Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I don't want to talk about it...

There's an interesting article in today's Times about the ways in which men and women supposedly use language differently in arguments. Following on from Deborah Cameron's Myth of Mars and Venus work, I feel dubious of any claim that men do x and women do y, because as Cameron has persuasively put it, most of these claims are exaggerated and tend to generalise people's behaviour, without showing much awareness of context.

But one point that does emerge from this article is that even though it's daft to generalise, maybe there are some patterns of socialisation that influence some women's behaviour and some men's when it comes to arguments. As Christine Northam, a counsellor for Relate the marriage-guidance service says:

I do talk with men who find it very, very difficult to engage with their feelings. Women say: ‘He won’t respond to me, he won’t listen, he thinks he’s right all the time.’ Men have been socialised to think that they know what they are talking about. I know it’s changing, it’s really changing a lot. But that’s still around: ‘Men are powerful and what I say goes.’ Women internalise that too. It’s not just the blokes. Women get very frustrated, hysterical, when trying to get their point across because it seems that it just falls on the dead ground all the time. What they are saying is not being picked up and acknowledged and dealt with.

Certainly the younger men that I see tend to be much more willing to engage with their feelings, keen to understand them and talk about them. Older men find it slightly trickier or more than slightly trickier.

So how important are expectations of what's appropriate "masculine" or "feminine" behaviour to the way we argue? Are we influenced in different ways by our own parents and their arguments, by the way we want to appear to other men or other women?

The article makes interesting reading, even if it does quote a little too heavily from the John Gray book Men are from Mars, Women from Venus...

Useful for:
ENA3 - male/female conversation

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