from the world's big
How men continue to interrupt even the most powerful women
There are few more powerful positions than being a Supreme Court justice, yet the female justices are just like other women: talked over by their male colleagues.
The numbers do not lie: women have long been underrepresented on the United States Supreme Court. In the court’s 228-year history, only four of the 112 justices have been female. Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female justice in 1981, almost two centuries after the court’s creation, decades after ratification of the 19th Amendment, and years after landmark Supreme Court decisions on women’s rights. Now, with three female justices on the bench, gender equality on the court seems within reach. But our new research on interruptions among justices during Supreme Court oral arguments indicates that women still do not have an equal opportunity to be heard in the highest court in the land.
Psychological and linguistic research has long shown that gender plays a significant role in interruptions. In groups or one-on-one conversations, in social or professional contexts, women are disproportionately interrupted by both men and by women. And, no, this is not because women are more talkative (a common misconception): men actually talk more than women. Instead, interruptions are commonly interpreted as attempts by speakers to maximise their power through verbal dominance. Men interrupt women more because our society has historically accepted male dominance. The most recent election arguably confirmed this. There are few more powerful positions than being a Supreme Court justice, yet the female justices are just like other women: talked over by their male colleagues.
Oral arguments at the Supreme Court are the primary interactions among the notoriously cloistered justices. Advocates have only half an hour per side to make their case to the justices. The justices pepper the advocates with questions, gathering information to aid their decisions on the disputes, test out ideas, and attempt to influence one another. Scholars have shown that oral arguments shape case outcomes, so any systematic interference with the female justices’ ability to fully participate will limit their substantive power on the court.
We analysed interruptions among the justices, using transcripts of the oral arguments from the current era (the years 2004-2015 of Chief Justice John Roberts’s court), as well as earlier years when there were only one and two women on the court – the 1990 and 2002 terms, respectively. In the past 12 years, when women made up on average 24 per cent of the bench, 32 per cent of interruptions were of the female justices, yet only 4 per cent of interruptions were by the female justices. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were each interrupted more than 100 times by their colleagues. Overall, female justices were three times more likely to be interrupted than their male colleagues. The same pattern held in earlier years: even though there were far fewer interruptions back in 1990 and 2002, justices O’Connor and Ginsburg were interrupted just under three times more often than the average male justice.
So what exactly do these interruptions look like? Here is an example from the 2015 term, Bank Markazi vs Peterson, a case brought against Iran’s central bank by victims of terrorist attacks:
Justice Ginsburg: Is there – are there any –
Justice Anthony M Kennedy: Well, suppose there were three unrelated cases.
Jeffrey A Lamken [on behalf of Bank Markazi]: Pardon?
Justice Kennedy: Suppose there were three unrelated cases. Would the statute pass?
Lamken: Yes. So if Congress had identified three unrelated cases and – and said that for these unrelated cases –
Justice Ginsburg began asking her question first, but Justice Kennedy interrupted, and the advocate answered his question. A moment later, Justice Kennedy realised what had happened:
Justice Kennedy: I – I inadvertently interrupted Justice Ginsburg, but in the – in the 19 cases here, you don’t find that principle?
Lamken: No, Your Honour. There aren’t 19 cases here.
Justice Kennedy acknowledged the interruption, yet instead of giving Justice Ginsburg the floor, he continued with another question of his own. This is just one example of the numerous times in which male justices interrupt female justices.
Male justices are not the only culprits. Despite strict rules that mandate advocates stop talking immediately when a justice begins speaking, the male advocates interrupt the female justices at extraordinary rates. Male advocates account for approximately 10 per cent of all interruptions; female advocates account for approximately 0 per cent. So the pattern we observe of female justices being systematically interrupted is not simply a product of an idiosyncratic handful of male justices – the same dominant behaviour is displayed among the hundreds of advocates appearing before the court.
Republicans have dominated the court for the past half-century. If interruptions are a product of dominance, then we should expect that conservatives will interrupt liberals more than vice versa. And this is in fact exactly what we see: liberal justices are interrupted approximately 2.5 times as often as conservative justices. Also, advocates interrupt liberal justices more than three times as often as they interrupt conservative justices, and advocates arguing the conservative side of an issue interrupt justices more than advocates arguing the liberal side. This support for the theory of interruptions as a form of dominance suggests that male justices and male advocates view the female justices as people they can dominate.
Could seniority explain these differences? Senior justices interrupt junior justices more frequently than vice versa, and the difference is statistically significant. But gender is 30 times more powerful in explaining interruptions than seniority. However, the length of a justice’s tenure on the court matters more in one important respect. Time on the court gives women a chance to learn how to avoid being interrupted – by talking more like men.
