So much for blogging once a week while writing my first draft. I’ve neglected this blog in recent weeks—I hate to think how many—but I’m getting close to the end of the first draft (but not the book). Anyway, I thought I’d share something that happened at church a few weeks ago.
My husband and I were in Sunday school, and a bit of discussion had stirred among us. (I don’t remember the topic; it’s not relevant.) Several men had comments, then a young woman sitting in front of me started to speak. The teacher interrupted and talked over her, almost as if he hadn’t heard her voice.
Even though she was in the front row.
Even though she was less than two feet from him.
Even though her voice is not particularly soft, and she isn’t shy about speaking publicly.
He simply acted as if he hadn’t heard her and it was time for him to begin teaching again.
I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt: maybe he truly didn’t hear her. Maybe he was unaware of the message this sent. Maybe he just had a mental blip and opened his mouth and started teaching. Who knows? There’s no point in attributing hostile motivations to everyone who does something I don’t like.
I fumed. I know that feeling of being interrupted, and it’s not pleasant. I didn’t know if she felt the same way, but in a way, her feelings (and mine) were irrelevant. The act of interrupting was important. No matter where or when or how it happens, this act sends a message to everyone, whether they’re conscious of it or not.
My words need to be heard more than yours.
It creates an imbalance of power, where the interrupter has power and the interrupted does not.
Parents teach children not to interrupt adults while they’re talking. Why? Because it’s rude and disrespectful. (The exception to the no-interrupting rule is an emergency: blood, fire, broken bones, alien invasions, and the like.)
So I fumed.
Long ago, I read an article about how to respond to men interrupting women, whether that’s in the workplace, in the classroom, or other situations. One nugget of advice stuck in my head: If you, male or female, hear a man interrupt a woman, stand up for her.
It doesn’t have to be confrontational, abrasive, disrespectful, or rude. (Those attitudes are counterproductive, in my opinion, and ignore the underlying need for respect in human relationships.) It can be pointed or subtle. But do it.
I waited for the teacher to pause for breath, then leaned forward. “So, what were you going to say? You were going to add something earlier, weren’t you?”
“Oh,” she responded, “I was going to say . . .” And her comment was as perceptive and pertinent to the discussion as any of the comments from the previous male speakers.
The discussion went on. My husband squeezed my knee. Good work, he was saying. Good work.
We’ve discussed this incident since then, my husband and I, and he asked me an interesting question. “Would you have been equally as bothered if a woman had interrupted a man? Would you have noticed?”
I considered that. I would have noticed; it would’ve been out of the ordinary (in our church, certainly!) and I would’ve noticed.
I would have been bothered. Would I have been equally bothered?
If I consider it only from a sociological, big-picture point of view, probably not; it doesn’t reinforce the male dominance that’s been entrenched in our culture for too long.
But if I consider the interruption from a personal perspective, I am equally disturbed. Disrespect is wrong, no matter who is doing the disrespecting or who is being disrespected.
And it might be personally devastating for certain men, particularly those who are otherwise unvalued by society; those who have been silenced by life circumstances and shamed by others in power; those who are simply shy people, afraid of speaking in public. I know men like this. An interruption of their words has the potential to be devastating to their minds and hearts.
Women need to be careful not to crush a man’s words, just like men need to be careful not to crush a woman’s words.
And if you say, “Oh, but men have been dominant for so long that now it’s OUR turn!” I have to wonder if you want equality or dominance. Replacing one form of oppression with another isn’t right, and it’s not a healthy attitude.
True equality means taking the bad with the good: taking responsibility for mistakes or wrong doings (and not blaming someone else); listening when others speak (even if you hate what they’re saying); and respecting other people (even when you’d rather flatten them with a steamroller). It’s called treating others as you’d like to be treated. It’s one reason I didn’t interrupt the teacher to point out his previous interruption. There might be a time for doing that, but this wasn’t it.
All that to say: if you hear someone—female or male—interrupted, please stand up for that person. Everyone is valuable. Let’s be willing to listen to the words of both genders.