Nancy Pelosi Asks Manterrupting Lawmakers "Do Women Get To Talk Around Here?"

by Morgan Brinlee
Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images News/Getty Images

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has the microphone and she'd appreciate it if the men in the room would let her speak. When Pelosi was interrupted by male co-workers at a White House dinner Wednesday night, held to discuss the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, she asked if women even have a voice at the table. Evidently, she'd had enough.

According to the The Washington Post, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had asked what exactly the president would get out of the DACA deal Democratic lawmakers were proposing. But as Pelosi — the only woman at the table of nearly a dozen legislators — attempted to argue her point she was repeatedly bulldozed and talked over by various men at the table.

"Do the women get to talk around here?" a likely exasperated Pelosi finally asked, according to the Post. Her query worked, as she was reportedly not interrupted again. Yet Pelosi isn't the only female politician who, in the course of her career, has had to battle men who, consciously or not, are drowning out women's voices. In fact, the behavior is so commonplace it's been given its own moniker: manterrupting.

While the term is new, the phenomenon isn't. Women in politics have often had to battle to have their voices heard. Last September, for example, Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton dozens of times during the first presidential debate. In January, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine interrupted Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during her confirmation hearing before the Senate. In February, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell not only interrupted Sen. Elizabeth Warren during debate over Jeff Sessions' nomination to attorney general on the Senate floor but voted to silence her. And in June, Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris was interrupted on two separate occasions by two male Republican colleagues as she questioned a witness at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.

In fact, research continues to confirm that women are interrupted more often than men. A pioneering 1975 study carried out by sociologists Don Zimmerman and Candace West examined 31 overheard conversations between various combinations of people and found that in the 11 conversations between men and women studied, men were behind all but one interruption recorded.

Similarly, a more recent study conducted in 2014 found that a woman was more likely to be interrupted (by both men and women) than a man was. In a separate but more informal study conducted that same year, Kieran Snyder observed 900 minutes of conversations between men and women working in the tech industry and found men interrupted others twice as often as women did. That study also found men were nearly three times as likely to interrupt a woman as they were a man.

And as we saw on Thursday with Rep. Pelosi, even women who hold respected, high-ranking positions aren't immune to being interrupted. According to a study released earlier this year, male Supreme Court justices have, over the years, reacted to the increase in women serving on the bench by upping their interruptions of them. Northwestern Pritzker School of Law professor Tonja Jacobi and J.D. candidate Dylan Shweers studied Supreme Court oral arguments from 1990, 2002, and 2015 to compare how frequently female justices were interrupted by their male colleagues. The study examined periods of time when there were one, two, and three women sitting on the bench, respectively. Predictably, it found that as women's representation on the Supreme Court bench increased, so too did the rate they were interrupted by men.

However, it's important to find ways to combat so-called "manterruptions" as Pelosi did. Because aside from being aggravating and rude, "manterrupting" ultimately enables men to dominate conversations and decision-making processes, meaning that while women have a seat at the table, they may not have a voice.