Why women talk less

This week on Newsnight, Evan Davis talked to three women about all-male panels—a subject made topical by the recent popularity of a tumblr set up to name and shame them. Why, he asked, are women so often un- or under-represented in public forums? Are they reluctant to put themselves forward? Are they deterred by the adversarial nature of the proceedings?

The women offered some alternative suggestions. Women don’t get asked, or if they do it’s assumed you only need one. Women aren’t seen as experts, unless the subject is a ‘women’s issue’. The age-old prejudice against women speaking in public means that any woman who dares to voice her opinions can expect to be deluged with abuse and threats.

But while all-male panels are obviously a problem, they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Just ensuring that women are represented on a panel does not guarantee their voices will be heard.

Popular wisdom holds that women talk incessantly; research shows that in mixed-sex discussions it’s men who do most of the talking. The pattern is consistent, and statistically robust. The settings where it has been documented include not only laboratories, but also school and university classrooms, academic conferences, committee meetings, town meetings, Parliamentary debates and the comments sections of news websites.

Three explanations have been popular since the 1970s.

  1. Women are socialized to be unassertive: they’re reluctant to speak in public, and when they do enter public forums they don’t have the confidence to compete with men.
  2. Women aren’t interested in competing with men: they prefer a co-operative and supportive style of discourse to the adversarial mode that’s typical of male-dominated public forums.
  3. Women are silenced by men’s sexist behaviour. Men interrupt women, talk over them, mansplain to them, ignore their contributions when they do manage to get a word in and give credit to the man who makes the same point two minutes later.

For each diagnosis there’s a corresponding prescription. If the problem is female unassertiveness, the solution is for women to be more assertive. If the problem is that public discussions are conducted according to men’s rules rather than women’s, the solution is to get more women involved (the theory being that as their numbers reach ‘critical mass’, usually put at around 30%, their influence will begin to change the culture). If the problem is sexism, the solution is to challenge men’s behaviour.

If these solutions worked, we’d have cracked the problem long ago. But they don’t work, as we know from both experience and research.

Advice to be assertive is easier to give than to take. Most people in most situations would hesitate to challenge a colleague who interrupts by saying ‘stop interrupting me’. And they’d be right to hesitate: research suggests that people who use the strategies recommended on assertiveness training courses (be direct, make ‘I’ statements, repeat a point until it’s acknowledged) are seen as rude, aggressive and socially inept. If they’re women, the effect is magnified by the perception of their behaviour as ‘unfeminine’.

Increasing women’s numbers to 30%, or even 50% (desirable as that might be for other reasons) does not solve the problem either. The authors of a recent book (aptly titled The Silent Sex) found that men still out-talked women when the group was 60% female. Women only spoke as much as men when they outnumbered them 4:1.

You’re probably thinking: ‘OK then, what’s your solution?’ The truth is, I don’t think there’s a single, simple solution. The problem is more complicated than most discussions acknowledge: it’s not just about women being shrinking violets and/or men being overbearing jerks. Of course those may be factors, but they aren’t the whole story. Ultimately this is a story about the choices both men and women make under conditions of structural sexual inequality.

I know, that’s not exactly a catchy soundbite. But if you want to solve a problem, it helps to understand what you’re dealing with. So, let’s talk about some aspects of the problem that don’t tend to feature in popular accounts.

Women don’t support other women

What happens when people talk is affected by group dynamics. The speakers who contribute most aren’t always the ones who behave most assertively; often they’re the ones who get most support from other people. They are able to gain and hold onto the floor—without needing to act like jerks—because others invite them to speak, listen attentively to what they say, ask them questions and make responses which encourage them to continue. And these people are likely to be men. Women get less support from other speakers of both sexes.

In a study of same-sex group discussions among secondary school pupils, Judith Baxter found that boys who emerged as leaders were able to do so because other boys deferred to their suggestions, echoed their comments and laughed at their jokes. Among girls there were individuals who behaved in similar ways to the dominant boys, but their attempts to take the lead were less successful, because they were not supported by other girls. In fact, they were actively resisted and resented. The class teacher told Baxter that girls did not accept other girls’ authority, whereas no one had a problem with boys taking charge. The girls themselves were blunter, saying: ‘boys aren’t as bitchy as girls. And girls aren’t as bitchy to blokes’.

These girls were policing one another’s behaviour in accordance with the cultural norm which says authority and power are male prerogatives. Consequently they were reproducing, in an all-female group, the same resistance to authoritative female speech that disadvantages women in mixed-sex interactions.

