In 2009, Taylor Swift becomes the winner of an MTV Video Music Award for Best Female Video Award for 'You Belong With Me.’ Full of excitement, Taylor gets up on stage to give her acceptance speech, one that she will not get to finish. Just then Kanye storms and interrupts her midway to say “Yo Taylor, I'm really happy for you, I'ma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time!” This event is one of the most -if not the most- iconic pop culture moments of the 21st century; but what Kanye did as a stunt, is a harsh reality for the majority of women in the workplace.
Girls, Gals and Non–binary pals; I introduce you to Manterrupting.
Manterrupting is a neologism made up of the words man and interrupting and refers to the action of a man interrupting a woman at any point just because she is a woman.
The above event is one of the most prominent examples of this particular phenomenon that might have countered as entertainment for MTV but is a troubling and familiar reality to a majority of women in any workplace. And even though it may appear as a very well established case of paranoia, the numbers speak for themselves. According to a study conducted by Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton business school professor Adam Grant, male executives that speak up more often in meetings are considered 10% more competent than their peers, while women executives with the same attitude are considered 14% less proficient. And this can be similarly observed in politics, arts, media or any other professional space.
Manterrupting is real and the frustration, self-doubt and self-esteem issues it provokes in women is beyond unnecessary in the 21st century. But the root of this is deeper than just a male preoccupation; We can rather shed the spotlight on the unconscious bias we all carry due to cultural and societal standards and norms.
Truth is, we are all a little bit sexist, no matter how hard we attempt to deny it. These ingrained prejudices are the result of decades of history and how male and female stereotypes have developed (meaning persevered) over those years. The misconception that men progress and women nurture have been so deeply engraved into our subconscious, that when a woman exhibits traditionally male traits of dominance, decision making, competence and authority, our immediate reaction is predominantly negative. When men, on the other hand, exhibit traditionally feminine traits of empathy, sentiment, shyness or being emotional, they are criticized and told to ‘man up.’
This does not only set the productivity of a workplace miles back, it also reinforces ideas and standards that should have been eliminated years ago but have failed to do so. Phenomenons like Manterrupting have turned the blame to women, making them feel powerless, unimportant and useless, while men feel the obligation to be dominant and impose themselves to gain attention and therefore positive opinions. With the gender binary becoming more and more fluid every day, any gender preoccupation or stereotype should be identified and neutralised, not only in the context of an office or an enterprise but in the minds of every member of society.
Until then there are ways to battle this behaviour. Suggest a no-interruption policy in your group meetings or brainstorming sessions. Practice bystander interruption and help the speaker by phrasing your protest as “let them finish” or “I want to listen to what they have to say.”Support and give credit where it is due, regardless of someone’s gender and make them feel more confident about their ideas. Finally, and more importantly, own your voice and do not stand down because someone is unfairly making you do so. Collect your strength and have the confidence to say “I’m not finished” when everybody else seems to remain quiet. Fight for your freedom of speech, because every time someone stands up to sexism, a fight is won in the hopefully not eternal war for gender equality.
Oh, and Kanye: that wasn't very Live, Laugh, Love(r) of you.