It seems the only thing of importance that happened at last night’s Democratic debate is that Hillary Clinton interrupted Bernie Sanders and he shushed her. This has erupted into a big debate on the Twitters and Facespace thing, but I actually think it’s an important topic we need to discuss.
The rules of communication are different for women and men.
Here’s the deal, guys: women don’t like to be shushed. At all. If my husband ever tells me to be quiet or shush — yes, it’s happened — it elicits an intense, visceral, negative response. It makes me furious. And when it happens in a professional setting? It pushes every feminist button I own.
Why? Because you’re telling me I’m not important. You’re discounting me. You’re saying my ideas don’t matter, and that I don’t have the right to express them.
Men interrupt each other all the time and I daresay they don’t have that same response. It’s just how they communicate. But men and women come at communication from very different places.
The way we communicate is one of the many subtle ways women are expected to take a subservient role in society. I know it looks like we’ve come a long way, baby — hey we can vote and wear pants, huzzah — but when you look at basic social interactions, we’re constantly sent the contradictory message that we are second place. We get talked over, our ideas don’t matter, our issues aren’t important to the country at large they’re “women’s issues,” so who really gives a shit. Our work is worth less. Our effort is less valuable. This is the world from a professional woman’s point of view.
“But Beale,” you say, “Hillary interrupted him.” Yes, she did. Of course she did. And this is another thing about the difference between male and female communication: professional women always have to assert themselves to express their opinion. Because women are talked over all the damn time, it’s something we’ve lived with for generations, and many of us have learned how to interrupt if we want to say something.
I’ve become a really brazen interrupter, I am the first to admit it. Because if I don’t, I don’t get to speak!
Men interrupt each other all the time. And they are okay with each other doing it. It’s how they talk. When women assert their right to express themselves, we’re shushed. I’m pretty sure you guys don’t even realize you’re doing it, but we notice it, and we don’t like it. Because again, you’re telling us we don’t matter and our opinions aren’t important. You’re not recognizing our right to express them. I know it’s subtle — subconscious even — but it’s there.
This morning I was asked, “Well, what would you have done if you were speaking and a man interrupted you?” I’d have let him, of course. That’s what we women always do when we’re interrupted, most of the time. It’s how we’re socialized to behave. If we don’t we’re rude, bossy, brassy, bitchy, too aggressive. That’s the world, people.
As a professional woman I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in meetings where I’ve had to assert my right to express my opinion. And that means interrupting. I’ve become a master interrupter, and it’s not a pretty habit, but if I want to speak, that’s how it happens. Too often, it’s different when a woman does it than when a man does it. That is my experience.
I’m sure this sounds really unfair to a lot of men out there. Women should be allowed to interrupt but they shouldn’t be called on it? What was Bernie supposed to do?
Well, life isn’t fair, guys. Bernie could have raised his hand, or that infamous waggling finger of his, as a sort of “placeholder” social cue. I’ve seen men do that, and it’s not a shush, it’s a “I want to respond to that.”
One thing I’ve noticed Republican woman do — Liz Cheney is really expert at this — is that they just talk without pausing. Liz Cheney literally never comes up for air once she gets going. I’m sure these women have received media training for this, and I’m sure this is a big reason why they basically recite talking points. It’s really hard to speak without pausing and also do so extemporaneously (see Palin, Sarah — someone else who speaks without pausing but she ends up coming off like a ditz.)
This is a real thing, people. If you ever watch Bill Maher’s show, you will see it in action. There’s always one woman on the panel and she never gets to speak unless she interrupts. The men interrupt each other all the time but when women do it, it’s rude, so many women are reluctant to assert that right. And once we do get going you’d better not pause for air or else you’ll get interrupted in turn, which isn’t rude when it happens to you, only when you do it.
Something to think about. Have at it.