I was listening to “In Our Time”, my favourite go-to Podcast. On the panel with Melvyn Bragg were a trio of experts: two male, one female. As the discussion progressed I started to think one of the male panelists was quite the misogynist. He was interrupting his female peer, paraphrasing her points and countering her positions. I ended my listening session pretty pissed off.
Then I heard him on an all male panel and he had the same behaviour. So I went back and (boring me) listened to the episode again but more with a view to checking myself. Result: he’d interrupted and talked across both his fellow panelists with equal vigour.
So why had I filtered his behaviour the first time round?
My conclusion is I was tuned into misogynistic behaviour thanks to a conversation I’d had on email that day. Already primed, I heard the same thing from the panellist towards his female peer and either didn’t notice or didn’t register the way he treated his male counterpart.
In short, I was looking for a misogynist and I found one.
We do this all the time. We hear a single comment from a person in a single isolated situation and leap to conclusions. Thereafter we tune into everything that validates and reinforces our position, blanking out anything that might contradict it. This attitude has damaged reputations and destroyed careers without justification.
In the echo chamber of social media the effect becomes even more pronounced. A single tweet can be taken from its context and spiral out of control. The screaming agreements reinforce our view and we run from disagreement for fear of being labelled as a sympathiser or enabler. Once the Twitterati has been sent off in a particular direction it becomes nigh on impossible to stop them.
It takes a degree of discipline to counter this behaviour. Self-awareness is essential to recognise when you’re going down the proverbial rabbit hole. A willingness to sift through data and track down original (or at least reliable) sources demands time and effort. Sometimes the topic isn’t worth it. Other times it becomes a passionate quest.
My encounter with “In Our Time” and a not-misogynistic guest is a reminder to myself to wary of my own behaviour. The next time I encounter a problem I’ll be certain to check I wasn’t just looking for a reason to prove I was right.