Manterrupting: When Will Men Stop Hijacking Women’s Narratives?

The term ‘manterrupting’ is a neologism which describes the phenomenon of men interrupting women repeatedly because they do not respect the latter’s opinion.

It is a common occurrence in the office and also at home. Once your aunt starts speaking, an uncle will inevitably cut her with a random comment related to sports, and the men gathered around will start a whole new discussion, completely sidelining anything that came out of her mouth.

I have even seen my uncle hijack my aunt’s story, saying he can “tell it better”.

It is ridiculous that we do not trust women with their own narratives, as if they are inherently unable to fight for themselves.

These biases exist in all spheres – both inside or outside our homes – and interfere with our daily wellbeing. In a New York Times op-ed titled ‘Speaking While Female’, the authors write:

“A study by a Yale psychologist, Victoria L. Brescoll, found that male senators with more power (as measured by tenure, leadership positions and track record of legislation passed) spoke more on the Senate floor than their junior colleagues. But for female senators, power was not linked to significantly more speaking time.”

The same observation can be made of Mahua Moitra’s speeches in parliament, especially the one where she emphasised the need for dissent in a democracy. Ironically, she was laughed at, heckled, with Amit Shah’s smug face being caught in the frame, as though they were putting her tremendous research and oratory skills down to female hysterics.

Why can’t we let women speak?

WomenInterrputed is a wonderful community that works towards familiarising the world with the phenomenon of ‘manterruption’. Their website holds global statistics for manterruption, as well as applications one can use to recognise discrimination in everyday conversations. In a Harvard study held in 2004, Adam M.C. Neufeld found that men were 50% more likely than women to volunteer at least one comment during class, and 144% more likely to speak voluntarily at least three times.

Also read: Why Do Women Always Serve Guests While Men Relax?

A research conducted by the Pew Research Center states that 43% of the people who responded said that women in top executive positions are held to higher standards than men. A substantial 38% believed that the high standards extended to women in public office.

The world, at large, is still uncomfortable being led by a woman. Hence, it keeps finding ways to question the women’s intelligence.

In grand narratives speaking of women and liberation, too, men take the centre stage – as if only the male counterparts of every occupation can tell a story right.

Take for instance, Pink, Dangal, Mission Mangal, or even Padman. In Pink (2016), Deepak –  a character played by Amitabh Bachchan – is plotted to deliver the message home. One of the strongest films of the decade used a male narrator to impart the “no means no” monologue.

It is arguable that Bachchan would not only draw more men to the theatres, but also make them consider the message as it came from Big B, an idol for many. Perhaps, a female narrator may have been brushed off as feminist nonsense. But that does not justify how all female narratives have been transferred to men. It is our responsibility to create a space where women are taken seriously. The fight against patriarchy only having male leads is paradoxical at best.

In Dangal, the presence of a popular male celebrity was required for the audience to even want to watch the brilliant journey of two sportswomen who have made the country proud. In Mission Mangal, Akshay Kumar graciously shares screen time with female co-stars, but he remains the lead, no matter what.

In Padman, Kumar comes off as the messiah, using the actual women – Sonam Kapoor and Radhika Apte – as mere catalysts. While the contributions of Arunachalam Muruganantham – inventor of a inexpensive pad-making machine – are exceptional, the film excessively glorifies the knight in shining armour, while seeing women as either timid and orthodox or as the sidekick.

We, the women, are hardly in possession of our own stories.

We are made out to be damsels in distress, simply because if there wasn’t anyone to save, then how would the knight prove his valour?

The idea of liberation is toyed with, and ultimately acceptable only when it comes from a man.

A YouTube channel called ‘Women in the World’ made a compilation of some instances of manterruption in popular media. It is such a wonderful and succinct (albeit hilarious) representation of the eternal hijacking of female narratives.

Reclaiming our freedom, our space, and our rights, can only be possible if we first reclaim our narrative.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty