“Manterrupting” Or Equality: Pick One

During the presidential debate, Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton. A lot. It may be more accurate to call it interjecting, but that’s neither here nor there. What it was not was Trump allowing Clinton to speak without his speaking.  To my ears, it was rude.

Perhaps it’s my experience from the courtroom, from oral argument, but each side gets its time to speak unmolested by the other. When it’s done, then it’s the other side’s opportunity to respond. It’s not merely a matter of courtesy, or an unholy love of order, but effectiveness. Interruptions are negative distractions, reflecting poorly on the person doing the interrupting. Do they lack impulse control? Can they not control themselves long enough to let someone else speak? Are they so narcissistic that other people’s speech is inconsequential in comparison to their need to speak, whenever they feel the urge? YMMV, but that’s mine.

But in satisfaction of its obsessive/compulsive needs, the New York Times published an op-ed explaining that this wasn’t merely interruption, but “manterruption.” Jessica Bennett employs the word she coined:

At the 26-minute mark, the website Vox posted a graphic showing that Mr. Trump had interrupted Mrs. Clinton a whopping 25 times. Shortly thereafter, The Huffington Post proclaimed, “This is what manterrupting looks like.”

While others may use the word, Bennett owns it.

Manterrupting, defined by journalist and author Feminist Fight Club Jessica Bennett as “unnecessary interruption of a woman by a man,” is a phenomenon that many professional women are (unfortunately) familiar with.

A 2014 study found that women are significantly more likely to be interrupted than men are, and research has shown that when women do speak up, their words are given less weight and treated as less valid than men’s. This phenomenon is especially problematic in fields ― like politics ― which are dominated by men’s voices just by virtue of the numbers.

By this definition, Trump’s interruptions weren’t a matter of Trump being Trump, but Trump being a man.

To anyone who has observed Mr. Trump speak, it shouldn’t have been surprising: Shouting, talking over, bulldozing, mansplaining — these are Mr. Trump’s linguistic trademarks. Yet to the rest of us, or at least the 51 percent of us who are women, Mr. Trump’s behavior was also painfully familiar, reminiscent of the types of dismissals so many of us deal with every day.

Manterrupting. Mansplaining. Mansitting. Putting “man” before otherwise pedestrian words turns them from everyday, unremarkable things to offenses against women. To the feeble-minded, using these words is good enough to overcome whatever part of the everyday, unremarkable things harshed their feelz. But when someone is running for president of the United States, one does not get to take comfort in the palliative of the feeble-minded.

There is not now, nor has there ever been, a good reason why a woman has not run for president. Women have led other nations, not because of gender but because of the belief of their electorate in their competency. From Golda Meir to Margaret Thatcher, from Angela Merkel to Theresa May, women have proven to be the equal to men. That women can lead is not a question. They can.

On the one hand, if a candidate can scrape up some votes from the unduly emotional or the intellectually challenged by use of disingenuous cheap tricks like appealing to genitalia, who can blame them for doing so? The person with the most votes wins, regardless of how they got them. There is no shortage of stupid people out there, willing to use their franchise for reasons having no bearing on competency. No reason to neglect whatever ploy wins them over. Both candidates play to the stupid who might be won over for the wrong reasons.

On the other hand, when this sort of nonsense appears in the New York Times as if it’s a legitimate argument, “manterrupting,” then it deserves scrutiny. If Hillary Clinton is to assert herself as qualified to lead a nation, as the better option than her opponent, then she can’t complain of “manterrupting.”  Equals don’t whine and use gender as an excuse or a pejorative.

Will Hillary Clinton complain, after losing in negotiations with Putin,* that he “manterrupted” her?

If Clinton didn’t like being interrupted, and there is little reason why she wouldn’t, then she needs to deal with it straight up. Smack him for it. Beat his sorry butt into the ground. Expose his rudeness and lack of impulse control for what it is. But do not rationalize it afterward as “manterrupting.” If that’s the case, then she is not up to the task of being a leader because of her gender, her inability to overcome an interruption because she’s a woman.

Bennett uses Clinton’s interruption as a lead-in to how the phenomenon of “manterrupting” happens to all women.

This is subtle sexism. It is the kind of behavior that may not be malicious, or even conscious; it is bias exhibited by well-intentioned voters, Bernie Sanders-supporting progressives and even feminists. Individually, the things — interruptions, being condescended to, losing credit for your ideas — may not seem like that big a deal. But they add up.

This is the argument, and it fails. If a woman doesn’t like being “manterrupted,” don’t be manterrupted. Raising the excuse of “subtle sexism” whenever the world doesn’t revolve around the way women prefer to do things is unavailing. Ironically, people like Bennett rely on “women are different” to make the argument that women are equal. Which is it? You can’t have special rules to compel men to behave like women so that women won’t be able to enjoy their comfort zone of passivity. If a women wants to get into the ring with a man as an equal, and she should, she can’t call time out whenever he throws a punch, and demand he stop “manpunching” her.

Subtle sexism is the fact that — while, indeed, Hillary Clinton has made mistakes — we judge mistakes more harshly in women, and remember those mistakes longer. It’s that she must strike a near-impossible balance between niceness and authority — a glimmer of weakness, and she doesn’t have the “stamina”; but too much harshness and she’s “cold,” “aloof,” “robotic,” scolded by a man who is all but frothing at the mouth for not having the right “temperament.” It’s saying that she wasn’t being “nice.” (Since when has “niceness” been a qualification for a presidential candidate?) It’s saying she doesn’t “look” presidential, which might as well mean male.

Women prefer to be “nice”? If you say so, but then, don’t complain if nice doesn’t work. That’s a choice. If you want to be equal, and you should, then be equal. Putting the word “man” in front of another person’s choice of conduct doesn’t excuse its outcome. Making excuses for the female candidate serves only to inform people that she isn’t up to the task.

Equals don’t complain. Equals go toe to toe. It’s time to put the whining to rest and let the candidates demonstrate who is best qualified to be president. And if she can’t manage it because he’s “manterrupting,” then she has no business in the ring. Win because you deserve to win, not because the male “cheated” by being male. Women are up to the task. Bennett’s claim, that women are too dainty and nice to compete as equals, is sexist. Or you can dismiss me as a misogynist doing some “mansplaining.”

 *Actual interview in the future:

New York Times Reporter: How did the negotiations go, President Clinton?

HRC: Well, they were going great, but then he started manterrupting me, so I ended up giving him the Ukraine and Cleveland.

New York Times Reporter: That’s so unfair!

19 thoughts on ““Manterrupting” Or Equality: Pick One

  1. Kathleen Casey

    Interrupt with “You have to let me finish.” Repeat as necessary. It works. What’s the Secretary’s problem??

    1. Jonathan Levy

      I don’t think she has a problem and haven’t heard her complaining. She was wisely content to let him look like an ass and to prod him off the rails. Also a technique useful in court with certain types of adversary. But that doesn’t take away from the point of the post. Rather than take inspiration some folks choose to push an, at best, unhelpful agenda.

      1. Kathleen Casey

        It is a technique of discourse face-to-face or by phone. I think it would have been useful for her during the debate. I have never known it to be necessary in court. Nobody would dare in my experience.

    2. Andrew Stallings

      “Interrupt with “You have to let me finish.” Repeat as necessary. It works. What’s the Secretary’s problem??”

      I can’t speak to the field of politics, but a woman who does that in a meeting in the business world gets a reputation for being cold, bitchy, and pushy. Obviously a power-monger. While it may be an undeserved reputation, testosterone activity from women in a leadership field is not kindly looked upon.

      One of my…older colleagues explained it as “the filly needs to gentle when the stallion wants to rear”. I’m not into horses myself, but there it is.

      1. SHG Post author

        That’s utter nonsense, the trope women (and their tear-filled allies) tell each other to rationalize failure. Some women manage to be spectacularly successful in business. Others don’t. Same with men. The women who are successful don’t spend their time falling back on the tropes of failure. They manage to succeed. Same with men. And you might want to check your baby privilege telling Kathleen anything. She could teach your “older colleagues” a thing or two.

        Spewing infantile bullshit here is frowned upon. If that’s all you’ve got, you’re not ready to engage in discussion with grownups. Reddit awaits you.

        1. Kathleen Casey

          The interrupters have been about even between men and women in my experience and I have done it, and apologized for it. I was especially attentive after a judge snarled at me for it in 2004. Late in the game. It was at the bench but no matter, he was saying something. And the steno was there, trying to get down an accurate record.

          I believe people would rather know anyway because the tactic has always worked immediately or virtually immediately. The only one who took offense that I know of was a woman. My younger sister, in recent years. She accused me of “attacking” her. No. I was talking and she was interrupting. She hung up and wouldn’t speak to me for months. Sigh. She’s not a baby girl anymore but sometimes she sure acts like one.

          Thank you, Scott.

      2. Agammamon

        True or not, I’ve served under women officers – I’d far rather my boss be cold, bitchy, pushy, etc than ‘nice’. Nice is wishy-washy. Nice allows standards to slip. Nice doesn’t run interference for you to keep the upper chain from trying to micromanage your op. Nice gets cut out of the loop altogether.

        Nice is useless – both to your superiors and your subordinates.

  2. Maz

    To an extent, both sides are right. ‘Manterrupting,’ ‘mansplaining,’ and the rest are real things, for a bunch of baked-in-the-culture reasons, and it’s good that attention is being drawn to them, because, in my experience, most men don’t readily recognize such behavior, either in themselves or in others. That’s strategy.

    Tactically, you deal with it as SHG suggests — or as Clinton seemingly[1] did during the debates: You plow through it. Interrupt back. Continue as if the other person hadn’t spoken. Announce that *you* paid for this microphone.

