Anchors and Anchorettes

by Maria on August 10, 2006

Until a couple of weeks ago, I kept my television at the bottom of a cupboard. The idea was to waste no time watching tv when I should be studying. Now I watch the news every morning instead of reading improving literature. And it is starting to drive me up the bloody wall.

Whatever channel is on, it’s always the same set up; an older man and a younger woman tag-team the reporting, switching hyperactively from screens on either side, back to each other, and on to full-screen reports. Which is bearable, if patronising. Whenever the man is talking, the woman looks at him, listens, clearly engaged, nods slightly at the right bits, matches her facial expressions to his speech. It’s almost imperceptible, a simple empathic behaviour most women do when others speak. But every bloody time the woman opens her mouth, the man stares straight ahead, completely ignoring her, and only barely acknowledges her when it’s his turn to cut in.

I know, I know. This is how conversations go, whether in a private or professional settings. I can’t tell how many times I’ve seen women colleagues cut off by men in a group conversation. The men don’t seem to even notice they do it – it’s as if they have a divine right to speak at any moment. Yet when male colleagues are in full flight, we do our ‘active listening’, and send out all those signals which we think are supportive of their right to speak, and they probably think are just weak. Because they sure as hell almost never send them back.

There are several ways to respond to being cut off and talked over. Mostly I ignore it unless he’s a repeat offender. Then, I just keep talking. It makes the point that you were already talking and aren’t about to back out of the conversation. It injects a noise level and tension into the conversation that wasn’t there before and is frankly unpleasant – which is a fair way to spread the pain around, I think. Otherwise, of course, I just turn off the telly.



marsha 08.10.06 at 9:20 am

I usually hold my hand up in thier face, somtimes holding up a finger to be more elegant about it, and don’t bother even pausing to do it until I’ve finished my thought.

men hate it but they get over it and you don’t have to do it for too long with the same guy.


Ray 08.10.06 at 9:25 am

I couldn’t find the story, but I remember reading about research that was conducted in the classroom, about how much boys and girls participated. It found that boys spoke more, and were also called on more, even by female teachers. The girls who participated most were described as ‘pushy’ and as forcing themselves on the class, and their teachers all overestimated how much they actually spoke, even female teachers.


robert the red 08.10.06 at 9:28 am

We don’t have a divine right to interrupt? Oops. I apologize. 9348 times.


Maria 08.10.06 at 9:28 am

I think it might even have been ‘especially’ women teachers – which was one of the surprising outcomes. But I don’t remember where the result was either…


Matt_Bishop 08.10.06 at 9:29 am

You should see all the fuss being made over here about the fact that America is to get its first female anchor on the evening news, Katie Couric, who has been hired for a fortune by CBS in a move that is seen as make or break for CBS news –
the old men in suits approach to news (Dan Rather etc) having lost its appeal of late. Having grown up with Angela Rippon, Moira Stewart, Kirstie Wark and the rest, the revolution strikes me as rather late in reaching America – but progress of sorts, Maria?


Adam Kotsko 08.10.06 at 9:36 am

I think that Mary Daly should become a TV news anchor, because she would likely fix this problem.


Maria 08.10.06 at 9:38 am

Certainly – though I grew up RTE newsreaders, several of whom are women. And indeed the main current affairs programme is hosted by a woman. For my money, the C4 new readers are by far the least annoying by any measure.


Maria 08.10.06 at 9:39 am

You mean Mary Daly the historian….?


C.J.Colucci 08.10.06 at 9:43 am

Another thing you may eventually find annoying on local TV news, particularly the late-evening broadcasts (the only ones I’m home to watch) is the “live stand-up” at a location where nothing is happening live. A typical example is someone standing outside a darkened, empty courthouse at 11:15 p.m. telling a story that happened hours earlier and introducing footage shot at the time. Why do they do this?


Ray 08.10.06 at 9:44 am

I think RTE largely avoids the problem by not showing both anchors on screen at the same time (or by only having one anchor). What is the point of showing both anchors anyway?