Women are judged by a double standard

The girls in Baxter’s study were participating in a system that rewards girls and women for ‘feminine’ behaviour and punishes them for behaviour deemed ‘unfeminine’. In childhood and adolescence, what mainly keeps girls in line is the threat of being ostracized by their peers. That’s also a consideration for adult women, but they have to worry about other things as well.

For high-profile female public figures—politicians like Hillary Clinton, or public intellectuals like Mary Beard—the price of transgressing the norms of femininity is being pilloried by the media. In the business world your career may be blighted. A study of the performance evaluations given to men and women in the IT industry found that women’s evaluations, but not men’s, frequently included criticisms of their ‘abrasive’ manner. Like ‘bossy’ and ‘strident’ (also words which are rarely applied to men), ‘abrasive’ is code for ‘she talks too much/too forcefully’. It’s a clear double standard: what’s acceptable in men becomes a problem when women do it.

This is one reason why advice to be more assertive can backfire. It also suggests that women who don’t speak up may not have a problem with assertiveness at all. Some may be choosing not to compete directly with men, because they think the costs outweigh the benefits.

Women don’t break the rules

In classroom studies it’s a common finding that boys get more speaking time than girls, and one reason for that is that boys break the rules and get away with it. Rather than waiting for permission to speak, boys call out when they have something to say. Girls do this less often, and teachers’ reaction when they do it is much less tolerant. Something similar has been observed among adults—especially in male-dominated institutions where women are seen, and often see themselves, as ‘interlopers’.

In 1999, two years after the election of a record 119 women MPs, Sylvia Shaw carried out research in the House of Commons to investigate how the women were faring. At first glance it seemed they were holding their own: in proportion to their (much lower) numbers, they were contributing as much as men. But on closer inspection, this only applied to the ‘legal’ part of the debate. Women made far fewer ‘illegal’ interventions—turns defined as ‘out of order’, like comments interjected from a sitting position. At Westminster, illegal contributions make up a fair proportion of the overall proceedings, so by not breaking the rules women were losing out on both airtime and influence.

Shaw related this to their ‘interloper’ status. In interviews, some women told her they consciously avoided rule-breaking, because they wanted to make clear they knew how to conduct themselves (this is classic ‘interloper’ behaviour). But she also found that men were given more license to break the rules. Women who intervened illegally were more likely to be reprimanded by the Speaker.

Women don’t have strength in numbers

119 women MPs may have been a record number, but it was still less than 20% of the total. In public contexts it’s common for men to outnumber women, and this also contributes to their linguistic dominance.

The authors of The Silent Sex conducted an experiment to investigate how women’s participation in group discussion is affected by the gender composition of the group and the procedure used to make decisions. They put people into groups of five, composed to represent every possible male-female ratio, and asked the groups to deliberate on a question about the fairest way to distribute resources. Some groups were instructed to make their decision by majority vote; others were told their decision should be unanimous.

In a hypothetical just world, each person in a group would contribute equally, and each sex would contribute in proportion to its numbers. But that wasn’t what the study found. Women in mostly-male groups took up less than their fair share of the speaking time. By contrast, men in mostly-female groups took at least as much time as they were entitled to.

But the decision-making procedure made a difference. Women in mostly-male groups contributed more (though still less than their share) when decisions were made unanimously. This makes sense: if everyone has to agree, everyone also has to speak. But in groups where women outnumbered men, they did better with majority voting. Unanimous decision-making always helps the minority, and where men are the minority they exploit that to the max. As the researchers explain, ‘minority women leverage unanimous rule to reach equality, whereas minority men leverage it to exceed equality’.

Women don’t benefit from seniority

Most institutions are hierarchical, and the people at the top of the hierarchy have more authority to speak than those lower down. In many cases this puts women at a double disadvantage. As well as being in a minority, they are likely to be concentrated in the most junior positions.

A study of questions after presentations at an astronomy conference found that—in proportion to their numbers—men asked far more questions than women. The researchers explained this as an effect of seniority. Questions at academic conferences function as a display of the questioner’s own expert status, so they tend to be asked by higher-ranking academics. But in astronomy, seniority is gendered. The field was until recently extremely male-dominated; more women have entered it in the last decade, but they are still in the early stages of their careers. How many of them will advance to senior positions, and how quickly, remains to be seen.

