I recently stumbled on a trove of old anti-suffragette propaganda, posters and cartoons from a time when women were demonized for fighting for equality.
They show women as shrill and demanding old biddies who talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk their husbands into a soul-crushed life. “Peace at last,” says one cartoon of a woman’s head in a vice, a padlock thrust through her lips.
This attitude hasn’t exactly been stamped out of our culture in the past 100 years, as evidenced by David Bonderman.
He resigned earlier this month from the board of the ride-sharing company Uber after making an ill-considered “joke” at the expense of fellow board member Arianna Huffington. At a meeting about the company’s culture, including its problems with sexism, she had said that when there’s one woman on a board, it tends to draw another to serve there as well.
“Actually, what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking,” Bonderman interrupted. He later called the remark “inexcusable.”
Author Bailey Poland, whose 2016 book “Haters” explores the toll of cyberbullying, stalking, and trolling against women, took to Twitter to decry Bonderman’s comment.
“Casual reminder that the stereotype that women talk more than men has been disproved repeatedly and is based on nonsense and malice,” she wrote.
“The perception that women talk ‘too much’ is usually based on comparing how much women talk to silence, not to how much men talk… This is also why men feel like they’re significantly outnumbered if women talk anywhere even close to half the time.”
Is that true? Yes.
Janet Holmes, an author and researcher, has concluded that when woman and men are together, it’s the men who dominate conversation.
In an essay for PBS, she cited the work of Deborah James and Janice Drakich, who reviewed 63 studies on how American women and men split talk time in different situations. Men talked more in 61 of the studies.
A University of Texas at Austin study found in 2014 that the sexes speak roughly the same number of total words each day: 16,215 for women and 15,669 for men.
The same year, a George Washington University study showed that when both sexes mix, men interrupt 33 percent more than when they are talking with just other men. Women, on the other hand, rarely interrupted male speakers.
Among the most interesting data to arise from experimentation has to do with perception.
Back in 1990, while at the University of Sussex, psycholinguistics researcher Anne Cutler determined that “people are very bad at judging how much is spoken.”
Testing 60 male and 75 female subjects, she verified existing findings that women are perceived as talking more in conversation, even if they talk less. In a larger group in which twice as many men spoke, participants incorrectly pegged the majority of speakers as female.
What can we learn from all these numbers?
First, we men need to stop being snowflakes. Women and their words aren’t threats, so let’s stop worrying about how much talk time they get. It’s not a competition.
Second, just clamping your jaw shut and waiting until it’s your time to talk isn’t the answer. Let’s actually engage our ears in the interim.
And third, if you feel the need to poke a little fun, jokes between the sexes can be OK — as long as you know your audience and they know you, and the situation is right. Maybe keep it out of the board room and in the rec room.