Gender and Communication: How Men and Women Talk
It’s a common joke to say that men and women hail from completely different planets. And there are times this could be true. Often gender, the way society sees gender, and our own personal experience with our gender can affect the way we act, creating stark differences between how males and females (and everyone in between) behave. How we use language is no exception. Men and women tend to communicate and use language in very different ways, whether when talking online or in person. So let’s take a look at the science behind it all and see how much language really does differ when it comes to gender.
Social Media Chit Chat
A recent study took a look at the manner in which women communicate on social media platforms (Facebook in particular) vs. men. Over 65,000 Facebook users gave researchers permission to employ data-driven analysis to determine what sort of words they were more likely to use in an online post. It was discovered that while men were more likely to be aggressive online and use profane language, women tended to be warmer and gentler in their choice of words when creating status updates. This isn’t a particular surprise as generations of societal pressure and stereotyping still tends to cause women to adhere to the typical ‘gentler sex’ norm. However, the study discovered something shocking about how women are communicating online. It showed that while using gentler words, women were in fact no less assertive than men – they just tended to go about displaying their assertiveness in different ways.
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How and why exactly does this happen? After all, women have a long history of being much more apologetic than men, so why do they tend towards assertiveness in online forums? Well, some experts believe that it is a generational change. Since the average age of those who took part in the study was 26, many of them probably spent a significant part of their lives interacting online, and the way they communicated changed accordingly. Scientists also point out that Facebook, and other social media platforms, tend to be great social equalizers. Online we are all equal, hence it is easier to make friends with people we might never hang out with in real life, and we are inclined to communicate with everyone the same way – we don’t talk down or up to people. Women also tended to be more compassionate, even when being assertive, and would use words like ‘wonderful’, ‘thankful’, and ‘excited’. For women, social media is precisely that: a tool used for talking about social or family life. Men, on the other hand, angled towards the more impersonal by preferring to talk about topics like work, politics, and competition. They also tend to use words like ‘freedom’, ‘battle’, and ‘win’ in their status updates.
Is it too late to apologize?
Women may assert their dominance online, but in real life it usually seems like this is not the case. And it all comes down to a single, naughty little word: ‘Sorry.’ Don’t worry, though, we women are onto you, you troublesome little word. Even Lena Dunham (of Girls fame) wrote an essay earlier this year describing her own struggle with saying ‘sorry’. While we can agree that some of the reasoning behind being apologetic is cultural (in Great Britain it’s a common form of politeness for both men and women), it is something far more prevalent among women than men. It often feels like we are constantly apologizing for everything, even when it’s something that absolutely does not warrant an apology! Why should I apologize to a waiter when he mixes up my order? Is it really necessary to say ‘I’m sorry’ before asking my boss if he or she has a moment to chat? I think not, yet science shows that we can’t seem to help it.
Apparently, it isn’t necessarily true that women apologize more, it’s that we think we have more to apologize for. Psychologists speculate that men are more reluctant to admit to wrongdoing than women and hence less likely to think they need to apologize. In one study, scientists asked students between the ages of 18 to 44 to keep journals detailing occasions when they apologized, felt the need to apologize, or perceived they had done something wrong. While both men and women apologized 81% of the time when they deemed their actions offensive, women reported committing more offensive acts. According to researchers, this points to how differently men and women tend to view many situations. Some believe that women have a lower threshold for what requires an apology because they are more concerned with maintaining social harmony. Whether or not this is true remains to be seen. I will say this though: saying women apologize more because they are more emotional is a copout, plain and simple. It’s time we accepted that men, like women, can be emotional, it’s really the way we see the world that differs.
What do you think? What are some of the ways communication changes according to gender? Share your thoughts with us!