To all the girls who have faced injustice and been silenced. Together, we will be heard. ~Malala Yousafzai
To be a woman is to be interrupted.
In boardrooms and family rooms and courtrooms, women’s actual voices are often cut short – their thoughts and ideas demonstrated to be less important than what their male counterpart has to say.
We learn it from infancy, really. Watching our mothers interrupted. Watching how they respond to it, how they wait for a chance to resume their thought. How they re-insert themselves into a conversation without calling attention to the fact they were interrupted – so as not to embarrass the man who interrupted them.
We see successful women that we admire, interrupted. We see how they respond to it – by biting their tongue, “turning the other cheek.” Perhaps laughing about it later. Perhaps not.
No woman – no matter how powerful she is – is immune. A year or so ago researchers determined that female Supreme Court justices are interrupted far more often than their male counterparts, both by their colleagues and by the people that are trying to persuade them.
Think about that for a second. The advocates interrupting these women – these Supreme Court justices – want those very same women to rule in their favor. They are standing before these women, pleading their case.
But they just can’t help themselves.
And how did we respond to the news that the most powerful women in the legal world are interrupted so frequently?
By collectively shrugging.
Because we already knew.
As the researchers who looked at interruptions on the Supreme Court put it, “there is no point at which a woman is high-status enough to avoid being interrupted.”
Said with a bit more clarity: no matter how powerful you are, men will always try to verbally dominate you.
And let’s be very clear that “verbal domination” is what being interrupted is all about. It’s saying “you might think you have something important to say, but I disagree. And I’m not going to let you continue to speak. Instead, I’m going to silence you. Because I am, after all, more important.”
And women, in large measure, haven’t shouted over male interrupters.
Collectively, in the past six months we have seen women standing up and speaking to the impact of a culture that cooks its ruling class in a soup of toxic masculinity where young men are taught that their lives, their ideas and their careers are more important and more valuable than women’s – while women are force-fed a diet of politeness and passivity.
Women are owning their own voices, demanding to be heard, and flatly refusing to be talked over anymore. Women are sharing their own #MeToo stories and participating in walkouts to support assault survivors – the perfect nonviolent protest to show women just how resonant their voices really are.
We’ve seen attempts to interrupt those cultural conversations.
But women’s collective response has been to surge forward, and to speak even louder – with more passion, more clarity, more sureness of purpose.
We have finally begun to interrupt the interrupters.
Their response? To breathlessly complain that Brett Kavanaugh’s life and career is being interrupted.
And really, that’s true. Kavanaugh’s life is being interrupted.
But his life is being interrupted because we are holding him accountable for his actions. (Party of personal responsibility, anyone?)
Her life was interrupted because of the impact of his actions on her.
And while it’s wildly poetic that these men (you can substitute Brett Kavanaugh for any number of names – Louis C.K., or Matt Lauer, etc.) – whose actions often derailed women’s careers – are finally seeing their own careers upended (i.e., interrupted) … they definitely don’t like it.
I don’t really care.
Every woman that they harassed, or groped, or exposed themselves to had her life, her career, and her mental health scrambled. And we as a society have suffered for these women’s absence – imagine all of the ideas stifled, careers stunted, and advancements postponed because the female minds capable of moving humanity forward in such exciting ways were … interrupted. And forced to think of more primal things, like survival.
All the while Republican Senators bemoan the impact of allegations on Kavanaugh’s reputation while stiff-arming the FBI, which could actually, you know, investigate.
So it’s no wonder that now we see women’s voices across our country reach a crescendo that is beginning to resemble a collective primal scream.
Women who have pent up anger and rage – over their own experiences and the system that we’ve lived in – share their stories on Twitter and Medium and in protests coast to coast.
More and more women flood into the political process, becoming nominees, pitching in to help candidates, educating voters – recognizing that in order to change our system we have to change who represents us – and that as a group we have the power to do that. (And also that 85 year old white men should no longer sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee.)
And finally, women are giving other women center stage – giving them the opportunity and the space to tell their stories.
As a group, as a collective movement of women looking to protect other women, we’re helping them feel the empowerment that comes from being heard – fully, and completely.
And let’s get to work.
Tuesday: Be a Voter
Quick action today because (yikes!) I’m sending out at such a late hour! It’s national voter registration day! Head over to https://iwillvote.com to check your registration (and yes I do this every week now!). Share with friends – peer pressure works!
Call early, call often – we need to encourage our Senators to demand an FBI investigation of the various allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. If he truly did nothing wrong, he should have absolutely no problem with an investigation into his past.
Script: (Senator): Hi, my name is ____ and I’m a constituent at ____. I’m calling because I think it’s imperative that the FBI conduct an investigation into Dr. Blasey Ford’s allegations relating to Brett Kavanaugh. It’s inconceivable that the Senate would think it has sufficient information to make an informed decision about his nomination with these kinds of allegations outstanding. What is the Senator’s position on whether the FBI should conduct an investigation?
Thursday: Protect Mueller
After our national fire drill on Monday, it’s clear that we need Congress to protect the Mueller investigation. That’s a big ask of a Congress that’s proven its fealty to the President, but it’s absolutely important to pressure your members of Congress on this point.
Contact your Senators and Congress(wo)men – ask Senators to co-sponsor S. 2644, and ask Congress(wo)men to co-sponsor H.R. 5476.
Script: Hi, my name is ___ and I’m a constituent at ___. I’m calling because I want the [Senator/Congress(wo)man] to know just how important constituents like me think the Mueller investigation is, and that we need to be doing whatever we can to protect it. If Trump decides to do something like fire Rod Rosenstein, that could have serious implications for the Mueller investigation. The Mueller investigation needs to be protected. Please ask the Senator/Congress(wo)man to co-sponsor/support S.2644/H.R.5476. Thanks!
Whoa. This week was tough, right?
Right now, a whole lot of women are processing a whole lot of memories – along with the emotions (*cough* rage) that often accompanies them. You might be one of them.
So this week, rather than simply listing actions for you to take, I’m just going to let you know that I’m here to listen.
Those of you who have e-mailed me before know that I really do read your correspondence – and I really do respond. That’s often surprising to people, who are so used to the corporatization of our advocacy groups – which results in just the sort of impersonal “community” that got us in this political predicament in the first place.
But I digress.
I say this so that you know that I’m here. And that’s my most important action item of the week – to try to be there for people who need to process, and need someone to listen.
If I’m that person for you, I’m honored.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together.
If you want one more quick action, make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two.
If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!
Lastly, if you’d like to support this work (thanks to those who have done so!), you can become a supporter here.
One thought on “Interrupted Women, Interrupting.”