Remember when Kanye West cut off Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMAs? As Swift launched into her acceptance speech for Best Female Video, West ran onstage and grabbed the mic away from her and said, “Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’m gonna let you finish, but I’m sorry, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.” Both Beyoncé and Swift looked stunned.
This is perhaps the most famous pop culture moment of a man interrupting a woman to explain something to her—the YouTube clip of the interruption has been seen 23 million times. Though the crowd greeted West’s interruption with booing, men interrupt women and discredit their accomplishments every day, usually without backlash from any crowd or TV commentators.
For an engaging primer on the realities of mansplaining, look no further than Rebecca Solnit’s new book Men Explain Things to Me, which collects seven essays on feminism, violence, and how when men often explain things to women “whether or not they know what they’re talking about.” In May, Soraya Chemaly also addressed the mansplaining phenomena with a great article “10 Simple Words Every Girl Should Learn.” In that piece, Chemaly advised parents who want to combat sexism to teach their daughters to practice saying “Stop interrupting me,” “I just said that,” and “No explanation needed.” As her article points out, women are taught to be overly polite and active listeners in conversations, but men are not taught to socialize this way.
For example, just last week, Fox News excellently showcased some mansplaining on a segment that instructed women to “not raise their voices” or “talk too much” in the workplace. Within that segment, host Steve Doocy interrupted the guest author as she spoke about her new book.
While individual women might feel like they’re the only ones frustrated at being ignored or interrupted, there are numbers that show it happens all the time: studies show that men interrupt women during meetings, while in groups with friends, and while speaking one-on-one. In the interest of showing how mansplaining is a proven phenomena, I've gathered seven studies that show how men often dominate conversations.
1. Women get interrupted more than men. Both men and women interrupt women more often than they interrupt men, according to a paper published earlier this year in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology. In that study, two researchers at George Washington University reported on an experiment where they put 20 women and 20 men in pairs, then recorded and transcribed their conversations. The result: Over the course of each three-minute conversation, women interrupted men just once, on average, but interrupted other women 2.8 times. Men interrupted their male conversation partner twice, on average, and interrupted the woman 2.6 times.
2. Men interrupt women to assert power. Not all interruptions are the same, of course—sometimes we interrupt people to be encouraging about what they’re saying. But a 1998 meta-analysis of 43 studies by two researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz from 1998 found that men were more likely to interrupt women with the intent to assert dominance in the conversation, meaning men were interrupting to take over the conversation floor. In mixed groups rather than a one-on-one conversation, men interrupted even more frequently.
3. Men dominate conversations during professional meetings. A study by Brigham Young University and Princeton researchers in 2012 showed that women spoke only 25 percent of the time in professional meetings, meaning men took up 75 percent of an average meeting. The study also found that when women were left out of the conversation, it was harder for them to have an effect on decisions and discussions during majority votes on issues.
4. Men and boys dominate conversation in classrooms. A 2004 study of Harvard Law School classrooms found that men were 50 percent more likely than women to volunteer at least one comment during class, and 144 percent more likely to speak voluntarily at least three times. Another study of Harvard classrooms, back in 1985, found that in classes with a male instructor, men spoke two and a half times longer than their female classmates. However, when female instructors led classrooms, the study found they had “an inspiring effect on female students,” leading women to speak three times as much as they did with a male instructor. This problem occurs in elementary and middle school as well, according to research by Myra and David Sadker from 1994. In classroom discussions, boys called out answers eight more times than girls and were more likely to be listened to, while girls who shouted out answers were instructed to raise their hands. Boys also raised their hands in more disruptive ways by jumping out of their chair and making noise, pleading for the teacher to respond.
5. Patients are more likely to interrupt female doctors than male doctors. According to a 1998 study by Candace West, a sociology professor at University of California Santa Cruz, doctors who are women are more likely to be interrupted by their patients than male doctors. The study looked at the number of times patients and doctors interrupted each other and found that patients were more than twice as likely to interrupt a female doctor than a male doctor.
6. Men get more space in print and online journalism. Men don’t just talk more in face-to-face conversations, but in our media conversations. According to a 2012 study by the OpEd Project, women write 20 percent of traditional opinion pieces, 33 percent of online opinion pieces, and 38 percent of college newspaper opinion pieces. Bylines on literary reviews and creative nonfiction also skew male, according to the annual VIDA count. And when it comes to coverage of politics, a 4th Estate analysis of 2012 election coverage showed women were vastly underquoted.
7. On Twitter, men are retweeted more often than women. The tendency to give more conversational space to men is a reality on social media, too. A tool named Twee-Q creates a score based on the amount of men and women retweeted by twitter users. Women make up 62 percent of Twitter users, but according to Twee-Q’s statistics on retweets, men are retweeted almost twice as often as women, with close to 63 percent of all retweets belonging to male users.
When girls are reminded to be polite and boys' behavior is brushed off, the phenomenon continues. To stop the interruptions and conversation domination remember Soraya Chemaly's ten words that keep mansplainers in check—and boys should be taught to respect other people's contributions to conversations.
No Mansplaining Land image is a detail of Bitch's Maps & Legends issue cover, illustrated by Jenn Renninger.
Lucy Vernasco is the new media intern at Bitch. She's had years of experience hearing men explain things.