Discussions are the pinnacle of the liberal arts college experience, where students come together to hash out ideas. Each student should have the right to a classroom environment where they feel they can share their thoughts. But when class discussions are completely male-dominated, this welcoming environment that encourages productive discussion is lost.
Other than the issue of male students dominating discussions, there is also the issue of mansplaining — male students commenting, explaining or interrupting their female counterparts to re-explain their point. When female students say they no longer want to speak in class for fear of being interrupted or being talked down to, there is obviously a larger issue.
While it may seem like a minor issue, it devalues a female student’s voice in the classroom, and the continuous restating of previous comments takes away from valuable class time. And whether the interrupting, domineering or restating is intentional or not, it still is sexist and disrespectful.
Research has shown that people who speak with some sense of confidence will often be perceived better, regardless of whether or not they’re competent, and that men are more confident in themselves than women. In the classroom, this means that male students are often given more speaking time simply because they feel the need to speak, not because they always have things to say. As a result, class discussions fall flat.
There are, of course, male students who are respectful of their female colleagues. But there are others that need to be more conscious of their participation in class. And it is not solely an issue with students. Often, professors fail to address the problem, and when male students speak too much or interrupt their female counterparts, nothing is done. Not all professors are guilty of this — some make a conscious effort to call on female students or to shut down students who interrupt others. But male students are often allowed to talk over their female counterparts, as no one is stopping them from doing so.
It is the responsibility of the professor to curb these behaviors. Though a class discussion may be student-led or student-facilitated, faculty should feel comfortable enough to intervene when necessary.