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Feb 14 2013

Oh, did you say something?

You know that thing where you make a point, and it gets ignored, and then a guy makes the same point – (yes, “you” are a woman in this particular that thing) and the guy you were talking to is all “good point, dude, thanks, I totally get it now”?

That.

Stephanie summed it up in a tweet. (One of the virtues of tweets, innit. Summing up.)

Nothing like watching a male colleague be thanked for making the point I’d just made in a different form. Especially when talking sexism.

Ayup.

 

34 comments

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  1. 1
    Moggie

    Also known as the amazing invisible woman.

  2. 2
    Landon

    This happened sometimes in our grad seminars. One of our (few) female students would make a point, no comment would be made or it would just not really be given any acknowledgement, and the conversation would move on. Sometimes, later, someone else – a male – would bring up the same or a similar point, and it would generate a great deal of discussion.

    This behavior – in a department that was in many ways ahead of the curve on fighting sexism, I might add – irked me enough that in the cases where I thought the point being made by a fellow female student was a good one (everyone swings and misses sometimes), I would make a follow-up comment to the effect of, “I think we should stay on [female colleague's] point. It brings up [question or issue it brought up in my mind].”

    I used to worry this was White Knighting, but in the end I figured it was just acknowledging when a good point was being made, regardless of the gender of the person who made it. Except for the bit at the beginning, emphasizing whose point it was, it was the same thing I’d have said in follow-up to anyone else’s points, and eventually, just out of habit, I started adding the same attribution in when following-up on male colleagues’ points, as well.

    Strangely enough, I developed a positive reputation for being a ‘generous’ colleague.

  3. 3
    hjhornbeck

    The chilly climate strikes again! If there’s two things that feminists should pound into other people’s heads, it’s the chilly climate and stereotype threat. Both are easy to explain, and easy to fix.

  4. 4
    Bjarte Foshaug

    And not only that, but what I have noticed is that men often get the credit for restating the same point that a woman made just a few moments earlier. It’s really quite striking once you become aware of it.

    Aaaw, thanks for the applause everybody! Thank you so much! You’re too kind :)

  5. 5
    Ophelia Benson

    Hahahahahahaha

  6. 6
    Ophelia Benson

    hj – yes, I realized later I should have cited Bernice Sandler.

    Bernice Sandler!

    http://www.bernicesandler.com/

  7. 7
    Rob

    Yes, I’ve noticed this and it is simply not fair. I’ve also noticed that it occurs wherever there is a distinct alpha personality (male or female). It’s all about power imbalance.

  8. 8
    Lou Doench

    @Rob, “It’s all about power imbalance.” is exactly right. In fact you can get a great idea of where power lies by who is listened to and who isn’t. This kind of thing happens to liberals in the US all the time. Andrew Sullivan’s career right now is essentially taking things liberals have been saying for years (and being ignored) and putting a thin gloss of “conservative” on them and selling it as received wisdom.

  9. 9
    Claire Ramsey

    Yes. I do know that thing. Intimately. Graduate school was bad.

    But worse was being an assistant professor accused by women colleagues of being too aggressive and “rude” when I got in male colleagues’ faces for ignoring my comments or deliberately misinterpreting them to make me look stoooopid. Especially when I started to adopt their loud voice confrontive interrupt-y kind of speech and called things by their names and took their “power” away from them in front of the whole faculty. (They took it right back, of course. More loudly too. But I took it back again even louder).

    I got no love from anyone for that behavior. (Also I was never in any physical danger, an important detail. They could get all pissed off at me and no one could hit. And no one could shoot or knife or throw acid). My women colleagues would not listen to my well-grounded sociolinguistic explanation either. They just said “Rude. Rude. Rude.” I wasn’t being rude. And the men were not being rude exactly. They were simply being men in a faculty meeting employing their man faculty discourse rules and their man faculty narcissistic privilege. I just used it too.

    Does this behavior make the world a calmer or more communicative place? Nope. But I got my goddamned turn and I got listened too when I got my turn. And I got fucking tenure. The crap a gal has to do. . . it is very good to be retired.

  10. 10
    Brian E

    It’s an orthogonal axis of privilege, but I can understand this. I was the youngest of 4 consecutive boys growing up (of 10 kids) who was always ignored whenever I had a suggestion that was good, but thoroughly put down, and sometimes whacked (by said brothers), if I made a dumb-ass suggestion. Strangely, one of my older brothers would repeat the suggestion very shortly after, if it were a good one, and get praise, then put me down for being a dumb-ass for not suggesting it first as I was the supposedly clever one….Still, I’m not equating my growing up with what a woman has to endure for a lifetime, just I sort of get the feeling and don’t like it at all.

  11. 11
    Rob

    Claire Ramsey -

    Does this behavior make the world a calmer or more communicative place? Nope. But I got my goddamned turn and I got listened too when I got my turn.

    And that is one of the things I’ve found most frustrating about this behaviour. There doesn’t seem to be a good way to combat it, you just join in. As a quiet and softly spoken man in my youth I was constantly overlooked in group discussions and sometimes not even given the opportunity to speak. Becoming more assertive and forceful in presentation gained me recognition, career advancement and all that good stuff. I also became very uncomfortably aware that my gains came at the expense of others who lost speaking opportunities.
     
    The best I’ve been able to come up with is to now use my ‘turn’ speaking to hand off to someone else who I think deserves a shot by asking them what they think. If anyone else has good ideas please share.

  12. 12
    echidna

    Being heard is not easy, but sometimes, if you can get the timing right, a simple (sarcasm-free) “Thank-you for supporting my point” works very well. A denial that you had said the same thing usually prompts someone to remember that you had indeed said it. Denying that your point was made as fully as theirs was lays bare the fact that they did hear you speak.

    Some will hear “Thank you for supporting my point” as aggressive, and that’s revealing, too.

  13. 13
    Martha

    The issue Claire raised is exactly why Landon’s approach is not only acceptable, but absolutely necessary. I was struck by something similar that Virginia Valian said in a lecture on why women don’t advance as quickly as men in science (and other fields). She cited a study in which students listened to roughly the same lecture by a female teaching assistant and a male teaching assistant. Half of the group heard the woman, half the man. Half of each of these groups was shown an introduction by the professor talking about how knowledgeable the TA was, half was not. Unsurprisingly, the students who only saw the film of the TA ranked the male as much better than the female. If the professor introduced the TA as an authority, however, the scores of the male and female TA evened out considerably. So if you are in the group that is listened to, it really helps if you subtly tell your colleagues or audience that someone who has been ignored has a good point. It makes the whole room take that person more seriously.

    I noticed that when I was in grad school in organic chemistry in the 80s, the guys in my research group tended to jump on all the women and younger students. Then, a really high-powered, vocal woman joined the group as a postdoc. The interesting thing was that all the women in the group were taken more seriously because she demanded to be heard. I remember trying very hard to move into her leadership role after she left to become a professor.

    So while I don’t agree with hornbeck that sterotype threat and chilly climates are easy to fix, I do think that shifting the balance often takes only one or two people who are both respected by the group and paying attention. Nonetheless, it’s not necessarily smooth sailing from that point forward, as there is, unfortunately such a thing as backlash.

    Which reminds me of the time in grad school that I was sick and read Susan Faludi’s book of that name. Steam blew out my ears for a week.

  14. 14
    Ophelia Benson

    Claire you are so FABULOUS for doing that.

  15. 15
    Ophelia Benson

    This thread is a useful little collection. Ima have to do something with it to highlight the usefulness.

  16. 16
    Physics or Stamp Collecting

    @Martha Thanks for sharing your experiences in chemistry. I’m a current organic chemistry grad student who’s still frustrated with the gender balance and dynamics of the field (even my biochem class assigned *zero* papers from female PIs to read!) and that having a respected, assertive woman helped your group gives me some hope for small-scale change. I’ve been trying to do similar mentor-y stuff in my group–trying to get my labmate to hear when she puts down her own work, pointing out to my adviser when he’s jumping on her unfairly, encouraging people to get their work done and then take time off and not play the “I am so dedicated I worked sooooo much” status games.

  17. 17
    SallyStrange

    But worse was being an assistant professor accused by women colleagues of being too aggressive and “rude” when I got in male colleagues’ faces for ignoring my comments or deliberately misinterpreting them to make me look stoooopid. Especially when I started to adopt their loud voice confrontive interrupt-y kind of speech and called things by their names and took their “power” away from them in front of the whole faculty. (They took it right back, of course. More loudly too. But I took it back again even louder).

    I got no love from anyone for that behavior. (Also I was never in any physical danger, an important detail. They could get all pissed off at me and no one could hit. And no one could shoot or knife or throw acid). My women colleagues would not listen to my well-grounded sociolinguistic explanation either. They just said “Rude. Rude. Rude.” I wasn’t being rude. And the men were not being rude exactly. They were simply being men in a faculty meeting employing their man faculty discourse rules and their man faculty narcissistic privilege. I just used it too.

    Does this behavior make the world a calmer or more communicative place? Nope. But I got my goddamned turn and I got listened too when I got my turn. And I got fucking tenure. The crap a gal has to do. . . it is very good to be retired.

    Would you mind if I quoted this on Dan Fincke’s blog? I think it’s a perfect illustration of why his civility thing is so wrong-headed, and why it’s getting so much support from the sexist contingent.

    Dan Fincke’s civility pledge: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/2013/02/the-camels-with-hammers-civility-pledge/

  18. 18
    Ophelia Benson

    Quote it, Sally. Claire’s a RL friend and I’m damn sure she won’t mind.

  19. 19
    Claire Ramsey

    Never heard of Dan Fincke but I don’t mind in the least. I am all for civility. But first you have to get heard. You can only rest upon civility if you have a place at the table. If you don’t get a place, you can be civil until the cows come home y para nada.

  20. 20
    Claire Ramsey

    Thanks Ophelia! So few recognize my fabulousness. . .

  21. 21
    Ophelia Benson

    Now Claire I’m afraid I just don’t believe that few recognize your fabulousness. That just is unpossible.

  22. 22
    Claire Ramsey

    Rob I think your strategy of offering the floor to a “quiet” group member is excellent. Another strategy is to beat the floor holders/talkers/pompous ones at their own game, by talking back or raising the volume a touch or making an explicit demand. Just the other day I had to look a person in the eye and tell her “It is MY TURN now.” As if we were in first grade. Otherwise I was not going to get a turn.

    I am a sociolinguist by inclination and by training. Many many years of eavesdropping in several societies and some subgroups (e.g. Deaf second graders, Mexicans in Mexico, French in France blah blah). I haven’t given a lot of thought to it but let’s say that there are group conventions about how to talk right, and there are individual people who are simply very bad at talking to others or making their points heard in a group or very good at choosing to make stupid or mean points – for reasons of political inclination, immaturity, peer pressure, ignorance, rage, or poor argumentation abilities. Oh, also because hate and the joy it brings them. I can’t make a clear sociolinguistic case for that kind of behavior. Maybe there is a clinical case to be made.

    But groups mark membership and inclusion, and exclude the rest by marking their speech in specific ways, and sociolinguists are always interested in that stuff. My second grade informants gossiped about whether “Claire is snoopy” or “Claire is curious.” I saw them do it during my happy hours of eavesdropping. There is a lot of discourse to tune in on, and so little time. A friend from NYC thinks every single person in Southern CA is stupid and dull minded because we talk slower than she does. My colleagues in the midwest thought I was rude b/c girls are supposed to defer to men and I yelled just like men did. The speech of Americans who live in southern states drives a stereotype about their brainpower. Don’t get started on Black English Vernacular in the US. Or “Spanglish.” Lots of people think that people from NYC are rude b/c they are direct and because they talk faster than other groups and because they interrupt/overlap speech with their interlocutors. Deborah Tannen’s dissertation was an analysis of Thanksgiving dinner table conversation. A good proportion of the speakers were Jews raised in NYC/Long Island. Their conversational style is to overlap with or finish others’ sentences. Their fellow diners from other discourse communities could not get a word in and when asked later to listen to the tape and tell how they felt, they felt bad, uncomfortable, shut out, mystified. The ones from the same Jewish NY/LI discourse community listened to the tape and reported that they felt cozy and homey and loved and included and close to their dining companions. They didn’t see it as interruption. They saw it as intimacy. How about that? In such cases and lots of others the best way to get listened to (and sometimes respected and included) is to adopt their way of speaking.

    Unfortunately as you note, Rob, the quiet ones have to adopt mortifying conversational moves sometimes to get a turn. The quiet ones have a rough time, and I do not know of any sociolinguistic group that has specific conventional moves to open the floor to the quiet ones. Doesn’t mean there aren’t any. I don’t know everything.

