Socialized Male Speech Dominance: Why women find themselves thinking, “I just said that.”

When children are growing up, in any culture, their parents and other people in their lives teach them social norms and values by showing them how to behave and take part in social interactions. That process is called socialization. When someone teaches a child how to talk and express themselves, that’s called language socialization — and it isn’t just about learning new vocabulary.

Many cultures expect men and women to speak in different ways, according to expectations about their personalities or roles within society. (And this socialization also happens with other social categories, such as race or class.) In her article “10 Words Every Girl Should Learn,” Soraya Chemaly points out that men are socialized to dominate conversations, and this has no small effect on how women are heard (or not heard, really):

As adults, women’s speech is granted less authority and credibility. We aren’t thought of as able critics or as funny. Men speak more, more often, and longer than women in mixed groups (classrooms, boardrooms, legislative bodies, expert media commentary and, for obvious reasons religious institutions.) Indeed, in male-dominated problem solving groups including boards, committees and legislatures, men speak 75% more than women, with negative effects on decisions reached. That’s why, as researchers summed up, “Having a seat at the table is not the same as having a voice.”

I can certainly recall situations where a man repeated something I had said just moments before (and others clearly heard and responded to him more than to me). Where I was interrupted while trying to explain an idea. Where I felt the need to apologize for talking too much, even when I wasn’t. It can happen in nearly any context.

Sometimes I think I’m lucky to work in an environment where gender is somewhat obscured — that is, we communicate primarily via text, which highlights the words and ideas rather than the person saying them. But that idea, too, can be dangerous: our language socialization spills over into text, into how we phrase our ideas and perceive what others write. Stepping behind a keyboard doesn’t solve the problem.

The solution will come from socializing all young people in our society to speak confidently — and to listen carefully — no matter their gender, race, or class. And in the meantime, we can encourage those who might otherwise go unheard to speak up, and speak out against others who try to take away their voice.

Read more: 10 Words Every Girl Should Learn

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Women, Coding, and the Year 1984

When I think of computers and the year 1984, this commercial is the first thing that comes to mind:

But in the latest episode of Planet Money, they discuss how the year 1984 marked a change in gender balance in the coding world. Up to that point, the percentage of women in computer science had been growing at the same pace as other fields like medicine, law, and the physical sciences. After that, the percentage of women leveled off and then dropped within computer science, while continuing to grow in those other fields.

According to Planet Money, this change is correlated with the introduction of personal computers and marketing their use to boys and men. As men became more and more familiar with computers at home, more of them pursued and excelled in computer science programs — which discouraged students who didn’t have that prior familiarity — and those men went on to make up more of the workforce.

The result, then, was a sharp rise in the percentage of men working in computer science, and a sense of coding as a club for geeky boys — a perspective that continues to impact education and work environments to this day. This also fits the recent statistics I found about men and women in computer science:

According to NSF surveys of employment in science in engineering from 2003 to 2011, the percentage of women working as mathematical or computer scientists dropped from 28.8% to 25%. However, the total number of women working in that role stayed the same. The change came from a significant increase in the total number of men in mathematical and computer science.

Whether that rise was truly caused by men being targeted by marketers and developing an interest in coding at a young age or by interested women being discouraged or forced out when they’re older is harder to say. And it’s likely a combination of those and other factors. (There’s a lot of speculation in the podcast, but they didn’t spend much time discussing research that explores those claims. If you’re interested in thinking about what could contribute to women feeling unwelcome in the tech industry, I’d recommend a coworker’s post on Ways Men In Tech Are Unintentionally Sexist.)

That said, the discussion makes me appreciate everything my parents did to prepare me for computing and coding in my life. My brother and I had equal access to our PCjr (a personal computer by IBM that came out in 1984). We both played games, learned to navigate DOS, and got online at an early age. I did get bored by the myriad games that came out targeted to my brother’s interests, but I happily built websites and was thrilled by puzzle games like Midnight RescueThe 7th Guest, and Myst. I also clearly remember loving the movie Hackers (despite the cheesy portrayal of hacking), with Angelina Jolie as the formidable hacker Acid Burn.

Although I wasn’t persuaded by those experiences or my computer science professor’s encouragement to continue studying it in college, I am grateful for all the opportunities and support I have had as a “geek girl.” I wonder sometimes if subtle gender biases led me to degrees in foreign languages and anthropology instead of math and computer science. Thankfully, though, I have had the freedom and the luck to come back to the tech world later on.

Here’s to more women feeling that draw and having the support to explore coding and tech in their professional lives.

Listen to the full Planet Money episode at NPR.org:

When Women Stopped Coding

On Inequality and Abortion Rights

Many feminist legal scholars, including Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, have argued that the Supreme Court should have legalized abortion on the grounds of equality rather than privacy. Pregnancy and childbirth are not only physical and medical experiences, after all. They are also social experiences that, in modern America, just as when abortion was criminalized in the 1870s, serve to restrict women’s ability to participate in society on equal footing with men.

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt