Misunderstandings and Gender Differences

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 4 October 2016

Misunderstandings and Gender Differences

In the movie “The Bachelor” released in theaters in 1999, Jimmy (Chris O’Donnell) makes his wedding proposal to Anne (Renee Zellweger) by saying “You win! ” as he offers her an engagement ring. Anne muses with utmost disappointment and surprise. When she gets hold of her breath, she then accuses Jimmy of ruining everything – the hotel restaurant’s romantic ambience, the view, and the music. Jimmy argues that what he did was just to propose.

For him, his statement was just a simple expression of his intention to marry Anne as he felt that he was compelled to do so. In Anne’s point of view however, Jimmy’s marriage proposal was offending – it is as if he was not really ready to be married. As a result, she walks out on him. Such conversation is a common example of the misunderstandings that stem from differences in gender. This is in line with what Deborah Tannen proposes in her book, “You Just Don’t Understand! ”. According to Tannen, men and women have different conversational styles.

Since people from different genders have different points of views and conversational styles, misunderstandings happen. Such claim is much agreeable and very noticeable in day to day conversations, not just in America, but also in other parts of the globe. In this paper, the researcher will affirm this argument of Tannen by citing supporting details such as the genderlect theory of Tannen, arguments between “rapport” and “report” talk, and their varying interpretations of interruptions in conversations.

The researcher will also provide examples which can be readily observable in day to day interactions. In Tannen’s Genderlect theory, she notes that the two sexes have different styles of communication which is pretty much comparable to the interaction between two people coming from different cultures. To a certain extent, she has equated gender with culture. In her book, Tannen claims that “Boys and girls grow up in what are essentially different cultures, so talk between women and men is cross-cultural communication. ” (Tannen, 1990, p. 18).

Basically, she argues that men and women grow up in different worlds – where “worlds” here refer to psycholinguistic situations. For example, it can be noted that when girls are growing up, they tend to interact best through the establishment of friendships with other women. They pattern their communication styles through the intimacy that they get from their mothers and their best friends. Technically, they communicate well with people whom they can best identify with. A girl’s prime motivation to communicate is to form relationships and establish closeness and confidence.

On the other hand, boys grow up and learn to socially communicate in groups where they are nurtured to become tough and strong – seemingly relieving themselves of intimacy and focusing their conversations on status maintenance. They play in groups where they can compete and boast. Boys are more inclined to initiate conversations with people they have just met in order to establish their sense of status and compete for diversity. Such gender differences in learning and growing up are best demonstrated in the toys and role plays that boys and girls adapt as they grow up.

Most of the time, girls would like to play with dolls and play houses where they can assume the role of a mommy and then pretend that they are caring for their baby. They then establish intimacy by actually practicing it through role playing. As for most boys, they would rather play with toys – remote controlled cars or bicycles that they can use to race against each other, and/or engage in activities where they can show their superiority through physical built, strength, or skills i. e. basketball, baseball, etc.

They establish their craving for supremacy through competition and rivalry and hierarchical roles within a group depending on the outcome of the contest. As such, by growing up in two different scenarios, boys and girls develop different cultures. Thus, gender interaction becomes a cross-cultural interaction. And, like any form of interaction between people across two different cultures, most men and women are finding it difficult to adapt to each others differences in order to enhance their sensitivity and improve communication and intimacy.

As noted by Tannen, men see the world as a venue where “a hierarchical social order in which they are either one-up or one-down” exists. For them, there is always “a question of gaining the upper hand. ” As for women, they see the world as “a network of connections” where the “conversations are negotiations for closeness and people try to seek and give confirmation and support, and to reach consensus” (Tannen, 1990, p. 25).

Another factor that contributes to the emergence of misunderstandings between men and women is their differences in conversational styles – primarily the tendency of women to engage in “rapport talk” as men diverge into “report talk”. Basically, rapport talk refers to conversations that are designed to improve and build relationships. This type of conversations results to statements which are polite and friendly – even appeasing and pacifying. When women talk, it is more likely that they are asking for someone’s approval or more so, advice.

On the other hand, the report talk refers to the communication style where the main intent of the person is just to deliver information and accomplish tasks at hand. Such type of statements demonstrates dominion and authority because they often sound like commands and orders. Tannen further explains that women use rapport talk as they often engage in “private speaking”. Such is best shown in what is dubbed as a ‘girl talk’ where women share stories so they can match experiences, explore similarities and differences, and create a special bond with each other.

Only when two women have engaged in a serious ‘girl talk’ about their personal lives can they usually regard each other ‘friends’. As they share more about themselves through more rapport talks, they develop a “common world” (Tannen, 1990, p. 76-77). As for men, they use report talk for “public speaking”. Tannen notes that they favor public discourse and challenging arguments. In most cases, what they want to do is to get some attention and establish themselves as dominant by proving that they are right or knowledgeable (Tannen, 1990, p. 76-77).

This characteristic of men can be observed in small talks between groups of males where their topics of discussion are often wide ranging – from simple mechanic tools to basketball players. As they swerve from one topic to another, a man shows dominance through his ability to carry on with the shifts and showing that he is well versed in a variety of subjects. Technically, because women find men’s report talks offending and men regard rapport talks as irrelevant; this gives rise to many situations where women and men in relationships grow apart.

Misunderstanding happens because women would love to engage in intimate talks of relationship building which men neglect; and because men talk in ways that women mistakenly identify as intimidating and offending even when the opposite gender means good. Based on Tannen’s book, another factor that demonstrates how gender differences can cause misunderstandings is the fact that men and women differ in the way they interpret interruption.

This is very important because as the author explains, “Interrupting carries a load of meta messages – that a partner doesn’t care enough, doesn’t listen, and isn’t interested. ” (Tannen, 1990, p. 189) In most cases, Tannen argues that men will probably not welcome interruptions because they will equate it to a struggle for dominance. For them, an interruption would indicate that one is trying to lead the conversation and thus, overpowering them. For a woman however, interruptions are regarded as an ordinary part of a rapport talk.

Women would welcome interruptions because it shows healthy participation and interaction which can contribute to the formation of an agreement. It also signals that the person might be listening to the conversation. In this regard, it may be important to note that silence would probably harbor a reverse effect on both sexes. In the case of men, they might regard silence as a sign of submission – where they are offered with the total independence that they need: free from instructions, requests, and nags.

In the case of women however, silence may be equated to an act of disregard and disrespect. If a wife talks to his husband and his husband refuses to talk or respond to what she is saying, then she would probably imply that her husband takes no notice of her. Following this point of view on interruption and silence, it can be noted that perhaps misunderstandings happen because while men want silence, women demand for interaction. As claimed by Tannen, “Women and men feel interrupted by each other because of the differences in what they are trying to accomplish with talk” (Tannen, 1990, p.

215). When the growing and contrasting demands of each other finally meet, then divisions or gaps between men and women occur. In conclusion, one can note that misunderstandings among the two genders mostly occur because their directions, motives, and needs in conversations greatly vary. It seems that while men argue for competence, women struggle to maintain harmony. As women demand for interaction and intimacy, men reject them as they search for silence and independence.

Thus, in order to establish connections between opposite genders, people should be more sensitive to the differences in communication preferences and styles and try to adapt and accept the existence of such differences. A thorough understanding of these differences can definitely propel effective communication techniques which can result to healthy relationships in the long run. Work Cited Tannen, Deborah. “You Just Don’t Understand. ” William Morrow and Company, 1990


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 4 October 2016

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