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How Ruth Bader Ginsburg And The Women Of The Supreme Court Combat 'Mansplaining'

Apparently not even the women of the United States Supreme Court are immune to the phenomena known as “mansplaining.”


For those uninitiated, let me interrupt (or “manterrupt”) this story to explain:

man·splain
manˈsplān/
\nverb
informal
gerund or present participle: mansplaining\n
1. (of a man) explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.
The act of men interrupting women has become so prolific that someone invented an app to track it. The Woman Interrupt app records a conversation then analyzes the audio, and notes the number of times someone butts in while a woman is speaking, and spits out that enlightening information in a handy little chart. It’s clearly something the Supreme Court may want to use, too.
According to a new 77-page empirical study, researchers found that the female Supreme Court justices get interrupted at three times the rate of their male counterparts.
The paper, put together by Tonja Jacobi and Dylan Schweers from the Pritzker School of Law at Northwestern University, found that women have made up an average 24 percent of the bench in the last 12 years. In those 12 years, 32 percent of all interruptions were of women, while only a mere 4 percent were by women toward men.
"Even when women become justices of the Supreme Court, they are given less respect than the male justices give one another, and receive less deference from male advocates," the researchers wrote in a guest post for the SCOTUS blog.

The researchers noted in their blog post that in the 2015 term, Justice Elena Kagan was interrupted ten times or more each by Chief Justice John Roberts and by Justices Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy. Justice Sonia Sotomayor was interrupted 15 times by Kennedy, 14 times by Alito and 12 times by Roberts. Kennedy also interrupted Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg 11 times.

Here’s how that actually plays out in the court, as reported by Quartz:

Ginsburg: But when you take what the president undertook, which was just to use best efforts, that doesn’t sound like—

Kenneth Steven Geller: —Under the Supremacy—

Ginsburg: —this Court would have much to—

Geller: —Justice Ginsburg, I think it’s the operation of the Supremacy Clause.

Beyond simple etiquette, the behavior of the men on the bench can also have far-reaching effects in terms of outcomes by the court. As the team wrote:

This pattern of gender disparity in interruptions could create a marked difference in the relative degree of influence between the male and female justices. Furthermore, oral arguments serve other purposes, including: focusing the justices’ minds, helping them gather information to reach decisions as close as possible to their desired outcomes, and providing an opportunity to communicate and persuade their colleagues. When a justice is interrupted, her point is left unaddressed, and her ability to influence the outcome of a case or the framing of another justice’s reasoning is undermined.

The researchers, however, found one clear solution used by many of the women sitting on the bench to combat male pattern rudeness: Simply stop being so polite in the face of sexism.
“Time on the court gives women a chance to learn how to avoid being interrupted—by talking more like men,” the researchers wrote. The team explained, early in the female judge’s tenures, the women tended to frame questions more politely, using words and phrases such as, “May I ask…” “Can I ask…,” or “Excuse me.”
While seemingly the right thing to do, this pattern of language often presented the opening a male judge needed to interrupt with his own remarks. However, over time, the team found that Ginsburg and the other women gradually learn to set aside such politeness in favor of directness. The team found that three of the four women who have served on the court showed clear downward trend in their use of polite phrasing, leading to less and less interruptions by their male coworkers on the bench.
Beyond hoping on a whim and a prayer that men will somehow get the hint that the women sitting beside them are just as capable as forming a full sentence without any assistance as they are, the researchers also said that they should be relying more on Chief Justice John Roberts to act as a “referee.” However, seeing as he interrupted Justice Sotomayor a dozen times he might as well be interrupter-in-chief.
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