Sarah Paretsky and voices of women

Reading a post on the ever-interesting blog by crime-fiction author Sarah Paretsky, creator of V. I. Warchawski – and, incidentally, learning where and how you can take a quick snap of Barack Obama's home – I read this:

If you watch movies, you may not ever have noticed, but most of the speaking parts go to men.  In fact, 72 percent of speaking parts go to men.  Women can talk less than a third of the time on screen, but, in fact, this mirrors real-life social experience.

A variety of studies, most recently at the University of San Francisco, show that in mixed groups, whether at work or at play, women can speak about a third of the time.  If we take up more time — more space — than that — we’re labeled as conversation hogs, as aggressive bitches, and social pressures are marshaled to silence us.  Notice for yourself the next time you’re at a dinner party and a woman seems to dominate the conversation:  a wall comes down between her and her neighbors.  Women as well as men stop listening to her. 

I find this rather strange. In all my many years at work, I would say without a doubt that women talk far more than men in meetings and in general conversation. (I work for an international company so have many colleagues who are American and from across Europe and elsewhere in the world – so it is not just to do with tight-lipped Brit males.) At home, although the man in our house is outnumbered 3:1, I would say that the women speak a disproportionate amount of the time (none of us is a great chatterer, though, our house is more likely to be silent rather than filled with conversation by either gender). Around and about, when I see men and women together, I think women do most of the talking. Films may well skew the speaking parts towards the testosterone-heavy gender, and in the workplace, the top roles (i.e. the person who has the last word) may well be more likely to be taken by those of the male persuasion. But in my experience, women talk more than men, whatever the social situation – and don't get frozen out for doing it. Naturally, if anyone drones on and is boring, people tend to ignore her – or him!

7 thoughts on “Sarah Paretsky and voices of women

  1. Exactly what I have experienced in my childhood home, in our home today and at work (large school with 70-80 teachers). A couple of years ago, when my health was better, I was involved in politics, and I never felt at a disadvantage because of my gender. People listened to me whenever I had anything to say.

  2. Why did I stop reading Sarah Paretsky? Well sometimes she writes or talks utter nonsense.
    Perhaps I have been influenced in my view that women are quite capable of talking in public meetings and discussions without being frozen out by the fact my mother was one of seven sisters!
    I have also developed the rude habit of interrupting people because in the early days [a multitude of aunts and female cousins] and later at home [wife and two stepdaughters] and at work [lots of women] I found it so difficult to get a word into conversations.

  3. I love the V I Warshawski novels! However, Paretsky hasn’t heard the one about the young Jewish actor who, thrilled at having got his first West-End part, runs home to tell his Mum.
    ‘Which part did you get?’ she asks.
    ‘The Husband’, he replies.
    ‘So, not a speaking part, then?’

  4. I read that statistic and immediately thought ‘balderdash’. Actually I thought something more lewd than that but I don’t like to swear on other people’s blogs 🙂
    How on earth did they come up with that percentage? What films did they look at? Films from America only or from all across the world? Films made during what time period? Given that I didn’t believe the number I ignored the rest of the comment which was perhaps rude but I have a real ‘thing’ about meaningless statistics.
    And I’m with you and Dorte Maxine – in my experience women do generally talk more than men. I used to work in an engineering organisation where the staff was about 70% male but at meetings and various other forums I would say the women spoke as much if not more than the men. Sure there have been occasions when I’ve felt like no one wanted to listen to me but that happens to everyone in all workplaces and social situations – it’s not the sole preserve of women.
    Paretsky has tackled some really interesting issues in her novels and I did find V I Warshawski to be a positive character for a young woman to read about but I thought this comment by Paretsky went over the top and is actually quite unhelpful.

  5. I enjoyed the V. I. books very much, she’s a strong character and role model, but I have to admit that I found Fire Sale too much like a political tract with characters taking up positions – so I gave up on it. The earlier books always had their political heart on their sleeves, so to speak, but did not hammer the point into oblivion. I hope that Sarah P’s latest book (the one after Fire Sale) will be a return to her novelist’s form.
    I think studies like the U of Calif’s don’t do any favours. There are real gender disparity issues, such as the imbalance of women in the boardroom (especially in professions like yours, Bernadette) – they’d do better to focus on how to do something about these genuine problems, in my opinion.

  6. In Blacklist Paretsky hammered and hammered her leftist agenda until I wanted to scream; yes I agree with you but let up for a while and tell a story.
    Re cromercox’s brilliant comment
    My mother always said that the bride does not say anything at a Jewish marriage ceremony and my father would add that she makes up for it afterwards.

  7. I think I remember that one, Norman – if I’ve got the right one it had a lot of history in it. I think I probably skimmed the “hammering” bits.
    Glad you like ol’ CromerCrox 😉

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