Importance of conversations
Conversations are important for a number of reasons. People exchange their ideas and talk about their feelings to learn, understand, as well as empathize. What makes us humans different from other mammals? It is the language we use to communicate. Language is a medium of communication. We are able to successfully convey our thoughts only if someone understands them. Our use of language reflects our perceptions of gender and gender biases. It is more telling of the kind of people we are and the kind of environment we were brought up in. Let’s look into the gender differences in conversations.
Ever since girls are born, they are taught to “act” in a certain way. They are policed from a very young age. Kids from different cultures are brought up differently. The way they socialize is often gendered from the very beginning. It becomes difficult to break the pattern of gendered socialization as children grow up. The different and diverse ways of communication often have the ability to cause unnecessary miscommunication. Men are taught to build control and showcase their power with their words. Women are taught to be polite and submissive. The way men and women interpret conversations is very different. Gender roles are definitely changing, but as long as they are enforced, gender differences will always affect the way people engage in conversations.
Examples of conversational gender differences
Let us consider certain examples of gender differences in conversations. In a room full of business executives, seldom will we see women getting the opportunity to express their opinions instead of men. It is obvious that men will dominate. And why is that? It is because women do not have as much freedom as men to say what they want to. Even if they say something, it is said in such a way that it is approved by the patriarchs. Women are oppressed, which is why they experience life differently. However, the existing norms of communication are not suited for women and other marginalized communities.
Another example we can consider is how women often use tentative phrases while conversing. Tentative also means “hesitant” or “cautious.” Thus, the statements that are somewhat open to interpretation. Statements like, “This might sound stupid but…” or “I sort of think that was…” Or when there’s a question at the end of a statement, “I liked the movie, didn’t you?” There are multiple explanations for tentativeness. One of them is the lack of command or power on the part of the speaker. This comes from the belief that women’s opinions do not matter. Women are often silenced. That may be why when they actually put forth their views, they show hints of tentativeness so as to not upset the patriarchs.
“Lakoff theorized that the powerlessness in speech mirrored women’s powerlessness in the culture. Wood theorized that tentativeness is a strategy to maintain communication and connection.” (Source: “Survey of Communication Study” by Scott T Paynton and Linda K Hahn) Wood’s theory, which suggests this tentativeness is a strategy to maintain communication and connection, is also telling of the gender differences. Often, it is on the women to maintain the bond and keep the conversation going. This is one of the qualities of the feminine speech community.
As a result, it is evident that gendered differences in conversations are learned and internalized. It is fluid and dynamic. It is on us to unlearn the behavior and challenge the stereotypes put forth by the patriarchy.