A New Hangman Game

Posted: April 28, 2011 by Jender in ignoring women, implicit bias

A few years ago, I began playing “hang the philosopher” at talks, lectures, and conferences. This grim little game is played just as you would play the grim little childhood game “hangman” – the goal is to sketch in a little stick figure beneath an execution scaffold – but here you draw in a part of the stick-philosopher each time the presenter is interrupted or talked over or when people converse with each other while the philosopher is speaking.

In the years I’ve done this, in what I’d estimate are 30+ talks, I’ve had pretty definitive results. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the women speakers have all been hanged quickly and decisively. Indeed, with each, I could not only sketch in the stick-figure body but could also give them earrings, scarves, and all manner of flourishes before the presentation would end. In that same time and having seen many more men speakers than women, I have never yet managed to hang a man at all. The upshot is that in my experience the incidence of subtle and often unconscious indicators of disrespect, inattention, and incivility are radically increased when women present their work. They are interrupted, spoken over, etc., at a rate at least double that of men.

As depressing as this is, I have to confess that playing the game has a certain therapeutic effect on me. I have seen in this time some truly remarkable women speakers who were, despite receiving these subtle signals, exemplars of high intellectual ability, command of their subjects, and graceful poise in ungracious environments. Being able to quantify to myself what they face and thus recognize their fortitude, emotional stamina, and persistence, I have been able to take inspiration and courage for those times when I give talks and can feel myself being hanged, complete with my own fancy earrings and jaunty scarf.

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