FF 2016 Day 14: Women’s voices

Silencing women’s voices
“He won’t read that, it’s about girls”
“Women talk too much”
Why is this important?

From the way women speak, to the amount women speak, to the content of women’s speech, people constantly feel the need to express opinions on women’s speech or to push it down completely. Before you start reading, take a minute to listen to this spoken word performance by Melissa Lozada-Oliva in response to criticism of how women often speak.

space

 Silencing women’s voices

space

“This is a struggle that takes place in war-torn nations, but also in the bedroom, the dining room, the classroom, the workplace, and the streets. And in newspapers, magazines, and television, where women are dramatically underrepresented. Even in the online gaming arena women face furious harassment and threats of assault simply for daring to participate.”

Rebecca Solnit

space

How are women’s voices pushed down? Through having their experiences dismissed when they talk about them, through being interrupted and shut down in meetings and discussion groups and seminars, through threats and abuse, through mansplaining (see below) through censorship and being left out of the media. Women’s words are discounted and explained away for their content or the mode of their presentation. As a society we’ve perfected the art of dismissing anything a woman says by calling her “hysterical” or “crazy.”  Dr Matthew Zawadzki explains:
space

“‘Emotional’ is a term used to label women whom you don’t want to have a voice in a situation. When a couple is having an argument, even if a woman has a well-thought-out reason for being upset, a guy might say, ‘You’re just being emotional.’ It’s a way to discredit her instead of having to listen; the words ‘you’re acting crazy’ really mean ‘I don’t have to pay attention to you.’”

space
In a lecture about women’s public voice, Professor Mary Beard talks about the abuse, insults and threats that women receive when they dare to speak about traditionally masculine topics (e.g. when women appear on Question Time or when Jacqui Oatley became the first female commentator of Match of the Day):
space

“But the more I have looked at the threats and insults that women have received, the more I have found that they fit into the old patterns I’ve been talking about. For a start it doesn’t much matter what line you take as a woman, if you venture into traditional male territory, the abuse comes anyway. It’s not what you say that prompts it, it’s the fact you’re saying it. And that matches the detail of the threats themselves. They include a fairly predictable menu of rape, bombing, murder and so forth (I may sound very relaxed about it now; that doesn’t mean it’s not scary when it comes late at night). But a significant subsection is directed at silencing the woman – ‘Shut up you bitch’ is a fairly common refrain.”

space
Women grow up surrounded by a kind of silence- all around them are men’s voices, and the lack of female voices burrows into their consciousness and teaches them that society expects them to be seen and not heard. Assertiveness is encouraged in men,  while girls learn at a young age to accept interruptions, helping to explain in part why women are more likely to uses ‘hedges’ (words like ‘probably’ and ‘kind of’) and fillers (like ‘um’ and ‘i mean’) and why they apologise so frequently:
space

space

Mansplaining (yes, it’s a thing)

“Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.”

Rebecca Solnit

space
In her book Men Explain Things To Me, Rebecca Solnit describes an encounter at a party in which a man asked her (“in the way you encourage your friend’s seven-year-old to describe flute practice”) about the books she’d written. As soon as Solnit said that her latest book was about Muybridge, the man interrupted her: “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?” Immediately he set about explaining this book to her. Realising that it was, in fact, Solnit’s book the man was explaining, her friend Sallie interrupted the man, saying, “That’s her book.” Or she tried to, at least- she had to say it three or four times before he stopped to take in what she was saying.
space

correction

space
A meta-analysis of 43 published studies comparing adult men’s and women’s interruptions in conversation found that men were more likely to interrupt women with the intent to assert dominance in the conversation.

This episode of Skirt The Issue talks about interruptions, uptalk, and assertiveness in speech, and how we treat these things differently in men and women. It’s only 2 minutes long- take a look:
space

space

When these issues are brought up, the common response (as far as I’ve noticed) is to claim that women need to “lean in” and be more assertive, that they should interrupt back, that they should be louder and more forceful to create room for themselves (despite the fact that they are judged more harshly if they do so). This blogger asks why it is that ‘masculine’ norms are being treated as the standard in discussion, why women are told to be more aggressive at meetings and men aren’t told to interrupt less and listen more:
space

“What if, instead of teaching women that they have to raise their hands to speak at meetings, we taught men to be more reflective and circumspect; instead of telling women to tamp down their emotions at the office, a man was told that he didn’t appear committed enough to the job because he’s never shed tears over it; instead of pushing women to take public credit for their work, we publicly admonish men who don’t properly acknowledge others’ contributions? I was just invited to a seminar on public speaking skills for women — where’s the class on listening skills for men?”

space

This is a two-way project: for women to be able to be more assertive in group discussions, for us to put ourselves forward on an equal level with men, we need men to try to actively listen, and to play their part in shutting down the kind of abuse and threats women receive for daring to speak publicly. As explained below, the way in which men and women perceive contributions from women is very different, and so we can’t take anyone’s efforts for granted.
space

“He won’t read that, it’s about girls”

I’m sure most of us by now have heard how the Harry Potter books were published under ‘J.K. Rowling’ instead of ‘Joanne Rowling’ because her publishers thought that boys wouldn’t read it if they knew a woman had written it. This isn’t just a Harry Potter thing. One of the ways our society is keeping this chasm between boys and girls, men and women, open wide is by working on the assumption that male protagonists have universal appeal, but female protagonists have niche appeal- just look at what happened when two Star Wars films in a row have dared to have a female lead, or when the latest Mad Max film had a female protagonist. It’s seen as okay and normal for boys and men not to want to read about (or watch) women, whereas stories about men are supposed to be for everyone. Talking about her own experience of this, Alison Doherty writes:
space

“Our teacher said reading about Anne Frank’s feelings in the diary made boys in past classes feel uncomfortable. The play provided distance from the interiority revealed in the diary. This made the play more appropriate.

