As women, it is not “in our nature” how we often times do not speak up when a man is speaking on something we may disagree with. It is not “in our nature” to be drawn away from STEM majors. It is not “in our nature” to participate in classroom discussions less times than our male peers. It is not “in our nature” to not ask for promotions less often than the men around us do. It is not in the nature of women to be gatherers. Our brains are not wired to be the only ones to stay at home to wait for the ‘hunter males’ to bring us meat and berries we need to survive. This caveman mentality theory has withstood generations of oppression towards women when in fact the brains of men and women are 90% alike at birth. The differences which lead us away from each other and gravitate us towards other things should be credited to the pressure of societal conformity, not something we were necessarily ‘made to do’. Yet, people still believe humans are assigned to conform to certain behaviors because of the gender they were assigned at birth.
Over generations, toy aisles have become gradually pinker, the clothing sizes have become smaller, and gender roles have become more rigid. This is not by accident. This is the mold we were made to fit into, but this mold is becoming just a bit too tight.
As a business student, the majority of my major is male students. I cannot speak for every business student, but reflecting on my experience so far, my classes average out at roughly a 7:3 male to female student ratio. It wasn’t until this year where I became more aware of how female students do not participate as much in classroom discussions. In turn, some professors actually call on men more than women as teachers are more likely to give more attention to males than females. In contrast, women are less likely to raise their hands during class. This could be attributed to the notion that women should be polite, quiet, and nice and then experience more recognition when acting as such whereas men receive more praise when they speak up and take charge.
In a class I had last semester, our professor asked us to name a few leaders we looked up to or considered a good role model then wrote them on the whiteboard as they were called out. The first 15 names were all men until the professor pointed out what we had just created. The 16th name called out to be put on the board was Rosa Parks.
This semester in one of my classes, we were told to get into groups and to then choose a leader to represent each group. At the end of the exercise, I commented on how out of the 10 groups that were formed in the classroom, there was only one appointed female leader. I asked myself, why didn’t I volunteer? Was it that I did not want to be seen as vain or bossy? Did other team members not elect me because they thought I would not be able to perform as well as my male team member? Am I conditioned to let a male take a leadership role? All of these factors could be attributed to the social conditioning that a quiet female is an ideal female, but even though I am an extroverted feminist, I still let a man go ahead of me. I let him. Based on no qualifications besides his gender.
Workplace inequality and the wage gap along with intersections of other identities has finally become a productive conversation among political activists, but do we talk about gender inequality in classes as much as we need to?
To further this conversation and to get out of this cycle there are thankfully a few steps we can take. Speak up for other girls. Choose their raised hand. Ask for their opinion. Give them attention for a difficult assignment. Elect them to be the leaders. Do what you would do for the boys.
And as for yourself, speak up. Demand your professor’s attention. Ask for the promotion. Raise your hand higher.