Microblog Mondays: Silent Women

Q. and I ran a mini-conference at our university last week, a workshop for the people who are writing chapters for the book we’re editing. It was an exhausting three days, with me out of the house each day from 9:15 a.m. until after 10 p.m. (except for an hour around bedtime when I would leave the workshop a little bit early to make sure I could get home in time to see E. and put P. to bed before taking a cab to the dinner location).

It was also invigorating: I spent three days listening to interesting papers and talking to interesting people in a very collegial environment (which is certainly not always the case in academia but Q. and I were quite strategic in who was invited to contribute to the volume, operating on a policy of “how many of our friends or people vouched for by our friends can we get involved”). It was wonderful to remember why I did a PhD in the first place, and to devote some time to the academic part of me. And, let’s face it, the chance to have uninterrupted adult conversation and drink hot tea and eat my own food at my own pace without needing to help someone else with their meal was also most welcome. Most people were exhausted by 4 p.m. because everyone had to attend every panel, unlike at a conference where no one will notice if you skip out on a session or two; I kept telling everyone I felt like I was on holiday.

The workshop was very successful and Q. and I feel confident we’re on track to produce a very interesting volume.

But here’s the thing- in the first morning session, there were seven women present (and nine men).

During that two-and-a-half hour session, three of those women said nothing at all. Three of the women spoke once.

And then there was me, who just wouldn’t shut up.

I found myself thinking about this all through lunch. Yes, I am much more well versed in the project and the literature, even while being on maternity leave, because Q. and I have been talking about the book and thinking about the book for two years now- but that holds true in comparison with the men as well. And yes, I was ridiculously excited to be out of the house using my brain, so I was maybe a little bit overeager to participate and a little bit nervous to establish my status (since the draft of my chapter which I submitted had been underdone given I’ve been on maternity leave and I knew it was underdone, although it looked far more advanced than it actually is when compared with some of the others).

The truth is, I’m always going to have something to say. I trust that my thoughts have value. I’m not intimidated by men, even very senior ones.

I sit at the table, and I speak up.

My sisters are exactly the same way. So at lunch on that first day I texted them, telling them what I’d seen and asking them how we’ve ended up being women who will not be silent.

We didn’t really come up with a clear answer, but we agreed that P. will have three fierce role models as she grows up.

The gender discrepancy in the workshop got better in the later sessions, but it never evened out entirely. I made a point of noticing when a woman had her hand up to speak and was being overlooked and made sure to defer back to her when it was my turn. When a female graduate student was brave enough to ask a question in front of several very senior full professors from overseas universities I made a point of finding her during a break to tell her what a great question it had been. And I made a point of telling Q. and our very good friend O. (who was one of those senior visiting professors) what I’d noticed at the end of the first day so that for the next two days they made a point of doing these things too.

Do you sit at the table and speak up? Do you feel valued by your colleagues when you do?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.



Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Life after the PhD, Microblog Mondays

7 responses to “Microblog Mondays: Silent Women

  1. I think it’s great that you (and your sisters) are one of those who speak up! I fall into the silent category. I’m better about it now but I still rarely say anything unless I really, really want to ask the question or am really, really sure of my statement. It’s not actually a useful trait.

  2. Good for you for telling the younger woman that he contribution was valuable. Those kind of thing interactions will encourage her to co to us to speak up in the future. It’s casual mentoring 🙂

  3. I have routinely been amazed by how far a little amplification can go. I’ve done it in workshops and on panels – referring back to a woman’s point when it was reiterated by a man and subsequently credited to him, calling on women and men equally for question periods (and young and old equally, ageism being a giant problem in my field in that the whiter your hair the more questions you usually get to ask). I once used some of the time for questions for my talk to allow two women to ask questions of the previous speaker, explicitly saying “they had their hands up first and were overlooked”. I’m slowly building my reputation and renown, and I’m trying hard to use it wisely when I’m in the position of invited speaker or panelist.

  4. nonsequiturchica

    Nice work! I was certainly less vocal when I was younger and just starting out because I was smart enough to know that I didn’t know anything. Nowadays I simply don’t care and will speak up anyway. I wear a number of different hats at work and depending on the audience, I’m either one of many women or one of the only women in the group. Either way, I am a loud mouth. 🙂

  5. Mel

    I do speak up when I have something to say, but many times, I’m not saying anything because I just want to listen. I wonder if anyone has studied whether quietness is more pervasive in men or women. What percentage of students speak in an all girls school? What percentage of students speak in an all boys school?

  6. I will admit to being one of the more silent/timid types. I will never forget the one time I spoke up in a meeting, made a bit of a joke & an observation… crickets. Ten minutes later, one of the guys said almost exactly the same thing — and of course everyone laughed & thought he was brilliant. My jaw practically hit the table; I’d heard stories about such things happening but to see it happening, to ME, was something else. Thank you for encouraging those other women in the room! And can I say how fabulous I think it is that you’re doing this project with your husband? I have no idea what the book is about or if I’d understand anything in it, but now you have my interest piqued to read it, lol. 😉

  7. Turia

    I won’t say what the book is about on the blog as that would out me for sure, but feel free to email if you’d like more details. 🙂 I basically forced my husband into putting me on the project. He had originally planned for me to write one of the chapters in the volume but not be an editor. I pointed out that a) the other editors were not going to do any work and b) I was going to live with the project for years on end so might as well get the credit for it. The decision made more sense when we first came up with the idea, which was when we thought we were going to be a one child family, as I’m not doing a great job right now of meeting deadlines. But I will be of more help in the coming months/years, and it is nice to be working on something together.

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