Are You a Man Who Wants to Support Women In Public Dialog? Turn Off Your Microphone

GenderAvenger wants to make sure women’s voices count. That’s why the GA Tally app tracks how much time women speak compared to men during panel discussions, and creates a shareable graphic that shows the gender breakdown. The results help us all pay a little more attention to include everyone during a panel discussion. Daxton Stewart was aware of potential gender imbalances during a recent panel discussion, and so he shares what he did to be a mindful male participant.


A few weeks ago, I was invited to speak on a panel about risk and responsibility on social media, and I did something that was hard for me to do.

I shut up.

Anybody who knows me knows that I like to talk. As a professor and attorney who teaches and studies social media law matters, I get plenty of opportunities to do that. I like to tell stories, I like to share what I know, and, let’s be honest, I enjoy getting a chance to show off that I know stuff.

This panel wasn’t much different than others I’d been on, and it was definitely not a manel. Iranian rights activist, journalist, and filmmaker Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh was a highlight of the panel. She was joined by my professor colleague Dr. Melita Garza, who has decades of experience as a journalist and is a respected media historian. Louis Jacobson, a senior correspondent for Politifact, was there to talk about trying to sort the truth from the “pants on fire” spread through media by politicians. Kris Boyd, a TCU alum and renowned interviewer for the local public radio show “Think,” served as moderator. I was a late add to the panel — if you go to the event’s website, I’m the little grey “TBD” at the bottom of the page.

 
 

While I certainly know plenty about the topic of discussion — I mean, I’ve written books about this stuff — I was under no impression that people who came to this session were there to hear me talk. I also didn’t want to drown out the talented and capable voices around me, particularly those of the women on the panel.

When the event organizers passed around the microphones, they pointed out the on/off buttons, so I made a spur-of-the-moment decision. I left mine off.

At least, I left my mic off until it was quite clear that it was my turn to talk. Boyd had a question for each of us, so I flipped mine back on to address that, but, otherwise, I tried to stay out of it until we were obviously in the social media and law and regulation area. I spent a lot of time listening to the other panelists, and I remember engaging with one of them after she raised a question and looked at me, leading to this response, which I was glad to share:

 
 

There was one amusing moment when the panel shifted to a law-heavy question. I was still in mic-off mode and had been listening, but I wanted to make sure everyone else had a stab at it before I chimed in. They were silent, and I remember it like it was in slow motion. Everyone’s heads turned to me, and I saw four faces giving me a look like, “well, are you going to say something?”

I did, and as usual, I was glad to. As I mentioned, I love talking about this stuff. But I tried to remain aware of my passion for conversation and how that can be distracting or can drown out the valuable perspectives of others. Turning off my mic was enough of a cue to remind me to restrain myself, and, if you’re a talker like me, maybe it will work for you.


 
Daxton Stewart

Daxton R. “Chip” Stewart is a professor of journalism at Texas Christian University, where he teaches courses in media law and ethics. He has worked as a journalist and attorney in Missouri and Texas, earning a J.D. at the University of Texas and a Ph.D. and LL.M. at the University of Missouri. He specializes in freedom of information and digital media law issues and is the author of Social Media and the Law (2nd ed. 2017, Routledge) and co-author of the textbook The Law of Public Communication (10th ed. 2017, Routledge).