There are several theories connected to communication as it relates to culture. People from different backgrounds and genders are taught different ways to communicate their feelings. Many people have come up with theories as to why people in different cultures communicate the way they do. One reason that people communicate differently is because of gender. Men and women think about things in different ways, and Deborah Tannen's theory about this is known as Genderlect Styles. Tannen says that a conversation between a man and a woman may as well be a conversation between two people from different cultures.
Probably the reason that men and women's views are so different is the way they are raised. A boy may be raised by his father to be good at baseball. Although dad may not say to the boy "you must be the best" these feelings are definitely implied either by the way that his father beams when the boy hits a home run or the way his eyes may look disappointed when the boy strikes out. A girl is often raised by her mother to play with dolls. This activity of playing with dolls, teaches the girl at a young age to care for other people like the doll needs to be cared for. Often if a girl has no mother and is raised by her father or if a boy has no father and is raised by his mother the children will possess qualities of the opposite sex.
A boy raised by his mother may be more sensitive to other people's needs because that is the kind of role model that he had growing up. A girl raised by her father may be more competitive especially if the father did not have a son to teach to be competitive like him. The girl may participate in masculine activities such as baseball and be labeled a tomboy. This kind of a childhood would teach her to be more competitive in her future life. Therefore, this theory is not always perfect because we must allow for different personality types brought on by upbringing.
Tannen's theory states that women want intimacy and connection while men seek status and independence. One point that she makes is that in public, men will talk more in order to keep their status above their peers. Women will talk less in a public situation because they do not feel the need to defend their own status. However, in a private situation with a man, a woman will talk more about how she feels about certain issues because she wishes to learn more about her mate's feelings, and hopes that he will want to know more about hers. Often times, men will simply listen to what their mate is saying without disclosing any feelings of their own. The reason for this is because in a private situation, a man does not feel it is necessary to defend his status because he is not in competition with another of his own sex.
In the movie "My Fair Lady" Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) attempts to show his dominance in public over Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn). When the two first meet, they are both sheltering from the rain under a church overhang along with a large crowd of people. Eliza is a poor flower girl with a horrible accent, and is attempting to sell flowers to earn her living, and Henry along with most of the other people in the shelter are just getting out from an opera. Henry is a language expert and he is showing off how much he knows about language to everyone under the shelter and using almost every person under the shelter as an example of bad English. He begins to focus on Eliza as an example of bad use of language. He is trying to show his dominance over Eliza and everyone else by making himself seem so much smarter. Eliza is obviously hurt by what he has to say about the way she speaks, but does not have much of an argument because he is more educated than she.
Obviously, these two characters do not fit in perfectly with Tannen's theory because Henry has an education advantage over Eliza, but we can see the relationship progress throughout the film. Later in the story, Eliza becomes a language student of Henry's because she would like to learn to talk more like a lady. Eliza wishes to sound more educated to the general public in order to get off of the street. We see several scenes throughout the film where Henry is establishing his dominance over Eliza in front of others. During Henry and Eliza's first meeting at his house when she asks him to teach her better English he is putting her down in front of his maid and a male friend of his that is visiting. Henry is showing his male friend that he is dominant by constantly putting Eliza in her place. Eliza screams back at him to defend herself, but does not attempt to show that she is any better. Eliza is humbly asking for Henry's help with her speech.
One evening after a ball that Henry has escorted Eliza to, Henry is sitting around with the servants in his house and telling them what a success he is because he passed a common flower girl off as a lady. Everyone at the ball was obviously fooled by Eliza's accent that Henry has coached for six long months and Henry's servants and friends are proud of him for his accomplishment. After everyone but Eliza turns in for bed, Henry comes back to the room to find Eliza by herself. This is one of the pair's rare moments alone together. Eliza complains to Henry that she is being treated as an object and not a person, and Henry is obviously not interested in arguing with her. He sees no need in proving his dominance to Eliza because he does not see her as his peer. Eliza seeks to have an intimate conversation with him about her feelings, but Henry is not interested in talking about this, he simply wants to go to bed. This relationship is a little different from most because at the beginning of the movie, Henry and Eliza are not on the same socioeconomic level. By the time that the pair's moment alone after the ball occurs, Eliza has somewhat established herself in society by making connections with Henry's friends. During this time period, often connections were all that a person needed to make it as far up the social ladder that Eliza desired. All that Eliza really wanted out of life was a warm place to sleep and food to eat, and being a lady in a shop would get her off of the streets.
