The Equality Language Lab

France’s Laboratoire de l’égalité brings you this awesome video, put together by Pacte Pour L’égalité, or Pact for Equality. Doesn’t require subtitles or translation.

Pacte Pour Légalité seeks to put pressure on France’s 2012 presidential candidates to address the obstacles toward equality between men and women.

The scenarios in the video serve mostly as metaphor of what it’s like to work or have a conversation with (some) men. I’ve had that experience many times, even if it’s just talking with friends or family. I never know if it’s “the gender thing,” or if it’s just me, and my ideas are just not that worthwhile and that’s why they get trampled in favor of someone else’s. Just having that thought alone though, is definitely a self-esteem bummer and can affect how you contribute to the conversation, starting a vicious cycle of lack of assertiveness.

Now, the fact that that someone else is usually a man might push in favor of “the gender thing” — but again it might also be a matter of statistics, because most heated politics/religion/philosophy discussions I have are with men and not with women.

There are many, many linguistics and psychological studies on the differences between male and female discourse dynamics. University professor and professor of linguistics at Georgetown University Deborah Tannen says, for example, that

“Men grow up in a world in which a conversation is often a contest, either to achieve the upper hand or to prevent other people from pushing them around. For women, however, talking is often a way to exchange confirmation and support.”

Another 1976 landmark study demonstrates this concept by showing the difference between how often men interrupt other men vs. how often they interrupt women

“Early studies on interruptions and related phenomena seem to indicate a larger tendency on the part of men to interrupt in cross-sex conversations while in same-sex conversations no significant differences were found. Zimmerman/West (1975) reported the following results:

Same-sex conversations 1st Speaker 2nd Speaker Total
Overlaps 12 10 22
Interruptions 3 4 7
Cross-sex conversations Male Female Total
Overlaps 9 0 9
Interruptions 46 2 48

(based on Zimmerman/West 1975: 115-116)

Sad, but true. Another finding of a 1998 study shows not only how conversational style affects a peson’s standing in society but how that person’s standing affects the way they talk. This sentence is so packed with truth it almost made me cry/throw-up a little:

Men, the speakers of the dominant style, have more rights and privileges. They exhibit their privileges and produce them in every conversational situation. (Trömel-Plötz 1998: 447).”

These differences can be shown down to the very words we choose. Women will use words like “maybe”, “perhaps”, or qualifiers like “I think”, or “in my opinion.” If these sound like a 5th-grader’s essay it’s no coincidence (infantilization of women, I’m looking at you). Speaking and writing like this makes a person seem less confident, like he/she doesn’t know what she/he is talking about, which in turn could be taken as encouragement to speak over that person. (More…)

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