Sound and silence: who is heard and who is not

Recently I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in my classes this semester. In more than one class, a white male consistently dominates the day-to-day conversation. Let it be stated that my university is female dominated and all of my classes are female dominated. Yet, the fact remains that it is a white dude whose voice is heard above all others. My professors are all women, and yet some of them allow the voices of men to be amplified over those of the female students. If this was singular occurrence – one day, in one class – I might shake it off. But the fact that it seems to be happening consistently leads me to believe that something bigger is going on.

I can suggest a few explanations for why these male students seem to be heard over female students. One contributing factor is the differing socialization of men and women. Starting from an early age, boys are encouraged to speak their mind and are bolstered with confidence. Conversely, girls are encouraged to be timid and polite, and they have far less confidence in their academic abilities. Some studies have shown that teachers literally call on boys more often than girls to speak and answer questions – inadvertently or not. We end up with a population of young men who believe that their voices are of the utmost importance, while our young women aren’t so sure that they have anything of worth to say.

Obviously, many women have fought against this standard and outspoken young women aren’t too hard to find these days (I’m one of them myself). But the fact still remains that even in my mostly female classes, males control the conversation. It’s possible that these men feel that because they are outnumbered, they must speak on behalf of their gender to bridge the gap, and it’s not that I’m not interested in what they have to say – but it would be nice if they would give the rest of us an opportunity to speak as well. For many young men, listening seems to be something of a struggle, presumably because they are so used to being listened to.

Mansplaining is a common manifestation of men’s refusal to listen, particularly to women. This refers to a situation in which a woman is discussing something related to her personal experiences as a woman or a specifically woman’s issue, and a man steps in to disprove her. In doing so he negates the value of her lived experiences and pretends to be an expert on the oppression of women – something he has no true understanding of. Just today, a guy in my class asserted that sexism is basically dead and that women have achieved true equality. It’s easy for him to say this – a luxury, in fact – because he has never lived the experiences of a woman and has no idea what it’s like. While he meant no harm, his ignorance is astounding. What he needs to do is stop talking for a moment and listen.

The ongoing historical trend of male voices being amplified and female voices silenced highlights the sheer ignorance and arrogance of MRA sites like  A Voice for Men (highly offensive material – read at your own risk). The title of the site alone implies that men are somehow institutionally disenfranchised and silenced, which is exactly the opposite of real life. Really guys? When have your white male voices ever been silenced? The egotism and overwhelming sense of self-importance is nauseating. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. In many men I’ve encountered, there is a sense that their beliefs and opinions are of more worth than my own. What they have to say is more important and more objective. Think about the fact that we often question the validity of a statement or idea – until it comes from a straight, white male, the “objective voice of reason.”

So to all the mansplainers out there, and especially the men in my classes: stop talking just to hear yourself speak. Listen to people of different backgrounds and perspectives. Regardless of what you’ve been taught, your voice is no more important than mine. Question the patriarchal society that values your voice above others and realize the implications of silencing marginalized groups so that you can be heard. Recognize that you won’t always be right and that you may be forced to challenge your previously held assumptions. Whether you’re interested in being an ally or just a decent human being, the first and most important step is to listen.

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7 Comments

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  1. Of course being a courteous peer and a good listener should be greatly encouraged to all along with other positive values such as courage and independence. Conservatives believe this too. But I think you may be over-thinking it: are we supposed to tally the number of comments and remarks made by men and women and make sure the numbers are perfectly even by the end of class? In my classes at BYU, a generally conservative Christian private school made up mostly of whites I have noticed a healthy balance in class discussion. At this point it seems as if many are looking high and low to be able to cry misogyny where it’s not necessary. Besides, I think it would be a bit silly for a male student to withhold an intelligent comment because he thought his sex was hogging the floor.

  2. I’m not saying we have reached equality like that person you wrote about, which is a silly thing to claim. I should have clarified that I’m a female despite my name. (aaand I just rhymed)

  3. IN your class one white male is very vocal, and from your perspective as a woman he seems to dominate which he probably does. You compare him with yourself and other women. But how do the other men compare with the women? How does he compare with the other men?

    The reason that I pose this is that men exhibit a greater range of characteristics that women, and are present in greater numbers in the extremes than women. While there may be more men with intellects in the higher registers, there are also more men with significant learning difficulties. The monomania that enables men to develop encyclopedic knowledge and expertise in a narrow field is relatively rarely seen in women, and aren’t those men just so dysfunctional they are almost autistic?

    If this man does dominate it is certain that the lecturer is failing in their basic teaching role. It may also be that this person, regardless of gender or ethnic origin, actually has more to say on a subject because he has done his background research etc. from a teacher’s position it’s really difficult if the rest of the class says nothing because they don’t want to appear clever, or plainly they haven’t done their work.

    However the answer is to get out there and be as vocal as this man.

  4. Stirred by your comment “When have your white male voices ever been silenced?” I looked at AVFM and really found nothing so dreadful, it’s a men’s site for men about men’s issues.
    As for your question, there is a tendency to assume that the statements made by a group of articulate powerful wealthy white males is representative of white men and men in general. If you analyse public sector spending across the developed world, men’s needs are very poorly represented and they seem to have little capacity to articulate their needs.

    By far and away women have been vocal and highly effective in asserting their priorities over men in terms of community resources, and for their individual needs & desires to be protected.

    As western societies we still consider it normal and acceptable to be able to legally enslave men for the purposes of war and other national emergency. Even if the draft no longer occurs, it remains a legal facility for governments to deploy if they so choose. Some nation states still require men to register for military service, and threaten legal sanction if they fail to comply.

    In UK if one excludes gynecology, females consume 85%+ of the entire NHS budget, while according to the Royal College of Nursing men are dying for the want of basic healthcare. Premature deaths in males in UK runs at about 20%. Such was the power of the women’s lobby in 1999 that when the RCN called for reforms, the minister retorted that if men wanted better health they could either change their lifestyles or buy private healthcare – despite the fact that men as the higher contributors to tax take had already paid for the NHS.

    It’s easy to find other examples where men lack a meaningful voice. Just because some dominant men exercise their voices, does mean that all men of whichever ethnic group have a voice.

    BTW women are also very good at expounding upon men’s experiences, when they lack any insight.

    • You’ve completely missed the point of my post, evidently. Do you even understand what patriarchy is? Please take your male victimhood elsewhere.

      • I refute your notion that I was articulating male victimhood. If feminism and society more widely seeks equality, then there must be equality for all. There should be no difference in law between men and women. Neither should gender be used as the primary factor in allocating public resources if there exist needs based human rights criteria.
        The notion of a Patriarchy is fundamentally flawed because it seeks, for political purposes, to assign a degree of homogeneity to human relations that ignores the differences of race / nation / class in respect of power. It is also an amorphous concept that is repeatedly modify in response to an evolving environment. In this respect is shares similarity witht he concept of the International Zionist Conspiracy.

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