The conclusion I draw from research is that in most situations, male linguistic dominance isn’t just a direct result of men being sexist. I’m not denying they can be sexist, and often are. I’m saying this is a hard problem to solve because usually men benefit from several different things working together: their numbers, their seniority, their ‘insider’ (rather than ‘interloper’) status, the preference of both sexes for male authority, and the choice some women make not to compete with men directly. At an abstract level these are all manifestations of the same problem—structural sexual inequality—but there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

So, what can we do to change things?

As a supposed expert on this subject, I often get men telling me about some panel or board or committee they were on where the women barely spoke. What they think they’re proving is that the problem is intractable: that’s just the way women are. I ask them what the gender balance in the group was, how status was distributed, what procedures they followed and how discussions were facilitated. And then I bore them with a few research findings which suggest that if they changed some of those things, they might find women behaving differently. More of us could ask those questions; those of us with some institutional power could also do something about the answers.

Another thing we could do is make a conscious effort to support other women. Standing up for your own rights can make you look like the aggressive one; standing up for someone else’s makes you less vulnerable to that judgment. Rather than ‘stop interrupting me’, we could try ‘just a second, can we hear the end of Linda’s point?’ Or we could try to pre-empt the need for defensive measures by jumping in to acknowledge Linda’s contribution before she gets interrupted.

The way girls and women police their own and each other’s behaviour is another factor that contributes to the problem. Criticizing individuals is not the answer; what we need to do is address the conditions that make their behaviour a rational choice. We could start by examining our own attitudes to women’s speech. Feminists don’t use words like ‘abrasive’ and ‘strident’, but we do sometimes praise women for being nicer than men. If we want to see women in positions of authority, we can’t expect them to behave as if they were not in those positions.

Of course feminists want to see things done differently, with less of the arrogance, aggression and self-aggrandisement we criticize in men. But that doesn’t mean we should idealize the opposite, the deferential, conciliatory and self-effacing behaviour which is expected of women under patriarchy. Masculinity and femininity are both products of the same oppressive system. And we will never be able to change it if women can’t make their voices heard.

116 thoughts on “Why women talk less”

  1. Thank you for providing a thorough analysis of the issues, their complicating factors and possible ways forward. The more I read, the more I realize that this type of rigor can be hard to find in the blogosphere. Complexity often gets the shaft in our quest for the tweetable sound bite. So thanks again for digging deeper and challenging your readers to do the same.

    Liked by 15 people

  2. Reblogged this on liberation is life and commented:
    Debbie Cameron, feminist author and editor at feminist mag Trouble & Strife, draws out the issues here in a very explanatory way.

    Some of us have observed that the solution to women’s contributions being interrupted more, and signal-boosted and valued less, is not to admonish women to be more ‘assertive’. Where we are already speaking, and are treated as aggressive for rebuking others for interrupting us, this treats us as the problem, and so adds to our difficulties. It is important to note that liberal solutions along those lines are in fact individualistic, in regarding individuals’ problems as their own failures. (In fact such solutions are often made in patronising, sexist ways, such as when people make a display of ‘encouraging’ women to do things which they are already in the process of doing. This functions as a social suggestion that the woman is not strong/capable/talented, but requires ‘encouragement’.)

    Cameron’s points also show the deficiencies in models of female oppression which portray it and female leadership as being problems largely of female psychology or culture – as a failure to ‘be strong’. Models which are still quite prevalent in socialist groups:

    ‘In a study of same-sex group discussions among secondary school pupils, Judith Baxter found that boys who emerged as leaders were able to do so because other boys deferred to their suggestions, echoed their comments and laughed at their jokes. Among girls there were individuals who behaved in similar ways to the dominant boys, but their attempts to take the lead were less successful, because they were not supported by other girls. In fact, they were actively resisted and resented. The class teacher told Baxter that girls did not accept other girls’ authority, whereas no one had a problem with boys taking charge. []

    ‘These girls were policing one another’s behaviour in accordance with the cultural norm which says authority and power are male prerogatives. Consequently they were reproducing, in an all-female group, the same resistance to authoritative female speech that disadvantages women in mixed-sex interactions.’

    Social media discussions often unwittingly display these dynamics, where posts by men about feminism are contributed to by both men and women, and feminist posts by women are paid less attention to.

    Liked by 11 people

  3. What would be really helpful is a canonical reference … perhaps a PLOS ten simple rules for participants and organizers article http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4207461/

    There is on for organizing a panel, but not for running a lab, a meeting, asking questions. It is a constant struggle to try to elicit input from all participants in the face of opinionated loudmouths like myself. Though I do try.

