Essay #2: Men & Women

Essay Prompt: Do men and women talk differently? Choose a response to this yes/no question and support it with at least three studies cited in your text, Language and Gender. In your response, take into account the argument -that Eckert and McConnell-Ginet present, which is summarized in chapter 9.


2:            To Penelope Eckert and Sally McConnell-Ginet, the issue doesn’t seem to be whether men and women talk differently—that is a resounding “yes,” with which I agree—but rather what creates these differences. The differences don’t seem to be  distinguished by our sex, but by our gender. We indicate this with the words we use and even in our appearances. This is the concept which Eckert and McConnell-Ginet refer to as “gender performativity” (2003, p. 315). Judith Butler (1990) argues similarly that the idea of gender that influences the differences in our talk as men and women doesn’t come from being male or female (or having a “’core’ gender identity”), but rather from carrying the roles of a gender. “… It is those [gendered] activities that create the illusion of a core. … Those expressions of gender are deployments of linguistic resources” (Eckert, McConnell-Ginet, 2003, p.316).

These “gendered activities” also give us the notions of style and behavior that are specific to one gender or another. When we say that men and women talk differently, we are examining styles and behaviors and assigning them to one gender or another. To say that a woman talks like a woman, we are saying that her speech uses feminine styles and behaviors.

For instance, one style that Eckert and McConnell-Ginet say is feminine is a very forward pronunciation of the “s” phoneme, which is said right behind the upper front teeth. “The phonological system, which carrying no content in itself, is a potent resource for encoding social meanings” (Eckert, McConnell-Ginet, 2003, p. 62). Because we tend to interpret this “s” sound as prissy or feminine, we might think that men who use it are more feminine, or gay. We develop subconscious expectations about how masculine men should pronounce the /s/, even extending to  suppositions about a man’s sexual orientation. Knowing this, a man might change the way he pronounces the /s/ in order to give the right social meaning.

An even more subtle way of indexing and presenting gender through talk is facework.

“…It is in conversation that we work out who we are in relation to others, and who others will allow us to be. The individual connects to the social world at the nexus where we balance who we want to be with who others will allow us to be. … Gender ideology and assumed gender identity enter into shaping both the face individuals want to project and the face others are willing to ascribe to them” (Eckert, McConnell-Ginet, 2003, p. 59).

A major audience for our interactions is the opposite sex (and usually the opposite gender), and the idea of saving face for the other gender is very important. It is this concept that encourages women to pronounce a feminine /s/, raise the pitch of their voice, and even carry their gender through their outward appearance. Eckert and McConnell-Ginet demonstrate that gender is a fundamental shaper of discourse, whether it is subtle or overtly obvious.

Essay #2: Men & Women

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