Genderlect Styles refers to the differences in conversational styles between men and women which lead to misunderstandings and faulty communication. In his text A First Look at Communication Theory, author Em Griffin describes linguist Deborah Tannen's cross-cultural approach that focuses on "masculine and feminine styles of discourse [that] are best viewed as two distinct cultural dialects rather than as inferior or superior ways of speaking" (431).

As I read his description of the theory, I smiled to myself upon remembering the way my husband and I have struggled to communicate. Especially in the beginning of our relationship, I am convinced it was only an overwhelming, mutual caring for each other that kept us together in the face of such miscommunication. Indeed, it was in the area of his interest in other women, a topic covered by Griffin's When Harry Met Sally example, that much of our early conflict occurred. As I struggled for connection in this new and exciting relationship, my husband shifted between his desire for intimacy and his need for independence. I believe that he viewed his conquests in terms of competitiveness and status, and I know that he discussed such things with his best (male) friend. He most certainly must have viewed me as a limit to his autonomy.

Fortunately, he is one of the most honest people I have ever met. That fact has helped us overcome some of the pitfalls of cross-gender communication. I have never been one to talk excessively, a characteristic that Tannen reported as the "wordy-woman-mute-male stereotype" (434). He and I engaged in quality conversations with mutual self-disclosure. I have noticed my tendency to interject listening responses, such as "umm, uh-huh, right," but this doesn't seem to bother him. He does not see it as a power move or a "source of continuing irritation" (435).

My sister and I have commiserated with each other about the occasional difficulties of communicating with our husbands, but we just sort of smile at each other and conclude, "It's the nature of the beast." We have to keep it in perspective.

In the critique section of the chapter on Genderlect, Griffin reports that feminists criticize Tannen for not considering power issues in her discussion. He quotes German linguist Senta Troemel-Ploetz, "If you leave out power, you do not understand talk" (439). Curriculum within the university reinforces that argument, since power seems to be the issue in Women's Studies, Political Science, Sociology and Anthropology courses.

Women's Studies 400/500, "The New Scholarship on Women: The Question of Difference," looks at "power feminism" and ways women can "join together in order to fight their common sexual oppression" (Winter 1997 Syllabus). WS 269A, Women in Science, addresses "whether women's abilities, opportunities, interests, and approaches to science are different from men's" (OU Undergraduate Catalog, 1996-97, 348).

Political Science 478, "Feminist Political Theories and Movements," "Explores issues of power, powerlessness, oppression, and transcending oppression. Views feminism as human rights movement" (331).

Hierarchy is discussed in Anthropology 545, "Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective," in which "the relationships between gender ideas and such features of social systems as kinship and political hierarchy" (24) are examined.

Sociology 467, "Violence Against Women," looks at violence as power, and SOC 471, "Gender and Justice," "Explores how the interpretation and application of criminal law reflects assumptions about men's and women's natures, appropriate roles, and positions in society" (339).

Finally, a Tier III course, 419D, "Emotion, Power, and Gender," reviews "the various theories regarding the nature of emotion . . . followed by discussions of the nature, acquisition, and maintenance of power as well as the uses of power and the relationships between power and emotion. The last section of this course is concerned with the relationship between gender and power, gender and emotion, and how these two broad areas dovetail, providing an explanation of the role of emotion in our everyday public and private lives" (343).

Tannen may not have stressed power in her discussion of Genderlect, but current academia certainly supports this issue.

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Interactional View
Interact System Model of Decision Emergence
Social Exchange Theory
Research Methods and Validity Criteria

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Christina Dalesandry modified this file ( on 18 August 2001.