From the courtroom to boardroom, how prevalent is ‘manterruption’?

From the courtroom to boardroom, how prevalent is ‘manterruption’?

The phenomenon of men interrupting women is so common that someone even invented an app to track it.

‘Manterruption’ is a frequent occurrence in the US Supreme Court, where the female justices get interrupted on average three times more than their male counterparts.

In the last 12 years, when women made up on average 24 per cent of the bench, 32 per cent of interruptions were of the female justices, yet only four per cent of interruptions were by the female justices.  

The study carried out by Tonja Jacobi and Dylan Schweers at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law examined the extent to which the Justices interrupt each other and also scrutinised how advocates interrupted the Justices, contrary to the rules of the Court.

 The researchers wrote on Scotusblog: “Despite strict rules mandating that advocates stop talking immediately when a justice begins speaking, interruptions by male advocates account for approximately ten percent of all interruptions during this period; interruptions by female advocates account for approximately zero percent.”  

“We find that judicial interactions at oral argument are highly gendered, with women being interrupted at disproportionate rates by their male colleagues, as well as by male advocates.”

(L-R)Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan. Credit: Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

(L-R)Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan. Credit: Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

The study revealed, in fact, that as more women joined the court, the reaction of the male justices and the male advocates has been to increase their interruptions of the female justices.

In 1990, with one woman on the court (Justice Sandra Day O’Connor), 35.7 per cent of interruptions were directed at her.

In 2002, 45.3 per cent were directed at the two female justices; in 2015, 65.9 per cent of all interruptions on the court were directed at the three women on the bench.

Such behaviour, the authors says, matters beyond simple rudeness as oral arguments shape case outcomes.

“This pattern of gender disparity in interruptions could create a marked difference in the relative degree of influence between the male and female justices,” the authors say.

“When a justice is interrupted, her point is left unaddressed, and her ability to influence the outcome of a case or the framing of another justice’s reasoning is undermined.”

However, the researchers found that many of the women sitting on the bench gradually changed their approach to tackling ‘manterruption’ by setting aside politeness and moving away from using phrases such as, “may I ask…” “can I ask…,” or “excuse me.”

Various psychological and linguistic research have suggested that gendered interruptions are assertions of power through verbal dominance.

The phenomenon of men interrupting women is so common that someone even invented an app to track it.

The Woman Interrupted app, which was launched in March, allows the user to record a conversation using their smartphone.

Using voice frequencies as a guide the app analyses the audio and notes the number of times a male voice interrupts the user while they’re speaking. The also charts this information for the user.

 Woman Interrupted was created by Brazilian ad firm BETC as it looks to “generate awareness and more debate around manterrupting”.

As more people use it, BETC says it will compile the data into a global map to track just how prevalent ‘manterruption’ is around the world.

 

 

We’d like to hear from you. What has been your experience of ‘manterruption’? Comment below or tweet us at @RBFirstWomen.

 

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Comments
  • Josephine Bacon
    Reply

    Who needs the Supreme Court. My husband routinely practices manterruption, in fact he is a champion at it!

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