How A Fight With My Boyfriend Led To A Lesson In Never Ever Interrupting A Woman
I got into a fight with my boyfriend recently — our first major fight. My friend and I sat in the smoking patio at a bar, talking about the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault scandal and our own experiences with harassment or assault within our respective fields. We witness the mistreatment of marginalized communities and experience our own as women of color, and we both work to do something about it. Then my boyfriend met us up, looking stressed out and tired.
The conversation continued, and everything from sexual assault, to the gender wage gap, to Colin Kaepernick, came up. It got heated because it’s impossible not to when it comes to these topics. In the process though, my boyfriend committed some major infractions that women know all too well.
While I was trying to make a point, he cut me off multiple times to finish explaining for me or to assert that he knew what I was saying.
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And when he would do so, it was very clear he didn’t know what I was saying or about to say. Or he’d interrupt me and ramble, not ever getting to a point. Or he’d interrupt me and say what I just said but in different words. Or he’d interrupt me, and say something that’s common knowledge, especially for those with the lived experience, in a way that could be read as condescending. As in, “Think about this for a second: racism affects women and it’s not fair.” Yeah, dude. We know.
Then he would get defensive when either I or my friend would counter a point he made by adding some perspective. We’d never tell him he was wrong, because he wasn’t. In fact, we told him he was right, but should also consider other factors, and then we would mention those factors. He seemed to take everything personally, as though we were saying he didn’t know what he was talking about. I could see if we were ganging up on him, but that wasn’t the case.
It was very frustrating, and with every interruption, I got angrier. Then, at the table, in front of my friend, I lost my cool.
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“Stop interrupting me,” I said sternly. “It’s rude, and it’s condescending. Try listening instead of talking over us.”
He just looked at me, looked down, and defeatedly said, “Ok.”
That wasn’t great. I don’t like dragging people into my problems, and I hate fighting in public (in writing it’s cool though). That’s the shit I want to do in my home, while wearing sweatpants, so I can at least be cozy while dragging a fool. And I’ve always hated being the third wheel to a couple’s fight. There’s nothing you can do but sit there, sipping on your drink and pretending to look at something in the far off distance. So I felt bad for putting my friend, who attempted to diffuse things, in that awkward position. And I felt bad for embarrassing my boyfriend, who despite his bad behavior that night, is wonderful, loving and usually listens when we talk about stuff. And I was angry, because what he did was wrong and triggering, so I didn’t all the way feel bad for calling him out on it. He deserved it.
Later, when we talked about it, I was able to explain to him what set me off.
The interrupting. Women know this shit all too well, and we hate it because it’s so pervasive in our lives. And we have to train ourselves not to accept it, even though it can have huge ramifications for us.
As women, we’re often silenced or spoken over. We’ve seen powerful women like Sen. Kamala Harris, Hillary Clinton and Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards endure dozens of interruptions while attempting to do their jobs. Congresswoman Maxine Waters famously gave a man a taste of what women have to deal with regularly with three simple words: Reclaiming my time. When those women put their foot down to their male colleagues’ talking over them, they’re reprimanded or called bullies. Isn’t that some bullshit?
And we see it in our own lives. Ask any woman about being interrupted and she likely has her own frustrating stories — plural — to tell.
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Here’s a scenario: A woman is in a meeting where everyone is pitching ideas for a project. As she’s describing the pitch she worked hard on, she’s interrupted by a male co-worker or her male boss, and their interruption takes the conversation in a different direction. There’s no way to take it back to her idea, which she believes is great and is excited to share. And then, somehow, a male co-worker describes the points of her idea she had started pitching, and the boss loves it. It was literally everything she had said just minutes before but repackaged in his words and voice. He’s praised for his genius. The pitch is accepted. She works on the project that was her idea and gets none of the recognition. Her male co-worker never makes a point to acknowledge her effort and idea, and eventually gets a promotion for a job well done. When she attempts to complain to her boss, they interrupt her and tell her to let it go… or else.
Another scenario: A woman and her husband are having an argument. She is trying to make a point, and he won’t let her make it. She tells him to let her finish so they can actually talk about it, but he continues to interrupt her. So she screams in frustration and punches him in the face. Well, no she doesn’t, but she really wants to because it’s that fucking annoying and rude.
Interruptions have major consequences for women. And for women of color, those interruptions are tenfold in their volume and negative outcome. We see this when women of color are interrupted with racially coded language, like “You have a bad attitude” or “Stop acting ghetto.”
Interruptions can lead to a risk in a woman’s safety; it can cost them a promotion or their job. And it’s a prime example of the casual sexism we face, that’s often compounded with casual racism that’s also thrown at us.
There are various studies that show the rate of interruptions are directed far more widely toward women than men, and that men are the major perpetrators.
Forbes cites a study that delved into conversations and the rate of interruptions that occur based on gender. Here’s what Forbes shared:
Authors analyzed 31 two-party conversations that they had tape recorded in public places such as cafes, drug stores, and university campuses. Of the 31 conversations, 10 were between two men, 10 between two women, and 11 between and man and a woman. In the two same-sex groups combined, the authors found seven instances of interruption. In the male/female group, however, they found 48 interruptions, 46 of which were instances of a man interrupting a woman.
There’s even an app that counts the amount of times a woman is interrupted on a daily basis. It’s not even close, and it’s definitely not a coincidence. Men just don’t do it to other men as they do to women.
Women have to train themselves not to accept interruptions, whether in their relationships or their work. Not only because it’s annoying, but because it’s disrespectful, it’s rude and it has real effects on their personal and professional lives. It’s not easy to get to the point where you can say, “Excuse me, I was explaining something,” or “You just echoed my points, Steve, so let me continue to explain my pitch.” But when we get there, it feels good — but also scary, because we’ve seen bad things happen to women for speaking up, and we know that if and when we also call it out we become a target.
There are little protections for women who dare to speak up when interrupted, so in many instances, they feel like they have to pick their battles or accept it and stay quiet. In explaining this to my boyfriend, he was able to understand that it’s not just about him — it’s about how interruptions are another way men try to flex their power over us. It’s bigger than him, but in doing it, he’s contributing to an overall sexist world.
It’s time men are called out and change their behavior because women are definitely sick of it.
Tired of being interrupted? Then share this story and tell the interrupters in your life to STFU!
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