    The two rules I picked up here are:

    1. Speak out for others
    2. Be supportive of other’s inputs.

    This is a great, informative post, but it would be helpful to have a reference list. Something like ‘ten simple rules’ could be added to a list of lab protocols.

    Or maybe something of the sort exists? (More proscriptive than a ‘code of conduct’).

    Liked by 7 people

  4. I get a 404 error when trying to follow the link to the Judith Baxter study.

    Enjoyed both this and the earlier article, all the best with blogging!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Sorry about the link–worked when I put it up–but it wasn’t to the full text, just the reference. The study is in a book Baxter also edited, called Speaking Out. If you look for it on Amazon or Google Books you might be able to read the relevant chapter.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Very interesting read. Unfortunately, as a teacher I can tell you how hard I work to encourage girls’ assertiveness and try very hard to distribute talking time equally without necessarily gaining any ground. On the other hand, the teaching profession being strongly feminized, in teachers’ discussions, women are very vocal. However, so far my boss has always been male…
    A well-written and non-jargon piece 😉 Great!

    Liked by 5 people

  7. Must it be a problem that women talk less? Verbal speech is only a tiny slice of the communication spectrum anyway, I’m sure that women have a proper influence regardless of how we frame it.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Reblogged this on Politics 360° and commented:
    An interesting piece on the gender balance in politics. I think the point made about women supporting each other is really important – strength in numbers and all. But yes, do have a read, particularly if you have an interest on how women can make themselves heard in the male-dominated political sphere.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Gapawa, I don’t think that’s true. The authors of The Silent Sex actually measured the influence individuals had in group discussions (how they were perceived by others in the group, how far the decision reflected their views and concerns) and they found influence correlated quite strongly with how much a person had spoken. In public contexts where decisions are made and opinions formed, not getting your fair share of the speaking time undoubtedly lessens your influence, so I think it is a pretty serious problem that women are systematically underrepresented as speakers in public forums. By the way, that thing we’ve all heard about 90% of communication being non-verbal is not supported by good evidence.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I am so glad someone made an effort to write about this subject.
    It is very true – men do talk more than women, and often look down on women. I agree with everything. And yes, I have personally experienced how women can get “bitchy” towards one another if another women stand out and takes the lead. It is almost a jealousy at play as well amongst women.
    Yes, I do agree that as women, we should not lose our feminine quality, even if we do stand up and make our voices heard. We do not have to rob men of their masculinity to be equal to them, but we do not have to lose our feminine beauty of character and physical beauty to prove a point. We can still be women and have a voice to make a difference.
    Excellent post, thank you for writing it!

    Liked by 6 people

  11. Thank you for gathering all of this depressing but important data into one place and presenting it in such an organized fashion. I don’t agree with your conclusion regarding the lower degree of blame deserved by men, but I’m glad to see a greater emphasis placed upon the role we women can and should play in helping effect improvement.

    Fantastic piece, and really well-written.

    Liked by 5 people

  12. That’s a great post, examining what is going on in a really well-reasoned, non finger pointing way, avoiding making ‘men’ or ‘women’ wrong.

    I wonder if learning how to listen, some kind of ‘here is the etiquette to allow debate to flourish’ could usefully happen in schools! It does seem that from almost everywhere we get messages about ME, MY OPINION – eg presenters on TV programmes/chat shows who are often far more interested in doing their own big personality stuff, rather than actually allow the person who is the guest to make their points. It’s often a collection of egos, rather than any kind of discussion.

    Liked by 4 people

  13. Great Topic !! As a young feminist i learned at a very young age to be assertive and unintmedated by males masculine agressiveness in daily conversation , in the classroom , for debates , and for business meetings. I think this is an amazing topic because some women are afraid to show their masculine side and trust me we all have one. I hope that one day most women would learn to be more outspoken in a room full of men with out any regard of being the only woman there , because honestly if we never speak up we’ll never be heard.

    Liked by 5 people

  14. Reblogged this on Librarian to be. . . and commented:
    It’s interesting how this dynamic does not play out in library school, at least in the classes I’ve been in, but I wonder if it plays out like this in the work force of the library world since more senior positions are held by men. Also, I would be curious as to how this dynamic plays out in library conferences.
    While the author points out that when women say things akin to, “stop interrupting me” to their colleagues who are men they are seen as “rude, aggressive and socially inept” and women have the added ‘benefit’ of being seen as “unfeminine”, I have not experienced backlash from being assertive in that way as far as I’m aware. Maybe I’ve just been lucky thus far?

