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The Silent Sex

The Silent Sex: Gender, Deliberation, and Institutions

Christopher F. Karpowitz
Tali Mendelberg
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 488
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  • Book Info
    The Silent Sex
    Book Description:

    Do women participate in and influence meetings equally with men? Does gender shape how a meeting is run and whose voices are heard?The Silent Sexshows how the gender composition and rules of a deliberative body dramatically affect who speaks, how the group interacts, the kinds of issues the group takes up, whose voices prevail, and what the group ultimately decides. It argues that efforts to improve the representation of women will fall short unless they address institutional rules that impede women's voices.

    Using groundbreaking experimental research supplemented with analysis of school boards, Christopher Karpowitz and Tali Mendelberg demonstrate how the effects of rules depend on women's numbers, so that small numbers are not fatal with a consensus process, but consensus is not always beneficial when there are large numbers of women. Men and women enter deliberative settings facing different expectations about their influence and authority. Karpowitz and Mendelberg reveal how the wrong institutional rules can exacerbate women's deficit of authority while the right rules can close it, and, in the process, establish more cooperative norms of group behavior and more generous policies for the disadvantaged. Rules and numbers have far-reaching implications for the representation of women and their interests.

    Bringing clarity and insight to one of today's most contentious debates,The Silent Sexprovides important new findings on ways to bring women's voices into the conversation on matters of common concern.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5269-7
    Subjects: Sociology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations (pp. ix-xi)
  4. List of Tables (pp. xii-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Introduction (pp. 1-7)

    The title of this book takes off from Simone de Beauvoir’s classic tomeThe Second Sex,originally published in 1949. That book was the first ambitious piece of research on the problem of women’s lower status in society. Although we have come a long way since 1949, women remain second-class citizens in reality if not in law. How this status plays out in a key arena of politics and society—public discussion—and what to do about it is the focus of our book. Women are not the “silent sex” in all domains. However, we show that they are less...

  7. CHAPTER 1 The Problem (pp. 8-32)

    New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie was a darling of the Republican Party when he rolled into the town of Princeton for a public relations blitz in November 2011. The governor had just declined calls to run for the highest office in the land and was riding high in opinion polls. On this day, he was putting his political capital to work in a town meeting with some 150 residents. Christie lumbered into the local public library’s common room and spoke in his trademark pugnacious style. He voiced some themes of his agenda and then opened the floor to the residents...

  8. CHAPTER 2 The Sources of the Gender Gap in Political Participation (pp. 33-50)

    Are women the “silent sex”? At first glance, the answer would seem to be no. It is difficult to call to mind a scene in which men outtalk women in everyday life. Women are often thought to be more sociable than men, not less. But when it comes to politics and public affairs, there is reason to take a closer look. Women are much less likely than men to take action to directly influence others. There is reason to wonder, then, whether women are also more passive than men when it comes to public discussion.

    The notion that in advanced...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Why Women Don’t Speak (pp. 51-96)

    Now that we have located the sources of women’s relative political inactivity in general, we can home in on what specifically holds women back from exercising their voice in public discourse. We argued in the previous chapter that motivation and opportunity are the places to search. Here we ask, how, specifically, do motivation and opportunity depress—or elevate—women’s authority in discussion? If we can identify the types of motivations and the forms of opportunity that affect women, we can better understand how women can make a full contribution to the public meeting, the lifeblood of democracy.

    We begin by...

  10. CHAPTER 4 The Deliberative Justice Experiment (pp. 97-113)

    There is no shortage of commentary about women’s presence in decision-making groups. And given the many studies that have accumulated on that topic, readers may wonder whether in fact they need this one. Surely by now we know that the presence of more women results in more participation and representation?

    Well, actually, no. As we reviewed in chapter 1, studies of gender composition have come to an inconclusive end. For example, the most comprehensive study of women’s participation in meetings, Frank Bryan’s mammoth study of Vermont town meetings, found that the higher the percentage of women attenders, theloweris...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Speech as a Form of Participation: Floor Time and Perceived Influence (pp. 114-142)

    Do gender inequalities exist in deliberating groups? Are they significant? What conditions exacerbate or mitigate these disparities? To answer these questions we measure the amount of talk. But we do not stop there. To understand why talk matters, we examine its effects on the perceptions of influence.

    While talk is only one measure of participation in deliberation, and not as informative as the content of speech, it is a crucial measure for the theoretical debates we are addressing. As Sanders writes, “If it’s demonstrable that some kinds of people routinely speak more than others in deliberative settings, as it is,...

  12. CHAPTER 6 What Makes Women the “Silent Sex” When Their Status Is Low? (pp. 143-166)

    Madeleine Albright is one of the most accomplished women in recent US history. She holds a doctorate from Columbia University, speaks multiple languages fluently, served as the US ambassador to the United Nations, and was the first female secretary of state. Recently, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the country, granted to individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States.” Clearly, she is not defined by some want of insights or knowledge or some inability to express herself. And yet, as the epigraph...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Does Descriptive Representation Facilitate Women’s Distinctive Voice? (pp. 167-199)

    In a striking illustration of cooperation, psychologists studying one of our cousin species have found that lab rats engage in a persistent effort to liberate their caged fellow rats. They do so even when they gain no reward, are denied the company of the liberated compatriot, and despite giving up a portion of a favorite treat. The rats had to overcome their fear of the situation and to learn to open a door to a cage, a highly challenging task. The lesson for humans—that we too may be hardwired to help each other—might end there, but for one...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Unpacking the Black Box of Interaction (pp. 200-238)

    People deliberate in order to exchange words, and the words they choose tell us what the discussion is about and in what direction people’s preferences are heading. But speech is also a fundamental form of action. And so, the form that speech takes matters too. We already examined one form of speech—how much, and how often, people speak. We found that women speak less than men in the conditions that simulate most settings of public discussions. In these settings, women are a numerical minority, and there is no unanimous rule, and thus, nothing to elevate their participation in the...

  15. CHAPTER 9 When Women Speak, Groups Listen—Sometimes: How and When Women’s Voice Shapes the Group’s Generosity (pp. 239-272)

    When women speak, do men listen? Do women speak up for more generosity and cooperation? More generally, under what conditions do women influence others to the same extent as men, and do women create more generosity by frequently “pressing” men—and other women—to “do more for others”?²

    In previous chapters, we have explored how group features affect the dynamics of the discussion, including speaking time for men and women, the content of the discussion, and patterns of interruptions. We now turn to the question of group decision making. Normative justifications for deliberation include its ability to consider principles of...

  16. CHAPTER 10 Gender Inequality in School Boards (pp. 273-304)

    On January 5, 2012, the school board of Londonderry, New Hampshire, gathered for its first meeting of the new year. Founded in 1722, Londonderry is a small town in the southern part of the state that boasts of its high quality of life, considerable open space, and excellent schools. The January school board meeting was attended by five board members—four men and Nancy Hendricks. Over the course of the two-hour and ten-minute meeting, Nancy made three comments, no motions, and offered one second to a motion made by another board member. The four men at the meeting accounted for...

  17. Conclusion (pp. 305-358)

    The meeting has long been viewed as an essential practice of democracy. Centuries ago the French observer Tocqueville wrote: “Town-meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they bring it within the people’s reach, they teach men how to use and how to enjoy it” ([1835] 2006, book 1, chapter 5). Tocqueville’s words apply today, not only to town meetings, but also to formal settings of all kinds where people talk about matters of common concern. Public talk is the lifeblood of democracy and of community. And meetings remain an essential way for people to make collective decisions...

  18. Appendixes (pp. 359-408)
  19. References (pp. 409-444)
  20. Index (pp. 445-450)