Daily Mail tells women to ‘step back and shut up’

// 21 June 2008

happy teachers' appreciation week cakesIt seems that whenever men or boys fall behind women or girls in any way, the default answer must be that it’s women’s fault. The Daily Mail is normally misogyny dressed up as a newspaper, so one can argue that this small article in Saturday’s paper isn’t really worth addressing, but I think we need to keep hammering away at the idea that women are to blame for any problems affecting men and boys, and that we should only be worried about the education and development of children with testicles.

The offensive view in question belongs to a ‘parenting expert’, i.e. Celia Lashlie, a supposed education adviser and author (wow, she published a book, she MUST be right!) who suggests that female teachers talk too much, because she didn’t like spending time in classrooms with female teachers. Because, you know, as women, our voices are too high pitched, and we talk too much. Surprisingly, the answer put forward was not that she should get some ear plugs, or surprise that this woman hates other women, but that women should shut up.

For a start, why is it that nobody ever accuses men of having annoying voices? During my education and social life, I’ve met men and women with all sorts of voices, some of them annoying. But no matter how deep, or squeaky, or strange a man’s voice, you’ll never hear calls for him to shut up because he sounds annoying. Certainly you don’t hear calls for this in the media. It would be taken as standard that a man’s voice, no matter what its quality, is essential to his life, and something you put up with. Yet, women don’t get given this respect. Telling us we have annoying voices is socially acceptable, because deep down, a lot of people really do wish women would shut up.

Certainly, it makes it easier to ignore their concerns, their ideas or opinions, or complaints. The voice fixation is a convenient mask. If it weren’t you would get people asserting how much they hate some men’s voices, but since it just seems to apply to women’s voices, that should set alarm bells ringing. Whenever a standard is conveniently only applied to certain groups, it’s a big warning sign for oppression.

It can be argued that the focus on how annoying women’s voices are is the patriarchy’s way of literally trying to silence women. After all, we’ve been told for years to shut up, that the men are talking, and that we’re shrill. In case I need to spell out to someone just why this is sexist, let’s turn the tables. Imagine if, instead of exploring social factors, feminists had simply made the claim that men held women back, and annoyed women with their booming voices, so men should just shut up and step back. By labelling the instrument of someone’s expression as unacceptable, you literally silence them, since they are meant to be discouraged from participating in conversation. And this only seems to occur to women.

boys entrance sign, school buildingIf you think about it, most women really aren’t that high pitched. But the accusation that women are shrill and should just shut up is used to literally silence women, because it is seen as an acceptable excuse to tell women to literally shut up. This silencing extends far beyond the limits of speech, since even online, one of the first things you’re likely to encounter as a feminist is some troll labelling you a ‘shrill’ woman, even though they clearly can’t hear your voice. Not liking someone’s voice is not an acceptable reason for ignoring a person or group of people, and should not be condoned by the media. We shouldn’t have to change our voices, because we are not responsible for whether someone likes our voices or not. Just like nobody has to change their clothes or hair style if I don’t like theirs.

The funny thing is that women have long been important in education, especially of younger children. From nurses and governesses to teachers later on, women have long had a role in educating boys. Funnily enough, their voices never seemed to be much of a problem, until now. Since women have been educating and bringing up competent men for thousands of years, you’d think that it’s a bit late to start blaming us for their supposed demise, especially since I doubt our voices have suddenly got squeakier. But then again, it’s much easier to ignore what someone is saying by pretending that they are hard to understand, or not worth listening to.

And the answer postulated by the ‘expert’? Get more men into the female-dominated job of teaching. This could be commendable. After all, we feminists don’t believe in isolating jobs for women only or men only. But this is entirely the wrong reason. Yes, it’s concerning that women seem to get placed in the lower-paid less respected areas of teaching, and that men tend to avoid them like the plague. But I doubt that men will suddenly flock to those posts because you tell them to, and the idea that these boys must be doing poorly because they don’t meet any men is bizarre. It ignores the social pressures on children to not study, and the fact that peer pressures on boys and girls are different. It ignores the different gender roles of boys and girls, and instead of exploring these, the ‘expert’ simply suggests allowing ‘boys to be boys’. Yeah, because the macho- man obsessed mentality isn’t already causing problems with boys. We clearly need to encourage our boys to be aggressive, feel entitled over women, and a general loathing of anybody different.