  23. 23
    Claire Ramsey

    Well ok a few do recognize it. But someone (no idea who) got me a subscription to Glamour magazine for a xmas present, and so far I have learned that real fabulousness requires 1) making it all about my hair and 2) buying a pair of gold pants. It is truly a confusing time to be fabulous, is all I can say.

  24. 24
    Ophelia Benson

    Gold pants. Hmm. Not my idea of fabulous at all. Glamour and I do not see eye to eye on this matter, I’m afraid. Glamour needs to be quiet and let me talk now.

  25. 25
    Rob

    Claire that fabulousness is beginning to show. Gold pants? Not unless you are also into disco or can pull off wearing them ironically.
     
    In your snooping research, did you ever observe differences in this behaviour between a group composed entirely of introverts vs one composed entirely of extroverts? If the behaviour does not fall on the introvert/extrovert axis, is there an axis you think it may lie on?

  26. 26
    Smokey Dusty

    This phenomenon vexes me. First noticed it in group assignments at Uni. Good ideas from females would be ignored until I interjected with, ‘I’m sorry but did you just say…’.

    I noticed the same thing in a project I mentored at work. All the good ideas were coming from the females and being ignored. One of them came up with a work around, might be useful while we wait for society to change. She would appoint herself scribe. When she was ignored she’d roll her eyes and write her (excellent) ideas down anyway.

  27. 27
    Martha

    @Physics 16: Good luck with your studies. It does get better after grad school. The work gets harder (always), but experience really does help in dealing with this crap. Or deciding that you don’t want to any more. Deborah Tannen,whom Claire mentioned above, was my field guide for The Way Men Communicate in Academia. I found her book helpful for figuring out how to play their game well enough to get by.

    And you had me worrying about whether or not I assigned papers by women the last time I taught a grad biochem class. Then I remembered I definitely had. Phew!

  28. 28
    oursally

    A long time ago when I was an engineering student one lecturer liked to pretend the female students didn’t exist. So if one of us had a question he didn’t hear it. So we would get our male neigbours to ask for us. This caused great hilarity and contempt for the reactionary old fart.

    That reminds me of a true story from the faculty of medicine: one stupid old sod always ignored the women, so the entire student body plotted. One day only the women turned up to a lecture. The old goat waited 5 minutes, then said, if no-one’s going to come then I will leave. And he did. So they all complained and got him suspended. Yeeesss!

  29. 29
    SallyStrange

    Thanks, Ophelia, Claire. Posted.

  30. 30
    jose

    Maddow.

  31. 31
    Yellow Thursday

    I’ve experienced this quite a bit, both as the woman being ignored and as the woman noticing a fellow female being ignored.

    I have, on a few occassions, said, “I just said that!” only to get a response of, “oh, really?” and a continuation of being ignored.

    I have attempted to call attention to other women being ignored. In particular, a teenage girl that I played tabletop rpgs with who had great suggestions for gaming strategies but was frequently ignored. I would often say, “Jada had a great idea. Let’s do it.” I don’t know if it helped, but at least I tried.

  32. 32
    Worldtraveller

    Sallystrange, would you like me to quote it over there, since it has a better chance of being listened to. (I kid, but only a little, sadly.) I guess one of the things that is potentially good about internet anonymity is that gender can remain a mystery.

    My wife described this happening to her several times when she used to work in the computer industry. Eventually, though, when it was pointed out enough times to the slower thinking (i.e. managers), she eventually got listened to when she made suggestions. Sad that it takes so much extra work though, based solely on one’s genitalia. :(

  33. 33
    Deepak Shetty

    The wife reports this was commonplace in her old (IT) job – she could report something and the manager would pay no attention till a male made the same point.

  34. 34
    Claire Ramsey

    Hmmm Rob. I’m not very good at knowing about psychological/individual traits like extrovert/introvert. I mostly study groups and cultural practices and conventions. So no, I haven’t done any snooping amongst groups of one or the other. My guess is that even introverts are chatty sometimes, in some contexts. And even extroverts are quiet and don’t take the floor sometimes. If I were going to snoop around on those dimensions I’d start by looking at the different situations where the -verts display their traits.

    Sorry not to be more helpful.

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