    Liked by 5 people

  15. Reblogged this on The Lucesco and commented:
    Thoroughly enjoyed this post. Hopefully you don’t mind if I reblog to my own blog site, The Lucesco. Not sure you if caught the new Economist issue entitled, “The Weaker Sex” but it pokes at some of these issues.

    Liked by 4 people

  16. I think that men look down at women, as to say we get by because of our beauty, like we are second class just yesterday i had an encounter with my boyfriend’s co-worker. We were both at a conference and he felt the need to constantly repeat what the speaker was saying as if i can not understand. Give men a chance and they will never stop talking, that is so true. I have learn’t to accept my role in society and no man can make me or place me in a category I don’t belong in. Great piece, very bold and entertaining.

    Liked by 5 people

  17. I like the emphasis on so-called ‘unintentional sexism’ (“age old prejudice” etc) which suggests that no individual is at fault; rather the system’s standardised opinion

    Liked by 5 people

  18. Reblogged this on operation happier and commented:
    That statue is in my home state, and this subject hits home for me. It’s a great read that I highly recommend, with solutions that we can all start putting into practice today.


  19. Hello. I know about this attitude between students in class. I gave an answer to a class once and a man that was there looked at me up and down and said coming from a woman. Right there he belittled me in front of the classroom. Everyone in the class laughed at me. Then there was this other teacher that when I raised my hand to ask a question he would ignore me. I stopped giving opinions in classes all together. I have this learned experienced about school. It’s not a good one.

    Liked by 6 people

  20. “Another thing we could do is make a conscious effort to support other women.”

    Many years ago, when I began working in a corporate office environment, I began noticing how often men completely ignored contributions made by women during meetings and discussions — contributions that were on-point and useful. I was born with a severe hearing loss — which was known to my co-workers — so I began interrupting and saying things like, “I didn’t quite hear what you said, Barbara. Could you say that again?”

    I was always slightly bothered by the “man to the rescue” aspect of this, but I *loved* disconcerting the men in the room and doing what little I could to try to level the field. But maybe it’s a tactic women could leverage to get around hostile defensive reactions?

    Both my parents were professionals, and I was raised with a natural expectation of egalitarianism between the sexes (and races). One source of horror for me as I grew older was the realization that there is a segment of male society with an abiding bitter resentment and outright hatred of women. That’s something I think we need to fix to proceed — I just wish I knew how. That kind of bigotry mystifies me.

    Liked by 8 people

  21. Reblogged this on stellasyr and commented:
    This is a terrific read. It captured my interest due to it’s related content per a blog I’m currently writing (soon to be posted) based on my own experiences and perceptions regarding women transgressing normative gender structures and the reluctance from other women to accept a different take on these normative societal structures…

    Liked by 5 people

  22. Hi! Excellent article. I’in India and in my part of the world in many conservative communities women are usually not expected to assert their opinions against their man’s. Or anyone else’s. I consider myself lucky to be married to my husband who is unusually and oh-so-pleasantly open-minded and so is his family. However from my observation of women who do not enjoy such freedom of speech and other things around me, the number one problem is women don’t support women.

    Liked by 4 people

  23. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if, for group settings–assembles, town halls, etc.–a combination of facial recognition and audio analysis software could comb, combine, and analyze inputs of the livestream input and feed it into a giant sort of gauge on the wall visible to all members, displaying in two colors (no–NOT pink versus blue, please) the relative verbal floor times thus far of male versus female members?

    Wouldn’t THAT by an eye-opener.

    Software wonks out there? Indiegogo, anyone?

    Liked by 3 people

  24. Hi ya Tris Chandler, my dad got his masters in being a Librarian. Although he didn’t stay long in it due to politics. Who knew, even libraries could be political? Well, probably because public and school ones always come up against funding issues and censorship issues, but anyhow, my point is this… Males have dominated the publishing world, the writing world, and the telling of history as well as what to teach in all manner of institutions. So, I’d say you are young on the curve and not really “lucky” to not feel the effects being expressed in this article, but rather you are still unaware of them. And what effects your sisterhood negatively should not make you particularly luckier for not having had the same problematic obstructions and encounters…
    By experiencing the negative we acquire empathy skills for others which is far better than ignorant bliss. No offense by my “assertiveness” btw.

    Peace to you and best of luck in your academic and work pursuits. I love libraries! Your work matters to keep books accessible to the people so good on you.

