I have been watching a lot of one particular daily TV show lately. I actually recommend this show to you, though I am not an objective observer. The show is Ancient Jewish Wisdom, hosted by my husband and me. While I think the content is fascinating, I was trying to track one specific feature. Do I interrupt my husband too much?
Two—not one, but two—recent letters accusing me of exactly that precipitated my reviewing past shows. Both letters were from women and to be fair, we have received many more than two letters from men and women telling us how much they enjoy the on-air interaction between us. However—please pay attention here—to my recollection, we have never received a letter saying that my husband interrupts me.
Let me state right away, that we have taped close to 400 Ancient Wisdom Shows. That adds up to about 200 hours of talking. My perusal of a few shows reveals that as professional as we try to be, each of us sometimes interrupts the other. On balance, I’m sure I definitely break in to my husband’s words more frequently than he does to mine, but there is a simple explanation for that. (And it’s not what you think!)
The Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV show is actually the second TV show we have hosted. The first was many years ago, on a local station out of Portland, Oregon. My husband was invited to tape a few shows there and we took the opportunity to drive there together from Seattle via the scenic route down the coast, rather than him flying there alone. To my surprise, and perhaps a little dismay, when we arrived at the studio I discovered that I was expected to be part of the program as well. Although I had occasionally filled in for my husband’s radio show, television was a new ballgame to me and not one in which I was sure I would feel comfortable.
After some back-of-room bargaining with my husband, I consented when he agreed that I could chime in whenever I wished, but he was responsible for ensuring that there was no dead air time. In other words, the onus was on him to keep the show moving. To this very day we retain that arrangement whenever we appear in person together or tape broadcasts. One of the results of this arrangement is that while I will frequently throw the discussion to my husband after I have said my piece, he rarely throws it to me because he has agreed not to catch me unaware. When I do have something to say (which is often!) I have no option but to fling myself into the conversation. Perhaps we should resort to a kick under the table, but I’m not crazy about that idea. Maybe we can come up with a more subtle clue.
Notwithstanding the dynamics of my own marriage, this idea of judging men and women differently is widely relevant. A few years back, the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, wrote her book Lean In, encouraging woman to be aware and proactive in the business world. While I disagreed with a major premise of hers that a better world, “…would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes,” (and wrote about it here) I did find a number of the points she made to be quite valid. These include the idea that while an assertive man might be considered confident, an assertive woman might be considered aggressive. The exact same action that comes across as forceful in a man labels a woman as pushy.
I want to be clear that I give no credence to the claim made by Hillary Clinton supporters that she lost because she is a woman. Most voters who did not support her, including me, would happily have voted for a principled, competent, conservative woman. Like so much else in our culture (incredibly including a push back on the Lean In movement because it encourages women to help themselves rather than seeing themselves as victims who should demand privileges from government) this is a puerile, illogical and pathetic argument.
Nonetheless, the reality is that of course people do look at men and women through different lenses. There’s a very good reason for that—they are different! Sometimes being a woman is an asset and other times it’s a liability. That’s true for being a man as well.
So, what do we do about the fact that people judge men and women differently and that can be unfair to individuals? Here is my suggestion: Live with it and deal with it. I know that the letters we receive come from affection for both my husband and me and wanting the best for us. By the grace of God, we live in a vibrant world filled with contrast and variety. We can each make an effort to respect all individuals and to be aware of our biases, but a world where we pretend that differences between the sexes don’t exist and any manifestations of those variations should be erased would indeed be a bland, colorless and miserable one.