Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Brain sex

No, not a dyslexic Westlife fan's lustful desires (Brain - Brian - geddit? Oh dear...) but the catchy title given to the BBC's new webpages based on their Secrets of the Sexes series.

The first programme in the series focussed on the differences between how men and women responded emotionally and linguistically to a whole series of stimulae, and proved interesting for those of us who like to look at how gender influences communication. According to the programme, men and women often use completely different parts of the brain when processing words, and even "hear" words differently when two sounds are sent through different channels on headphones.

So is it all in our genes - and maybe our jeans - or can we break the mould and behave in other ways? It's worth thinking about all of this in the context of Roehampton University professor, Jennifer Coates's, most recent book
Men Talk. She set out to explore how men communicate with each other (following on from her earlier book, Women Talk) and found that men from all social backgrounds and age groups tended to fulfil the stereotypes that are expected of us: competitive; bantering over topics like beer, sex and actions of dubious legality; and unwilling to share emotions openly unless with very close friends.

So are we bound by our genes or is it a matter of socialisation? Jennifer Coates also looked at this in an earlier study of how boys and girls pick up gendered characteristics in their speech very early on in their lives (I think it can be found in A Feminist Critique of Language).

For some light relief, you could also have a look at the other episodes of the BBC series which will cover attraction and love, including the importance of language (body language and spoken language) in flirting (or "chirpsing" as I believe some young whippersnappers in south London call it).

Hubba hubba.

Useful for:
ENA3 Gender & Spoken Language
ENA6 Language Debates (male and female communication)
EA4C Language Investigation (lots of good possibilities for investigations into how men and women "perform" - or flout - their gender identities in conversations, in their writing etc. )

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