Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Men Speak, Women Stay Silent?

Leslie Morgan Steiner wrote a blog post that appeared in Washingtonpost.com today about how in academic and professional settings when men and women are together, women tend to keep to themselves more, while men tend to speak up. Steiner notes:

What I found is that 1) in a free-speak forum, women speak publicly about 25 percent of the time, vs. 75 percent for men and 2) when the forum is caller-led, women are called upon about one-third as often as men are (even when the caller is a woman). I've found that when there is even one man present, we women defer to him and expect him to speak first. (As everyone knows, I'm no scientist and I have no reputable data to back up these percentages; these are just my observations.)

The one exception to this were my years at Seventeen Magazine in the late 1980s. Of the 50 people in the editorial department, 50 were female. Problem solved -- at least within those pink walls. Which is why so many women advocate for the value of single sex education. And why those against all girls schools argue, great -- but what about the bias you inevitably confront in the "real world?"

Men don't seem to consciously dominate public discussions; they don't blatantly cut women off or ridicule their views. And it's not that women don't have opinions. We certainly do. Talk to women before and after the male-dominated meetings, and it is easy to solicit opinions. We just don't share them in public. Why? The problem is stubborn and pernicious. Women hesitate to speak up. Men don't hesitate. So, by default more men speak, and more women stay silent.

I too have noticed this trend. I think the best anecdote I can offer comes from my experiences as a member of my high school's academic quiz team. I attended an all girls school and as such our quiz team was the only all girls team in the regional circuit. The typical team from others schools were dominated by boys and usually consisted of one girl.

It became something of a weekly anthropological observation for myself and my team, as we would watch how that one girl from the other teams was treated. The majority of the time she sat out for most of the match, only substituting in for about one of the four rounds. She did not buzz in to answer questions as frequently as the boys, but when she did she was nearly always correct. The boys, who dominated in buzzing in, had a much lower percentage in the accuracy of their answers.

During the round where the whole team was allowed to consult with one another before the captain (a boy) submitted the team answer, the girl frequently would mutter the correct answer, but would be drowned out by the frantic brainstorming by the boys on the team.

My experience on the all girls team was markedly different. There was no hesitation, no deferring to a more forceful boy.

These days the only exposure I have to trivia competition comes from the weekly trivia night hosted by one of the local bars in Charlottesville, VA where I attend college. Trivia night in college is vaguely reminiscent of my high school quiz team days—only now I find that I have become the more reserved girl that my all girls quiz team always observed with regret.

1 comment:

Dustin said...

An excellent article but I wonder - If a woman can write an article like this, why can't she /use/ said information to speak out more?

Changing society as a whole, we can say for the sake of argument right now at least, might as well be impossible, but changing yourself, while still rather difficult, is much more within reach.

I wonder why Leslie in particular is now so shy within her college quiz team. Regardless of sex, if you repeatidly get the right answer on quiz after quiz... Someone should notice that right?