Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Gender Gap in Participation

Stereotypes suggest that women can talk for hours about their feelings, while men share less about their emotions. Though this typecast may be a prevalent societal perception, in reality the opposite may be true, particularly in settings where men and women are publically speaking within a group. Observing different public discourse settings may provide insight into women’s verbal participation, specifically in more formal public situations such as political settings. This may also lead to a better understanding of how women participate in politics. Mendelberg and Karpowitz suggest that women make policy differences only when they have true parity with men. [1] It is essential that women participate; and when women participate less than men, women are by default, less represented.

In order for us to know how to make sure women are better represented, we must first see if women truly do participate less in public settings. I hypothesized that women would participate less frequently than men in classroom, church, and political settings. Research by the UN suggested that women with decision-making authority succeeded in introducing changes to improve the lives of many women. [2] This convinced more women in the general public to participate because they saw that women could make real policy changes. [2] Because of this, I also speculated that when the discussions were led by women, more women would participate.

In addition to how often women and men participated, I wanted to look at the kind of comments they made. Sociologists Schau and Meierding suggested that women use hedging comments more than men, which are comments like “this might be wrong” or “I’m not sure but…” [3] This has even been seen in professional settings, where women use hedging even when dealing with someone who is in a lower power position than herself. [3] Lawless and Fox found that women believe that they know a lot less about policy issues and also believe that they are less qualified [4]. Because of this research, I hypothesized that women would not only participate less, but when they did participate, they would hedge their comments.

Observation Methods
I observed participation in different settings where discourse takes place: two discussion-based classes, Sunday school, BYU College Democrats, and BYU College Republicans. I kept track of the number of times that men spoke and the number of times that women spoke in all of these settings over the course of two meetings.

I originally hypothesized that when the discussion was led by a woman, women in the group would participate more. In order to observe this, I looked at every setting with both a woman leading the discussion and a man leading the discussion. First, I looked at two Journalism classes of similar size that were discussion-based. I also looked at two Sunday school classes with the same lesson content. In both of these cases, I observed one class where a man taught and another where a woman taught. Finally, I also attended a BYU College Democrat’s meeting which was led by two women, and a BYU College Republican’s meeting which was led by two men. Additionally, I took note of the kind of comments that were made in these settings by both men and women. Anytime a man or woman added a hedging comment to their statement, I would write their exact words.

Observation Findings
After I observed these participation based meetings, I found that women spoke less in every single setting. Furthermore, when women did speak, they would often hedge their comments.

In the journalism classes, women participated less than men. Details of this participation is seen in Table 1. Additionally, I heard hedging comments from women in both of these classes. In the journalism class with a woman teacher, four of the women gave hedging comments. Further, these hedging comments took up about half of the time that they spent talking. The men in the class did not use any hedging comments. In the
journalism class with a man teaching, all of the girls who spoke used hedging comments. The men never made hedged comments. 

In Sunday school, I observed similar things as I did in the classrooms. In both cases, women spoke much less than men. The exact observations can be seen in Table 2. I further noticed that there were more hedging comments in the church setting than any other setting. Every woman who spoke added a hedging comment. At church, the woman’s hedging comments were often things like “I understand that I do not know everything because I do not have the priesthood..." In the church setting, women suggested that they knew less than men so they felt they could not fully contribute to the class.

I also attended the BYU College Democrats and BYU College Republicans meetings. Both meetings were about money and politics. In the BYU College Democrats meeting, which was led by two women, we found that women still commented much less than men. Even in a group that you would think would be more open minded and welcoming of all opinions, especially at BYU, women participated less. Women also participated less in the BYU College Republicans meeting. Full findings can be seen in Table 3. 

One thing that I found interesting is that no hedging comments were made from men or women in either of these political settings. One suggestion for this finding may be that people who came to these meetings did so because they were interested in and already had a background knowledge of money and politics, so they felt confident enough in their knowledge that they did not feel the need to excuse themselves before making comments. 

Overall, I found that women participated much less than men. When women did participate, they gave hedging comments to excuse their words. Although these findings may be telling of the gender gap in participation, I found no evidence as to why this may be. I originally suggested that perhaps when women lead the conversation, women are more likely to participate. However, my observations did not support that hypothesis. There has been past research (which I discussed above) which suggests that when there are women leading discussions, women participate more. Since my findings were not consistent with those, limitations in my research that should be noted. I only observed meetings that were filled with BYU students, and BYU students are not likely to be completely representative of the entire public. Mormon culture also tends to create more submissive women, which may be why women participated less. In the BYU College Democrats and BYU College Republican meetings, the topic was about money in politics, which may be inherently more interesting for men, which led them to participate more. If the topic were about a policy issue that women found more interesting, such as the gender wage gap, women may have participated more.

For further research, it might be interesting to look at the ratio between men and women in the group to see if more women in a group means more participation from women in this group. Instead of just observing, I may want to run experiments setting up specific situations, such as having a women leader and man leader. If I run my own experiment, I would be able to hold all other things constant and perhaps receive different results. It might also be telling to do more qualitative research and ask women how they feel in these group settings to perhaps understand more why it is that they participate less and why they feel the need to add hedging comments. 

 [3] Jan Frankel and Nina Meierding. 2007. Negotiating Like a Woman - How Gender Impacts Communication between the Sexes. Print. Journal of Mediating.

No comments:

Post a Comment