Early in their tenures, female justices tend to frame questions politely, using prefatory words such as ‘May I ask…’, ‘Can I ask…’, ‘Excuse me’ or beginning with the advocate’s name. The vast majority of interruptions occur at the beginning of a justice’s dialogue, and these polite preliminaries are an opportunity for another justice to jump in before the justice gets to the substance of her question. We found that women gradually learn to set aside such politeness. All four women who have served on the court show clear downward trends in their use of polite phrasing. Almost all the men enter the court using low levels of such polite language.
Justice is interrupted when a justice is interrupted. When a justice is interrupted during her questioning, her point is often left unaddressed. Because women and liberal justices are interrupted at significantly higher rates than the other members of the court, this could make it much harder for women to make arguments and win votes during the post-conference process. That in turn could ultimately lead to more conservative decisions and reduction in the influence of women justices. Reducing their use of polite phrasing mitigates but does not entirely prevent interruptions: women continue to be interrupted more than men, and Sotomayor is interrupted despite minimal use of this language.
These findings have implications beyond the court, for broader society. If gender dynamics are robust enough to persist even in the face of high levels of power achieved by women, that points to a systematic problem within our society. In the wake of the media attention surrounding our study, both women and men sent us numerous stories of experiencing or witnessing a similar pattern of interruptions in other parts of the legal profession, from probate court to state supreme courts to law-firm partner meetings.
There is much reason to feel disheartened and disappointed by both our empirical evidence and the anecdotes shared with us. But there are ways to combat this issue. First, on an institutional level, there could be better enforcement by the chief justice by preventing an interrupter – even an interrupting justice – from continuing with his question and directing the advocate back to the interruptee. The chief justice could also enforce the existing rule that prohibits advocates from interrupting the justices, which would set an example for the advocates, the justices, and the public who watch or listen to the arguments. Second, on a societal level, raising awareness is essential. Men need to recognise that this occurs in order to change their behaviour, while women need to fight it or adapt. Therefore, research like ours has the potential to open the eyes of the justices, others in the legal profession, and society at large to this subtle but pervasive form of gender bias.
Tonja Jacobi & Dylan Schweers
This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.
Evolution doesn't clean up after itself very well.
- An evolutionary biologist got people swapping ideas about our lingering vestigia.
- Basically, this is the stuff that served some evolutionary purpose at some point, but now is kind of, well, extra.
- Here are the six traits that inaugurated the fun.
The plica semilunaris<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgwMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMTgyMzg1NX0.ZY8qmhtoZfbRMAqrNnmbgyk7GLabglx_9lBq3PKcy7g/img.png?width=980" id="99882" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="68e8758894b0359c6ef61b2c158832b2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The human eye in alarming detail. Image source: Henry Gray / Wikimedia commons<p>At the inner corner of our eyes, closest to the nasal ridge, is that little pink thing, which is probably what most of us call it, called the caruncula. Next to it is the plica semilunairs, and it's what's left of a third eyelid that used to — ready for this? — blink horizontally. It's supposed to have offered protection for our eyes, and some birds, reptiles, and fish have such a thing.</p>
Palmaris longus<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzQ1NjUwMn0.dVor41tO_NeLkGY9Tx46SwqhSVaA8HZQmQAp532xLxA/img.jpg?width=980" id="879be" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="970e9c15f3c3d846dde05e2b2c6ebf12" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Palmaris longus muscle. Image source: Wikimedia commons<p> We don't have much need these days, at least most of us, to navigate from tree branch to tree branch. Still, about 86 percent of us still have the wrist muscle that used to help us do it. To see if you have it, place the back of you hand on a flat surface and touch your thumb to your pinkie. If you have a muscle that becomes visible in your wrist, that's the palmaris longus. If you don't, consider yourself more evolved (just joking).</p>
Darwin's tubercle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgxMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODUyNjA1MX0.8RuU-OSRf92wQpaPPJtvFreOVvicEwn39_jnbegiUOk/img.jpg?width=980" id="687a0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b38a957408940673ccc744f0f6828d18" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Darwin's tubercle. Image source: Wikimedia commons<p> Yes, maybe the shell of you ear does feel like a dried apricot. Maybe not. But there's a ridge in that swirly structure that's a muscle which allowed us, at one point, to move our ears in the direction of interesting sounds. These days, we just turn our heads, but there it is.</p>
Goosebumps<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMxNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNzEyNTc2Nn0.aVMa5fsKgiabW5vkr7BOvm2pmNKbLJF_50bwvd4aRo4/img.jpg?width=980" id="d8420" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f735418322b34382dcd882299c9ccc48" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Goosebumps. Photo credit: Tyler Olson via Shutterstock<p>It's not entirely clear what purpose made goosebumps worth retaining evolutionarily, but there are two circumstances in which they appear: fear and cold. For fear, they may have been a way of making body hair stand up so we'd appear larger to predators, much the way a cat's tail puffs up — numerous creatures exaggerate their size when threatened. In the cold, they may have trapped additional heat for warmth.</p>
