I once had a conversation with a friend, Susan (name has been changed), who had done an experiment in a meeting with several colleagues. They were all on the same level in the hierarchy of their organization, but Susan had observed something about gender dynamics in their meetings. Despite men making up less than 50 percent of the members of the meetings, they were taking up far more than 50 percent of the time given to people voicing ideas.
To test her observation, she used a website cleverly named “Are Men Talking Too Much?” to record time split between men and women talking during the meeting. The site is intuitive with two buttons labeled “a dude” and “not a dude.” Users press the button corresponding to who’s talking, and it records the time and runs a live percentage. To pause, users just press the button that’s already depressed. She found at the first meeting where she used it that men were talking 70 percent of the time, not including the male leader of the group.
It was an anecdote that stuck with me, and I began to think about how much time I spent talking in my own life, and how often I may—intentionally or not—cut women off in order for my own thoughts to be heard. Firmly committed to equality for women and men, I assumed that it wouldn’t be difficult to self-regulate and ensure that I was not talking more than my proportional share of time.
I was wrong.
I remember distinctly the first time I tried this practice. I was in a small group at church where I was the only man in a group of five adults. Without using a visible timer, I tried to ensure that I wasn’t taking up more than my 20 percent of time my membership in the group warranted. I found that many times, women had ideas and thoughts which I thought I could add to, but that I had to stop myself from jumping in and sharing those thoughts. It wasn’t that I thought my ideas were less valuable than before; it was that I had decided women’s time was just as valuable as my own. And because I was committed to that, I realized that I had to regulate myself far more, and that I had to actively think about the conversation and engage with others’ words on a deeper level. It was edifying, enlightening, and convicting.
I realized then that I had learned, even as a child, that my thoughts and time were more valuable than those of women. I was accustomed to jumping in whenever I had a random thought that I felt would add to the conversation, often cutting off women mid-sentence. I was distraught, to say the least. My commitment to equality of women and men hadn’t been happening in at least this aspect of my daily life. Jesus was an active listener to women in his earthly life. When he spoke with the Samaritan woman in John 4, she spoke as much or more than he did. Jesus broke gender conventions in Luke 10 when Mary sat in the posture of a student to learn from him. Jesus’s own actions show the importance of women and men sharing space and time when communicating.
My commitment to the biblical principles of equality meant that I needed to change my behavior and work toward permanent change. This is a change that I think all men can work towards as well. It’s a change that can help us truly live out our egalitarian principles by putting them into practice, even in everyday conversations.
I began to actively work to fight patriarchy, especially the ideas that had enforced the unbiblical view of my own words’ importance over and above those of women, in a simple way. I gave time to women’s voices, and I found that this practice makes an amazing difference in conversations. Suddenly, I was hearing more insights than my own. I was learning much more about people whom I’d thought I’d known quite well. This was because I was ensuring they had the space and time to fully share their own ideas before I tried to share my own.
I’m not perfect. I am sure I dominate conversations more than I ought. I still find myself cutting women off to share my own thoughts. But there are ways to continue improving, and all men can join with me in a common goal to fight patriarchy by listening and sharing time. When I notice I’ve cut someone off in conversation, I apologize and ask them to continue. If I lose my chance to say what I was going to say, I take that as a gain because I was able to hear others’ voices and opinions more than I did before. Awareness of the problem is its own first step, because, at least in my experience, it helped me to work to combat it.
Most importantly, I think being aware of how we converse with others is an essential part of obeying Christ. If we are truly to do to others what we would have them do to us, that means we ought to listen when they want to have a voice and respect their time as much as they respect ours. I know it has made a huge difference in my everyday life. Maybe you can try it, too.