Speaking of women

November 12, 1991|By Universal Press Syndicate

WORCESTER, MASS. WTB — WORCESTER, Mass. -- When Ann Richards, Texas governor and outspoken feminist, lampooned George Bush at the 1988 Democratic Convention, the last thing you'd have called her was tentative.

But new research suggests that women who speak assertively don't wield as much influence with men as do those who speak more hesitantly.

College of the Holy Cross psychologist Linda Carli asked four actors, two men and two women, each to tape-record an identical speech arguing in favor of charging a fare on student buses. They then recorded the same arguments speaking tentatively, peppering their speech with phrases such as "sort of," "don't you think" and "I'm no expert, but ..."

Carli then played one of the eight tapes to each of 120 undergraduates who were opposed to the bus fare and asked whether they had been convinced by the arguments.

Students of both sexes said the male speakers -- whether tentative or confident -- were equally persuasive. But their reactions to the women speakers differed dramatically. Female students perceived women who spoke tentatively as less convincing than their more assertive counterparts. Undergraduate men, however, found tentative women more persuasive.

What's more, says Carli, both sexes found tentative women less competent, whereas men who spoke tentatively were given the benefit of the doubt.

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