When Women’s Voices are Truly Heard: Chris Karpowitz and “The Silent Sex”

“Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture,” wrote Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her book We Should All Be Feminists. BYU Political Science professor Dr. Chris Karpowitz has researched what that “full humanity” looks like currently, in the context of public meetings and politics. In the 2014 book The Silent Sex: Gender, Deliberation, & Institutions, authored by him and Princeton University professor Dr. Tali Mendelberg, they discuss the reasoning behind, methods, results, and implications of a study they conducted on the subject of gender equality in politics. They found, among other things, that only in certain situations are women’s voices truly heard.

Gender Equality – The Study

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Photo courtesy of Goodreads

That study, The Deliberative Justice Experiment, included both male and female participants who were divided into groups and tasked with discussing and making decisions regarding the redistribution of money. They were told that they would be paid based on their group’s decision; the decision had to be by majority or unanimous, depending on which group they were placed in.

This experiment allowed Doctors Mendelberg and Karpowitz to ask important questions, such as:

  • How much do women and men speak?
  • Do men use interruptions to establish their status in the group?
  • Do women use them to create a warmer tone of interaction in the group?
  • Do women express their preferences during discussion?
  • How does what happens in the discussion affect the decision the groups ultimately makes?

The researchers found that those in unanimous decision groups were more inclusive and more vocal in expressing their preferences, and discussed the issue longer. If men were in the numerical minority in such a group, though, they tended to increase their participation and interrupt more. According to Karpowitz, this meant that “unanimous rule is good for women when [they] are in the [numerical] minority…but it is bad for women when they are the majority, …as men—the numerical minority—increase their participation.”

Majority rule groups also demonstrated behaviors that had both benefits and drawbacks for women. “Majority rule signals that the more numerous groups…are entitled to exercise power,” said the authors. When women are in the majority, they participate more and “can benefit from this signal to exercise power.” So, in order to achieve their goals, women must have a large majority. The opposite is true for men: they can get away with having a small majority. Furthermore, when women are in the majority, the men in the group are more resistant to their stances. “Unanimous rule helps women when they are few, while majority rule helps women when they are many.”

Implications for Change

The authors posited that simply holding meetings and increasing the proportion of female municipal leaders were ineffective ways to boost female involvement. Indeed, the question of whether or not more females should get involved in politics because of their gender has tended to be a topic about which people have strong opinions. Margaret Dayton, a BYU alumni who is the longest-serving woman in the Utah state legislature, said in last year’s issue of Connections: “Your gender does not qualify you to serve. Your principles, your willingness to work, your experience that brings you there, those are the kinds of things that qualify people, not gender.” And Karpowitz conducted a study with fellow political science professor Jessica Preece that found that “quotas, which face practical and ideological barriers in the United States, are not the…way to increase women’s representation.”

Rather, Karpowitz and Mendelberg suggest that increasing the number of women in meetings and municipalities where they might be underrepresented or in the minority, and implementing unanimous rule—or measures that lead to total inclusion—might rectify the problem of “the silent sex.” Although unanimity is not without its problems, the process aids women when they are in the minority.

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The authors cite political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville‘s views on class differences: “The humblest individual who is called upon to co-operate in the government of society acquires a certain degree of self-respect; and as he possesses authority, he can command the services of minds much more enlightened than his own.” The same can be said for gender equality. Only by making a concerted effort can we be more inclusive of women in politics and other public forums.

 

How can You Help Kids Learn about Healthy Living?

Anatomy AcademyAccording to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 17% of American children are obese. As obesity can lead to a plethora of health problems, the prevalence of it is a serious problem. BYU Neuroscience professor Jonathan Wisco recognized this and founded the Anatomy Academy to combat the nationwide epidemic by teaching children about healthy living.

 

 

 

What is it?


The program recruits BYU students to go visit local fifth and sixth grade classes to teach the kids about healthy living. “You’re teaching all these young kids how to take care of themselves so that they can be healthy in the future, and they won’t have to go to the hospital,” said former BYU student and Academy mentor Janeen Williamson.

Dr. Wisco, in an interview with KBYU Radio’s Top of Mind host Julie Rose, said that some of the activities the mentors and middle schoolers do are:

  • Measuring out the amount of sugar in foods, especially drinks, so that the kids can see how much sugar they’re really consuming
  • Studying a cow heart to gain an increased understanding of how the organ works
  • Playacting as blood cells to better comprehend how the heart functions
  • Inflating cow lungs with a straw

anatomy academyBy having students engage in hands-on activities, Dr. Wisco believes that they will learn how to live a healthy lifestyle. And they seem to be getting the message. A mother of one his students received a call from her son’s camp leader. While on a camping trip, her son would not sit next to the fire because he didn’t want to inhale the smoke. “It was a little extreme, but he clearly got the message,” said Dr. Wisco.

Origins

How did Anatomy Academy begin? While Wisco was employed at UCLA’s medical school, he and other faculty members were “looking for an impactful way to help our medical students translate complicated medical information to a population that’s often ignored. And those are junior high students.” While there are programs and classes for high school students, very little was being done for those in middle school and junior high. Anatomy Academy was introduced to a school in the area, eventually spreading to Utah when Dr. Wisco became a professor at BYU. Since then, it has “just exploded.” Through word of mouth, it has spread to a profusion of states.

“Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have,” said former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Through his Anatomy Academy, he is giving the rising generation invaluable instruction about how to live a healthy lifestyle.

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What tips or healthy recipes have helped you or your kids lead healthier lifestyles?

 

What is a Fulbright, and Why Should Faculty and Students Care?

Are you a faculty member interested in becoming a Fulbright Scholar or in learning more about the Fulbright Scholars Program? Are you an undergraduate or graduate student interested in doing research abroad? On March 23rd, the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences will host two representatives of the Fulbright Program—Sophia Yang, and Lee Rivers—who can tell faculty and students how to apply for either kind of opportunity.

Fulbright student scholarships fund an academic year of international experience for U.S. citizens, and are open to graduating seniors and graduate students. With more than 1,900 awards available, the Fulbright is a terrific opportunity to study, conduct international research or work as an English teaching assistant abroad.

Faculty members interested in learning about opportunities with the Fulbright Scholar Program may attend the presentation given by Sophia Yang at 12:00 p.m. on March 23rd in the Hinckley Building east conference room. A light lunch will be served at 11:30. Ms. Yang’s presentation will be followed by an opportunity to speak with her one-on-one about the application process and more specific information about various opportunities. Faculty members should RSVP using this Google doc, or by emailing fhssresdev@byu.edu.

Faculty Informational Session
Thursday, March 23
12 p.m., lunch at 11:30 a.m.
Benson building
W170

Students interested in learning about opportunities with the Fulbright Student Program may attend the presentation given by Lee Rivers, the Assistant Manager for Outreach and Special Projects for the Institute of International Education. This presentation will be at 11:00 a.m. on March 23rd in room W170 of the Benson building.. There will also be a Q&A following the presentation.

Students may sign up in this Google doc.

Student Informational Session
Thursday, 
March 23
11 a.m.
Benson building
W170

For more information, contact Kristen Kellems at fhssresdev@byu.edu.