This just in from the realm of totally unsurprising but still super-interesting science news: a new study in American Political Science Review suggests that women speak less (dramatically less, in many cases) than men when men outnumber women.
But it’s a little more complicated than the headline:
There is an exception to this rule of gender participation, however. The time inequality disappeared when researchers instructed participants to decide by a unanimous vote instead of majority rule.
Results showed that the consensus-building approach was particularly empowering for women who were outnumbered by men in their group. . .
For their experiments, Karpowitz and Mendelberg recruited people to be part of a group and discuss the best way to distribute money they earned together from a hypothetical task. In all, the researchers observed 94 groups of at least five people.
On average, groups deliberated for 25 minutes before settling the matter. Participants voted by secret ballot, but half of the groups followed majority rule while the other half decided only with a unanimous vote.
Notably, the groups arrived at different decisions depending on women’s participation – swinging the group’s stance on the level of generosity given to the lowest member of the group.
“When women participated more, they brought unique and helpful perspectives to the issue under discussion,” Karpowitz said. “We’re not just losing the voice of someone who would say the same things as everybody else in the conversation.”
By way of commentary, the fabulous Lindy West writes:
HA. That is just about the truest shit that I have ever heard. I (and, I suspect, pretty much any woman) can access that feeling really quickly and vividly—when you find yourself in conversation with a circle of men and, against your better judgment and all your feminist impulses, you just turtle up. You retire. You forfeit, because their lungs are bigger, they’re groomed for assertiveness since birth, and you’re groomed to assume that nobody will take you seriously anyway. You wait for a pause in a room of interruptors. Sigh. I do it like crazy, and I am a fucking loudmouth feminist yelling machine.
Can I hear an “amen!”? Against my best wishes and against my better judgement, this is how I feel almost every time I talk philosophy with a bunch of guys. And I’ll hazard a guess that I’m not alone in that feeling.
(Luckily, our profession doesn’t place much weight on being quick and dazzling in conversation. Otherwise women might be at a disadvantage, given their proportional representation. Oh wait. . .)