Women still expected to be seen and not heard

An English proverb says, “One tongue is enough for a woman.”

In the U.S. there is a proverb that says, “When both husband and wife wear pants it is not difficult to tell them apart – he is the one who is listening.”

This mainstream stigmatization of women is incorrect. Statistics find that Chatty Cathys are in fact, chatty Carls.

In the top 100 top-grossing movies of 2008, men held the majority of speaking roles, while women were only given 33 percent of the speaking roles in each movie,  researchers from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California said in an analysis published last month.

Pop culture and the media are not the only ones to muffle female voices. In everyday conversation as recently as the 21st Century, women are still expected to be seen and not heard. This is in the allegedly “progressive” Western culture.

In a linguistic analysis of talking points among men and women, anthropologist Deborah Tannen described a dinner party she attended amongst the faculty members from the university she taught at. When Tannen spoke with men at the dinner, they seldom asked Tannen about herself. If a companion bothered to do so, Tannen found he quickly diverted the conversation back to himself.After reading Tannen’s work, I began to notice that almost every time I met a man, how difficult it was for me to get a word in without interrupting his self-centered jibber-jabber, to put it politely. When they finally, if at all, asked me what I did for a living, the majority of these men would stir the conversation away from learning about me and back to their own experiences:

“So what do you?” he asked.

“I’m a journalist.”

“Oh, I love journalism. I knew someone who majored in journalism once and I thought … ”

The inevitable blah, blah, blah droned on. Rather than learn about my experiences and insights, they sublimely implied … no, forcibly implied, that they were the greater expert on my career path.

This trend is nonexistent when I converse with women.

Whether it is in the movies or in everyday conversation, the female voice is seemingly not valued. However, women have most certainly proved their educational and professional status. In fact, in many areas, their credentials seem to exceed those of men.

During the last thirty years, women received more bachelor’s degrees than men, and this gender gap continues acceleration. At DePaul University, only 41 percent of last year’s entering freshman class was of the male persuasion.

Women’s achievements in formal education are also man-ifesting in the workforce.

Last year, women became the majority in the U.S. workforce in highly paid and managerial jobs, holding down the fields at 51.4 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Women have historically made the bread and now they are bringing it home. In 147 of the 150 biggest U.S. cities, the median full-time salaries of young women are eight percent higher than the men in the corresponding age group. Even the conservative South is no exception; in Atlanta and Memphis, they earn about 20 percent more than men.

So why is it that despite all of this, women’s voices are given value to a lesser degree? Why are women given significantly less talking time?

A large reason for this may be that we are not aware it is happening, so much so that our perception of equal talking time has become severely imbalanced, even among academics.

The most troubling part of it all is that I am, like, not even old yet. I am twenty-something doggone years old. What the heck, my allegedly liberally progressive mid-twenties male peers?

Research by Janet Holmes, a linguistic anthropologist found that when men and women are deliberately given an equal amount of the “highly valued talking time” in debates during seminars, there is often a perception that women are getting more than their fair share of talking time.

This distorted perception is instilled in us all at a very early age. Teachers usually believe they give equal amounts of attention to girls and boys, Holmes said. However, when teachers listened to a tape recording of their class, they found that boys dominated interactions.

According to Holmes, a male science teacher that managed to create an atmosphere in which girls and boys equally contributed to discussion felt that he was devoting 90 percent of his attention to girls. “And so did his male pupils,” Holmes said. “They complained vociferously that the girls were getting too much talking time.”

This could help to explain why women aren’t given as much talking time, despite their success in education and the workforce. There is a social bias for how often a woman should speak, instilled so early in us that we see women as having equal talking times even when balanced discourse is as true as Hollywood fiction.

When trying to gauge women’s talkativeness, women’s talking time is usually not compared to men. Instead, researchers find its quantification is often compared to silence.

Holmes and Tannen’s research found it is a societal norm to use silence–rather than their male peers–to gauge the voice of a woman.

This is troublesome, for silence is not golden. Silence is a form of death.


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