“ How come he NEVER…” “ Why does she ALWAYS…” A Gendered Look at why “he ALWAYS” and “she NEVER”
“ Why does she always correct me when I speak? It drives me crazy, especially when I’m trying to make a point! Who cares if I say, ‘He did bad’?” Perhaps she is more educated or of higher socioeconomic status than you are. American linguist, William Labov, found that the higher one climbs up the social scale, the more formal their speech style becomes. She may be using prestigious forms (like “walking” instead of “walkin”) because she is more conscious of her social status than you are (Trudgill). Remember: Her position in society is less secure than yours, so she may be compensating by using formal language features (Trudgill).
“ How come he NEVER talks about anyone but himself! He’s always like ‘I did this…, I won that…, I have this…, bla bla bla’?” This is typical. Barbara Johnstone’s research on storytelling reveals that men are usually the protagonists in their own stories. Men tell stories to display their own strength, skill, and wit. He just can’t help it, dear. Remember: Society expects men to be strong and powerful. Even their dangerous and heroic stories fall victim to these expectations.
“ Why does she ALWAYS have to argue with me that our house is not white? ‘It is ecru,’ she says!” Robin Lakoff’s work on “women’s language” reveals women pay more attention to distinct details, details that for men may be too trivial to be bothered with. Besides, there is too much work to do, money to make, and food to put on the table to worry if the white paint you’re using actually matches the house!
“ Why does it ALWAYS seem Like he’s not listening to me? He never gives me his full attention!” Pamela Fishman’s research on gender roles in private conversations found that women use “interested listener” noises like “mm” and “yeah” to supportively develop a topic and encourage the speaker. Men, however, seldom use these responses perhaps because their speaking style is not as collaborative as women’s, but in your case, perhaps he’s trying to curtail a topic that he’s simply not interested in.
“ Why does she ALWAYS say “You know?” several times when she’s talking? NO! I don’t know! Just say what you need to say!” Feminist, Robin Lakoff suggests that the female use of such hedges (like “well”, “sort of”, and “you know”) helps to reduce the force of what is being said so the speaker does not come across too assertive. Women, the social-conscious creatures that they are, may fear seeming too masculine if they are direct. Just like they’re high priced beauty creams, hedges soften a woman around the edges.
“ Why does he ALWAYS interrupt me when I’m speaking? Why can’t he just wait until I finish a sentence? He thinks what he has to say is more important than what I have to say! It’s just rude!” After research on turn-taking in interviews, Australian linguist, Joanne Winter, concluded that men often compete for turns in talking and use interruptions as a way to seize and dominate the talk. In contrast to women’s collaborative and supportive speaking style, men are highly competitive in conversations. Don’t take it personally, dear! Strap on your armor and keep on talking!
“ She ALWAYS wants to tell me what her friends say… in great detail, but this is all I hear: ‘She said…. And then he was like…. But she was like …. And then I said….’ Bla, Bla, Bla! ” Unlike the exciting and adventurous stories that men tell, Barbara Johnstone found that women’s stories are often full of dialogue between people because women are very attentive to social realities. Therefore, women go to great lengths to reconstruct the social relations between characters in their stories. For the danger-loving male, this storytelling process can be as painful as a root canal. Bring on the Novocaine, it’s going to be a long night.
There you have it. As different as men and women are, so are their communication styles. But, let’s consider where we learned to converse so differently. 1. Education and the socioeconomic opportunities of one’s family influences their language. 2. Differences in language use are the result of social attitudes about the proper behavior of men and women. 3. Patriarchal societies have deemed male language the “norm”. Women’s language features have, therefore, been compared to this norm. The problem: what differs from the “norm” is typically represented as a deficiency.
Remember: Sex is biologically founded whereas gender is socially constructed or learned. In other words, people acquire the characteristics that their society deems masculine or feminine. Therefore, how one speaks is not based on their sex, but instead on their learned gender. Limiting women to speaking one way and men to speaking another reiterates the stereotypes which led to the ideas of gender-appropriate speech in the first place. More recent research has led to the understanding that women can and do use speech styles typically thought of as male and vice versa.
<ul><li>This guide (which you likely readily accepted) demonstrates the pervasive influence of existing stereotypes about the sexes. Gender (and therefore language habits based on gender difference) are socially acquired behaviors. Secondly, men and women’s language forms cannot be placed into a simple checklist of differences. Language features can shift based upon context. Conforming to these learned language differences sustains the gender divisions already in place. </li></ul><ul><li>So? What can we do? </li></ul><ul><li>Study language and gender and take care not to reproduce these stereotypes. </li></ul><ul><li>Ladies, grab your helmets and jump into man’s combative language practices. </li></ul><ul><li>Gentlemen, learn how to use “like” flawlessly in reconstructing dialogue and practice the empathetic smile and head nod when listening to another. </li></ul><ul><li>Just say “NO” to conforming! </li></ul>
References Fishman, Pamela (1978) Interaction: the work women do. In Talbot 1998 Fishman, Pamela (1998) Conversational insecurity. In Talbot 1998 Johnstone, Barbara (1990) Stories, Community and Place: Narratives from Middle America. In Talbot 1998 Johnstone, Barbara (1993) Community and contest: Midwestern men and women creating their worlds in conversational storytelling. In Talbot 1998 Labov, William (1966) The Social Stratification of English in New York City. In Talbot 1998 Labov, Willam and Waletsky J. (1967) Narrative anlalysis: oral versions of personal experience. In Talbot 1998 Spender, Dale (1985) Man Made Language. In Talbot 1998 Talbot, Mary M. (1998) Language and Gender: An Introduction . Malden, MA: Polity Press. Tannen, Deborah (1984) Conversational Styles: analyzing Talk among Friends. In Talbot 1998 Trudgill, Peter (1983) Sociolinguistics. In Talbot 1998