Why women of the Supreme Court get interrupted more th—
Listen to the beginning of this audio clip:
Hear it? That’s Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy interrupting fellow Justice (a.k.a. the notorious) Ruth Bader Ginsburg during oral arguments.
Oh, didn’t hear Justice Bader Ginsburg? That’s because she barely got a chance to talk.
Yes, your workplace is sexist. Even when your workplace is the highest court in the land. That’s why you need Battle Tactics For Your Sexist Workplace, a new podcast from KUOW Public Radio in Seattle.
Tonja Jacobi, law professor at Northwestern University, has studied Supreme Court oral arguments for 15 years. She found that women justices still get interrupted more than the men justices.
When Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was the sole female justice on the Supreme Court in the early '80s, Jacobi found she was interrupted about three times as much as each of her male colleagues were interrupted. In the 2015 term, each of the three female justices were interrupted three times more than each of the six male justices.
Here’s another example:
The interruptions don't just come from the bench. Attorneys arguing at court interrupt the women justices, too. And although we probably shouldn't have to say this, we will: Those attorneys are subordinate to the women justices.
But wait! There’s more!
“I noticed the female justices say things like, ‘May I ask,’ or, ‘Excuse me,’ before they actually get to the substance of their question, and that’s where they’re most commonly interrupted," Jacoby said. "These are speech patterns that we as women have adopted most of our lives. It’s part of what’s called the female register.”
The female register: Turning a statement into a...question? Or, like, when you kind of hedge what you’re trying to say, you know? I mean. (Sorry!)
“All these verbal activities women engage in that make themselves slightly less threatening by using polite language, making statements into questions," Jacoby said. "These female justices, even though they’re in a position of incredible power, they’re still using this polite language.”
But if being polite is not a tactic to avoid being interrupted; and being an accomplished badass like RBG, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan is no guarantee either...uh…what can we do?
That’s today’s battle.
This is an edited excerpt from Battle Tactics For Your Sexist Workplace, a new podcast from KUOW Public Radio in Seattle.
Listen by tapping the play button above, or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Follow us on Twitter and Instagram. And share your stories: Are you interrupted frequently at work? Does the “female register” impact your work? Have you tried any tactics to try to turn things around? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or join the conversation in our Facebook group.
This episode of Battle Tactics For Your Sexist Workplace was hosted by Eula Scott Bynoe and Jeannie Yandel. Produced by Caroline Chamberlain Gomez and edited by Jim Gates. Produced for the web by Bond Huberman.
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