In my Chemistry class, there are two students who always ask make remarks or ask questions about the topics discussed: a male and a female. When the male student asks questions, the people in my class sit quietly and listen to the professor’s explanation, but when the female student asks questions, the class—including myself— gets annoyed. They begin to roll their eyes and sneer. Even my professor seems to be annoyed at times. Often I hear my classmates complaining about her during break.
They nag about how much she interrupts class with her foolish questions and interpretations, yet no one complains about the male classmate. I thought to myself, “Maybe he asks better questions than she? ” But after a few weeks I began to realize that the intelligence of their questions and comments tends to be the same. So why do my classmates favor the male student’s remarks over the female student’s? Everyone has their own way of saying things, however the way we hear what a women says is often completely different in comparison to how we would hear it if a man had said it instead.
When hearing both genders communicating, we unintentionally put males above females. We look at men as more powerful than women. In Deborah Tannen’s book, You Just Don’t Understand, she explains that the reasons for this starts at a very young age. Girls were raised to never boast. Tannen says, “Girls learn that displaying superiority will not get them what they want—affiliation with peers. For this, they have to appear the same as, not better than, their friends” (218). Females look at boasting as “showing off” and “rude”, and feel they will be rejected if they do so.
They rarely compare themselves to others. In fact, women try to keep the status between them mutual. The best example is my little sister, Julie. When she plays with her friend Natalie, they always play the same character. They will agree to be “sister princesses in a big castle. ” On the other hand, when I see her play with her friend Jake, he always insists on being superior to her. He says things such as “I’ll be Batman and you’ll be Robin,” immediately taking the higher status.
Boys feel that if they don’t act dominant and take charge people won’t take them seriously. Naturally we expect women not to boast, while with men we don’t seem to care. If a woman told a group of people she was a founder of a huge company worth millions of dollars, they would think she was “showing off” and the group would automatically leave her out of the conversation. If a man were to say the same thing—because we are so used to them boasting—we would not look at it as “showing off”. We would think highly of him.
This is why men and women are judged differently even when they speak the same way. Tannen says, “If a linguistic strategy is used by a woman, it is seen as powerless; if it’s done by a man it is seen as powerful” (225). Since females don’t try to be at a higher status, their speech is often ineffective. Along with women not addressing a higher status, they also do not ask for something directly. They are more covert when asking for a favor. When my mom says, “It would be nice if someone would put the dishes away for me,” most of the time I don’t.
Because she is asking indirectly, I don’t see the power in her question. On the other hand, if my dad says “Hey… put those away for me,” I automatically listen. Although they were both implying the same thing, my mom’s statement was powerless because it was polite and indirect. Females use “tag questions” (227-28), such as “That’s a nice dress, isn’t it? ” The “tag question” makes women seem unsure. Women don’t mean to sound hesitant. They say “Isn’t it? ” expecting the other person to say “yes” or “no,” and therefore starting a conversation.
Tannen says, “[P]eople expect women to use tags” (228). We expect women to be unsure, and as a result, when they make statements or ask questions, we assume they don’t know that they are talking about. Researcher Patricia Hayes Bradley says, “When women used tag questions and disclaimers, subjects judged them as less intelligent and knowledgeable than men who also used them” (qtd. in Tannen 228). In other words, because of the different stereotypes of men and women, we have distinctive attitudes towards what they say, and we make men dominant.
Looking back at the issue in my Chemistry class, I see why I found the female student aggravating. When comparing her to the male classmate, I unconsciously looked at her as lower than him. Both males and females become accustomed to this power vs. powerless ways. It becomes everyday life. People are less likely to pay attention to an idea that is raised by a woman who doesn’t assert her status, therefore making us unconsciously look at them as below men.