Communication of the Sexes
Language can reveal a lot about an individual, particularly some of the differences between men and women. Numerous studies have been done to show how men and women communicate differently. Arguments have been made about whether these differences are inherent at birth or are influenced and determined by society. In an article entitled, “Are Different Patterns of Communication in Women and Men Innately Determined?” we see these two arguments explained. Louann Brizendine believes it is determined by nature, while Brenda J. Allen believes that it is determined by society. While men and women have many obvious differences physiologically, Brizendine shows that women and men are predetermined to communicate the way they do—as hormones effect the way they communicate; however, Allen shows that society frequently generalizes men and women, supporting the idea that societal influences also play a role in determining how men and women communicate. Through these arguments, we will see how biology and society play a role in how and why men and women use language, showing distinct differences, particularly when dealing with emotions such as anger and stress.
Brizendine first discusses how one of the key factors that separate men and women is the amount of estrogen and testosterone in the body, consequently effecting their emotions and style of communication. While some would be hesitant to accept there is a difference in the male and female brain, worried one would be viewed superior, Brizendine explains this well when she says: “Our distinct female and male brain operating systems are mostly compatible and adept, but they perform and accomplish the same goals and tasks using different circuits”. Male and female brains are capable of accomplishing the same tasks, but they use their brains differently. Studies show that high testosterone levels in fetal development of a male infant kills off brain cells in the communication area of the brain, leading to more development in the sex and aggression part of the brain. Conversely, the female brain develops more in the communication center of the brain because she does not have the surge of testosterone. Therefore, female babies show more interest and concern with facial expressions and usually learn to speak earlier.
Because men and women have different brain chemistries, their use of language is different. What begins in infancy continues, as studies show that women seem to have a greater need to use language to communicate and connect with others than men. Women are more concerned with emotional intimacy through talking, while men view it as more of means to relay or obtain information. The idea that males are less concerned with discussing emotions through language but rather use it to achieve something, can be seen as early as infancy as they are not as connected with facial expressions and emotions and also learn to speak later than females. Steven R. Rhoads, PhD, author of “Taking Sex Differences Seriously” says": “Men bond through common interests and activities, like shooting hoops, not by talking”. Men more often connect better through doing activities and having common interests rather than sharing thoughts and feelings like women.
The different reasons and ways men and women communicate is also reflected in the different ways they deal with anger. The male has more testosterone and the aggression part of the brain is more developed, which means he will generally become more aggressive and ready to fight when angry. However, a girl will generally avoid fighting, choosing instead to walk away and talk to someone about her anger. Brizendine says that just because a woman is often slower to anger, does not mean she is not capable of showing it—however, it is often through her words, rather than physically. Brizendine explains further: “Men's brain circuits and bodies may readily revert to a physical expression of anger fueled by the frustration of not being able to match women's words”. Because women rely on language more to share their emotions, they are able to express their feelings—such as anger—better through words than men.
I have witnessed these communications styles of dealing with anger many times. I can think of fights between my siblings where these behaviors were exhibited. When I think about how my brother and sister would fight with one another, I can remember my brother throwing things in anger and frustration while my sister was able to make him even more upset just by her words. It seems to support the idea that Brizendine explains how male and female babies are innately born to behave a certain way, with girls learning language faster, relying more on their words than boys.
Often related to anger is stress. Men and women also handle stress differently, and it is through stress where we see differing uses of language and communication. Men, however, would rather not talk about their stress. When a woman tries to talk to a man about her stress, he often hears a problem to solve. Because women are hard-wired to connect and are more in tune with the emotional needs of others, they will hear subtle hints that someone needs to be listened to, rather than be helped.
In contrast to Brizendine’s argument that men and women are born to behave the way they do, Allen argues that communication styles are learned. Societal influences are powerful and cannot be ignored and our language is male dominant, which supports the stereotype that a man’s use of language gives him superiority and power. Allen says: “Men tend to be socialized to use language that is valued, while the opposite usually occurs for women”. Allen discusses how male children are often treated differently that females and taught to be assertive and less nurturing, therefore less emotional. We develop social identities through society and behave how we see others behaving. In an article entitled, “The Art of Communication” Dr. Karen Ruskin reinforces this idea when she says: “Children learn from their observation of both verbal and non-verbal communication between their parents”. It is too hard to ignore the influence that parents have on their children, particularly with communication styles. One article even argues that the communication differences has more to do with social status than gender as it says: “The real generalization is that in situations where status matters, higher-status speakers talk more than lower-status ones” . If communication is learned behavior, as Allen argues, future communication between men and women may change.
The communication styles men and women exhibit, whether inherent or learned, show that women use language for emotional connections more than men, and use it to handle stress and anger differently. Brizendine argues that it is our biology that makes us communicate a certain way, but we cannot ignore the strong influence of society, and thousands of years of stereotyping. Allen’s argument leads us to believe it may not always be this way, and we can work to create more similarities between our language styles.