Thursday, January 26, 2017

When a man hogs the mic at the the Women's March on Washington

"Who's speaking now?" asked one of the friends with me at the Women's March on Washington. The large screen nearest us had trouble with the livestream, so the images weren't always synced with the sound, or even recognizable. When I told her it was Michael Moore, the filmmaker and activist, she rolled her eyes. "He's going to go on too long. He always does."

And was she ever right. Moore, who gave a spirited speech and had many calls to action for the crowd, got carried away and began telling anecdote after anecdote. On a day when nearly 40 speakers and a dozen or more performers needed to take their turns, his was the longest, clocking in over 17 minutes. One of the few men on the program, he dominated it, making himself, in effect, a keynote speaker on a day when there were not to be any keynotes.

When we got home that night, after extricating ourselves from a crowd of what I estimate at a million marchers, my house guests and I decided to watch any of the speeches we could find online, projecting them on a large screen. After all, we'd been well back in the crowd, and wanted to hear clearly the content that had resonated with us during the march.

And that's when the discrepancies became apparent, because the timers on online videos don't lie. Woman speaker after woman speaker kept their remarks brief. They were prepared, sticking to ther notes and scripts so they wouldn't ramble. Yet staffers nudged them to keep moving or enforced time limits.

You can see it in their remarks. Most of the women kept their remarks under 10 minutes, and many were just around the 7-minute mark, suggesting that that was what had been requested. But some of the female icons of the women's movement were feeling rushed:
And whose fault was that? None other than Michael Moore, one of the only male speakers, and the one whose presentation took nearly as much time as all four of the senators and representatives taken together.

Despite scores of staffers milling about on stage, no one stopped or prodded him as they did the women speakers. In the crowd, we were getting restless. The rally before the march was scheduled for 3 hours, so we knew there would be a lot of speakers. In the age of short TED talks, 15 minutes can seem like an eternity. This talk was wearing thin on the listeners gathered.

And then there was the voice of actor Ashley Judd, booming out as she came on stage. "Michael!" she cried. "Ashley!" he said, repeating, "Ashley Judd is here!" as she launched right into introducing herself.

You can see it in this video clip, in the first few seconds. If you look closely, you can see Judd running out from behind Moore onto the other side of the stage:

Women's March on Washington: Ashley Judd Speech #WomensMarch

Moore stayed onstage, until it was clear that Judd was just going ahead with her own remarks. He never did finish his to-do list for the marchers, thanks to his own rambling.

It's a shame that the women speakers had to rush or just stop their remarks in what should have been their time to inspire, reflect, and encourage the crowd. It's a shame that the the women in the crowd didn't get to hear the women speakers at a measured pace, particularly as many participants expressed the feeling that they had no voice in the political process, and these speakers were being their voice for a day. It's a shame that the staffers who tugged on the sleeves of women speakers or turned off their mics or urged them to hurry up didn't do the same for Moore. Telling Angela Davis to wrap it up after just 2 minutes? That's shameful. Surprising Scarlett Johansen by turning off her mic? Ditto.

For Moore's part, he hogged the mic so effectively that it took Judd stopping him in just the right way, out loud and into a mic, and by taking the stage herself. It was clear that Moore understood at that moment that he'd gone on too long. But while he was talking, he wasn't rushed and he never appeared to feel the need to make sure--as other speakers did--that he stayed on time. Once he had the stage and the mic, others would have to act if they wanted him to stay on time.

That's privilege, white male speaker style. I was surprised to see it at this march, but it's a common occurrence in every day public speaking. I hope the next big event planned by the Women's March organizers takes this into consideration: The way you treat your women and men speakers on stage is noticed by the audience. On this day, it put the lie to the march's stated goals of support for women.

Most important, it's a reminder to women speakers that no one is going to clear a space for you to have adequate time for your remarks if you don't do it yourself. Even at a women's march, a man can hog the mic.

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