Ray 08.10.06 at 9:46 am

Private Eye loves reporting those pointless outside broadcasts – especially when the on-the-spot reporter is standing outside an empty building, where something is scheduled to happen in several hours but hasn’t actually happened yet.


lavalady 08.10.06 at 10:08 am

I haven’t been able to watch televised news for awhile (but the BBC World broadcast isn’t as bad as American news), and this is one of those things I don’t miss. It’s maddening to see that difference in attentiveness. I have noticed that george bush often treats both men and women with the same inattentiveness…


akumasmith 08.10.06 at 10:39 am

When some one cuts me off, I always just say “no, no, no, no, no” and shake my head. They always stop talking after a moment, curious why this is happening, and I pick up where I left off.


nick s 08.10.06 at 10:40 am

The pointless OB is a mainstay of American local news, where you’ll get ‘live from’ a parking lot where something happened two days previously. The semiotics are obvious — if it’s ‘live from’, then it’s newsier than a studio report, and if it’s a piece to camera, then it’s newsier than a voiceover. Utterly pointless, and well parodied by the Daily Show’s green-screen pieces to camera.

I want to know where they clone the anchor couples: they’re scarily similar from state to state and city to city.


roger 08.10.06 at 11:24 am

Maria, why are you watching the news? This doesn’t seem like a good idea, unless it is for some project in cretinization and its discontents. In terms of content, style, and informativeness, tv news ranks way behind, say, Divorce Court or Jerry Springer reruns.


mpowell 08.10.06 at 11:53 am

The design reviews where I work tend to be rowdy affairs. You kind of have to jump in when someone slows down or you won’t get a chance to speak. Sometimes I even notice that I interrupt someone if I have a quick answer to the issue their raising. I guess this could be considered rude, but as long as thing don’t get too out of control it can help speed things along by avoiding distractions, which is really valuable. These meetings are mostly men. I wonder if it would be different if they were mostly women.


Jeffrey 08.10.06 at 1:11 pm

Meetings run by women usually run on and on while everyone desperately tries to “feel each other” and move heaven and earth to avoid looking like they disagree or break the otherwise sultifying enforced consensus.


DC 08.10.06 at 1:29 pm

I do this, but not because I’m a man, rather because if I have something to say it’s usually more interesting than what the people around me are saying. Oh, I know most men-interruptors probably think that as well, but it’s actually true of me. At the very least, I’m more interested in what I have to say, and my own judgement is really all I have to go by here. Think of it as a conversational equivalent to liberal imperialism/humanitarian intervention/civilising mission/social engineering.

By the way, is this something men do, or try, with other men, or is it just with weak/polite women?


Bill McNeill 08.10.06 at 1:33 pm

I just keep talking too. In fact, with a couple people I know this form of counter-interruption has become a conversational technique in itself, a little cacaphonous, but not unduly tense. This manner of speaking was a kind of house style among programmers at Microsoft when I worked there in the 90s, and can be less obnoxious than it sounds. Then and now, I encounter all my interruptors at work, in involved technical conversations, where the lack of turn-taking is a sign of energy and enthusiasm. They interrupt because they can’t wait to respond, not because they haven’t been listening. (Even so, I wish people would shut up for the extra five seconds it takes for me to finish what I’m saying.)

This tech-geek interruption phenomenon is different from what the post is describing. It’s the product of all-too-active listening, not obviously gendered, and ultimately not as disrespectful. I don’t get the other kind, but my wife is very aware of men who’ll consistently cut off women in coversation, and it infuriates her. The solution in both situations is the same though: keep talking.


Sebastian holsclaw 08.10.06 at 2:54 pm

“This tech-geek interruption phenomenon is different from what the post is describing. It’s the product of all-too-active listening, not obviously gendered, and ultimately not as disrespectful. I don’t get the other kind, but my wife is very aware of men who’ll consistently cut off women in coversation, and it infuriates her.”

This is the conversational norm in my family (both with men and women). I didn’t realize how odd it was until my brother’s wife came over for Thanksgiving for the first time. She was almost in tears for two days in a row until she finally burst out with–can’t anyone let me talk!


Martin James 08.10.06 at 3:29 pm

I’m curious as to what Maria thinks is the cause of this behaviour.


yoyo 08.10.06 at 3:33 pm

My impression is that men do this with men, too. It seems like a way of ensuring that the person with the best thing to say is the one talking (willingness to talk over being taken as a sign of how confident one is that what one is going to say is relevent/interestnig/useful.) its informationally focused, not rapport focused.


lemuel pitkin 08.10.06 at 4:21 pm

My impression is that this is strongly gendered behavior, though of course there are exceptions.

Related to the study mentioned above, I recall a study of when people laughed in covnersation. For the most part, people were most likely to laugh at something they themselves had said. The exception was women, in coversation with men, were more likely to laugh at the man’s comments than their own.


Alison 08.10.06 at 4:22 pm

People who interrupt because they are confident that their ideas are the most interesting are ‘informationally focussed’? Do me a favour.


