Hepeating: When a man takes credit for what a woman already said

The trend that joins ‘mansplaining’ in the catalog of poor behavior by men in the workplace

Illustration of a 'hepeating' situation.
Illustration of a 'hepeating' situation.Getty Images

At 58,000 retweets and more than 184,000 likes, Nicole Gugliucci’s tweet from 2017 is still going strong. “My friends coined a word: hepeated,” announced the US professor of astronomy and physics. Hepeating occurs, she added, “when a woman suggests an idea and it’s ignored, but then a guy says [the] same thing and everyone loves it.” As a recent article in The Guardian observes, the term hepeating is “just the latest in the expanding list of terms for sexist male behaviour, a glossary that began with mansplaining.”

The term mansplaining was chosen in 2010 as one of The New York Times words of the year due to its ubiquity on the internet, where it had become —as it remains— a popular shorthand to describe when a man explains something to a woman that she already knows in a condescending or paternalistic tone, i.e. as if she did not or could not already know it. In her 2014 essay Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit detailed the phenomenon further, saying that “all women know what I’m talking about.” “It is the arrogance that makes it difficult, at times, for any woman in any field; it is that which keeps women from speaking their minds and from being heard when they dare to do so; that which plunges young women into silence signaling to them, in the same way that street harassment does, that this is not their world,” writes Solnit.

To be sure, from mansplaining, the glossary was expanded to include manterruption —the male habit of unnecessarily interrupting a woman while she is speaking—; as well as manologue, male monologue, i.e. when a man lectures a woman or group of women simply to expound his extensive knowledge of something; and manspreading, referring to when a man sits with his legs wide open in public spaces. There is also, for example, bropropriation, the appropriation of women’s ideas by men (bros).

Beyond the often entertaining use of these words in online debate, the habits they describe, in which men dominate discursive and physical space, also have a scientific baseline of evidence. A 2021 Stanford University study investigated gender discrimination in economics seminars at 33 US institutions, analyzing 468 of them across the country. The results showed that men interrupt women more often than other men; men also ask more questions of women at the end of a presentation or speech than men do, with the style of these questions tending to be more hostile or paternalistic.

Twenty-seven-year-old Sandra Ramirez (not her real name), tells EL PAÍS about a male co-worker whose behavior is a perfect demonstration of hepeating. In meetings, says Ramirez, this colleague “always [intervenes] five minutes after me,” she says. He does so not to add anything useful to the discussion, notes Ramirez. Instead, she says, it is “to repeat what I have said,” simply in “a more convoluted” way. By way of example, Ramirez says she might say something like, “let’s do some illustrations for International Women’s Day.” Shortly afterwards, said male colleague will chime in with, “we should do a series of illustrations to commemorate International Women’s Day. It’s a significant date, and with these images to mark the day, users can share them.” On more than one occasion, says Ramirez, she has made the point to her colleague that she had already proposed the same idea. However, it seems he does not want to hear it, as she tells EL PAÍS he will equivocate, saying for example, “I didn’t hear you,”... and then do the same thing again at the next meeting.

Thirty-seven-year-old consultant Isabel Sanz (pseudonym) says she sees an economic case for reducing hepeating and its associated ills: A problem will be presented at a meeting, says Sanz, and she will suggest a viable solution. Half an hour later into the discussion, she notes, a male colleague “says exactly the same thing,” and he is listened to. “We are three consultants, and we charge our clients €500 a day,” says Sanz. So, “if half an hour is lost [because one of us is not listening]”, that is an hour and a half lost on the consultancy fee, Sanz muses. Communications agency staff member Carlota Navarro (pseudonym), says that, as a woman in a creative profession, it is typical to experience, hepeating. Navarro, 32, says she might start the idea rolling, but “the one who finishes it off is a man,” and so, “in the end it appears that it was his idea, and he gets the recognition, and you feel a little outraged.” It’s worse than just a moment of anger, though. Hepeating and mansplaining “override your perception” to the point where the woman being diminished in discourse asks herself: “Was this idea really mine? Do I have the right to defend it or am I going to look like a bad colleague?” This all builds up, says Navarro, into a defensive posture at work meetings.

When President Obama took office, wrote journalist Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post, “two-thirds of his top advisers were men.” “Women complained of having to elbow their way into important meetings,” and even then, they could still be ignored. The women leaders used an “amplification” strategy; “when a woman brought up a key point” in White House meetings, “other women repeated it, giving credit to its original author.” “This forced the men in the room to acknowledge the contribution and denied them the opportunity to claim the idea as their own.” All that was needed? More women in the same meeting room.


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