Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Myth of Mars and Venus
( The painting of Mars and Venus by Sandro Botticelli 1483, source:
Deborah Cameron, a professor of Language and Communication at Worcester College of the University or Oxford and a leading expert in the field of language and gender studies, wrote a book entitled The Myth of Mars and Venus in which she describes the men are from Mars, women are from Venus position and reveals that differences between men and women are an issue of culture, not a fundamental difference in our chromosomal makeup. I borrowed this title from her book.
Away from the demands of feminists for the same status in language, some social linguistic scholars think the language of men and women differ in their speech patterns.

Women usually speak in a softer voice using pitch and inflection to emphasize points. They sound more emotional in speech. They use approximately five tones when talking and interrupt others less and allow more interruptions. They disclose more personal information about themselves, and make more indirect accusations. They use "why," which sounds like nagging (i.e., "Why don't you ever call?"). They make more indirect statements, use more intensifiers such as "few", "so", "really", "much", "quite", make more tentative statements and use "tag endings" or upward inflections which make statements sound like questions (i.e., "It's a nice day, isn't it?"). They use more conjunctions when changing topics (i.e., "and", "but", "however") and ask more questions to stimulate conversations. They tend to establish more business relationships through discussing their personal life.

On the other hand, men speak in a louder voice using loudness to emphasize points. They sound more monotonous in speech. They use approximately three tones when talking and interrupt others more and allow fewer interruptions. They disclose less personal information about themselves; they make direct accusations (i.e., "You don't call"). They make more direct statements and "beat around the bush" less often, use less intensifiers, and make more declarative statements (i.e., "It's a nice day."). They use more interjections when changing topics (i.e., "Hey!", "Oh", "Listen!") and ask fewer questions to stimulate conversation. They rarely discuss their personal life in business.

In 1975, for first time, the known grammarian Robin Lakoff claimed that there is a typical female language, very different from that of men, marked by the use of certain linguistic features such as hedging devices, tag questions, intensifiers and qualifiers, so-called “trivial lexis,” “empty” adjectives, and rising intonation on declaratives. Specifically, male use of language was considered the norm and women’s language was deviant from that norm, and thus being regarded as inferior to that of men. (See: Lakoff, R. (1975), Language and Women’s Place, New York: Harper & Row)
To justify his own statement, Lakoff put forward a “dominance approach” theory, according to which the difference in language between men and women is a consequence of male dominance and female subordination. In this view, women are a suppressed minority group.

But another group (supported by John Coates (19860 and Deborah Tannen (1990)), on the other hand, believe that men and women belong to different subcultures and that any linguistic differences can be attributed to cultural differences. They argued men and women communicate differently (and women do it better) because of the way their brains are wired. The female brain excels in verbal tasks whereas the male brain is better adapted to visual-spatial and mathematical tasks. Women like to talk; men prefer action to words. (See: Holmes, J. (1992b), “Women’s Talk in Public Contexts”, Discourse and Society ).

Recently ( on 2009-09-30 ) a book has been published under the title of Code Switching: How to Talk So Men Will Listen (ISBN: 1592579264 , EAN: 9781592579266) by Alpha Books, where authors Claire Damken Brown and Audrey Nelson narrate how men and women act in ingrained styles learned from birth and deeply embedded in the workplace structure. According to the authors, women tend to write long e-messages, which express support, and are more personal and emotive, while men are to the point with precise orders. They point out the following gender differences in their book:
1 – Women play the role of "office mother" offering to lend a sympathetic ear
2 – Men play devil's advocate and act in a challenging way
3 – Women make the effort to laugh at jokes and make colleagues feel good about themselves
4 – Men are more likely to be the joke teller
5 – Women act in a passive manner, letting colleagues talk over them and interrupt

Although in my opinion, both the theories are somehow nearer to the truth. I strongly believe that men and women are coming from a different subculture and not only are they different in biological manner, but they are also different with their psycho-socio backgrounds. This is due to the way boys and girls are raised linguistically. Janet Holmes claimed that women often use empty phrases like I think or you know, because they are not committed to what they are saying and that they can be used to soften or mitigate utterances in order not to hurt the addressee’s feelings.
Women’s expressions are mainly an interpretation of women’s ideas and their surroundings, and I think they differ from men’s harshness. The myth of Mars and Venus is no exception to that rule. But I don’t find anything harassing if females are considered different. It is to be remembered that the world is built with two complimentary powers and male-female differences today did not exist in the same communities in early periods. It is the patriarchal society which makes its dominance over the feminine world. Those who are saying about the brain mapping, to prove that the female is a weaker sex, has itself become a dogma, treated not as a hypothesis to be investigated or as a claim to be adjudicated, but as an unquestioned article of faith.