Also, why are these people only concerned about boys? Nobody was making a big deal back when boys outperformed girls. Are the people clamouring for male role models interested in whether girls and women might need female role models? I don’t see the Mail calling for more female professors and researchers, more female fire fighters and so forth, because girls need role models to aspire to fields where there are relatively few women present. In fact, they’d be the first to oppose such a move as ‘Politically Correct’. Mothers are also told not to ‘try to run their sons’ lives’. Whilst this may be good advice in moderation, it should apply to both genders, and indeed to both parents. We have parents refusing potentially life-saving vaccines because of the fear of their daughter having sex some day, and yet it’s only unacceptable to be a pushy parent if your offspring is male. The problem is, by focusing only on male children in instances like this, it gives the impression that it’s OK to be controlling of girls’ lives and that if they fell behind boys in education, that would be acceptable, too.

And finally, should women shut up, even if they are annoying? No. For a start, our precious boys will have to learn to live with women in their everyday lives, and nobody, no matter how annoying they find women, can avoid having contact with 50% of the world’s population. Women’s voices being found annoying is a symptom of how little society values women, and should be something we work towards eradicating, not something we work around or encourage. You can’t expect half the world to literally shut up and step back so that you don’t have to deal with them. I’d argue that if boys find women annoying (there’s no evidence of this in the article, it’s all about the opinions of the ‘expert’), it is especially worrying, and even more reason for them to have more contact with, and get used to women. Whatever the oppressed group some people feel uncomfortable around, the onus should be on the privileged group who feel uncomfortable to get over it. We should never ask disabled people to disappear because some people feel uncomfortable, or people of colour, or LGBTQ people, because they have the same rights to exist and be heard, and live life to the full. This, naturally, should also apply to women.

Photos by angegreene and R4vi, shared under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

Aimee // Posted 21 June 2008 at 11:18 pm

My goodness, this is spot on. I am ALWAYS hearing people moan and groan about how boys aren’t doing as well as girls in certain subject areas and how we feminists aren’t concerned about THAT. Firstly, I’m pretty sure that if we took a sample of 100 children and split them in half, one half would probably do better than the other. If the half of the children that did better were predominantly black children, or female children, or purple spotted children, this would more than likely be co incidence, thus we meet our first hurdle in distinguishing children’s performances by gender. Secondly, you’re quite right, we never hear people complaining about girls not doing as well as boys because it is assumed that a girl’s place is BEHIND a boy. I hear all this shit about how boys aren’t doing as well in classrooms because they’re too ‘female orinentated’ (whatever the hell that means?!) yet all it sounds like to me is ‘oh, girls are getting above their station and we cannot have it!’. It’s simple sexism. Thirdly, all this bullshit about male role models is complete and utter crap, in my opinion. I believe children need GOOD role models, regardless of gender.

Janice // Posted 22 June 2008 at 4:53 am

Really good post, but as you say, not a great surprise to hear this crap coming out of the Daily Mail.

Only thing I’d disagree with is in Aimee’s comment at the end, that boys don’t need male role models. Boys do need good male role models. They need to see men in caring roles so that they learn that caring is not just for girls. I’m so happy that my 14 month old son’s daycare has a man working there, and my 5 year old’s kindergarten teacher is a man. Young children need a range of good role models, ideally from both genders, that challenge typical gender roles.

Carol // Posted 22 June 2008 at 8:57 am

Actually, the research shows that it’s mainly some groups of boys that are not doing very well in schools: i.e. boys from lower socio-economic backgrounds and some ethnic groups.

Whit middle-class boys have tended to continue to do well ion education at the same time as all this media attention to boys under-achievement.

When talking about gender and under achievement and or failure in schools, (as well as when talking about success), it’s important to identify exactly which boys and which girls are not achieving (or succeeding).

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 22 June 2008 at 10:24 am

The Daily Male’s article is misogyny posing as ‘expert opinion.’ This is all part of the never-ending backlash against women and feminism which as Anne Onne states is why it is so important to debunk myths such as women’s voices are too shrill. Could it be patriarchy is afraid the truth might split the world wide open. Ah women we must all be silent and obedient to our male superiors because unlike them we do not have any intelligence or the right to exist except as inferior beings.

All these women-hating claims are not new because they have been made for decades. So we need to ask why is there such an intense and vitrolic attack being made on women as a group? Boys do not need ‘male role models’ instead they need a more equitable ‘masculine role’ one which does not embrace machoism or male domination over women as the only appropriate way for boys to prove their supposed manhood. We need to worry less about manhood and concern ourselves with helping both girls and boys to develop their full potential in order to become fully functioning adult human beings not patriarchal gendered stereotypes.

