Discursive Inequity and the Internal Exclusion of Women Speakers

Date01 March 2021
Published date01 March 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2021, Vol. 74(1) 103 –116
© 2019 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912919870605
Political systems are democratic to the extent that people
are empowered to participate in political practices—vot-
ing, representing, deliberating and communicating, and
resisting—that contribute to self- and collective rule
(Beauvais and Warren 2018; Warren 2017). However, a
problem arises when structural inequalities produce
power asymmetries between social group members.
Asymmetrical power relations can entail formal exclu-
sions that prevent disempowered social group members
from participating in or influencing political practices.
Even among those nominally included in political prac-
tices, ongoing relational inequalities—inequalities of
social authority, status, and standing (Anderson 2010)—
can entail internal exclusions (Young 2000).
In this present work, I consider the problem of gender
inequality for discursive (talk-centric) political practices
and offer evidence that speakers respond to counterargu-
ments in ways that produce unjustifiable asymmetries of
discursive influence. Unjustifiable asymmetries of dis-
cursive influence—or discursive inequities—contribute
to the internal exclusion of women speakers from com-
municative processes of opinion formation. Asymmetries
of discursive influence can bolster existing patriarchal
power relations: discounting the influence of women’s
voices and enhancing the influence of men’s voices in
communicative process of opinion formation means
women exert relatively less influence in the discursive
political practices required to modify social and political
This work links normative democratic theory and
social psychology by introducing a theoretical frame-
work for understanding the social psychology of internal
exclusion, and by outlining how discursive inequities and
internal exclusions undermine democratic practices and
reinforce harms of oppression and domination. Although
this work is theory-driven and oriented toward theory-
building, the results of experimental research are pre-
sented as empirical evidence1 for the normative concern
that discursive inequities can contribute to women’s
internal exclusion from discursive practices.
In the first section, I describe how democracy begins
with inclusion. I discuss, in general terms, how different
forms of inequality entail exclusions that prevent political
870605PRQXXX10.1177/1065912919870605Political Research QuarterlyBeauvais
1McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
Corresponding Author:
Edana Beauvais, Department of Political Science, Centre for the Study
of Democratic Citizenship, McGill University, 855 Sherbrooke Street
West, Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 2T7.
Email: edana.beauvais@mail.mcgill.ca
Discursive Inequity and the Internal
Exclusion of Women Speakers
Edana Beauvais1
In today’s democracies, disempowered group members are no longer formally barred from the political arena.
However, there is a concern that the historical memory of political inequality and exclusion remains as internalized
cognitive dispositions, shaping behavior even after laws are changed. Focusing on the legacy of women’s political
exclusion from the public sphere, I consider whether internal exclusions undermine women’s ability to influence
political discourse even under conditions of formal political equality. All else being equal, do women and men in
Western democracies have the same discursive influence? Are women particularly sensitive to men’s discursive
authority? I help answer these questions using an experimental research design. The results of my study offer
evidence that people are more willing to revise their opinions after hearing a man’s counterargument than after
hearing a woman’s identical counterargument. This pattern appears to be driven by the way women respond to
a man’s counterclaim. I discuss how gendered discursive inequities reinforce existing patriarchal structures, and
the role that women inadvertently play in their own subjugation. I conclude by offering suggestions for better
approximating the ideal of discursive gender equality.
democracy, deliberation, equality, gender, women and politics, political communication

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