Women’s History Month celebrates the historical impact of women and should be seen as an opportunity to teach men an important lesson: listen.
Coming from someone who was raised by a single mother, a few aunts and too many strong women to count, I learned women don’t need men to speak for them. I discovered through observation and discussion about how women communicate, emote and interact with each other and with men. However, unlike other uninformed individuals, I will never claim to be an expert on women.
During a Philosophic Issues in Sexuality course I took in the fall, male students were the main contributors in discussions focusing on gender and women issues. A Yale study on male versus female class participation noted that, out of all class exercise or event participants, men participated in class 57.2 percent while women participated 42.8 percent — even when adjusting for attendance.
The 10-year study also quoted a professor saying, “Men talk more regardless of how much they have to say.”
WNYC, a public radio station in New York and a NPR affiliate, aired a podcast Feb. 6 with Amelia Greenhall, executive director of Double Union, a San Francisco hacker space for women. Greenhall criticized technology entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa for being a self-proclaimed expert on women in the technology industry.
“What really gets me is that he’s taking up space and, like, sucking all the air of the room from this conversation about sexism in tech and gender issues in tech which is a really big deal,” Greenhall said. “And somebody who has any actual experience or something useful to say isn’t getting quoted.”
The podcast was removed after Wadhwa pointed out that he was not contacted for a comment.
Wadhwa is the latest male public figure to come under fire for speaking for women instead of listening to them.
While the WNYC producers’ journalistic practices may have been called into question, their target, Wadhwa, was correct because men cannot and should not be experts on women.
Wadhwa said in a Feb. 23 blog post, that he will remove himself from the debate on gender inequality and allow women to take the floor in light of the WNYC broadcast.
Even though I can understand Wadhwa’s intentions for advocating for a seemingly disadvantaged social group, knowledge about gender comes from first-hand experience and claiming to be an expert on women is unwanted.
The psychological, mental, structural and social characteristics of women are too complex for any man, including me, to fully explain on his own. Still, the only strategy to reduce the gap between men’s knowledge and women’s experience is an open line of communication.
For example, instructors should not continue class discourses without an equal amount of men and women participating to help create a culture where everyone participates and speaks equally. Men need to let women speak for themselves everywhere from the classroom to the workplace to see what it is like to live in a “man’s world” without any of the benefits. While important discourse on gender is necessary, one truth remains: To learn about women, men first need to listen.