Gender Differences in CommunicationA friend was complaining that her boyfriend would not say “I love you” even if explicitly asked to do so. The only exception, she said, was when they were in fact in the act of making love. Then, if asked, he would say the sacred words. Somebody suggested to her that she should not take too much comfort in the exception. When making love, she was told, men would say anything. “He’d tell you he’s the Easter Bunny if that’s what he thinks you want to hear” a friend told her. The conversation rattled on from there. A couple of weeks later, she related the following:
“We were in bed, making love. I said: “Tell me you love me”. He said “I love you”. I said: “Tell me you’re the Easter Bunny”. He stopped for a second and said: “I’m the Easter Bunny”. So, I slapped him.”
The poor guy probably still doesn’t know what happened (Griffith, Inter-gender communication, 2001). This anecdote is probably indicative of the differences that exist in the manner in which men and women communicate with each other.
The Hierarchical Culture of Men and the Flat Culture of Women
Social scientists have also attempted to unlock the mysteries of why men and women communicate differently by resorting to all kinds of theories and suppositions, some of them more valid than others.
In 1992, John Gray published a book, which quickly became a bestseller “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”. Gray asserted that we learn to communicate in distinct ways based on our sex. He argued that society teaches different gender-specific values and practices that result in virtual “male-minded” and “female-minded” languages. Men learn to value “masculine” qualities such as competition, virility and physical pleasure. Women, on the other hand, are socialized to emulate “feminine” ideals, including nurturance, submissiveness and emotional pleasure. We learn these values early in our upbringing. Society encourages logical analyses among men and emotional analyses among women. Hence, the stereotypical rational man and the emotional woman are embedded in many ideologies in our society (Gray, 1992, p. 20-52).
Gray, however, has been criticized by other social scientists, who believe that his research was indeed almost a farce. Susan Hanson, in her “rebuttal from Venus” analyzed Gray’s book chapter by chapter (and almost paragraph by paragraph). She concluded that Gray is a male chauvinist and even argued that Gray’s Ph. D. came from an unaccredited university that has been persecuted by the State of California for being a paper mill selling worthless degrees to students (Hamson, 1996-1998, p. 1-123).
Another theory that has attempted to explain the differences in gender communication is the team sport as the hierarchical culture of men and playing with dolls as the flat culture of women.
In every culture of the world, children are taught to be appropriate adults through play. When boys are growing up, they play baseball, basketball, football, cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians and war, all of which are hierarchical team sports (Smith, 1995, p. 30). Boys learn to be aggressive, play to win, strategize, take risks and mask emotions. Playing their assigned role in the hierarchy, boys learn to obey their coach unquestionably and play by the rules. In essence, boys learn how to garner power, manage conflict and win without becoming emotionally involved with their competitors (Smith, 1995, p. 31).
In the world of girls, they grow up probably not playing in team sports, although this situation is slowly changing. Girls play and learn their lessons from doll games in which there are no winners or losers. Girl play reinforces getting alone and being nice, learning how to negotiate differences, seeking win-win situations and focusing on what is fair for all winners and losers (Smith, 1995, p. 38). As a result, girls, unlike boys, have a flat rather than a hierarchical culture. In dolls, there is never a boss doll player (Smith, 1995, p. 39). Girls who try to be the boss quickly learn that this damages friendships. Consequently, when adult women enter a hierarchical organization they often attempt to equalize power, negotiate relationships and share power equally (Smith, 1995, p. 40).
Our language is sexist
In addition to all the difficulties that we encounter in intergender communication, we need to be aware that our language is sexist. Language shapes the world. Marxist social theorists claim that those who shape our language are in control. They can mold the world, at least to a certain extent and by doing that they meet their own needs and assert their own primacy.
Continue reading at World Mediation Organization / worldmediation.org/gender-differences-in-communication/
WORLD MEDIATION ORGANIZATION is an international and informative platform that is dedicated to raise the public awareness towards Mediation, Conflict Complexity, and Violence Avoidance.
WORLD MEDIATION ORGANIZATION – Daniel Erdmann,
Hohenzollerndamm 182, 10713 Berlin, Germany.
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