Still some scholars fight against the male dominance over language and making women invisible from language. Access their causes and successes at my SENSE &SENSUALITY blog.



Language question raised by Sarojini Sahoo ' in gender discourse is really an area to look at.Identity is determined by language.Sexual identity is a matter of use of different nuances of language which is a codified text of social discourse.

Amandeep Singh said...

Great job mam

Mam you doing a great job .which is in the deep interest for flourishing of democracy .

You are pioneer in struggle for gender equality.

latika said...

Interesting to see your take on the subject-- so much work needs to be done in this area. I am approaching a workshop discussion on "gender issues" taking a similar approach--focusing on advocating for collaborative styles of communication rather than adversarial stances-- that traditionally have marginalized one and alienated the other gender.
Latika Mangrulkar

DOMINIC said...

Dear Dr. Sarojini,
You have made a rare research which even few men thought about. That itself shows that the gender nuances of language is not confined to superiority of intellect but a matter of physiology and culture. Well done friend!
Prof. K. V. Dominic

Dr. Ram Mehta said...

submit my poem which is self-explanatory=

Wrapped in deli

I see Mars-mystery in your mind,
The global warming in your lips
I would like to be wrapped in you
As meats get wrapped in deli.

Your eyes are clear September sky
Your rich bosom march madness
You are in vision of my old eyes
You have all the things in you
That any man will desire.
You are the breathe of Old Saturn
To me you are vision of Pluto.

Growing older, you are in my vision
Even though you are far far away.
Rich by passion as the Indian monsoon
Poor with impatience as Canadian Winter

George Trialonis said...

Professor Cameron's explanation of language differences between men and women makes sense. I am more inclined to believe that it is not so much nature, but nurture the factor for gender language differences. However, on the nature side, gender differences in terms of brain "wiring" may predispose women towards a specific range of behavioral and linguistic patterns. On the nurture side, the environment may condition some women to a wide range of assertive behavioral patterns which would seem to override the "wiring" of their brain, hence their nature. It is interesting to note such linguistic differences in a male dominated world. I would love to see men "speak softly" in a world where women have the upper hand.

Anonymous said...

Brain scans show that women have between fourteen and sixteen areas that evaluate others' behavior, while men have only four to six. Because of this, women are better at juggling several unrelated topics in a single conversation. They also use five vocal tones to make their points. Since men can only identify three of those tones, they often miss what women are trying to say. So men accuse women of not being direct and women accuse men of not listening.

It's amazing we manage to communicate as well as we do, considering that men and women have different reasons for conversing. Women ask questions to show interest in the person; men ask questions to gain information. Women find that talking about a problem provides relief; men feel that talking about a problem is dwelling on the negative. Women think that continuing to discuss the problem demonstrates support; men want to make a decision and forget it. Women provide peripheral details because they want to be understood; men just want them to make their point. Women think that talking about a relationship brings people closer; men generally think it's useless.

Women are better at interpreting body language than men. Because of men's inability to read body language, a crying baby often confuses them, though women know exactly what the infant wants. Women's subconscious ability to interpret body language makes them seem more intuitive than men, but men (and women) can consciously learn to interpret body language, which evens things out.

It does seem as if men and women are two different species, but still they manage to find one common ground of communication, otherwise none of us would be here.

vinay said...

Agree with Dr Jaydeep sarangi

nadinada said...

