By: Emily Current
When we take part in a group discussion we pay so much attention to what people are saying that we don’t really think about who is speaking. It wasn’t until I talked to a classmate of mine one day about classroom dynamics that I noticed that our tutorial often ended up being male dominated.
One of the reasons why it can be so difficult to see how gender dynamics play into classroom discussions is because these sort of interactions play into all aspects of our lives. Girls are taught from a young age that we should remain silent if we’re unsure of what we have to say. And when we are sure of what we have to say and do assert our thoughts, we often get criticized for doing so. Our society sends the message to girls and women that we are not welcome to say what we think, and this message has translated into university classroom discussions.
I’ve started to pay more attention to the way gender dynamics play out in class discussions and I’ve noticed that, overall, men seem more confident speaking in this sort of setting than women. I’ve noticed that men are more assertive when they contribute, and respond more confidently when another student argues with what they have said. While guys will simply assert their thoughts, girls seem to couch what they have to say with phrases like “I don’t know but…” or “this may just be my opinion…” adding an element of uncertainty to what they’re saying. Not only do men speak more confidently, they also speak more frequently. In one tutorial I took a tally of how frequently class members of different genders spoke, and found that there were similar numbers of girls and guys that spoke during the discussion. While this initially makes it seem like there is no issue, in the class there are twice as many girls as there are guys, meaning that in my tutorial, female students were speaking half as often as their male counterparts. Granted, I only tallied up one tutorial, but it is indicative of a larger problem.
Clearly these ideas are based on generalizations, because there are of course girls who do speak up in conversations and who make their claims confidently, just as I’m sure there are guys who don’t feel so confident speaking up. I think that it is important to be aware of our classroom dynamics regardless. There is no easy way to address the way that gender dynamics play into classroom discussions; therefore, it is crucial that at the very least we recognize the impact that they have. Even if nothing else can immediately be done, we should at least aim for an increased awareness of the space we take up in class discussions, and ask why we might participate the way we do.