On a national platform, a woman who had repeatedly been spoken over by a man finally said, “I’m speaking.” On October 7, 2020, Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence took to the debate stage to show the American people what they each will stand for as Vice President if their campaign wins the 2020 presidential election. While there were many parts of the night that stood out for different reasons, many women related to Senator Harris standing her ground when Vice President Pence spoke over her or tried to cut her off.
This is not a new phenomenon that has just started taking place. Women have regularly been spoken over in public spaces by men. To show these shared experiences, three prominent women at UIS shared their encounters and offered advice on dealing with being spoken over in public spaces.
Chancellor Karen Whitney has had a successful career spanning 40 years. When asked if she has ever been spoken over by a man in a public setting, her response was simply “yes.” When asked for a specific time that stands out from her past, she made it clear that it has happened to her so often that she cannot pinpoint one single event. Because of this reality, she definitely knows how to handle these situations. Her advice is to think ahead about how to retain the stage. She stated, “if you know you’re going into a meeting that might have a lot of conflict, be prepared to be very vocal.”
Next up is Lynn Fisher, the Chair for the UIS Campus Senate and an associate professor in anthropology. When asked if she has ever been spoken over, Professor Fisher said, “[f]requently and in many settings, such as classrooms, meetings, and academic conferences.” She went on to bring up one specific instance when she was at a committee meeting in which men quite obviously outnumbered women. All members were supposed to raise their hands to be recognized by the chair but it became apparent that some men just started talking without any notice. This frustrated her but she did not notice the pattern until another female colleague brought up the issue. Professor Fisher also stated, “[r]esearch in academia, in industry, in politics show that men interrupt more frequently than women do, especially in contexts where women are in the minority.”
Last is Aislinn Diaz, the President of the UIS Student Government Association. Aislinn is only 20 years old, yet has already had many experiences of being spoken over by men. The most prominent experience for her was during her freshmen year at her first debate. She was repeatedly spoken over by the men she was debating and the moderators continued to allow it, which resulted in her finally calling out the other side for their behavior. When asked for advice for other women who share these experiences, she said:
“Since I was little, my mom and dad have always said to me, ‘Si lo quieres hacer, lo vas a ser. Siempre hay una manera cuando viene a tus sueños.’ In English, it translates to, ‘If you want to do it, you will do it. There will always be a way when it comes to your dreams.’ So, I share the same advice to women out there… at the end of the day, it’s up to you to make sure they don’t succeed in [bringing you down].”
Throughout these three women’s testimonies, a common theme is evident when considering what a woman should do when being spoken over by a man: speak up. Each woman has something important to say, and it is important to make sure that the same respect is given to women that is given to men.