Communication: Gender and Women

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"MEN ARE FROM MARS, WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS: GENDER DIFFERENCES IN COMMUNICATION"

Men and women typically use different discourse strategies in communication, and, in general, women's linguistic behavior is disadvantageous compared to men's. This paper will attempt to demonstrate this fact, through the many stereotypes observed in Western society, which influence our perceptions, and may lead to actual gender differences. Despite these assumptions, it has been proven through countless studies, beginning in the 1970's, that men and women differ in their communicative competency, and their discourse strategies in terms of conversational interactions. Some of the major differences include vocabulary, swearing, self-disclosure, intimacy issues, questions, nonverbal behavior, verbal fillers, and workplace attitudes.

The definition of gender is "the learned behaviors a culture associates with being male or female (Pearson, 1991:8)." Communication is "when two people interact, and, intentionally, or unintentionally, negotiate the meaning of any phenomenon (Pearson, 1991:9)."

Men and women are taught, through childhood caregivers, to excel in different areas, with social awards to keep these goals desirable. Females are trained to demonstrate greater expressions of emotion, while males are taught to be solid and impassive. Male aggressiveness and competitiveness conflicts with the female desire to co-operate and avoid conflict (Credgeur, 1999:2).

Social rules are reflected through language, demonstrating unequal power relations based on gender. Linguist Jennifer Coates cites two reasons for gender linked differences in communication. The difference approach states that men and women belong to two distinct subcultures, and they learn to communicate in different ways. Breakdowns in communication occur because the participants are playing by different rules. The second

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approach is the dominance approach. There is a gender hierarchy in our society with male domination and female subordination, reflected in language structure and use. The male world view is encoded in the English language (King, 1991:2).

The feminist perspective is that language is discriminatory towards women, as it has become one of the arenas in which social inequalities have been elucidated (King, 1991:73). In a study by Nilsen, 517 words were taken from the dictionary, discovering six times as many masculine words denoting prestige than feminine ones. Feminine words with negative connotations outnumbered males words by twenty percent (Smith, 1985:37).

There are many common stereotypes that tend to influence, and interfere with gender language research. Men's speech is believed to be forceful, efficient, blunt, authoritative, serious, effective, and sparring. Male ownership slang and profane language is also a prevalent theory. Women's language is stereotyped as weak, trivial, ineffectual, tentative, hesitant, hyperpolite, euphemistic, and marked by gossip (Spender, 1980:33).

Another common conception is that women use empty talk, or that they never say anything of importance, usually discussing trivial topics or events. Men's speech is viewed as straight forward, usually focusing on important topics. These stereotypes appear to be stronger than the actual differences (Pearson, et al, 1991:107).

Current findings have demonsrated that men and women are more alike than what was previously thought to be the case. We perceive these exaggerated differences because of the information on gender differences is mainly based on introspection and personal observations. The society we live in concentrates more on gender differences than similarities, causing the actual differences in male and female comminications styles to be exaggerated (Pearson, et al, 1991:108).

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Robin Lakoff, often considered to be the pioneer of gender related linguistic styles, has put forth some controversial views on...
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