Shea // Posted 22 June 2008 at 11:33 am

This piece is absolutely right. It never fails to amaze me that whenever girls or women outperform males, in school or in a profession (I’m thinking of a couple of years ago, when there were briefly more female applicants being successful in getting into med school) it is worthy of a “crisis”. But if you point out that there is still unequal representation of men and women in Parliament or business, its dismissed as just the way of the world. If women aren’t succeeding in these areas then the fault is innate to them, but if boys aren’t succeeding in school to the extent that girls are, then the system is broken! Its such a double standard its unreal.

So well done, Anne to point this out. I look forward to more of the same.

Juliet // Posted 22 June 2008 at 1:05 pm

I just wish the time would come when the Daily Mail would shut up. If only people would stop buying it en masse. I don’t believe many people who buy it even think about why they’re buying it. I said to my Mum’s friend (a really kind, sweet woman) that I thought the Daily Mail was horrible in its attitude to women, and she was really taken aback and stammered, ‘I never thought of it like that’. She had recently done jury service, and one of the cases was a young girl who’d been assaulted by a boy. She was disgusted with the other jury members, most of whom said it served the girl right because ‘lads were like that’ and she shouldn’t have gone down some dark alley with him. But she still read the Daily Mail every day! and didn’t make the connection.

That’s what’s so frightening, that most people are reading this rubbish and internalising it and don’t even realise.

Alicia // Posted 22 June 2008 at 4:14 pm

Back in the day (mid-90s) when I was studying secondary education at university, we were told that girls do better in same-sex schools because in mixed schools boys get more airtime because they are louder and talk more. So what – boys are allowed to dominate the classroom as pupils but female teachers aren’t allowed to be heard?

And as for “shrill” feminists – I can’t be the only person who feels my pitch rising when I am saying something controversial but I am trying not to be offensive!

Alex T // Posted 22 June 2008 at 4:31 pm

I am a female primary school teacher. this makes me angry. Jeez, we get criticised enough without someone making out we just shouldn’t be doing the job full stop.

Maybe they were talking about secondary schools, but in my school boys have… high voices.

Renee // Posted 23 June 2008 at 4:58 am

Not only are we told to shut up constantly, when we do speak many men have no compunction about interrupting us. Some assume that because we are women what we have to say is not important. Many times I have interrupted in mid sentence by some man who feels that his commentary is more important than mine. When we are silenced we need to acknowledge it and demand our right for free speech.

Mich // Posted 23 June 2008 at 3:49 pm

This took me back to one of my early days in graduate school, I was preparing for my first ever podium presentation talk at an important conference and my then advisor told me that my voice was annoying (and that this was a common problem for women) and I needed to focus on speaking down lower. I had forgotten about it until I read this, but in the more than 10 years since it has certainly been interesting the way this sort of idea is still propagated in the community to differentiate between “approved” male achievers and their “unapproved” female counterparts.

Lizzie // Posted 23 June 2008 at 8:24 pm

If anything could make that article worse, it’s the comment that’s been posted by ‘Alan’, the only comment at the time of me writing this.

I wrote a response but doubt The Male will publish it.

sian // Posted 24 June 2008 at 12:56 pm

thanks for bringing this up. i am always amazed at the flurry an panic when girls got better exam results than boys. i remember thinking “why was no one worried before”? female acheivements aren’t judged important. when girls perform better than boys, it’s a problem. when boys do better than girls, it’s “normal”.

Kuja // Posted 24 June 2008 at 1:03 pm

Lizzie: I also posted a response which hasn’t showed up. Surprise!

I even kept it tame, aside from suggesting that the government holds men at gunpoint and force them to become teachers, lest their sons become too womanly!

Mark Headey // Posted 24 June 2008 at 1:44 pm

You are perfectly correct to point out the mysoginy of the “shrill voice” and I agree with you that, to become alarmed just because girls are out-performing boys is hysterical.

However (you knew there was a ‘but’ coming, didn’t you), I feel compelled to play Devil’s Advocate for a moment.

There is never only one way to read statistics. For example, “girls out-perform boys” can mean that the teaching of girls has improved. Hooray! Or, it could also mean that the teaching of boys has declined. Boo! If it be the latter then I think there IS a good case to look at how boys learn.

Even if the teaching of boys has not changed, then an argument can still be made for its examination. After all, if by examining the teaching of girls can elicit such improvements, couldn’t a similar examination of the teaching of boys bring about improvements that benefit us all?

