Carnegie Mellon University
October 22, 2020

Women Interrupted: A New Strategy for Male-Dominated Discussions

By Jason Maderer

Jason Maderer
  • Marketing & Communications
  • 412-268-1151

For decades, Carnegie Mellon University’s Joanna Wolfe has studied the role gender plays in communication. Specifically, her research investigates how often men and women speak, interrupt and talk over one another. She also studies how people are perceived when they stand up for themselves when ignored.

This expertise provides Wolfe a unique perspective in advance of this week’s final presidential debate, to be moderated by Kristen Welker, a Black woman.

“The research is pretty clear: While both sexes interrupt, men talk and interrupt more often than women. Some of that is because society has accepted that it’s normal and natural that men tend to talk more,” said Wolfe, a teaching professor of English in Carnegie Mellon’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “And when a woman complains or stands up for herself, she’s more likely to be negatively viewed than her male peers.”

Organizers for Thursday’s debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have established new rules. Each candidate’s microphone will be muted when his rival answers Welker’s questions. Welker won’t be in control of turning the microphones on and off, but Wolfe says the decision gives her a bit more control as she tries to maintain order among the two men. It will be tough, Wolfe said, as research shows that women or people of color are more likely to be dismissed and ignored.

Read the full story