The Silent Sex: Gender, Deliberation, and Institutions

Book presentation

The Silent Sex: Gender, Deliberation, and Institutions
Christopher F. Karpowitz & Tali Mendelberg

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Do women participate in and influence meetings equally with men? Does gender shape how a meeting is run and whose voices are heard? The Silent Sex shows how the gender composition and rules of a deliberative body dramatically affect who speaks, how the group interacts, the kinds of issues the group takes up, whose voices prevail, and what the group ultimately decides. It argues that efforts to improve the representation of women will fall short unless they address institutional rules that impede women’s voices.

Using groundbreaking experimental research supplemented with analysis of school boards, Christopher Karpowitz and Tali Mendelberg demonstrate how the effects of rules depend on women’s numbers, so that small numbers are not fatal with a consensus process, but consensus is not always beneficial when there are large numbers of women. Men and women enter deliberative settings facing different expectations about their influence and authority. Karpowitz and Mendelberg reveal how the wrong institutional rules can exacerbate women’s deficit of authority while the right rules can close it, and, in the process, establish more cooperative norms of group behavior and more generous policies for the disadvantaged. Rules and numbers have far-reaching implications for the representation of women and their interests.

Bringing clarity and insight to one of today’s most contentious debates, The Silent Sex provides important new findings on ways to bring women’s voices into the conversation on matters of common concern.

Christopher F. Karpowitz is associate professor of political science and associate director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University. Tali Mendelberg is professor of politics at Princeton University. She is the author of The Race Card: Campaign Strategy, Implicit Messages, and the Norm of Equality (Princeton).


“This pathbreaking book brings us the latest research on why, in most public situations, women don’t speak up as much as men. It’s not just confidence–institutions matter, too. Sensitive and compelling, The Silent Sex is a must-read for anyone who cares about gender equality.”–Jane Mansbridge, Harvard Kennedy School

“In this groundbreaking book, Karpowitz and Mendelberg show how democratic institutions fundamentally shape women’s influence. They isolate institutions and conditions that exacerbate inequalities but also situations that close the gender gap. This book will undoubtedly frame generations of debate and discussion about how to craft democratic bodies to ensure equal input. This is a must-read for anyone interested in democracy, gender, and deliberation.”–Jamie Druckman, Northwestern University

The Silent Sex is a game-changing contribution. A stimulating must-read!”–Susan T. Fiske, Princeton University

The Silent Sex is a revolutionary book. Women must not only be equally represented in our society; they must be equally heard and responded to. Karpowitz and Mendelberg demonstrate that presence and voice are not the same thing, with critical consequences for our politics and society. Even more important, they show us what to do about it. This book will make a difference.”–Anne-Marie Slaughter, President and CEO, New America Foundation, Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor Emerita of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University

The Silent Sex explores the gender imbalance in deliberative participation, a pervasive problem in politics and social interaction. Karpowitz and Mendelberg bring together an unusually rich combination of clear theorizing, deep background in several social science disciplines, convincing empirical research, and thought-provoking policy recommendations.”–Nannerl O. Keohane, former president of Duke University and Wellesley College