I was upset and read the diary on my own, probably trying to find the juicy internal thoughts that made boys feel  so uncomfortable. Of course I came up short. Anne Frank doesn’t describe anything particularly titillating or scandalous. She has thoughts and feelings and crushes and parent problems. She thinks about her body. She worries about her future, which, as we all know, was tragically cut short. Anne is a person. That it was more acceptable to discuss a character than an actual human being sent a strong (and I’m sure unintended) message to the boys in our class: it’s okay to ignore the experiences of women, especially if they make you uncomfortable.”

space
Elizabeth Bluemle calls it a disservice to our children when we steer them away from books we see as just “for girls” or “for boys.”
space 

“So often at the store, we hear parents say about a great book, “Oh, he won’t read that. It’s about a girl.” Really? By accepting and perpetuating, pandering to, this mindset, we are basically saying — to ourselves, each other, the boys, and most damagingly, to girls — that it’s okay not to have in interest in the experiences of HALF THE HUMAN RACE.”

space

“Women are too complicated.”
“Men don’t understand women.”
Perhaps if we encouraged boys to read about women, instead of assuming they won’t, they wouldn’t grow up thinking that women are incomprehensible.
space

“Women talk too much”

space

“I don’t know if some of you have been to these live reads at LACMA, where a classic film is read live on stage by actors who just sit and read the script. We did one recently of American Pie, but we reversed the gender roles. All the women played men; all the men played women. And it was so fascinating to be a part of this because, as the women took on these central roles — they had all the good lines, they had all the good laughs, all the great moments — the men who joined us to sit on stage started squirming rather uncomfortably and got really bored because they weren’t used to being the supporting cast.

It was fascinating to feel their discomfort [and] to discuss it with them afterward, when they said, “It’s boring to play the girl role!” And I said, “Yeah. Yeah. You think? Welcome to our world!””

Olivia Wilde

space
If women really “talk too much”, then someone should really tell scriptwriters that they’re not being realistic. An analysis of dialogue in 2,000 films, broken down by age and gender, found what we should really have expected: that men dominate the dialogue, whether you break it down in terms of words spoken or time spent speaking.

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 17.06.29

We can also see again the double standard when it comes to age for men and women (we saw on Day 2 the way in which narrow beauty standards limit the number of roles available for older women).

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 14.44.22

Research shows that the idea that “women talk too much” is a matter of perception- and not everyone’s perception, but specifically men’s. Dr Dale Spender looks at many different studies analysing who talks more (in terms of words used and time spent) both in artificial and natural settings. Whether or not an instructor was present and deliberately trying to encourage female participation, and regardless of the gender ratio of the group, and regardless of whether individuals were recorded speaking by themselves or in a group setting, men dominated conversations and spoke longer individually than women did. Men also tended to be wildly inaccurate when it came to estimating how much they had talked compared to women, on average claiming that women had dominated group conversations when women had in fact spoken only about 30% of the time. Women, on the other hand, were pretty accurate when it came to estimating how much both men and women had spoken.

As with many other common myths (like “women can’t drive”- and yet men crash their cars more often) the idea that “women talk too much” is just that: a myth, and one which contributes to silencing women.

If the research shows that men talk more than women, and society still says women talk too much, this suggests that society isn’t comparing women speaking with men speaking, but women speaking with silent women.
space

Why is this important?

To make any change, you need to be able to tell people about it, and to tell people about it, you must be credible and audible. If people in society have been taught to overlook or ignore women’s voices, we are not audible. If “she’s crazy” is enough to dismiss a woman’s claims, we’re not credible. Rebecca Solnit points out:
space

“Credibility is a basic survival tool. When I was very young and just beginning to get what feminism was about and why it was necessary, I had a boyfriend whose uncle was a nuclear physicist. One Christmas, he was telling–as though it were a light and amusing subject–how a neighbor’s wife in his suburban bomb-making community had come running out of her house naked in the middle of the night screaming that her husband was trying to kill her. How, I asked, did you know that he wasn’t trying to kill her? He explained, patiently, that they were respectable middle-class people. Therefore, her-husband-trying-to-kill-her was simply not a credible explanation for her fleeing the house yelling that her husband was trying to kill her. That she was crazy, on the other hand….”

space
How we hear  women’s voices is incredibly important to all aspects of the movement for equality and liberation. We can’t combat rape culture if women’s reports aren’t taken seriously; we can’t achieve parity in politics if we don’t do something to stop the harassment and threats which push so many women into silence; we won’t see equality in the workplace if we don’t make sure everyone is treated with respect and is allowed to have their say.
space

Want to read more?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s