely on Twitter and other formats for up to the second information but social media also makes Snopes a necessary bookmark. When I was a kid there was a morning and afternoon paper and we all thought it was the death of news when we became a one newspaper town. And that was when we still had two independent entertainment weeklies and a couple of art mags. We though we were so deprived.

I know we have the internet and I can watch BBC and read the Washington Post and all the syndicated columnists I can digest, but its not the same as my grubby city newspaper with its county council antics and state house news.

 I sure hope I am wrong about our daily.

I am torn about my blog post today. I am suffering from split focus, attention deficit, mommy syndrome, something.

On the one hand I am busy stimulating the economy for President Obama. Purchasing binders, index cards, graph paper and boxes of Ticonderoga. Trying to figure out when to get the god-awful “spandies” required for volleyball, spending hours at Target watching my daughter try on clothes, and further hours discussing other stores that must be visited and the impending first day of school. This is all fine. Its the process and procedure of back to school.

Just to make things interesting, I’ve added a new complication this year. We gave my daughter a budget for the academic year for clothes, gifts, and extras. We went through, line by line (her father made an excel spreadsheet), and estimated what needs, what she does and how much it all costs and rounded up generously.

We explained the concept of fungible and the fact that a balance in the bank account at the end goes into her savings, we don’t take it back. Incredibly traumatic for all of us. I consider it a pilot year.

On the other hand I keep getting interrupted by news of Todd Akin.

Now he is saying he didn’t mean “legitimate rape”, what he really meant was that women lie about rape. And the GOP, scrambling to make lemonade since the lemon won’t quit, is declaring a no-exceptions abortion plank for their convention. Apparently is it a ‘self-evident truth’ in the Declaration of Independence that we should protect the unborn, and only the unborn, so help us God. If you can’t beat em, join em.

At least until the news cycle is over. Akin could still have a mysterious heart attack in his swimming pool (remember Wag the Dog?), or compromising pictures with his boyfriend could be revealed. It wouldn’t be the first time.

I ask you – don’t these God-fearing, excessively procreating, republicans ever take a break from their generalized assholery so normal people can get their work done?  I know I should look away from the Akin idiocy and focus on the duties of motherhood, but since I’m not pregnant at the moment my child’s needs don’t really matter.

And I feel like if God didn’t want women to have it all he wouldn’t have given us Yahoo, CNN, Huff Post and a Twitter feed. Not to mention all that elitist propaganda at NYT, WashPost & the BBC.

Boy! It feels good to blame God for stuff! I may do it more often.

Stimulating the economy is the only possible silver lining for the level of political spending that is going on right now, in July, of an election year.

When the Koch Bros. will be spending as much this year as McCain did in his whole campaign we have passed ludicrous and are now sitting somewhere south of crazy-town. (In case you need a refresher on the dangers of Koch, in its purest, uncooked form, this New Yorker profile from two years ago will fix you right up.) Maybe they will bankrupt themselves trying to buy the election in an effort to maximize profits. One can only hope.

This is not a rant about Citizens United. I don’t like the Citizens United ruling, but I think it will ultimately create a David v. Goliath situation and force citizen journalism, citizen action and citizen involvement in politics which are “good things”. And for you literal folks out there you will not find David v. Goliath on the SCOTUS blog.

The way that savvy activists and the Outraged Everyman are using social media is beginning to pay off. It may not be as dramatic as revolution in Egypt or Libya, but a sleepy US population seems to be waking up because of the outrageousness of super-pacs. I know the super-pacs have all the money, and by all the money I mean ALL the money, but they can’t control the twitter feeds & fb posts. If they could figure out how, they would of course, and when they do it will be too late because there will be a new something or other. There is hope yet for civil society and democracy.

Small-time warfare:
Take a bite out of the Koch wallet by buying Seventh Generation or Green Forest paper products. Stop buying Brawny towels, Angel Soft or Quilted Northern tissue, Dixie brand paper plates etc., Mardi Gras napkins. The Koch brothers own and make a lot of other stuff too, but paper products are easy to remember. Make your voice heard two dollars and eighty-nine cents at a time.

Apropos of social power – I was reading an article about social media and blog traffic and discovered that to be really relevant I would need to post pictures of my cat or my cooking. So.

Here is my cat. He is not named anything political like Mao, Stalin or Nixon or even ironic like Fido. His name is Nic.

Here is a cake I once baked. It is a Margarita Cake with Tequila Lime Glaze. It was good.

There. I have officially joined the legions in the “Age of Participation”.

People in the media (and in general conversation) keep yapping that they don’t know what the Occupy Wall Street folks want, ‘their demands are not clear’, ‘they have no agenda’, blah, blah and blah. I think their central premise is pretty clear and getting clearer every day.

Through social media, among other sources, increasing numbers of people are becoming aware that big business in the USA is more like the Russian oligarchy than anything that Carnegie or Rockefeller would even recognize. Maybe the OWS folks should resurrect the term “Robber baron” to make their point easier.

Because of the OWS protests people are paying attention to income disparity (even if they think its your own damn fault) and learning about the monumental influence of business on our government.

And because almost anyone can afford a phone with a text plan, information is harder to suppress and manipulate. Be a rebel – get a Twitter account.

A piece of news I hope goes viral is information about the banks – Wall Street Banks Earned Billions In Profits Off $7.7 Trillion In Secret Fed Loans Made During The Financial Crisis – that I consider scandalous in the full 19th century sense of the word.

We use words like outrage and disgrace all the time so even though they are exact descriptors of the reaction the bank scandal should evoke, I suspect we need something stronger.

Revolution