After reading this excellent post on The Professor is In, I thought to myself that I wished someone had told me earlier in my graduate career to stop commenting in class like a girl. When “girls” ask a question in class, they preface their inquiry with a qualification like, “This may be a basic question but…” or “I’m not really sure, but it seems to me…” or “Maybe everyone one else got this, but…”
Girls sabotage themselves in group settings because if they say something that doesn’t sound perfectly correct or brilliant, they can make it clear to others that they never had delusions of their own intelligence in the first place. It is effectively saying to the world, “You can’t say that I’m not great because I’ve never claimed to be great.” Or, if you want to be a little more charitable, perhaps you could argue that girls are trying to communicate to others that their ideas are provisional and open to collaboration and critique from others (as well as their own later revisions).
After a few years of graduate school, however, it becomes clear that everyone says incorrect things from time to time and all ideas are provisional. When you frame all your comments in a hesitating fashion, most of your really great thoughts will be overlooked. When you frame your comments in a confident fashion, there is a greater chance your thoughts will be taken seriously. And, of course, only those thoughts deemed serious are respectfully debated and thoughtfully critiqued.
So when you have the impulse to qualify your comments with a self-sabotaging clause, try instead to say something like, “As a point of clarification…” or “I’m not convinced that ___. Can you say more?” Though it would be too much to claim that women merely need to change their speech patterns and they will begin to be treated equally in the classroom, it is true that women aren’t helping to advance the (uphill) battle for equality by speaking like children. Speak like a grown woman who claims her own authority.