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Gender agenda

January 21, 2008

Hello again,

Do men and women use language differently? It’s a controversial issue. The debate kicked off seriously when ...

...Robin Lakoff observed the characteristics of women’s language in 1975 (Language and Women’s Place). She showed that women used language more tentatively, more politely and with more consideration for other participants in the conversation than men. Many were struck by the veracity of her observations but arguments were sparked as to possible reasons.

What was really happening, some maintained, was that women used language styles that reflected the power balance between men and women in society. With women taking a more equal position, a concomitant change in their language style would also be seen.

On the other hand, others argued that men and women have different needs that dictate the way they use language. Men, for example, like to parade their status and dominance, while women are more interested in mutual support and consensus. Such different needs can lead to men being more direct and women preferring to hint and imply. By the same token, men and women can misunderstand each other’s motives: men may feel manipulated if women disguise their real needs by delivering their messages obliquely and women can feel bullied by men’s bluntness.

Other suggestions have included the idea that, while sex is a biological factor, gender is something we learn in the process of socialisation. Thus, if society imposes different roles on men and women, they will learn how to reflect those roles in the way they use language.

No doubt the discussion will continue. In my own household, my husband and I have our language quirks, I freely admit. I tend to hedge my ideas so as not to be too abrupt, but, unfortunately, as soon as say: “I’ve had an idea…” my husband runs for cover. On his part, his language show how the male mind believes all work in the home takes place as if by magic without any human intervention. He will say “has my shirt been ironed?” or “where have my socks been put?” My replies are tediously predictable” “Do you mean, have I ,/i>ironed your shirt/put away your socks?”

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