Women still earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes at the exact same position. And whether you believe those in political offices or those with the most economic capital hold the nation’s power, men dominate both fields. Out of all 535 members of Congress, only 17 percent are women — ranking the United States 69th in the world in terms of percentage of female representation in national government. The U.S. is below countries such as top-ranked Rwanda with 38.5 percent and at about the same level as Greece, whose lower House consists of 17.3 percent women. Out of the Forbes 400 richest people in America, merely 42 are women.
Why does this matter, and why should we as college students care? These statistics matter because they are a glimpse into who holds power in our society and who has the capacity to gain power. We as University students should care because, to put it simply, we are the future “Leaders and the Best.”
Lets take a look at the gender dynamics on our campus. For the purpose of this column I am writing about dynamics between men and women because the majority of people on this campus describe themselves as either a man or a woman, as opposed to a gender non-identified person.
One way to identify gender dynamics on campus is to analyze who holds power in the classroom. Who is the first to talk in class, to raise their hand or to present an idea in a group setting? In the past few weeks I have taken particular notice of this in an 18-person seminar. In this seminar there are six men and 11 women, and of these 17 people there are four men who dominate the conversation, often having conversations that go back and forth between themselves for the duration of class. Now, do these four men do this to prove their manliness to other students? Probably not, but it is worth noticing who dominates class discussions because it is telling of who views their opinion as worthy of being heard.
Similar classroom dynamics can be seen while working in small groups. I consistently see women volunteer to be the note-takers and PowerPoint-makers, while men supply the bulk of the main ideas and research. These examples may seem unimportant and minute, but they are important for understanding who is asserting power in different situations.
Use of language is also an indicator of who holds power in a group. Studies show that women are more likely to use hedges, which are phrases like “kind of” and “I guess.” These phrases are indicators of a lack of confidence and a general uncertainty — not traits that are in any way helpful in a work, group or classroom setting. In addition, when women are firm in their language they are more likely to be viewed as bossy, as opposed to when men use the exact same language and are viewed as direct.
What is causing this difference and what can we, as the future leaders and power-holders of this country, do to end it? How about paying more attention to gender roles that are played out in group settings. Are you usually the first person to speak up in class? Leave room for someone else to talk. People may assume their voice is not as important as yours, but they may have the exact same thing to say. Notice yourself labeling someone a bitch? Consciously think about why you view them in this way, and if a man was behaving in the exact same way, ask yourself if you would grant him the same label.
Will leaving room for others to speak and being conscious about the labels you grant people guarantee that women will fill 200 slots on the Forbes 400 list and represent 50 percent of Congress in 25 years? No, but it’s a first step at recognizing gender double standards that are played out in our day-to-day lives and starting to build awareness of the reasons behind them.
Nora Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.