Getting Heard

Drmarts drmarts at
Mon Jan 15 10:08:41 EST 1996

Re: several stories about women's contributions to discussion being
ignored in favor of men...

As a founding member of HAWAP (Hard-Assed Women Against Patriarchy <G>), I
am ashamed to admit that I don't have a ready answer for how to deal with
this situation. My suggestion is to check out some of the books by
feminist linguists and communications types - Suzanne Haden Elgin, Deborah
Tannen, etc. I think Deborah Tannen has a book out that specifically
addresses male-female communication in the workplace, and may address this
situation specifically (I'd be surprised if she didn't, it's so common.) I
haven't read the book so I can't comment on its quality or usefulness.

I used to teach something called confrontation training, which is a method
for dealing with harassment. There are four basic steps to a
confrontation, and I've been trying to figure out how they might apply to
this situation. Here, much abbreviated, are the steps:
1. Make eye contact while maintaining neutral body language (e.g. hands at
sides, no finger-pointing).
2. Name the behavior in a way that generalizes it, with no apology or
qualification (e.g. "Making comments about women's bodies is harassment)
3. Tell him to stop the behavior you named, again in a way that
generalizes the behavior (e.g. "Stop harassing women)
4. Maintain eye contact for 3 full seconds after you finish speaking.

Would this work in a seminar/journal club/meeting? I'm not sure - it might
be perceived as too aggressive or confrontational. Maybe it could be used
to confront the "perpetrator" after the meeting. The behavior statement
could be something like: "You ignored my contribution to the discussion
and gave Joe credit for saying the same thing I said. Ignoring people's
contributions to discussions is rude. Next time you should pay more
attention to who is speaking and what they are saying." The hard thing is
to avoid using words or phrases like "please" and "excuse me" and to avoid
I-statements (you ignored me, I felt ignored) - in a situation like this
these things weaken your message.

As I said, I'm not sure this approach is appropriate (unless the episode
is particularly aggregious, obvious, or obnoxious). 


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