Finally validated; language has been my main tool of self defense, both in French and in English.
This would imply that i need defending, and yes, i did. Living in a predominantly patriarchal province, i had to prove myself quiet and subservient,as a girl child.
Upon entering the American culture, i found words to be less useful in the argumentative process, thereby lost some of the effectiveness of inter-relations.
This article holds the fine points of gender hierarchy. Language is indeed the vehicle of democracy.
Now to save the skills in an increasingly ravaged intellectual climate. Politicians are showing signs of strain due to education.
nadine sellers.

Kalimullah said...

Lakeoff opinion is that “the difference in language between men and women is a consequence of male dominance and female subordination”. I think it is very true
John coats head of another group view” men and women communicate differently (and women do it better) because of the way their brains are wired”
I don’t think it is physical wire, but it is a created by male domination.
You have raised a point “men and women are coming from a different subculture and not only are they different in biological manner, but they are also different with their psycho-socio backgrounds. This is due to the way boys and girls are raised linguistically”.
But it is ponder able that why boys and girls are raised linguistically. Women are not committed to what they are saying, it is due to subordination and as feels that they can’t pose any decision.
Yes I agree with you that Lakeoff’s and John coats ‘s opinion are nearer to truth.
You have started this discussion, may be reach at a conclusion, which we can say is most appropriate.
These types of discussion always remind me the “The survival of the fittest & origin of species by Charles Darwin.
I always think that a hypothetical scenario, if men and women were as it is in physically. But a slight difference, that women arms are more powerful than what type of issues we were facing

Amaresh said...

i am partially agree with it.. not fully...

Suman said...


amit said...

The use of a particular voice and words by women points to the characteristic of the gender. But the point of contention is whether this has been fashioned by a historical situation or is it innate and in turn fashions the feminine. Another point is about exceptions - say a woman who rarely uses "why" or a man who who does so frequently. What do they represent?

fideerken said...

Hi Sarojini,
I don't want to write a womanly comment:)
Is it possible?
Good article!
Deep and Interesting
Isn't it nice how women talk influence others more than men, since women have more emotional ways in their language?


शशि सहगल said...

Sarjni Jee

Aap ke nariwadi vichar bahut achchhe hain 'lakin main to Pluto ke mat se sahamt hoon .Narivad ko nare ki tarah uchhalna mujhe kabhi nahin bhaya .Aaj aurat kaya hai ,Admi achchhi tarah samajh chuka hai .
Rahi bat vrat ya puja ki ,in sab se koee phark nahin padta.
Ikeesvin sadi mein "Narivad" par itni charcha ki zaroorat hi kayon?

शशि सहगल said...


Aapke narivaadi vichar achchhe lage lekin main to Pluto ke mat se sahmat hoon. Aaj aurat kya hai, aadmi achchhi tarah samajh chuka hai, isliye 'Naarivaad' ko nare ki tarah uchhalane ki zaroorat ikeesavien sadi shayad nahin hai. Shubhkamnayen.

Dilip Barad said...

Women are great at debates. None but woman can beat woman in arguments. I have expereinced it at home as well as in my classroom. Girls in my class always beat boys. Recently we had discussion on Hamlet. Boys agreed with Hamlet in 'Frailty, thy name is woman', and gave examples of moral frailty on part of Ophelia and Gertrude. The counter argument came from the fair sex: 'Cruelty, thy name is man', and it was well supported by the behavious of Hamlet towards Ophelia and Gertrude. I have not answer to this argument. I have to believe that 'Cruelty, thy name is man' is far more correct, universal and hhas timeless appeal than 'Frailty, thy name is woman'.

nanoo said...

The relationship between both man and woman is not just domination, adjustment or relationship.
The concept is very much modern rational. We still forget that the animal and other dominating psycho factors are chemically responsible for their rationalism. Apart from this, the other and most important factor is omitted here is the responsibility of race which control their behavior and adjustment pattern. Language is merely, a means and mode of their communication- rather some sounds and symbols coded for their understanding during togetherness.
One is the guard and the other one is the stock keeper. The guard reflects a dominating voice when the stock keeper behaves surrendering.
The voices are clearly leveled as inside and outside voices.
The inner voice is heavier and mild when the outer voice becomes light as well as forceful.
This all happens after one occupies the other.

Sarojini Sahoo said...

I think Nanoo, you have not read my other blogging "The Historic Role of Gender in Language". Please read from