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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


The gender gap in class participation

An empty classroom after a lecture in the Javits Lecture Center at Stony Brook University. The undergraduate population is 53 percent male and 47 percent female. EZRA MARGONO/STATESMAN FILE

Stony Brook University’s undergraduate population is 53 percent male and 47 percent female. The split is not 50/50, but it is close enough to being even. Still, in terms of classroom participation, there seems to be an overwhelming presence of male voices.

During three semesters at Stony Brook, I have noticed male students raise their hands more often than female students when a question is posed to the class. This does not only happen in science classes; males are dominant in STEM fields, so they generally fare better in those situations. However, even in the business, philosophy and creative writing classes that I have taken, I’ve noticed that male students participate more often than female students. In my accounting class, many male students have taken advantage of the fact that not enough students are participating and resort to shouting out answers instead of raising their hand. In my organizational behavior class, some male students have interrupted other students, taking away the attention from the other student.

When a student raises his or her hand to participate in class, it shows that the student believes he or she has something valuable to add to the discussion and is confident enough to share it with the class. Therefore, since males raise their hand more often, they feel as though they can add more value to the class than females.

This gap in participation between males and females is present in school settings across the world due to the patriarchal ideas ingrained in these institutions. “Research over the past two decades reveals that from preschool to college, males receive more instruction and teacher attention than females,” according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW). Also, because of generational and cultural beliefs that men are more competent in STEM fields compared to women, males are given more motivation and support early on in their education.

To this day, some professors and advisors find it surprising to see women in STEM majors or minors. Anthropologist Dan Grunspan believes positive reinforcement can be crucial to students’ success. According to Grunspan, something as easy as a “‘You can do this,” can give both men and women the motivation they need to push through adversity. Ignoring women’s talent “can add up.”

In the long run, these little factors have huge impacts on the way that males and females act in higher educational settings and in the workplace.

Not only are there differences in the way that males and females are treated as they grow up, but these stereotypes are supported in the real world. Public figures represented in the media are also treated differently, which impacts the way that we internalize gender stereotypes. One clear example is the incident that occurred at a news conference with President Donald Trump on Oct. 1, 2018.

Trump called on female reporter, Cecilia Vega, from ABC, to ask a question and said,“She’s shocked that I picked her. She’s in a state of shock.” She responded, “I’m not. Thank you, Mr. President,” and he blatantly replied, “That’s okay, I know you’re not thinking. You never do.”

He made the judgment of her “not thinking” before she even got the chance to ask her question, which he avoided answering later on. There have been many instances in which the President has insulted and objectified women in public, so it is safe to say that this insult was motivated by his sexist views. These situations further the narrative that men can use their formal power and masculinity to degrade a woman’s worth. In this case, the president is devaluing the reporter’s intellect and worth as a news reporter. The president is a public figure and young people watching his actions might think it is acceptable to treat women like he does. This example is another reason why young girls might not feel comfortable participating or asking questions in class. They might feel as though their questions are “dumb” or “unrelated” and might go unanswered as Vega’s question did.

Schools, parents and marketers need to change the patriarchally-laced messages they send to children by fostering gender-equal environments in terms of opportunity, praise and participation. This can lead to a progressive change in the educational and work environment. Women need to start by raising their hands high, fearlessly and assertively voicing their answers.

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