Let. Her. Speak.
As women, one frustrating thing many of us experience is the almost instinctive silencing we get from men. There is an absolutely untrue stereotype that women talk more than men, and if you’re a woman in any professional field you’ve probably experienced being interrupted, talked over, and mansplained to.
Earlier this month, at a panel discussion during the World Science Festival, Veronika Hubeny was asked a question in her field of expertise — string theory and quantum gravity. In the first hour of the panel, Hubeny was barely given any time to speak — and when a question was finally directed at her by moderator Jim Holt, he began to answer his own question.
Actress Marilee Talkington was in the crowd, and after enduring what sounds like a cringe-worthy hour of absolutely no attention paid to the female on the panel, she’d had enough by the time the moderator decided to answer his own question, rather than give Hubeny a chance to speak. Talkington took to Facebook to explain what transpired when she could no longer deal with the silencing and mansplaining she was being forced to watch.
“In the first hour of the panel discussion you can see clearly, if watching the video, that Veronika Hubeny, the only woman on the panel is barely given any opportunity to speak. And the Moderator, Jim Holt even acknowledges this,” Talkington explains.
“He asked her to describe her two theories of string theory that seem to contradict one another. And THEN, without letting her answer, proceeded to answer for her and describe HER theories in detail without letting her speak for herself,” she explains. “We could clearly see that she was trying to speak up. But he continued to talk over her and dominate the space for several minutes.”
It’s actually cringe-inducing to watch. Talkington could no longer handle the atmosphere of silence, condescension, and mansplaining — so she spoke up.
“Jim Holt, even at one point, asks Veronica a question and she laughs because he has been answering his own questions about her work…and he makes fun of her for ‘giggling’. So at some point while he is still talking about Her theories, I just can’t handle it any longer,” she explains. “With my hands shaking,
I finally say from my seat in the 2nd row of the audience, as clearly, directly and loudly as possible;
‘Let. Her. Speak. Please!'”
You can see the moment at 1:05:38.
Talkington explains that the event is taking place in a large auditorium and is sold out. So participants observed over an hour of this type of behavior before her outburst. “It is happening on stage and NO ONE, not a single other physicist or panelist is stepping in to say anything about it,” she says of the panel. “And I can hear other audience members around me, both men and women becoming more and more agitated with what is happening.”
Let. Her. Speak.
Talkington admits that once she uttered those words, you could hear a pin drop — until the audience broke into applause. Her bravery in speaking up to give another woman the stage she deserves is, in a word — amazing. Twitter has taken notice, too.
— Jessi Brown (@heyjessibrown) June 6, 2017
— Erin Biba (@erinbiba) June 6, 2017
— Siân Culley (@SuperResoluSian) June 7, 2017
— 🌈Liz B is for Bi💜 (@theliz13) June 5, 2017
Hubeny responded to Talkington’s now viral post, by leaving a Facebook comment. “I applaud your heroism in standing up for what you believe in! I know well the shaky feeling and subsequent exhilarated and heartwarmed contentment in the knowledge of having done the right thing, and I think that doing so has become more crucial than ever,” she wrote. “Your behavior was inspiring and I’m glad that many of those inspired shared their gratitude with you.” She then explains that she actually wasn’t offended by the moderator’s behavior.
“You may be amazed to hear it, but during this panel session I genuinely did not feel affronted or discriminated by the moderator’s behavior,” she explains. “It seemed more amusing to see him try posing a question in a way that at the same time tried answering it… Maybe I’m too naive, but I simply gave him the benefit of doubt that he was so excited by the newly-learned idea of the duality that he couldn’t resist, and that the same might have occurred had the panelist been a male instead of me. So it didn’t bother me.” She then goes on to clarify, “Please understand that I’m not trying to say that sexism in science is a myth. It is real and we should all aspire to diminish it. But I am trying to say that it need not pose as much of an impediment as you might fear and that you might be in more control over its influence yourself than you might think.”
Hubeny is being very kind to Holt by giving him the benefit of the doubt. As spectators though, if mansplaining had a video, this would be it. Holt apologized in a statement to Mic, saying, “The reproach from the audience was well-merited. I apologize to Dr. Hubeny and salute her for her stellar contribution to the discussion.”
Maybe we can’t count on men to STFU for two minutes, but we can stand up for each other to make sure we get the floor.