Tailbone<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMxNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDMzMDc3N30.p9BEtkf3-PV3EtDSQMUGUeopsimiCHUagx97P4f8IBw/img.jpg?width=980" id="e8ab8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0063ce99bdd22fbebe1279244b87935c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Coccyx. Image source: decade3d-anatomy online via Shutterstock<p>Way back, we had tails that probably helped us balance upright, and was useful moving through trees. We still have the stump of one when we're embryos, from 4–6 weeks, and then the body mostly dissolves it during Weeks 6–8. What's left is the coccyx.</p>
The palmar grasp reflex<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMyMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjY0MDY5NX0.OSwReKLmNZkbAS12-AvRaxgCM7zyukjQUaG4vmhxTtM/img.jpg?width=980" id="8804c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="45469ca5ee5f43433a782f7d4ac0a440" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Palmar reflex activated! Photo credit: Raul Luna on Flickr<p> You've probably seen how non-human primate babies grab onto their parents' hands to be carried around. We used to do this, too. So still, if you touch your finger to a baby's palm, or if you touch the sole of their foot, the palmar grasp reflex will cause the hand or foot to try and close around your finger.</p>
Other people's suggestions<p>Amir's followers dove right in, offering both cool and questionable additions to her list. </p>
Fangs?<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Lower mouth plate behind your teeth. Some have protruding bone under the skin which is a throw back to large fangs. Almost like an upsidedown Sabre Tooth.</p>— neil crud (@neilcrud66) <a href="https://twitter.com/neilcrud66/status/1085606005000601600?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Hiccups<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sure: <a href="https://t.co/DjMZB1XidG">https://t.co/DjMZB1XidG</a></p>— Stephen Roughley (@SteBobRoughley) <a href="https://twitter.com/SteBobRoughley/status/1085529239556968448?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Hypnic jerk as you fall asleep<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">What about when you “jump” just as you’re drifting off to sleep, I heard that was a reflex to prevent falling from heights.</p>— Bann face (@thebanns) <a href="https://twitter.com/thebanns/status/1085554171879788545?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <p> This thing, often called the "alpha jerk" as you drop into alpha sleep, is properly called the hypnic jerk,. It may actually be a carryover from our arboreal days. The <a href="https://www.livescience.com/39225-why-people-twitch-falling-asleep.html" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">hypothesis</a> is that you suddenly jerk awake to avoid falling out of your tree.</p>
Nails screeching on a blackboard response?<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Everyone hate the sound of fingernails on a blackboard. It's _speculated_ that this is a vestigial wiring in our head, because the sound is similar to the shrill warning call of a chimp. <a href="https://t.co/ReyZBy6XNN">https://t.co/ReyZBy6XNN</a></p>— Pet Rock (@eclogiter) <a href="https://twitter.com/eclogiter/status/1085587006258888706?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Ear hair<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Ok what is Hair in the ears for? I think cuz as we get older it filters out the BS.</p>— Sarah21 (@mimix3) <a href="https://twitter.com/mimix3/status/1085684393593561088?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Nervous laughter<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">You may be onto something. Tooth-bearing with the jaw clenched is generally recognized as a signal of submission or non-threatening in primates. Involuntary smiling or laughing in tense situations might have signaled that you weren’t a threat.</p>— Jager Tusk (@JagerTusk) <a href="https://twitter.com/JagerTusk/status/1085316201104912384?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 15, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Um, yipes.<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sometimes it feels like my big toe should be on the side of my foot, was that ever a thing?</p>— B033? K@($ (@whimbrel17) <a href="https://twitter.com/whimbrel17/status/1085559016011563009?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Researchers are using technology to make visual the complex concepts of racism, as well as its political and social consequences.
- Often thought of first as gaming tech, virtual reality has been increasingly used in research as a tool for mimicking real-life scenarios and experiences in a safe and controlled environment.
- Focusing on issues of oppression and the ripple affect it has throughout America's political, educational, and social systems, Dr. Courtney D. Cogburn of Columbia University School of Social Work and her team developed a VR experience that gives users the opportunity to "walk a mile" in the shoes of a black man as he faces racism at three stages in his life: as a child, during adolescence, and as an adult.
- Cogburn says that the goal is to show how these "interwoven oppressions" continue to shape the world beyond our individual experiences. "I think the most important and powerful human superpower is critical consciousness," she says. "And that is the ability to think, be aware and think critically about the world and people around you...it's not so much about the interpersonal 'Do I feel bad, do I like you?'—it's more 'Do I see the world as it is? Am I thinking critically about it and engaging it?'"
President Vladimir Putin announces approval of Russia's coronavirus vaccine but scientists warn it may be unsafe.
A new coronavirus vaccine on display at the Nikolai Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia.
Credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/ Russian Direct Investment Fund via AP
Medical workers draw blood from volunteers participating in a trial of a coronavirus vaccine at the Budenko Main Military Hospital outside Moscow, Russia.
Credit: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
A report from the New York Times raises questions over how the teletherapy startup Talkspace handles user data.