Um, I Wasn’t Finished: How We Undermine Female Expertise Through the Misinterpretation of Filler Phrases

Sandhya Rajkumar

The so-called “cultural mismatch” between femininity and expertise has been pointed to as a source of the gender discrepancies in academia. However, this phenomenon has consequences that reach beyond the scope of the ivory tower, as the notion of expertise is present in nearly every field. This “cultural mismatch” is even present in the culinary field, a field that is often presumed to be free of common gender stereotypes that are present in other spheres. In order to better understand how this phenomenon is perpetuated, interviews of famous male and female culinary experts were recorded and transcribed. Portions of the interviews in which the interviewees were discussing their areas of expertise were analyzed, through which it was observed that though both men and women use filler phrases such as uh and um, women’s use of these filler phrases was more likely to be interpreted as a cue for interruption, and thereby followed by subsequent interruption, while men were able to use these phrases to hold the conversational floor. This finding may be one way through which women’s authoritative expertise and influence are undermined, thus furthering the negative stereotype of the “cultural mismatch” between femininity and expertise.

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