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Monday, November 02, 2015

On Men Interrupting Women

"The by now classic finding that men interrupt women more often than women interrupt men (West & Zimmerman, 1983; Zimmerman & West, 1975) has never been uncontroversial (for recent reviews, see Aries, 1987, and James & Clarke, 1993). Many studies have failed to find significant differences between men’s and women's interruptive behavior in mixed-gender groups (e.g., Beattie, 1981; Woods, 1939), mixed-gender dyads (e.g., Bilous & Krauss, I988; Leet-Pellegrini, 1980; Marche & Peterson, 1993), or same-gender interactions (e.g., Smith-Lovin & Brody, 1989; Marche & Peterson, 1993). Others report more interruptions by women than by men (e.g., Kennedy & Camden, 1983; Murray & Covelli, 1988; for same-gender interactions also Bilous & Krauss, 1988).

As James and Clarke (1993) and others before them have pointed out, there are many possible reasons for the divergence of these results: differences in the definitions of interruptions, the types of interaction studied, the individual characteristics of the participants such as age, social status, and institutional role, and, finally, differences in the size and composition of the groups studied. There are also methodological problems, for instance, inadequate quantitative comparisons. Most of the studies reviewed by James and Clarke (1993) compared raw counts of interruptions without taking speaking time into account. But raw counts can obviously be misleading unless men and women contribute equally to the interaction. The nine studies in the review that did use a measure that corrected for speaking time did not find any gender differences in mixed-gender dyads or groups...

The often-heard stereotype that men tend to use interruptions more often than women, and thus dominate and control discussions, was not confirmed in this study. In mixed-gender discussions, men and women of equal social status, age, and expertise were shown not to differ in interruptive speech behavior. Neither the interrupters’ nor the interruptees’ gender made a difference. This was true both in formal (FLOOR 1) and in informal (FLOOR 1 and FLOOR 2) mixed-gender discussions. In same-gender discussions, by contrast, women were found to interrupt each other less than men, suggesting that there exist separate female and male registers in this type of talk...

An earlier study involving political discussions on Dutch radio and television (Linssen-Maes & Redeker, 1992) suggests that these findings may not be generalizable to public discussions where the speakers’ reputations are at stake. In that study, men took considerably more and longer turns and interrupted at a higher rate than women (women and men, however, both interrupted male speakers more often than female speakers)...

Women and men were interrupted equally often in the mixed-gender discussions; this was true both for male and female interrupters. Yet, what about the finding that the men were more competitive in the all-male than in the mixed-gender discussions? We do not think that this can be interpreted as polite restraint on the part of the men. The interruption categories they used less in the mixed-gender discussions were the successful complex interruptions and interjections, while the percentage of successful and unsuccessful single interruptions and silent interruptions increased. This suggests that they not only gave up more easily than in the all-male discussions and reduced their interrupting comments, but also succeeded more easily in interrupting their (male and female) partners in the mixed-gender discussions. We are reminded here that we are dealing with an inherently interactive phenomenon: It takes two to produce an interruption, especially a successful one.

We can conclude, then, that the observed convergence of the female and male registers in the mixed-gender discussions was in all likelihood not an artifact of our experimental design. In fact, the pattern of men being more competitive than women in the same-gender situation and no gender difference in the mixed-gender situation corresponds to results reported by Aries (1976), Carli (1989), and others. Some of those studies (e.g., Bilous & Krauss, 1988, and Carli, 1989) also agree with the present study in observing that it is mainly the women who show a reduction in gender-specific interactional behavior when talking in a mixed-gender group (note, however, that Bilous and Krauss found more interruptions in all-female than in all-male discussions). The convergence pattern also parallels the findings of Ervin-Tripp and Lampert (1992) on the use of humor by women and by men. They found both women and men to shift their strategies towards a more equal balance in mixed-gender interactions."

--- Gender Differences in Interruptions / Gisela Redeker, Anny Maes, in Social Interaction, Social Context, and Language: Essays in Honor of Susan Ervin-tripp (ed. Dan Isaac Slobin, Julie Gerhardt, Amy Kyratzis, Jiansheng Guo)
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