A few years ago I read an article by a female reporter who heard somewhere that journalists quote men much more often than women. So she checked found that this was true of her own work. She resolved to stop doing this and tried hard to achieve equality, but failed; even when she was able to quote equal numbers of men and women in her pieces, the editors always cut out many of the statements by women. Because, she said, men are just more quotable according to the standards of modern journalism. Which brings me to this NY Times piece by Adam Grant about women and "weak speech."
“Stop using weak language.” If you’re a woman, you’ve probably gotten this advice from a mentor, a coach or a teacher. If you want to be heard, use more forceful language. If you want a raise or a promotion, demand it. As the saying goes, nice girls don’t get the corner office.
Weak speech means peppering your discourse
with disclaimers (I’m no expert, but …), hedges (sort of, kind of), and tag questions (right? wouldn’t you say?).
Or always saying, "in my opinion," "I think", etc. Which is way the reporter whose name I have forgotten quoted men more often even when she tried not to; all those disclaimers make a statement weaker and less interesting for a short segment on the news. On the news, you want people to take bold, simple stands, not qualify themselves or explain. Explanation and nuance are boring.
Incidentally I have noticed that this is true of the subjects Tyler Cowen interviews for Marginal Revolutions. All of these are really elite people, CEOs and authors of prize-winning books, but the women still qualify their speech a lot more than the men do. I have also noticed that the trans women of my acquaintance are still completely masculine in this regard.
Anyway, Grant's piece is an argument, backed up by a bunch of studies, that women speak this way because this is what actually works for women:
It turns out that women who use weak language when they ask for raises are more likely to get them. In one experiment, experienced managers watched videos of people negotiating for higher pay and weighed in on whether the request should be granted. The participants were more willing to support a salary bump for women — and said they would be more eager to work with them — if the request sounded tentative: “I don’t know how typical it is for people at my level to negotiate,” they said, following a script, “but I’m hopeful you’ll see my skill at negotiating as something important that I bring to the job.” By using a disclaimer (“I don’t know …”) and a hedge “(I hope …”), the women reinforced the supervisor’s authority and avoided the impression of arrogance. For the men who asked for a raise, however, weak language neither helped nor hurt. No one was fazed if they just came out and demanded more money.
In the United States and in many cultures, gender stereotypes still hold that men should be dominant and assertive, while women should be kind and caring. When women violate these stereotypes, they often get punished. In a meta-analysis of dozens of studies, when women asserted their ideas, made direct requests and advocated for themselves, they were judged as less hirable. Although they were seen as equally competent, they were liked less than men who engaged in the exact same behaviors.
New evidence reveals that it’s not ambition per se that women are being penalized for. . . . The problem arises if people perceive them to be forceful, controlling, commanding and outspoken. These are qualities for which men are regularly given a pass, but they put women at risk of being disliked and denied for leadership roles. (Not surprisingly, the backlash is even stronger when a woman is Black). Instead of being judged just on their performance, they are dinged for their personality. Overbearing. Too abrasive. Sharp elbows.
Grant does the performative thing in blaming this on men – "It’s outrageous that women have to tame their tongues to protect fragile male egos" – but the studies he cites don't support that; they find that the bad reaction to pushy women is just as prevalent among women as among men.
It seems that as women achieve dominance in certain fields of business, like publishing, it hasn't happened because women have become more masculine; it has happened because the habits of aggressive men have become less associated with leadership.