Women Are From Venus, Men Are From Mars
All of the publications about men and women’s communication differences can be overwhelming and confusing to keep straight. Is there a difference between how men and women communicate? Do they speak the same language? What does one even mean by “language”? While there are many factors that play into these questions, there are two main arguments for this issue. Deborah Cameron, a feminist linguist and professor of language at Oxford University, has focused her research on the relationship of language to gender and sexuality. Cameron argues that “the idea that men and women differ fundamentally in the way they use language to communicate is a myth in the everyday sense: a widespread but false belief” (Goshgarian 270). After my observation of a conversation from a group of college students at dinner, I disagree with Cameron. I disagree because I find that John Gray’s Mars/ Venus Theory parallels my observation more accurately.
The Mars/ Venus Theory argues that there are distinct differences between how men and women communicate. It claims the following to be true: “Language and communication matter more to women than to men; women talk more than men. Women are more verbally skilled than men. Men’s goals in using language tend to be about getting things done, whereas women’s tend to be about making connections to other people. Men talk more about things and facts, whereas women talk more about people, relationships and feelings. And lastly, men’s way of using language is competitive, reflecting their general interest in acquiring and maintaining status; women’s use of language is cooperative, reflecting their preference for equality and harmony” (Goshgarian 271). I can apply this theory to my observation when the women were trying to hold a conversation for more than thirty seconds, when the men did not use the best communicating skills, and when the men often brought the conversation to topics that interested them. Cameron finds this theory to be “remarkably patronizing towards men” (Goshgarian 272). While I do see where Cameron is coming from, after my observations at dinner, I could easily apply this theory to what and how the men and women were communicating.
Before I continue analyzing my observations I must clarify that these observations came from a very small group of people. The Mars/ Venus Theory is based on “the average”, meaning not all men and women can be defined by this theory- there are many factors that go into communication. Wood explains that “thinking and speaking as if all women are alike and all men are alike is referred to as essentializing, the tendency to reduce either sex to a certain essential characteristics” (Wood 18). One must keep this in mind when talking about this topic, and not assume that all men and women can be classified in this way.
With that being said, my observations took place at dinner with a group of six freshmen at DePaul’s Student Center. The two women and three men that were having dinner with me were eighteen years old and did not know that I was observing them for this assignment. After just a few minutes I quickly picked up on differences in the way the men and women communicated, yet it appeared that the men and women were trying to achieve the same goals in their communication.
Like the Mars/ Venus theory stated above, men are direct and to the point, their conversations normally do not last more than two minutes. Women on the other hand tend to enjoy longer conversations with more detail. Julia T. Wood, a Professor of Communication Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, states, “women’s communication is more personal than men’s” (Wood 18). Many times throughout the conversation I heard the women trying to hold an extended conversation. At one point, one of the women was explaining how her roommate said that her professor is on a secret mission tomorrow and cannot be in class. She found this hilarious and interesting at the same time. She wondered if it was true or not. The men immediately responded with a joke or a snide comment. The woman said, “Just indulge in this with me,” trying to start an extended conversation, but the men continued to joke around and before long the topic was completely changed, leaving the woman’s curiosity unaddressed. For most women, this difference in communication styles can be frustrating and off-putting. In this instance, the woman was bringing up a humorous topic in hopes of expanding on it, while the men turned to sharp comments to get a laugh - both trying to be funny, but accomplishing it in different ways.
In the conversation at dinner it was also clear that women have a stronger filter and sense of empathy, while the men often said whatever was on their mind. Cameron claims, “women are more verbally skilled than men” (Goshgarian 271). This proves why the women were trying to carry on conversation throughout dinner, while the men changed the subjects and made jokes. Don’t get me wrong, the men were definitely contributing to the conversation and were being extremely funny, but because of them, there was no conversation that lasted more than five minutes. Many times the men changed the context of the conversations with a joke at the expense of someone else. Not only did their harsh jokes end the conversations, but they also hurt someone (whether they really meant it or not) along the way. I think this proves Gray’s point that women are more verbally skilled than men because in my observation the women connected the pieces, expressed themselves clearly, and knew when to talk, and when not to talk.
While I have proved two examples of the Mars/ Venus Theory to be true in the case of my observation, I do realize that I am essentializing. When essentializing, it is important to remember all of the factors that go into communication and affect the ways in which someone expresses him or herself. Some of the factors that played a part in affecting how this conversation carried out and how each person contributed were the different personality types, the casual setting of the DePaul Student Center, and the interaction between the men and women. It was clear in my observation that the two more outspoken men and one more outspoken woman contributed most to the conversation. The casual setting of the DePaul Student Center contributed to the informal conversation that took place over dinner, and the relaxed manners that were used in discussion. In this particular observation, the men and women at the table were just friends. Because of this relationship, it was noticeable that each person expressed himself or herself as they normally do, not changing their behaviors to impress anyone else. This authentic behavior ended up proving how the natural communication styles of men and women clashed as everyone was trying to relate, connect, and joke with one another. It is evident that these factors affected the conversation, and the outcome of my observation analysis.
The Mars/ Venus Theory claims that men talk more about things and facts, whereas women talk more about people, relationships and feelings. Throughout the conversation at dinner I counted nine times where one of the men mentioned something about a movie, music, or electronics. This example proves that the Mars/ Venus Theory about discussion of things and facts is accurate for men, and it also proves the point that Holmes makes. “If you know a lot about a particular topic, you are generally more likely to be willing to contribute to a discussion about it” (Goshgarian 260). It is a generalization, but nonetheless holds truth… teenage boys love movies, music, and technology. Hence I recorded them talking about their interests many times in the dinner conversation. With this generalization and the Mars/ Venus Theory, I can understand why the men said what they said throughout the conversation, while the women often asked questions or tried to relate to others at the table. This is another example of clashing while trying to relate to each other.
After my observation I cannot say that I believe men and women speak the same language, but I also do not think it is fair to find every single difference in how men and women communicate because I believe there are many similarities in their goals of communication. In the end, men and women want to achieve the same things in communicating with others. They want to connect with each other, they want to be funny, and they want to talk about life experiences, but I think it is obvious that these goals are achieved in different ways. Some blame it on genetics; some blame it on society and stereotypes. I would say it is the combination of both genetics and stereotypes that play into the Mars/ Venus Theory, and create the difference in how men and women accomplish their goals with communication.
Goshgarian, Gary, Deborah Cameron, and Janet Holmes. Exploring Language. 13th ed.
Boston: Little, Brown, 1977. Print.
Wood, Julia T. Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and Culture. Belmont, CA:
Wadsworth Pub., 1994. Print.