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Posts Tagged ‘women’s voices’

Why don’t women speak up?

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, education, journalism, life, women, work on November 4, 2016 at 12:41 am

By Caitlin Kelly

photo

Legendary celebrity biographer Kitty Kelley and I at a books festival in Bethesda, Maryland, where we were both speakers. Legendary for her ferocious biographies, she was so much fun!

Fascinating, depressing, unsurprising read in The New York Times this week:

Women’s voices are often missing and discounted in public affairs, even when they have seats at the tables of power. They speak less, make fewer motions and are more often subject to negative interruptions. Similar patterns prevail online.

If they feel at a disadvantage speaking as women, it’s because they are. In settings as varied as school boards, Vermont town meetings, community meetings in rural Indian villages and online news sites worldwide, researchers have quantified how women’s voices are underrepresented.

Women take up just a quarter to a third of discussion time where policy is discussed and decisions made, except when they are in the majority.

As someone — clearly! — unafraid to speak up publicly, whether in a blog post, letter to the editor, (with my letters published in the Times and in Newsweek), essays or op-eds — I’m not someone scared of being heard.

But so many women are!

I was raised this way, and many girls aren’t: I attended a single-sex school ages 8 to 13 and single-sex camps ages 8 to 16, where women led and their competence simply assumed as normal and expected.

I was raised by my father after I turned 14, and he never discouraged me from speaking out, (even if he should have!)

If you’ve ever attended a town meeting or a conference or a public panel discussion, especially when there is a microphone one must speak into, where you’re being recorded on video and audio, it’s an intimidating moment to speak out loud in front of strangers.

They might laugh. They might jeer. They might boo.

Or — they might listen attentively.

I see a similar pattern, and one that disturbs me, everywhere. If you read Twitter, and comments during Twitterchats; if you read letters to the editor in print; if you read on-line comments, you, too, will have noticed the paucity of women’s voices and opinions.

Only one woman’s name stands out as being an extremely vocal letter-writer to the Times, a professor at Brown named Felicia Nimue Ackerman. I don’t know her, but I’ve seen her published comments many, many times.

In one of the many writing classes I’ve taught, I urged my students to start writing letters to the editor, to add more female voices to the overwhelmingly male cacophony. I was thrilled to see one of their letters recently in The Economist.

A random survey this week showed three letters to the October 31 issue of the New Yorker (all women); 11 letters to the Financial Times (no women!); nine letters to the FT (one woman) and eight letters to the FT (no women’s name I recognized; couldn’t tell the gender of three of them.)

Our voices need to be heard!

We vote. We pay taxes. We employ millions of workers. We serve our country in the police force, fire houses and the military.

Why don’t more women speak up?

Frustration at being ignored, talked over or consistently interrupted by men. Responding can make us look bitchy, when it’s they who are being rude.

— Lack of practice: the less often you speak out, the more scary it seems.

— Lack of time. Too busy working/commuting/caring for others’ needs.

— Lack of interest in the subject at hand.

— Lack of self-confidence. “Who’d want to hear my voice anyway?”

— Fear of being trolled, getting rape or death threats. That has happened to women online, certainly.

— Fear of looking stupid or uninformed.

— Fear of saying the “wrong thing”, whatever that is.

— Fear of losing professional status, especially in a male-dominated industry or field. 

From Guts, a Canadian feminist magazine, written by a woman who fought against workplace bullying:

The suspicion, paranoia, anger and even hatred that was evident in my situation shows the disdain with which women are treated in many workplaces, where women are not encouraged to speak up and confront harassment for fear of further abuse by co-workers, unions and employers.

Any employer or union which claims to want a respectful workplace for all should be concerned about the fact that women are afraid to speak out about harassment and discrimination. Employers and unions should make real efforts towards making the workplace safer for women. This involves diversity training geared towards understanding women and women’s concerns about working within a male-dominated workplace. It also involves a commitment to making fair treatment and respect towards women the norm, rather than an exception to the rule. Employers and unions must support women who come forward and openly report harassment, and encourage others to do the same.

Until this happens, of course, you will be told you are “crazy” for coming forward, for stepping up as a target for retaliation and abuse. However, remaining silent while tolerating abuse will ultimately, really, make you go “crazy”.

 

Do you speak up?

When, where and why?

Women, Speak Up! I Can’t Hear You

In behavior, blogging, books, culture, journalism, Media, news, politics, Technology, US, women on February 24, 2011 at 7:43 pm
Mug shot of Paris Hilton.

No, sweetie, Not you ! Image via Wikipedia

Why do most women — certainly educated Western women with unimpeded access to telephones, the Internet and media outlets — still remain so invisible and inaudible?

I don’t mean the images or inanities of women like Paris Hilton or the Kardashians.

Quick! Name ten well-known and highly-respected women whose opinions carry national or international weight: Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel and…the list quickly dwindles when it comes to females currently known in the media as an expert on much of anything.

Until or unless women claim the same intellectual space, jostling elbow to sharpened elbow with all the men who feel utterly confident speaking their minds, we will remain unheard, our deepest concerns unheeded.

I loved, loved, reading an op-ed this week in Canada’s national daily newspaper of record, The Globe and Mail, arguing for the retention of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan by Alaina Podmorow, a 14-year-old Canadian girl who founded a charity for Afghan woman and girls.

She did so after hearing, and being inspired, by Sally Armstrong, a fellow Canadian — albeit a few decades older — a journalist whose passion for women and world affairs lit the fuse of activism in a little girl. That’s my kind of girl power!

And how often do you read, in a national newspaper with the stature of The New York Times or the Globe, an op-ed or letter to the editor written by a woman? Let alone a young girl?

How about….never?

Here’s a great, angry piece published this week in Canada, in a national chain of newspapers, by Katherine Govier, a Canadian author and former journalist:

We were treated to the news last week, via the New York Times, that Wikipedia, increasingly the go-to reference for historical and contemporary general knowledge, has a dark secret. It is chiefly written by 25-year-old males.

Help us and save us.

It’s true. A study has shown that only 13 per cent of the hundreds of thousands of contributors to the “collaborative” online encyclopedia are female. Of the 87 per cent who remain, and are male, the average age is mid-twenties. Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation (a woman, oddly enough), says this came about because of Wikipedia’s nature. It is skewed toward aggressive hackertypes who are obsessed with facts and reflect the male-dominated computer culture. They are, furthermore, imbued with a sense that it is really important for everyone to know about Niko Bellic, a character who is a former soldier in the video game Grand Theft Auto IV. He gets an article five times as long as does Pat Barker, a (female) British novelist in her late 60s. That is, he did until Gardner herself added background to Pat Barker’s entry.

So this is how it works. Women have to step up and become Wikipedia contributors.

This isn’t a new problem. Sigh.

Women, still, are so often socialized from earliest childhood to be “nice”. How many of us, still, are raised with the appalling and powerful imprecation: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything.”

I like Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s version: “If you can’t say anything nice, come sit by me!”

Women are so often told to be quiet, be nice, calm down, sit back. We need to be shouting!

Whether in print, television, radio, in blogs, letters to the editor, anywhere that makes clear we have strong opinions and they deserve serious attention. And yet, and yet, depending what sort of culture and community you live in, there are often strong imperatives, religious or political or economic or familial, that stay our hands and still our tongues.

Enough already.

Here’s a quick tip on getting your voice heard, fast, in a letter to the editor, from a terrific blog on women’s voices and how to make them heard loud and clear through traditional media.

Have you spoken out — whether at a town or city council meeting? Letters to the editor? An op-ed?

Do you think we’re being heard?