Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: You may not even realize you’re doing it. In fact, this research shows that the Supreme Court justices don’t realize they’re doing it either. But, when women enter your leadership team, the men tend to become more verbally aggressive and more often interrupt their female counterparts. Called "manterrupting" it’s something every man needs to be aware that we have a propensity to do. Read this article and the accompanying research for more helpful insights.
How Ruth Bader Ginsburg Cut Down on Manterrupting at the Supreme Court
by Kimberly Weisul, Inc. Magazine, 4/12/17
Manterrupting is everywhere. And one potential fix may be as simple as it is uncomfortable: Start talking like a man.
That’s one conclusion that could be drawn from a new paper that examined transcripts of oral arguments in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to see which justices got interrupted the most, and which did the interrupting. The research, by Tonja Jacobi and Dylan Schweers, both of the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, shows that even when women join the ranks of some of the most powerful people in the world–the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court–they still are disproportionately interrupted by men.
"On average, women constituted 22 percent of the court, yet 52 percent of interruptions were directed at them," write the paper’s authors on SCOTUSBlog.
The researchers also found that as more women were named to the court, the male justices interrupted them at increasing rates. Even lawyers arguing before the court–known as advocates–joined in. Court rules strictly forbid interruptions of justices by advocates.
In 1990, Sandra Day O’Connor was the only female justice on the Supreme Court. That year, 35.7 percent of interruptions were directed at her. In 2002, there were two women on the Supreme Court, and together they received 45.3 percent of interruptions. By 2015 there were three women on the Supreme Court, and they were subject to 66 percent of all interruptions. In 2015, the average woman on the court was interrupted 3.9 times as often as the average man.
"This lends support to research results in other areas that show that men react against women entering their domain in more than token numbers by increasing their aggressiveness against the women," write the researchers. They cite work by psychologist Lyn Kathlene, who studied transcripts of state legislative committee hearings. Kathlene found that as the share of women on the committee increased, "men become more verbally aggressive with interruptions and tend to control the hearings."
The researchers write that women’s attempts to frame their questions often unwittingly give their male colleagues an opportunity to interrupt them. Women justices were more likely to begin a question with "May I ask…" or "Could I ask…" or "Excuse me…" or even simply the advocate’s name. But those framing words gave the male justices an opportunity to jump right in and ask their own question, or to redirect the conversation…