What follows is a guest post by my friend and former Skepchick Maria D’Souza Walters. I’ve added a bit of commentary below.
Everyone needs a place to vent their daily frustrations to friendly ears. For me, one of these spaces is a group chat where a bunch of women I know keep in touch, talk about their days, complain about the world and share animal photos. If you don’t have this, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s become an online safe space that I didn’t know I needed.
This particular chat comprises a bunch of smart, funny, talented women and we often use the chat to snark about life as professional women and to seek advice from each other. We’re in various industries – from gaming to science to journalism – and it’s always interesting to see how many of us have similar experiences and frustrations in spite of having very different actual jobs.
A couple of weeks ago, I went into the chat and asked them to come up with a word for a thing that had just happened to me. In a meeting, I mentioned an idea and got no response. A few minutes later, a male colleague said exactly the same thing, and everyone THEN agreed and paid attention to it.
I ended up coming up with the term ‘hepeating.’ It was a funny moment, we all empathized with each other and told stories of how often that happened to us and moved on to other things.
A few days later, Nicole tweeted the word out and the Internet immediately responded. The tweet went viral and within days, ‘hepeating’ became part of the lexicon. As of this writing, her tweet has 65,000 retweets and over 200,000 likes. It definitely struck a chord.
I work in Marketing and I’m always amused when marketing folks say “we need to make this go viral.’ As much as a marketer might want to force it, the reality, it’s impossible to really PLAN for something to go viral. It does seem though, that the fundamental requirement is that your message should be something relatable, relevant, inspiring or anger-inducing to a large number of people. In retrospect, it’s not surprising that ‘hepeated’ went viral – it’s checks pretty much all those boxes. I don’t think there’s a woman in the world who hasn’t experienced some form of hepeating. And, as was quickly pointed out, there’s a version of this that happens to people of color as well – Guilaine Kinouani coined the term “whepeating’ to cover that.
If nothing else, we’ve learned that this isn’t an isolated experience – ‘hepeating’ and ‘whepeating’ seems to happen everywhere to many many people across industry and level. In reality, I think everyone, regardless of gender or race, has probably had this happen to them at some point. When it happens, it’s very easy to just let it go – does it REALLY matter who came up with the idea, as long as the idea gets attention? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Because when it happens once, it’s not a big deal. The problem is that for women and people of color, it happens consistently time and time again. The danger becomes that people simply stop contributing. You lose their ideas, you lose their perspective and that’s not just bad for your individual workers, it’s bad for the organization as a whole.
Last year, a Washington Post article about how women in the White House came up with a strategy to combat ‘hepeating’:
…female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called “amplification”: When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.
It’s an excellent idea and one of many things that we can all (men and women) do in everyday life to fight this problem. Listen, pay attention, when you see this happening, speak out, acknowledge who made the point. And watch the results you get when the people you work with are acknowledged and appreciated.
So here’s the irony. My tweet went viral, but it wasn’t my idea. A tweet about how some folks get credit for the ideas of other folks, and it gets my name attached to it but I didn’t come up with the word. Maria did! Yeah, I feel like a bit of an ass. Of course, I post “my friends did,” “my students said,” and “overheard” tweets all the time with random offhand comments that I find funny. And they get maybe a handful of likes. Heck, I’ve even TRIED to make things viral, and they’ve all gone completely flat.
We have yet to see if “hepeating” will take its place among other portmanteaus of sexism such as mansplaining, manspreading, and misogynoir, but it has certainly had a heck of a run these past few weeks. For the first time, Twitter was basically unusable for me under the flood of notifications, mostly positive, but plenty angry or downright abusive. A bunch of my friends and family saw my name in an article and Facebooked me about it. Thankfully, my colleagues thought it was pretty funny.
If anything, I’ve learned to specifically tag my friends when they say something witty so THEY can get the hate tweets. (I’m kidding…. mostly.)