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Why Talk about It? -- Writer's Poke #322

So women don’t actually talk more than men. Chew on that idea for a minute. According to a generally-accepted stereotype, women do talk more than men, but according to Deborah Tannen, women actually engage more in “rapport talk,” whereas men prefer “report talk.” And in the end, women do not talk more than men.

Tannen observes that men are more apt to talk in public. I find this to be an intriguing notion, and it makes me wonder if that is why female public speakers appear more “masculine.” I always assumed, for example, that Hillary Rodham Clinton gets the “masculine” label because she is a strong woman, but perhaps she is a strong woman because she speaks in the public (e.g. male) sphere. Note, too, that a woman like Clinton is not engaging in the “rapport” style of communication, either, which may explain why critics view her as “cold” or “frigid,” terms not as often used to describe men, to be sure.

What are words for? Seems like such an easy question, but “to communicate” is not the full answer – not when the variable of gender is added to the equation. Have you ever noticed people that just like to talk? They don’t even necessarily care if anyone is listening, and they don’t even seem to be listening to themselves. These are the type of people that tell the same stories over and over again, and they don’t appear to recognize that they are repeating themselves. So what are their words for? They aren’t for communication. They don’t seem to be for anything more than filling the silence. And who, primarily, are this type of talker? Men.

Why and when do people talk less? In some contexts, I probably have a reputation for not talking very much. I would bet that people might conclude that I am “disinterested” or even “dumb.” Why do people make such observations about people that don’t talk very much? And from a perspective of gender, is talking in public taken for a sign of “intelligence”? Are men seen as smarter simply because they speak more in public, and are women who attempt to speak more in public than the unwritten rule viewed, not only as “masculine,” but as a threat?

How do you feel about speaking in public? In what ways might your feelings about public speaking be tied to your gender?

“What this country needs is less public speaking and more private thinking.” – Roscoe Drummond


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