As we watched the first election debate between Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins, we were reminded of some old feminist work in the 1970s.
Dale Spender and others found that boys in mixed-gender classrooms would interrupt and occupy the sound space because of their need for attention, and in doing so would distract their teachers.
Even when these teachers were alert to this strategy, and changed their behaviour to remedy it, their efforts made little difference.
In 2020, there is plenty to contest about the original research. In particular, the behaviour is not necessarily gendered.
When some women are programmed to what is expected in a particular role and context, when they can gather support for decades-old ritualised behaviour, then the same can happen in a debate as in a classroom.
We are amazed that no commentators have observed Judith Collins' takeover of the interview.
We have replayed the event and analysed the following: How long did each leader speak without interruption? How many times did one leader interrupt the other and speak over them? Now that the teacher - or rather, interviewer - is distracted by this behaviour and seeks to please to get some control, how many direct separate questions did John Campbell ask of the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition? What amount of camera time was spent on each leader when the other was speaking?
In all, the Prime Minister spoke for 11 minutes 48 seconds without interruption, and the Leader of the Opposition spoke for 13 minutes 33 seconds.
The question on income inadequacy and wealth distribution was the only answer given by the Prime Minister which was longer than that of the Leader of the Opposition.
The Prime Minister had 19 interruptions where the Leader of the Opposition spoke over her, in most cases drowning her words.
The PM attempted to interrupt 12 times, mostly with an "If I may" beginning, but like the classroom boys, volume was what was needed to control the debate.
It might be more useful for the public if the directors of the next debates find the mute button.
There was a lot of chasing expressions. Collins had 16 minutes 55 seconds of camera time, and Ardern 15 minutes and 29 seconds.
Watching eyebrows and smirks is a co-option to distraction. It's a debate about an election – some of us want to focus on the words.
Occupying the sound-space beguiled even the experienced Campbell, who found himself asking eight probing questions of the Prime Minister and 15 of the finger-pointing, commanding Leader of the Opposition.
Collins' adoption of the style of boys in a classroom was a clever tactic for the first debate, and the full production team fell for it.
It would be helpful if the next two events can deliver substance, but we will do this analysis again for each. At the moment, Collins' tactics are giving her advantages in time and attention.
• Marilyn Waring is a Professor of Public Policy, and Dr Ali Rasheed is a graduate, of the Auckland University of Technology.