Julie M. Smith has a thoughtful and measured look at some comments by Elder Ballard (clip or full) that have been garnering some attention. I’m inclined to be forgiving of a man who has consistently spoken out in favor of council-based decision-making that includes women, and I agree with Julie that several interpretations are possible and it is unclear if he was attempting a joke. However, whether a joke or serious, clearly there is some feeling that “too much” is a threshold that could be crossed, or he wouldn’t have said it. So, either way, the interesting question is, how much is too much?
I very much doubt that the following numbers are what Elder Ballard had in mind (I tend to think it was a flubbed joke made while speaking extemporaneously at the end of a very long meeting), but nevertheless it is important that we remember how skewed our baseline perceptions of “too much” can be when it comes to gender balance in participation. This is true in the church, but research also demonstrates perception imbalances in broader society.
- Women do less than 8% of the General Conference speaking (Excluding the all-male priesthood session, women are 8% of the speakers, but get shorter timeslots than the apostles so 8% slightly overstates their share).
- Is 10% women talking “too much”?
- Women are 23% of the members of the ward council (3 women to 10 men).
- Is 25% women talking “too much”?
- Church isn’t the only place where women’s voices occupy a disproportionately small share, relative to their numbers. According to research done in collaboration between faculty at BYU and Princeton, when participating in a deliberative body where they are outnumbered, women do a share of the speaking that is only 75% of what their already outnumbered share would be (though the study also includes encouraging approaches for remedying this). Women are also interrupted more often than men when they speak.
- Is 17% (that is 75% of 23%) “too much”? Is finishing a sentence “too much”?
- According to this NPR interview, when a group is 17% women, men perceive it as gender balanced, and when women comprise 33%, men perceive women as dominating.
- Is 33% “too much”?
It is easy to think that the answer to the question of how much is just right is so obviously half that it is unnecessary to discuss the issue. But the statistics above show that, in and out of the church, we need to be paying better attention. And consider this: on the flip side, apparently >92% of the talking is not “too much” of a share for men, at least according to the example we are shown in General Conference.
How much is “too much”?