What is hepeating?

‘Many women’ recognise this harmful workplace behaviour and various studies show evidence of it

Colleagues sitting around a table in an office
(Image credit: Morsa Images/Getty Images)

With the terms “mansplaining” and “manspreading” now firmly established in modern language, another new word defining toxic male culture has entered common parlance: “hepeating”.

Defined as being “when a man appropriates your comments or ideas and then is praised for them being his own”, hepeating is a concept “many women” are probably familiar with, said Business Insider’s Lindsay Dodgson.

The phrase – a portmanteau of “he” and “repeating” – first entered public consciousness in 2017, thanks to a tweet by astronomy and physics professor Nicole Gugliucci. She explained that her friend had “coined a word… for when a woman suggests an idea and it’s ignored, but then a guy says [the] same thing and everyone loves it”.

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Gugliucci’s tweet swiftly went viral, receiving more than 180,000 likes and 58,000 retweets to date. One Twitter user responded: “I can’t begin to tell you how much this is a thing. [It happened] at least three times this morning alone.”

Grounded in evidence

Evidence backs up the fact that hepeating is a real problem faced by women in the workplace. A study conducted by Stanford University last year, which analysed 468 economics seminars at 33 institutions in the US, found that men are more likely to interrupt women than they are other men.

And a separate study from George Washington University in 2014 found that when men spoke with women, they interrupted 33% more often than when they spoke with other men.

“The men interrupted their female conversational partners 2.1 times during a three minute conversation,” said Forbes. “That number dropped to 1.8 when they spoke to other men.”

Can be harmful

The effect of hepeating, like mansplaining, can be harmful, said the Spanish newspaper El Pais, explaining that the act can impact a woman’s confidence in her own ideas.

Hepeating can “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?’”, said the paper.

But this appropriation of another’s ideas is not something that only men do. “I’m gonna go ahead and coin ‘rewhite’… for every time a person of color says something and is ignored until a white person says it,” said one Twitter user, in response to Gugliucci’s tweet.

How to combat it

There is a way to deal with toxic behaviour in the workplace like hepeating, said Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post: “amplification” – a technique that was famously used by female staffers in the Obama White House.

These women felt as though they had to “elbow” their way into important meetings and devised a strategy to help them ensure their voices were heard, explained Eilperin. “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.”

Another technique to combat hepeating at work is through “micro-sponsorship” – or the “act of enlisting a few coworkers to advocate for you when you’ve been wronged”, said Harvard public policy professor and behavioural economist Iris Bohnet in a CNBC article.

“Become vigilant about attributing comments to the people who made them first,” she added. “Everyone, men and women, can become a micro-sponsor.”

What next?

Hepeating is not yet in the dictionary, but it’s certainly growing in popularity. According to The Guardian, the term has been introduced into an internal handbook for the staff of Ofqual, the body that regulates qualifications, exams and tests in England.

But not everyone believes it is deserving of a place in our vocabulary. Hepeating is an “ugly new made-up word that’s foolish and devoid of meaning”, said Jeremy Black, a professor of history at the University of Exeter, in an interview with the Daily Mail. “It should play no role in educational advice.”

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