    Liked by 3 people

  25. Hi Ruth Gem, What do mean men are being “robbed” of their masculinity? Since when have men ever been robbed? Isn’t it more like they’ve been robbed of their femininity and are not allowed to express a fuller range of emotions? Are they not actually being harmed by the role of the hyper-masculine? And that women are not actually allowed to be “angry”?
    Anyhow… I think there’s far more fluidity to gender and we are not so binary as your comment sounded.
    Food for thought… maybe. Best wishes to you.

    Liked by 6 people

  26. I talk less because I can’t get a word in around blokes. My ego isn’t big enough. When I try to take the lead of other women, I find they are too quiet and I stop emulating them after a while. When I do get a word in, I sound rude and disruptive. My mother wouldn’t be proud.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. I loved this. I experience it all the time on twitter, having a debate with someone of the opposite sex and having to apologise for being direct or having women tell me I shouldn’t challenge them. Good on you for writing it.

    Liked by 3 people

  28. Reblogged this on MaanamiNaomi and commented:
    People are going to continue down playing women until we stand up! Ladies we run the world!! without us there would be no life. wake up

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Part of it too is the fear for not only being lambasted on a professional level- but people have zero qualms about attacking a woman’s appearance, personality- even maternal values. (Basically people are mean)

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Reblogged this on i8there4irun and commented:
    This is a great article. Reminds me of the Pink’s Song “Stupid Girl”:
    What happened to the dream of a girl president?
    She’s dancin’ in the video next to 50 Cent
    They travel in packs of 2 or 3
    With their itsy bitsy doggies and their teenie weenie tees
    Where, oh where, have the smart people gone?
    Oh where, oh where could they be?…
    The disease is growing, it’s epidemic
    I’m scared that there ain’t a cure…
    The world believes it and I’m going crazy
    I cannot take anymore
    I’m so glad that I’ll never fit in
    That will never be me
    Outcasts and girls with ambition
    That’s what I wanna see
    Read more: Pink – Stupid Girls Lyrics | MetroLyrics

    Their only concern
    Will it eat up my hair?

    Maybe if I act like that
    That guy will call me back
    Want a paparazzi girl?
    I don’t wanna be a stupid girl

    Pink – Stupid Girls Lyrics | MetroLyrics

    Liked by 5 people

  31. Women are expected to be the weak, silent, submissive type, especially in relationships while men are entitled to be the strong, loud, dominant type, which makes men very bitchy and not support other men. Of course, we glorify male jealousy among men as well.


  32. “If the problem is that public discussions are conducted according to men’s rules rather than women’s, the solution is to get more women involved (the theory being that as their numbers reach ‘critical mass’, usually put at around 30%, their influence will begin to change the culture).”

    When you stated this as a hypothetical mode of addressing your second explanation of why women talk less, it was not what I expected you to say! (Though I see that it needed to be brought up and discussed.) I thought you were going to more literally reverse #2 and say that we need to give a platform to the more “cooperative and supportive style of discourse” that women may prefer, rather than try to change women to suit the group discussion format. I don’t know what that would most effectively involve, but you touch on some modes with the discussion if unanimous decisions, i.e. situations that make all participants feel that they have both the right and the responsibility to speak, listen, and respond.


  33. Hello Deborah, I really enjoy your blog.
    I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on the following phenomenon. I give a lot of public talks. I was for 17 years the editor-in-chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary so I often talk about Canadian English. Usually I am asked to talk for about 45-50 minutes and then take questions. When the Q&A opens up, even though my audiences (mostly seniors) are about 80% female, about 80% of the questions come from men. I know there have been studies that prove that men talk more than women, so I think this is just more evidence of that phenomenon.
    But there is another phenomenon. Invariably the first words out of the men’s mouths are “You didn’t mention ….” or “You didn’t talk about ….”. As a speaker, this strikes me as very negative and sounds almost reproachful, or like an implication that there is some shortcoming in my knowledge that the questioner is now going to fill in. I mentioned 50 minutes worth of stuff (and I could have mentioned 17 years’ worth of stuff given the time). I feel they could frame it instead as “What can you say about…”. Maybe I associate this with men wrongly, just because they are over-represented among the questioners.
    Anyway, just wondering if there’s any research on this kind of conversational gambit and thought it might be grist for your mill. Maybe you have had the same experience!


  34. […] *Deborah Cameron is Rupert Murdoch Professor of Language and Communication at Oxford University and is author of several books, including  The Myth of Mars and Venus. She is also one of the editors of the feminist magazine Trouble & Strife, and can be found on Twitter @wordspinster. This article was first published on her blog. […]


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