Thursday, August 3, 2017

When the male moderator won't let the lone woman panelist speak

It's what women speakers dread about panels with just one woman on them: What happens if the guys overtalk you and the moderator ignores you? Or worse, starts mansplaining your answers so you can't get a word in edgewise. The answer in one recent incident turned out to be "look to the audience for a solution."

Writing on Facebook, audience member Marilee Talkington reported on what happened during a session she attended at the World Science Festival in New York City in early June. The panel was comprised of 5 men and one woman. Talkington writes:
In the first hour of the panel discussion you can see clearly, if watching the video, that Veronika Hubeny, the only woman on the panel is barely given any opportunity to speak. 
And the Moderator, Jim Holt even acknowledges this. 
In the last 20-30 minutes of the 90 minute discussion Jim Holt finally pushes the conversation to Hubeny's field of expertise, string theory, and this is what ensued: 
He asked her to describe her two theories of string theory that seem to contradict one another. 
And THEN, without letting her answer, proceeded to answer for her and describe HER theories in detail without letting her speak for herself. 
We could clearly see that she was trying to speak up. But he continued to talk over her and dominate the space for several minutes.
Talkington, who was live-streaming the talk herself, knew that a larger audience also was watching this mansplaining remotely, in addition to the large crowd in the hall. Then:
With my hands shaking,
I finally say from my seat in the 2nd row of the audience, as clearly, directly and loudly as possible;
"Let. Her. Speak. Please!"
The moderator stops.
They all stop.
The auditorium drops into silence.
You could hear a pin drop.
And then the audience explodes with applause and screams.
Jim Holt eventually sat back, only after saying I was heckling him
And he let her speak.
And of course, she was brilliant.
And as this account adds, the audience burst into applause. It's a good reminder that the audience--the intended recipients of your wisdom--don't like women being ignored and talked over. And they are the people you are here to make happy, moderators and panelists, no matter what you think.

Start watching a little before the 1:05 mark in the video below to see this moment. While you watch, consider the words of Rebecca Solnit, who coined the term "mansplaining:"
It's the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harrassment on the street does, that this is not their world.
Everything about this panel--the preponderance of men, the man guiding the conversation to the other men, the mansplaining--underscores that thought.

I love that the title of the session is "Pondering the Imponderables," when the main imponderable is why it took almost an hour to turn to the lone woman on the panel in a session--that's two-thirds of the way into a 90-minute session--and then the moderator felt compelled to try to answer her answers for her. A hat tip to Technically Speaking for pointing me to this egregious example.

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