Social speech norms continue to silence women


The Appalachian Online

Lauren Burrows

Sexism is entrenched in much more of America’s social cues than most of us realize. The roots of America’s “woman problem” not only extend deep into our institutions, but as far into our human systems as to permeate our means of communication with one another.

Verbal speech, the most common system of communication humans have with one another, has left half of the human population unaccounted for.

Women have once again been silenced by the patriarchal hand that our speech systems originated under.

Girls, at a young age, are expected to hold a more subservient attitude in speech, whereas their male counterparts are expected to be more assertive and humorous. These expectations have left lingering effects on women and how they are heard.

American society teaches girls at a young age that what they speak about is unimportant. Even in the home setting, parents are twice as likely to speak over daughters than sons, and when they do talk to their daughters, they are twice as likely to talk about chores, according to BBC.

In a study by Cambridge University, up to two thirds of classroom time was given to engagement with male students. Male students are also typically viewed as being penalized by having to sit still and stay quiet in school, where this same point is rarely made toward girls, who are assumed to be naturally quiet and well-behaved.

These sexist assumptions are carried into adulthood, where in a social mixed-gender setting, women are viewed as “dominating the conversation” if they speak only 30 percent of the time, according to a study at the University of Texas.

Based on the same idea shown to boys at a young age – that women’s speech is of little importance – men are more likely to interrupt and speak over women than the opposite. Many times, a woman will make a statement and gain no response, only to have a man repeat it afterward, bringing about conversation and debate.

In this way, the male gender is viewed as holding superior status to the female, which greatly influences women’s status and stance in society. As a result, women, especially those in professional roles, are hindered because of speech cues regardless of how qualified she may be to excel in their positions.

The confusion of “women’s speech” with “unimportant dialogue” is dangerous, and both women and men would benefit from language being held by more gender-neutral guidelines.

Holding socialized male speech dominance to a higher standard and being more aware of sexist speech can help women’s voices to regain their volume.

Burrows, a freshman journalism major from Mint Hill, is an opinion writer.

COLUMN: Lauren Burrows, Opinion Writer