Girls: Speak up!

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Kate Wolffe, Editor In Chief

More than half of my Comparative Government class is composed of young women, but you wouldn’t know it by merely listening to the daily discussion. If you were given an audio feed of the classroom, what you’d hear would be eloquently-phrased, politically aware points and often insightful comments: directly stated, with confidence. It would seem like a pretty standard discussion, typical for an advanced level course. However, if you were to listen a little closer, you’d realize that overwhelmingly, the points that are being raised, spoken loudly and without any room for doubt, are coming from young men. The opinions of their female classmates are present of course, but nowhere near representative considering the number of girls taking the class.

Now you are taken off of your audio feed and put into the classroom itself, witness to the inner workings of second period. You look around and see the 17 and 18 year olds that populate the room as engaged as they’re going to be at 9 a.m. (that is to say, half-asleep). As the discussion gets underway, you notice that the same 5 guys are raising their hands and contributing. This, however, was information you had already gleaned from the audio feed. What you didn’t see till now, were the expressions of disinterest on the girls’ faces- the slight vacancies in their eyes that giveaway that they’re thinking of something else, another class, or unfinished homework. Not only are the girls not contributing, they often don’t even feel incentivized to fully listen to what’s being discussed. When they do feel that they should put their two-cents in, or when they are called on randomly, “shotgun-style”; they give intelligent and well-informed answers. So clearly, it’s not that these young women aren’t able to contribute, they merely don’t feel that they need to, or should.

So why is this happening? Why are girls reluctant to share their knowledge, their perspective? There’s always the possibility that they, like many of their male counterparts that aren’t constantly contributing, are not totally prepared. But I believe that there’s another, underlying problem that has more to do with fear and uncertainty than anything else.

There is pressure there. It is a natural tendency for people to want to impress others, but it seems that young women have a more innate desire to please than their male counterparts. They are nervous about sharing their answer when it could be scoffed at by their peers, or make them seem uneducated. Even if they are prepared and knowledgeable, they often don’t believe it’s worth it to risk being incorrect, unlike many of their male classmates.

What I hate most of all is that I feel it too. I feel what these girls are feeling: it is stifling, this pressure not to seem dumb or stupid. But when no girls speak up, when none are contributing or even engaging, it’s easy to feel alone when you put yourself out there. As less and less girls engage and more and more guys do, a cycle of fear and insecurity is perpetuated.

Yet when you take that pressure out of the situation, say in a different discussion-based class, girls’ hands are shooting up. There are only five guys in my AP English class: there, during group analysis, the girls are stepping up, sharing their thoughts and contributing, building off one another. The discussion is further enhanced with the men’s contributions, and together, the group comes to some insightful and important conclusions.

It is so key to get both perspectives. Girls and guys think differently, our brains are wired in distinctive ways, so in many cases we see things with a varied viewpoint, and that’s why it is so important to have both genders engaged in conversation about a topic: a woman can bring forth new ideas on an issue, diversifying the discussion and opening up new avenues of thought for exploration.

So girls, look around! Be aware if this is happening in your classroom, and let’s work on shedding our insecurities and becoming more comfortable with our knowledge. Get excited about it, and engage in discussion: your perspective benefits all that are participating. When a female classmate contributes, support her, listen to her, understand her, and then build off of her, break the cycle of disinterest and self-consciousness among your female peers. Speak up!