Many times when a man is telling a story to a group of people, he is telling a joke, or he is telling a story that makes him look good. By telling these kinds of stories, a man is once again establishing his dominance over the others in the group. On the other hand when a woman tells a story, she is often trying to downplay whatever her accomplishments may be in order to show that they are a normal person and to bond with others in the group. Once again, the males are trying to establish their superiority, and women are trying to establish their intimacy.
Men listen differently than women. Often, when a woman tells a man a story, he will simply listen and not give any feedback until the woman is through with her story. A woman may mistake this for his not listening to her. A man simply sees this as an unobtrusive way of listening to the story, since in his world any interruption at all is seen as a ploy to take over the conversation. A man feels no need to be dominant over a woman one on one because there is no competition for status.
The genders also differ in the way that questions are asked. Men do not like to seek out answers if the question they must ask will make them feel stupid. This theory is evidenced by the male gender's famous inability to ask for directions. A man does not want to ask for directions because it may seem to whomever he must ask the question of that he is not a smart person because he can not figure it out on his own. A woman, however, likes to ask questions because they like conversation because it makes them feel connected to whomever they are asking the question of.
Tannen's theory is also supported by the movie "Emma". In this movie, Emma is a young unmarried girl who loves to play matchmaker. She has actually only made a match once and the result of her match turned out to be marriage. However, many in her community believe that it was simply a lucky guess. Despite the beliefs of her peers, Emma sets out to find a match for the minister, Mr. Elton because she believes that he is lonely. When a new girl named Harriet moves into town, Emma immediately decides they would be perfect for each other simply because both are single. Harriet is not even sure who her parents are, and is not very well off monetarily, but she has a big heart and is more than ready to fall in love. While Emma has started to get the two together at parties and other events, she has a conversation with her good friend Mr. Knightley about Harriet being matched with Mr. Elton over a friendly game of archery. Mr. Knightley is of the opinion that Mr. Elton will not be interested in Harriet because she possesses no fortune. Emma thinks that Mr. Elton has a good heart and will be more than happy with Harriet. Mr. Knightley presents evidence that Mr. Elton would not be interested in someone of low birth when he relates to Emma the story of how Mr. Elton talks of a family of rich young ladies when only men are present. Emma refuses to believe that Mr. Elton would be more interested in wealth than in love because as a woman, this is not the way she would feel. Mr. Knightley can see how Mr. Elton would be interested in the status of a rich wife because as a man, he knows how most men think. Mr. Knightley knows that most men are interested in the status of a rich wife. Emma believes that everyone including men and women crave intimacy in a relationship as she and her girlfriends do.
Emma comments several times throughout the film that men do not know anything about love and that they need help with realizing that love. This may be true in some cases, but is not true in the situation regarding Mr. Elton and Harriet. Emma does not understand the gender differences at first, but she learns to understand the way men think by the end of the story. Mr. Knightley also believes that he is somewhat Emma's superior because he is older than her, but since he sees that he is beginning to care for her, he does not see his superiority as a big deal. We get the impression that he used to think himself much higher than her in their earlier years.
The conclusions that I have reached will help me in my own life because I will come in contact and have come in contact with many different people of different genders in my lifetime. While all of these people have their own personalities, I may be able to better figure out how to communicate with these people by their gender. This is an easy way to know how to communicate with people because gender is obvious, and many people act like most other people of their gender. This is very valuable information, because in order to communicate more effectively with a person, one must understand where they are coming from.