Monday, December 04, 2006

Myths of Mars and Venus

Last week's Guardian featured a brilliant 8 page article on the perceived differences between how men and women talk. Focusing on a claim in a new book called The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, that women talk more, using on average 20,000 words to an average man's 7,000, the Guardian wires up two reporters - one male, one female - to see if it's all true.

And the result? Well, you can look for yourselves. But along the way, top linguist Deborah Cameron gets a look in with some incisive comments:

The degree to which this biological and linguistic battle is also a cultural and political one is striking. Deborah Cameron, Rupert Murdoch professor of language and communication at Oxford University, is sceptical about the claim that men and women are inherently different in the way they use language, and thinks such arguments find a receptive audience because people are scared of the growing similarities between the sexes.

"People want to believe there are clear-cut differences between men and women," she says, "because they are men and women. They don't want to think about the similarities, which outweigh the differences. The other thing they don't want to think about - which for a linguist like me is the most interesting thing - is the extent of variation within each gender group, which statistically is as great, or greater than, the variation between the two. Women are as different from each other as they are from men, and gender is about those differences, too. The way you think about yourself as a woman is not only about comparing yourself to the available men; it's about thinking about the kinds of women you are not."

So, it's no great surprise to find that Brizendine's claims are explored with critical reference to a whole range of popular stereotypes about how men can't talk about emotions, women like to gossip and all the rest of those sweeping generalisations that we try to (gently!) knock out of you when we study ENA3 in the Spring term.

But the article is not only great for challenging stereotypes; it's also excellent on investigation methodology and ways you can collect valid data.

Read it!

Useful for:
ENA3 - Interacting Through Language

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