Aug 02 2008

Gender-Based Differences in Speech

Published by at 11:05 am under Dialogue,Writing Articles

I found these two articles on writing male speech and female speech quite useful.

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Gender-Based Differences in Speech”

  1. daveon 02 Aug 2008 at 11:56 am

    Eh, this kind of stuff just makes your characters into caricatures of men or women. The lists are pretty offensive if you feel like looking into it.

    “The male verbal strategy is to divulge as few personal details as possible, while assiduously avoiding all expressions of emotion that could be interpreted as weakness.” … have you never met an emo kid? Or watched the Real World?

    “Males tend to interact in more crude ways also. While in a group situation narratives such as jokes and stories are highly valued, especially when they are well performed for an audience.” Oh, men like stories, eh? Really.

    “Men tend to talk more than women in public situations.” What the hell are public situations?

    This website as a whole subscribes way too much to biological determinism. The post from today is called “Gender Differences: Female Thinking” and basically repeats the whole “women can’t read maps” rubbish that’s been appearing everywhere from Cosmo to Reader’s Digest for years. Most every socio-scientific study that uses rigorous methods show that there are much greater difference within each gender than there are BETWEEN genders. So yeah, there are loads of aggressive women and sensitive men, and if you rule them out or only show them in a negative light then you’re doing yourself and your story injustice.

  2. Cadet Davison 02 Aug 2008 at 12:59 pm

    Well, it is stereotypical, but I think that it’s useful to know the stereotypes, if only to provide food for thought about the ways in which you can tweak the voices of your characters (irrespective of gender). For example, I think that the inclusion of qualifiers is an interesting tweak to a character’s voice that I might have otherwise passed over.

    That said, I think that inverting gender stereotypes can be useful (and usually necessary to some degree), but your writing is probably not working if most males in your story feel more like women for no reason readily obvious to the average reader. This is particularly problematic when you’re writing about a group of people that are overwhelmingly stereotypically masculine, like soldiers. You can probably explain one or even a few effeminate soldiers, but there are limits to how far readers can go…

  3. t3knomanseron 02 Aug 2008 at 1:39 pm

    Meh, I’m not really convinced that these “differences” really exist. I’ve always had a hard time telling men from women except by obvious biological variations. Maybe I’m just blind to the differences, but I’m okay with that in my writing.

  4. daveon 02 Aug 2008 at 6:36 pm

    Your example is problematic. In order for it to work you have to be assuming that the soldiers are men, otherwise it wouldn’t be a response to what I was saying.

    If I was writing soldiers, I’d obviously be more likely to make them aggressive to an extent, but the dominant trait is probably obedience, since disobedient soldiers are usually dead. But that wouldn’t, for instance, stop one of them forever going on about the pressure his girl puts on him to get married and how it just makes him feel trapped etc etc (your average tough/sensitive guy on the Real World), you know? The premise isn’t that you give men feminine traits and vice versa, but that both men and women already possess those traits so its silly and simply caricaturisation to not not allot them as they exist in reality. “Inverting gender stereotypes” just makes things more like real life.

    I mean, its not like the average female softball player couldn’t give the average male comic collector a fair fight.

  5. Cadet Davison 03 Aug 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Yeah, I was talking about male soldiers. I wasn’t attempting to suggest that only men are servicemen, but that audience expectations of manliness will be even higher for male servicemen than females.

    When writing the dialogue of soldiers, I don’t recommend relying on obedience as the dominant trait. I think that would probably make the characters sound more like sedate drones than real soldiers or airmen (or, at least, the ones I’ve worked with). I’ve noticed a few striking things about military speech patterns… it tends to be, uhh, ribald. Profanity, jargon and competitiveness play very prominently. Military humor can get very black, particularly in units that are under considerable stress (combat units, anything in STRATCOM). I agree that, especially in calm settings, interactions between soldiers and ranking officers are structured and sedate. But I don’t think that soldiers are especially obedient (or sedate) when speaking with servicemen of similar rank. I think that epithets like “jarhead” and “squid” for Marines and sailors on surface vessels suggest that inter-branch relations, particularly, can be a bit… coarse, if professional.

    As a glimpse into military mindsets, I’ll also offer this anecdote… a class of ROTC cadets was watching a clip of the film Air Force One, in which terrorists have seized the president’s plane and killed all of his security detail. The captain teaching the course asked the class what they thought about the President’s decision to stay and fight the terrorists (to save his family) rather than use the plane’s escape pod. Of the 20 cadets, none thought he should have used the escape pod. Fifteen thought he was morally obliged to save his wife and daughter, and about five thought he would be morally obliged to stay and fight even if his family hadn’t been on board because he was best qualified to keep up the fight. To some extent, I think peer pressure may have played a role, but the participants in conversation sounded so enthusiastic about the fictional president’s responsibilities as commander-in-chief that I don’t think they were faking.

    –Cadet Davis (briefly of AFROTC)

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