“He never talks to me! ” That phrase is the most common complaint that women have about men. The communication process between men and women has long been an interest for many people. The way we speak and why we speak that way have prompted diverse opinions from various authors over the years. Deborah Tannen is one such author. Tannen, who has a doctorate in linguistics, is a professor at Georgetown University. She has been studying the way people communicate and the problems they have communicating with each other for many years. Her studies inspired her to write several books on the subject.
The excerpt Put Down That Paper and Talk To Me, which appears in the textbook Writing the World, was taken from her best-seller You Just Dont Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, written in 1991. Deborah Tannen believes men and women talk differently because they are raised in two different conversational cultures and that problems arise because of conversational style. She thinks that boys are taught to speak like men and girls taught to talk like women. In the essay Tannen addresses many of the misgivings of communication, based upon her numerous studies, that she believes proves men and women really are taught to talk a certain way.
Deborah Tannen has been studying how people communicate with each other and she believes it starts at a very early age. Starting when we are very young, we communicate very differently. On a television show titled She Said, He Said, Tannen showed some video recording on a study of hers that had two same-sex children enter a room and sit and talk to each other. She performed this same study on varying ages of children from 5 to 16 and in every case the results were the same. She found that the boys would sit side by side and would speak almost distractedly, while looking about the room.
The girls would enter the room, place their chairs facing each other, and would speak looking directly at each other. To Tannen, this study showed how males do not talk with much intimacy. Their relationships are held together by performing activities in a group, such as sports or politics. She believes men speak when they feel a need to impress or if their social status is in question. The females however, spoke with much more closeness. Tannen says, For females, talk is the glue that holds their relationships together.
Women are dependent emotionally and therefore depend on their best friends and the intimacy they provide to each other. In her book Tannen describes the way males and females talk with the terms report-talk and rapport-talk. She says that men speak in report-talk which means that they are talking mainly to share information. They also use speaking as a way to preserve their independence, negotiate their relationships, and display their knowledge. According to Tannen, men utilize talking primarily as a way to get and keep the attention.
Tannen believes the way women speak is through rapport-talk. She thinks that women are speaking to establish connections with each other, usually based on similar experiences. In her opinion, women are speaking mainly for interaction purposes rather than to share information. Tannen also uses the phrases public speaking and private speaking. Tannen suggests that men communicate more and are more comfortable while doing public speaking. In her studies, Tannen found that men talk more frequently and for a longer period of time than women in a business or meeting-type setting.
Tannen believes that women are more comfortable doing private speaking because they are free to talk with someone who they feel close to without worrying about how their talk will be judged. On the phone or chatting with friends is when Tannen believes women are most at ease while conversing. Being a well-known author, Tannen has her fair share of critics. Tannens beliefs of being raised in separate conversational cultures has sparked much criticism from her critics, among them Katha Pollit, a columnist for the Nation, and Senta Troemel-Ploetz, who also holds a Ph. D. in linguistics.
They believe that Deborah Tannens explanation of how men and women communicate is endorsing what they call difference feminism rather than equality feminism, which is what they support. Katha Pollit wrote an essay in 1992 entitled Are Women Morally Superior To Men In her essay, Pollit criticizes Tannen for being a difference feminist, which means to think that men and women are essentially different rather than believing our economic and cultural systems discriminate against women. Equality feminists believe that everything should be equal.
Pollit believes that difference feminists are supporting the idea that women are superior to men because of their capacity for empathy, nurturing, and nonhierarchical relationships. She believes that Tannen and others are letting men off the hook by letting them control power, wealth, and social resources because men think that women do not want them. Another one of Tannens critics, Senta Troemel-Ploetz, accuses Deborah Tannen of ignoring the possibility that men and women communicate differently because of differences of power.
Troemel-Ploetz contends that the problem goes beyond conversational style. She believes that Tannen completely misses the power-struggle between the two sexes in the ways that they speak. She believes that society is giving men too much power in speaking and essentially how people are leading their lives. Tannens advice on how to solve communication problems is mainly just to understand the differences in the way we speak.
Tannen says, Many men honestly do not know what women want, and women honestly do not know why men find what they want so hard to comprehend and deliver. Men and women are different so naturally we will behave and talk differently. Since we start communicating at a young age Tannen believes we are raised to speak in separate worlds by a combination of cultural and biological influences, and if we can better understand our differences, we can solve many of the qualms of communication.