Michael Last 08.10.06 at 7:13 pm

I also come from a family of the “active listener” school of interruption. My last roommate was not raised in that culture, and would say, “will you let me finish speaking” to overrule my interruptions. It cut down on them, but didn’t eliminate them.

Other than my anecdote, my point is to be aware that some people who cut in are being very respectful when they do so – they are saying that they are engaged with what you are saying, and understand the point that you are making. In my case, it is also that I’m excited by the ideas we are discussing. Raising a hand or finger is a polite way to stop somebody – you are acknowledging what they are doing, but saying that you have something non-obvious to add. Saying “no, no, no, no” while shaking your head is more likely to irk somebody.


clew 08.10.06 at 7:18 pm

I also worked at Microsoft in the late 90s, and even in techinical meetings men interrupted women more than they interrupted each other. That wasn’t as annoying as women’s ideas being ignored until a man claimed them five minutes later.

I should say that the ‘soft wasn’t as bad as most places, partly due to a mild belief in meritocracy, more due to a lot of variation in group styles, mostly due to a need to keep increasing the number of geek-hours worked; but it wasn’t anything like gender-blind.


anonymous 08.10.06 at 7:26 pm

It is even possible for a blog comment by a female-named person to be ignored or treated as a diversion from the main discourse among male-named or gender-neutral commenterse. Just sayin’.

(gender withheld)


Whizzle 08.10.06 at 10:01 pm

Re: parking lot “live” shots & other pointless news techniques- I can’t help noticing the amount of advertising that is done during the newscast. “Tonight on Nancy Grace: Was the District Attourney a space alien? Later on Glenn Beck, Can you teach dogs to play the saxaphone?”
I also hate it when they broadcast a couple of hours of standoff footage, of a parked car, during which absolutely nothing happens. Just wait until you have an actual news event and then tell me about that.

Re: interruptions- I’m male and get interrupted constantly. I’m convinced that most people are either suffering attention deficit disorder, or are just plain rude and self important. I think carefully and construct the most efficient response I can before I begin to speak, so interruptions really aggravate me. Sometimes I just keep talking, and sometimes I respond equally rudely, for example, by saying “If you could shut up long enough for me to express a complete thought you wouldn’t have to ask that question.”

Once, while explaining a complex problem to the owner of the laboratory where I was employed, I was interrupted repeatedly. I finally just dumped all my papers on his desk, and said “F*ck it, figure it out for yourself.” People will respect you to the extent that you demand it of them.


sprite 08.11.06 at 9:13 am

I read somewhere that guys from a very young age learn that when in group conversation, they have to hold the floor, or else their ideas won’t be heard. Girls, on the other hand, learn that other girls and women expect them to listen, and will even make sure they are heard when they want to speak. (Obviously that’s a generalization, and I can personally attest that it’s not always natural for members of either sex. When I was a girl, I often interrupted or talked out in class without raising my hand. I had to learn how to listen in order to get on better with other girls.)

The point is, these two styles don’t mix well, and that’s why women are so often interrupted by men. Even in New York, where interruption is a normal, unoffensive part of conversation, I’m more likely to be cut off by a man than a woman, and women will say, “But you were saying…?” while men won’t.

I guess beacause of this, I don’t take it personally when a man interrupts me – unless it’s clear he thinks he’s more interesting than anyone around him. In that case I figure he’s just an arrogant jerk.


Matt Kuzma 08.11.06 at 1:58 pm

Yet when male colleagues are in full flight, we do our ‘active listening’, and send out all those signals which we think are supportive of their right to speak, and they probably think are just weak.

I certainly don’t think they’re weak, I think they’re insipid and disingenuous. If I’m complaining about my day, I appreciate some empathy and I get it from both men and women. But if I’m explianing the means by which genetic mutations spread throughout a populace, someone who is really listening will propably manage little more than a slight grin as they concentrate on the ideas. I’ve found that the people who get the most from something are the ones who look like they’re confused and frustrated, because when you’re focusing your attention on understanding, you lose all awareness of your facial expression.

And if you’re nodding along it tells me not that you’re actively listening, but that you’re waiting for your turn to speak.


jimbo 08.11.06 at 9:32 pm

Bill Mcneil –

But didn’t they fix that when they went to the NT code base and replaced the interrupt-driven, cooperative multitasker with true preemption?

(Of course, Unix has always been preemptive – maybe that’s why Unix geeks seem to live in their own little worlds…)

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