The Female Voice

By Emma Weisberg

For me, one of the most fascinating aspects of the three readings was the discussion of male and female relationships: how men are given more power to express their opinions and frustrations with one another while women are given little to no power.  I had already read Martin’s “Becoming a Gendered Body” in Introduction to Sociology, but the same excerpts that had made an impact on me last year still struck the same chord within me this week.  Martin states in her results, “girls were told to be quiet or to repeat a request in a quieter, ‘nicer’ voice about three times more often than were boys” (503).  For instance, when a girl named Amy yelled “Stop it!” to resist Keith’s rough play—in which he was very close to destroying the building she had created—the teacher’s first reaction was to quiet her down instead of focusing on the act of disruption itself (504-505).  From this interaction Amy is learning that it is wrong to raise her voice, even in dangerous situations when she or someone else around her could be at harm.  As a member of SafetyNet—Conn’s organization to educate students about sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking—I can’t help but think: what would happen if Amy were sexually assaulted then or later on in life?   Would she feel vocally restricted from defending herself and attempting to get help?  Limiting or lowering women’s voices can negatively impact situations when women are in immediate danger and do not know how to protect themselves.

Also, if women are restricted from using their voices, they will engage in quieter, less productive forms of communication such as gossip.  In Martin’s article, she claims that whereas boys were less reprimanded for yelling at one another, girls were asked to resolve issues softly and kindly.  For instance, when a teacher instructed a group of girls to be quiet and play together, they made up a game very similar to gossip where they’d whisper back and forth in the circle (504). I wonder if this difference in vocal level stays with men and women later in life as they deal with conflicts within individual and group relationships.  While I’ve often seen my male friends fighting more out in the open, I’ve observed and—let’s face it—been a part of gossip sessions that comment on issues in relationships without actually confronting the person involved.  Women are socialized to deal with relationship problems quietly and even secretly, as if it is wrong to be having issues with, say, another friend.

When allowed its full potential, voice can serve as a useful tool for self-expression and individual progress, as seen by Morris’s discussion of black girls in the classroom in “‘Tuck in That Shirt!”  When the teacher Mr. Wilson talks about the loudness of some of his students, he explains, “The black girls up there I don’t worry about, they can fend for themselves—they’re loud, but they’re a sharp bunch and do their work” (35).  While I’m sure many of these female students were called out for their loudness in other classes, Mr. Wilson saw their vocal openness in a positive light.  These girls knew how to speak up for themselves, to state their own opinions.  (However, I don’t like the phrase “fend for themselves.”  I have read studies examining how black women are ignored at times when they should be helped or given more assistance.  Of course all women should assert their independence; however when a person needs help, others should recognize that and check in to see what he/she needs. I hope Mr. Wilson made sure to check in with these girls, even if he wasn’t worried about them.)  Mr. Wilson saw these girls’ voices as a source of power, and I hope they did too.

As Lorber states perfectly and succinctly in “Believing is Seeing,” “Neither sex nor gender are pure categories.”  If our society’s definition of femininity is not inherited at birth, that means women are being socialized to act their own gender: we can talk but not too loudly, perhaps we can argue but not too much, and above all, we should not resist the systematic structure of socialization and gendered bodies at play.

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2 thoughts on “The Female Voice

  1. This discussion of relationship between male and female gender roles is one that wasn’t breeched too much in the readings. Instead Lorber and Morris focused more on classifying women and men (and then challenging these classifications). An area I am particularly interested in – and it sounds like you are too, Emma – is whether it is actually healthy to encourage children to challenge gender roles and norms, or if a degree being able to “play the role” of a particular gender is beneficial in a world that is so completely gendered. For example if as a women you are never taught to communicate through gossip from a young age, will other women find it hard to relate to you and ostracize you from a community. Of course the gendered roles schools and other institutions play in social settings can be seen as flawed, but from a strictly social survival perspective, can parents who foster typical gender roles ever be justified?
    Olivia Rabbitt

  2. Bianca Scofield

    I thought it was very interesting how you mentioned the connection between the minimization of the female voice and the female response to sexual assault. I do believe and agree with you that there is a correlation between the two. Men are told to express their opinions but not their feelings, because feelings are considered to a sign of weakness. This bottling of emotions I see as one of the causes of male violence and aggression such as sexual assault. Women, on the other hand, are told at a very young age to express their feelings. However, the volume at which women can speak must be low. And this is, as you stated above, gives way for gossiping and an inability to speak loudly during dangerous times such as a sexual assault.

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