Student Well-Being

Teaching Girls to Speak Up

By Francesca Duffy — November 02, 2012 1 min read
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Women speak up less than men do when they are outnumbered, according to The Deseret News, but when women do talk, they tend to change a group’s outcomes.

The paper cites a study published last month in American Political Science Review, which found that women are more likely to talk in a group when they think their vote is important—such as when a decision needs to be unanimous.

Chris Karpowitz, one of the study’s researchers, and assistant political science professor at Brigham Young University, told The Deseret News that issues of importance to women, such as those regarding equality, children, and the poor, are only brought up when women speak up in meetings. “We are not just missing something others in the group might say or were saying already, but we lose a perspective that contributes to the discussion and to group outcome,” said Karpowitz.

Anea Bogue, self-esteem expert, former teacher, and creator of an empowerment program for girls, told the paper that the lack of women’s voices in the public sphere sends the message that women “have been and continue to be ‘absent partners’ in the construction of our collective daily life.” The absence can be felt, for instance:

... in media, where only one-fifth of characters on TV and in movies are female; in school, where 10 women are mentioned to every 100 men in history books; in most high school English classes where only one of the top 10 works of literature used was written by a woman; in the seven top chemistry texts, where 85 percent of the images shown feature men; and in politics, where America ranks 90th in terms of women representatives in government.

Girls need to be encouraged to speak up, to challenge perspectives that are harmful or disrespectful to them as girls, to say “No” when they need to, and to ask for help, Bogue said.

Are the boys more vocal than the girls in your classroom? Do you see a difference in the kinds of conversations your students have when girls do speak up? How can teachers encourage girls to speak up in class, even when they might be outnumbered by boys?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.