    It’s at the second-, third-, and nth-remove where the trouble lies: That’s when the explanations as to *why* the interruptee can’t be expected to interrupt back. And I’m sure they’re right, for all sorts of baked-in reasons — but who cares? No one has ever changed a culture by documenting in detail how everything *should* work; cranking out op-eds, PSAs, After-School Specials, and whistle-stop tours to spread the word; and polishing their planned remarks to the graduation class of ’18 while overhead the stars realigned themselves. You can preach to the heathen all you want, telling them how they should think and feel and behave — but, in the long run, nothing’s going to change until somebody sits in the front of that damn bus.

    So the Times *should* use an especially egregious, widely known example of a dick move to call attention to its dickishness. And Clinton shouldn’t sit back and take such rudeness from anyone — man, woman, or child. And people in a position to correct for baked-in man-whatevering — teachers, committee chairs, front-line supervisors, even presidential debate moderators — should do so, because, as you note, it’s just plain rude.
    1. I can think of few things less appealing to me than watching Monday’s debate — but I *did* go through the transcript, and I don’t see where Clinton was obviously intimidated or cowed by Trump’s interruptions. I suspect she was less insistent about regaining the floor than he would have been, had the tables been turned, but I would suggest that had more to do with letting him look like as much like a dick as he wanted than with her yielding to his manhood. Er, manliness.

    And I haven’t seen any statements or postings — or even tweets — on her part complaining about being manhandled. In fact, at times this entry seemed just this side of the sort of error for which you recently too William Barber II to task….

  3. Observer

    >”And people in a position to correct for baked-in man-whatevering — teachers, committee chairs, front-line supervisors, even presidential debate moderators — should do so, because, as you note, it’s just plain rude.”


    1. In conversation, I’m not so sure an *unbiased* survey wouldn’t find many alpha women whom femsplain and femterrupt. Of course, such a conclusion would be presented by most media as proof women are “assertive”.
    2. Handling (other) assertive people should simply be part of any executive’s skill set, including the Chief Executive in particular.

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s unfortunate that Maz may not see this because it’s a good point, but you didn’t use the reply button to his comment. And nobody would see it if I hadn’t fished it out of the spam folder because you didn’t use a real email address. And who doesn’t love horsefeathers?

      Just sayin’.

    2. maz

      I have to confess to mangling the quoted line; in my original version of my comment, I went off on a personal history tangent I later wisely deleted, but I failed to shore up what was now my big boffo finish. What I meant to say was the person running a meeting — and I strongly believe meetings do not run themselves — has a responsibility to allow neither himterrupting (agreed: much more euphonious) *nor* intherrupting to flourish unchecked, *not* because it may or may not be another instance of male privilege run amok, but because it shows lousy managerial style.

      It’s back to strategy vs. tactics: Yes, I would prefer it if all the men in my department were as hip and cool and as attuned to the nuances of gender politics as I. At a practical level, though, I really don’t care whether they stop interrupting female coworkers and dismissing their ideas because they’ve reached gender enlightenment, or if they do so because it’s been made clear interrupting or dismissing *anyone* is an asshole move — just as long as they *stop* *interrupting*.

      For obvious reasons, I was recently reminded of the long, rather stilted phone conversations I once had with Phyllis Schlafly as an unintended side-effect of my job. While there was no question of ours being a meeting of true minds — he says, tugging his forelock — I have no doubt the lady was an equal-opportunity bulldozer. (Actually, based on her treatment of the Eagle Forum staff members unfortunate enough to be stuck carrying out the Forum’s direct mail strategy, I suspect she was tougher and less forgiving on women than men.) Similarly, I can immediately think of a dozen or more ‘alpha’ females active in California business and/or politics with whom, based on experience (mine) or reputation (theirs), I’d rather gnaw off a foot than face across a conference table.

      I wouldn’t want any of *them* for a boss, either

  4. Dawgzy

    I seems that HRC had a strategy for dealing with DT’s rudeness, including his interruptions. It might have been a piece of rope-a-dope, intended to let women who were viewing experience that part of the Trump treatment. She treated him like a child, and allowed some misbehavior. She didn’t have to call him temperamentally unfit- he accommodated her argument with his (mis) behavior. As for the gendering of the issue, didn’t Bennett watch the Republican debates? It was pretty much the same Trump MO. But I’d guess that the HRC camp did see that his boorishness would play to her advantage with women, and BenneTT ran with it.

    1. Grum

      Nope, SHG’s analysis is quite correct. Trump is not an idiot about this, and shortly all people will remember is that somehow HRC ended up needing people to make excuses for her, dismissing half the electorate in the process. This is all about the feelz, not facts.

  5. michael woodward

    I much prefer this blog ending:

    How did the G-8 meeting go President Trump?

    I was on a roll, really fantastic, but then Merkel and May chickterrupted me, with a bunch of stupid facts. So I’m cancelling NATO.

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