There is plenty of scholarly and anecdotal evidence that men chronically interrupt women. They interrupt women at home, at work, and at social events. When women protest being interrupted, they are accused of being bossy, bitchy, and emotional. In the small group setting, such as meetings, the more men are present, the more likely it is that the women in the group will be interrupted.
I have experienced this first hand, and I have studied the phenomenon. In the 1980s, while I was a student at University of North Carolina Greensboro, I was super lucky to be awarded an undergraduate research assistantship to work with sociologist Dr. David Pratto (1938-2002). Dr. Pratto had access to videotapes of thousands of hours of small group diagnostic meetings of medical students. As part of our study, I chose a stratified random sample of the recordings, and watched them, coding for any recognizable patterns. At the time, we did not know what we were looking for, so we went mining for data. Almost immediately, I recognized a few things. First, there were relatively few women in the groups. Back in those days, only a few women went to medical school. Second, the men in the groups talked more than the women. And third, the men frequently interrupted women and talked over them. The men often scoffed at women’s ideas and were openly scornful.
I noted these phenomenon to Dr. Pratto, and he was intrigued. So were the other (nearly all male) sociologists in the department. My next task was to read the existing literature on gender in small group discussions. There was not much to find in the early 1980s, but Deborah Tannen’s work stood out. Tannen is a linguist who identified the interruption patterns, and has since branched out to study other gendered aspects of oral communication.
Fast forward to 2018 and the phenomenon now has a popular name: manterruption, defined as a social phenomenon present in small group conversations (including dyads) when men chronically and intrusively interrupt women when they are speaking. Fast forward to today, and the phenomenon is written about in social media, scholarly work, and news papers. And fast forward to now, and women can affirm that manterruption continues to negatively affect them in meetings, social conversations, and at home.
Many of the meetings I attend as a faculty member at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are gender balanced. However, some meetings are skewed towards women, and some skewed towards men. In the past couple of weeks, I have been a participant in meetings where there were more men than women. When emotions run high–as they often do in meetings tied to budget cuts, program discontinuations, fiscal crisis–manterruption became a significant problem that spilled over into email conversations.
And so, a sociological cartoon was born.