Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Less Perfect Interruption

I don't think I've mentioned the podcast More Perfect before. I'm not much of a podcast listener, since my life doesn't seem to allow time for listening to something that needs my full attention regularly. (I imagine people who take long walks, drive a lot, or do mindless tasks get a lot out of podcasts. The times when I have to do those things, I definitely appreciate them.)

But I try to make time for two recent ones: Uncivil (about the lesser-known aspects of the Civil War, explored from a black perspective) and More Perfect (about the Supreme Court, produced by some of the people who create WNYC's Radio Lab).

Obviously I recommend both or I wouldn't be listening to them, and I imagine I'll write something about Uncivil in the future, but for today I want to focus on something I just heard on More Perfect. 

The most recent episode is called Justice, Interrupted and it's mostly an interview with two legal scholars who analyzed all of the Supreme Court sessions that included at least one woman justice.

You may not know it, but the convention in the high court is that when one of the justices interrupts a lawyer who's presenting, that lawyer is supposed to shut up and listen, then answer when the justice is done talking.

And that's pretty much what happens when it's a male justice asking the question. But the women... get interrupted three times as often as the men. And Sandra Sotomayor, the only woman of color on the court, gets interrupted the most, even though she most rapidly adopted the "male" manner of asking her questions, compared to the other women justices. (All of the women started their careers by prefacing their queries with "May I ask" or phrases like that, instead of just asking the question. They all stopped doing it eventually, but Sotomayor stopped the fastest.)

Oh, and get this: Sotomayor is reported by the press and pundits as being brusque and mean, when all she's doing is talking the same way the men talk, which still doesn't get her the courtesy of not being interrupted by the lawyers before the court, let alone the other justices.



Michael Leddy said...

If you can stand to watch it: Charlie Rose’s 2017 interview of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has an extraordinary number of interruptions. Granted, he interrupts (or interrupted) everyone, but it seems especially conspicuous here. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he interrupted women more frequently.

An example of the kind of double standard you mention, which I saw again and again and again in teaching: a male teacher who asks a lot of students is “tough.” But if that teacher is a woman: “bitch.”

Daughter Number Three said...

Yes, I'd be very comfortable doing a content analysis of Charlie Rose with the hypothesis that he interrupted women more often than he did men. Maybe a mass comm grad student somewhere is already doing that type of study.

I know exactly what you mean about teachers. You've probably heard about some of the research on that, in terms of course evaluations, for instance. I TAed for a woman assistant prof in grad school... she was maybe in her early 30s at the time (I was about 30). She was from Philadelphia, teaching in Minnesota... almost as a rule the students (at least the ones who complained to the TA) thought she was a bitch when I could see no reason at all, from her behavior, for them to think that.