That said, I’m all for heaping s**t on the Mail. Juliet’s comment about the jury is truly chilling. People’s lack of self-examination and critical thought is truly frightening.

Sarah // Posted 24 June 2008 at 3:09 pm

I’m not sure what you mean by ‘teaching of girls’ and ‘teaching of boys’ as separate things that can be examined individually. Surely they are the same thing – with the exception of single-sex schools, which are the minority, girls and boys are usually taught together in the same way.

Of course if there is a widespread problem in education where boys are being disadvantaged, then that would be a serious concern – it’s a myth that feminists don’t care about boys, many even have young sons of their own who they would obviously like to be happy and successful!

On the original topic – I’ve had a similar experience when I was rejected for a graduate job, and one of the reasons was that in the group debate and presentation we had to do, ‘your voice just didn’t project confidence and authority, compared to the other candidates’ – the other candidates being of course all men. Now that wasn’t the only reason, and I’m not saying they consciously decided not to give me the job because I was a woman, however I suspect it was partly due to their sexist assumptions that to their ears the one female voice ‘just wasn’t authoritative’ in comparison to the male ones.

And then, of course, if a woman does sound confident and authoritative, she is often berated for sounding too ‘strident’ – for example Hillary Clinton. Really we can’t win – as Anne says in her article, there are certain people who will never be satisfied with any pitch or style of public speaking a woman uses, because deep down they believe women should just ‘shut up’.

Anne Onne // Posted 24 June 2008 at 3:59 pm

Mark, that’s an interesting point. And I would agree (and you know there’s an ‘if’ coming ;) ) if it were true that girls doing well would by default mean that boys are doing badly. But it could be the case that boys are, as a group doing the same as they were before, but that girls are improving relative to what they used to achieve. In other words, it isn’t necessarily zero-sum, and girls improving doesn’t automatically mean that boys are doing worse than they used to. In this argument, nobody is looking at comparing how girls or boys used to do with how they now do, only comparing girls and boys to each other. Which really leaves a lot of information out.

I think Carol’s comment is particularly relevant because as we know, when we are referring to boys ‘underachieving’, we’re not talking about well-off children. On the whole, there are different groups that need to be addressed, with different reasons they may be underachieving (lack of parental support, lack of resources, peer pressure or other factors), and all children not doing well should be addressed.

But I don’t think it’s got to do with teaching so much as a host of social factors, which often place boys in a role that is more restrictive in terms of studying. Although men are expected to be more successful than women, and on the whole expected to be more ambitious, at the school age, boys are expected to put a lot less effort into school, and are on the whole more socially punished if they do. There are many social factors at play, in many different levels where race, class, gender and other things intersect. But in the end, it’s a lot more complex than ‘boys aren’t doing well because courses are structured to appeal more to girls’. With the current macho-obsessive culture we raise our kids in, you can change the courses to make them as ‘boy-orientated’ as you like, but if they are pressured not to study, they won’t.

Mich, that’s nasty. Maybe your adviser should have had someone tell them that finding women’s voices annoying is a common problem in men, and that they should keep that to themselves…

And don’t even get me started on The Mail and their comment moderation…

On the role model front: I’d say both girls and boys need good ‘role models’* of both genders, and that the role of a ‘role model’, if any, is to teach, by example, how to be a considerate person, first and foremost. Whilst boys do need tood male role models to challenge traditional stereotypes of masculinity, it is very important that the focus on these role models is not used to disparage the roles women play, nor used as a convenient excuse to shut women up.

*I don’t like how the media uses the term ‘role model’ to single out celebrities, and I don’t like the idea of policing people’s lives by declaring them role models and therefore that they sould be saints, so in this context, role model simply refers to a decent if flawed, human being.

sarah // Posted 26 June 2008 at 1:05 pm

This article was also in the Independent. I can see why the Mail jumped on it but in all it was newsworthy

Sarah // Posted 31 July 2008 at 10:04 am

Wow, this is all so interesting to read your opinions! Recently we have been studying Celia Lashlie’s book at uni. An important point to note is that boys are ‘underachieving’ in literacy, and have been doing so for years. This is in part due to more emphasis being put on boys to suceed in the ‘hard subjects’ such as science, maths and IT. Also noteworthy is the fact that these are the subjects that will in turn lead to well paid jobs. I think that girls succeeding in literacy is not the great ‘boys crisis of underachievement’ it is made out to be. I agree with the points made that boys seem to be the benchmark by which girls achievement is measured, what a shame.

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