Reader Tekbek sent this article from ASEE Prism describing a study that examined students’ reactions to stereotypically “male” and “female” self-presentations. The authors found that male engineering students were less tolerant than other students of what are described as “female-typical speech styles,” in which the speaker admitted to difficulties or mistakes:
These men were more likely than others to perceive such speakers as incapable, whiny, and insecure. This impatience with speakers who admitted vulnerabilities extended to cases in which the self-belittlement appeared to be strategic — such as conceding one’s own weaknesses in order to help a teammate “save face” or using an “I-statement” to soften criticism.
The authors also found that all students objected to “male-typical” aggressive self-promotion. They suggest:
Based on this research, engineering educators might coach female students to avoid self-belittling discourse and teach all students to avoid aggressive displays of self-promotion. Such coaching might not only help women and other “at risk” groups fit into an engineering community but might also improve the interpersonal skills of all engineering students.
I found these results fascinating, but I’m not sure about the conclusion. Certainly, a coaching program that helps people curb their narcissistic aggression would be refreshing. But most of us work to teach our children to work cooperatively and to take responsibility for mistakes. When I was growing up such behavior was considered generous and mature, not whiny and incapable. (The subjects were working from transcripts, so tone of voice was not relevant.) Might it not be possible to instead coach all students to behave in ways that are consistent with our ideals of honesty, integrity and community, and to respect those who do so?
Just a thought.