Speak Up & Speak Proud: 5 Phrases That Women In College Should Stop Saying In The Classroom

Throughout my college experience, I have observed a difference in how men and women speak in classroom settings. Many times, women, including myself, undermine themselves or apologize multiple times before we even get a word out. This is upsetting because usually, if not always, the women who say disparaging comments about themselves are some of the smartest and insightful women I have interacted with.

empty classroom Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli from Unsplash In contrast, men in the classroom don’t qualify their statements or apologize for what they say. I have found that men in class can go on large tangents about topics that are sometimes not even related to the course material and never feel the need to apologize for it. Men’s behavior also influences the way that women speak in class. Men can cut women off, question the validity of women’s statements, or accuse women of being “too mean” or “too critical” when discussing topics such as gender equality. 

According to a study from the University of Cambridge, women are “two and a half times less likely to ask a question in departmental seminars than men.” Chelsea Reynolds, an assistant professor at Cal State Fullerton, noted that this large discrepancy is because "apology culture is pervasive" among women. Professor Reynolds believes women's need to apologize for what they say stems from how women are conditioned at a young age. She says, “Women are taught that being sweet and silent is better than being bold.” In other words, the way that women communicate in the classroom is a reflection of the larger societal standards on what is expected of women. This issue goes beyond the classroom and speaks to how much women feel they can and will be heard. 

While we can’t control other’s behavior or tackle large societal issues on our own, we can certainly be more mindful about the way we undermine our voices in class. From time to time, I slip into these old habits, especially when I hear other women do it. Here are five phrases that women should stop saying in the classroom: 

Woman with curly hair waving and saying hi to someone through her laptop. Photo by Yan from Pexels

  1. 1. “I don’t know if that made any sense”

    bookshelf filled with books

    Yes, girl, you are making so much sense. This is perhaps the most frequent comment I hear coming from other women. It’s tempting to say because often we’re unsure of our own intelligence or worried that we made a fool out of ourselves. But, in most cases, people who say this are not only making sense but saying something very clever. We've just been taught to feel self-conscious about our intelligence as women. Either way, other people will decide whether you make sense or not. And, in the end, there is nothing wrong with not "making sense” sometimes. It’s all a part of the learning process, and it’s important to own what you say, even if you aren’t sure about it. 

  2. 2. “Sorry, for talking too much” or “Sorry for rambling” 

    Ironically, women often apologize for “talking too much” when we are less likely to speak up in general. There is nothing wrong with speaking for a long time. It’s much better to speak for a long time rather than silence ourselves. We have all the time in the world to hear about your amazing ideas. 

  3. 3. “I’m no expert, but…”

    student studying for school

    Sometimes when we speak on a topic we aren’t knowledgeable about, we feel insecure to talk about it. However, we can feel insecure about our input even if we are well-informed because we may assume that we don’t know as much as others, and we might feel uncomfortable correcting someone even if we know they are wrong.

  4. 4. “I don’t know how to follow up after so-and-so said that so articulately….”

    Women are often so quick to compliment others or praise other’s comments, but then are so critical of themselves. We absolutely should take the time to uplift our classmates and let them know how insightful they are, but we don’t need to feel intimated or in competition with them. We can compliment people without putting ourselves down. 

  5. 5. “I know am not the most (articulate/creative/insightful) person...

    It’s crazy how many times we automatically say something negative about ourselves. Perhaps this again stems from the idea that women are told not to be too arrogant about their own abilities. In one of my classes, I presented an art piece and caught myself saying, “I’m not the most creative person" and “I know I’m not the best artist.” Instead of being so self-deprecating, take notice of how many times you undermine yourself or say something negative about yourself that might not be true or is simply unnecessary and self-defeating. 

classrooom and students with a projector NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Remember not to be too hard on yourself. We shouldn’t feel bad for saying these comments, but it’s just something to take note of! From years of experience being a very opinionated English major, I can say that the constant apologizing really is unnecessary. Often, speaking “too much” can make you stand out as a student because it shows you are passionate about the topic that you are learning and taking the time to think critically about it. Especially during quarantine, speaking up in class is a great way to feel more actively engaged in your education. Even just asking a question or responding to a comment you disagree with will help you cultivate a useful skill that helps you grow as a person as you navigate this sexist society.