If there's one kind of study that's likely to make me want to pull out my hair and grind my teeth into dust, it's the typical "Men are from Mars, women are from Venus" studies. And they're everywhere. You can't walk through the damn grocery store without seeing magazine covers yelling at you that "women do X while men do Y!" or "learn how to think like your man!" or "25 secrets about the female psyche- what she's thinking!"
And isn't it just *so* convenient that almost every time, it turns out that the "secrets" that the study reveils turn out to reinforce the status quo? Oh, how very shocking- a study finds that women talk more than men! I know I've never heard that one, before. And, for extra points, the author of that study points out that "women have an eight-lane superhighway for processing emotion, while men have a small country road." Thank you, Dr. Brizendine, for that completely gender-busting study.
Lucky for me, I'm a data-hound, and I stumbled upon this article in the APA website. It's about the findings of psychologist Janet S. Hyde, of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. It turns out, there doesn't really seem to be that much difference between the sexes after all:
Gender differences accounted for either zero or a very small effect for most of the psychological variables examined, according to Hyde. Only motor behaviors (throwing distance), some aspects of sexuality and heightened physical aggression showed marked gender differences.
So... men are moderately more aggressive, and can throw things farther.
I mean, seriously... wow. Throwing things... that's pretty awesome. I mean, I guess that's great. I should take up bowling or something. I could get angry at the pins and use my manly throwing powers.
And perhaps the most unshocking, but shockingly ignored, aspect of studies about gender:
Furthermore, gender differences seem to depend on the context they were measured in, said Hyde. In studies where gender norms are removed, researchers demonstrated how important gender roles and social context were in determining a person’s actions.
I mean, who would have guess that gender- a socially constructed and enforced attribute- would be at all impacted by the social context within which it's being measured. I mean, you wouldn't expect to find that expressions of masculinity are different in a controlled lab with anonymous participants than in a high-school locker room, right?
I also found a great article by Deborah Cameron, called "What Language Barrier? Remember how it turned out that women speak more than men?
If we are going to try to generalise about which sex talks more, a reliable way to do it is to observe both sexes in a single interaction, and measure their respective contributions. This cuts out extraneous variables that are likely to affect the amount of talk (like whether someone is spending their day at a Buddhist retreat or a high school reunion), and allows for a comparison of male and female behaviour under the same contextual conditions.
Numerous studies have been done using this approach, and while the results have been mixed, the commonest finding is that men talk more than women. One review of 56 research studies categorises their findings as shown here:
Pattern of difference found / Number of studies
Men talk more than women / 34 (60.8%)
Women talk more than men / 2 (3.6%)
Men and women talk the same amount / 16 (28.6%)
No clear pattern / 4 (7.0%)
· Source: based on Deborah James and Janice Drakich, 'Understanding Gender Differences in Amount of Talk', in Deborah Tannen (ed.), Gender and Conversational
Whoops. Looks like women aren't necessarily all that talkitive when compared to their male counterparts.
Cameron has a number of books out, including one released last month called The Myth of Mars and Venus: Do men and women really speak different languages?, that I'm thinking I'll need to pick up. (I'm also very interested in some of her other books: Verbal Hygience sounds interesting, and The Feminist Critique of Language: A Reader or Feminism and Linguistic Theory. Oh, and The Lust to Kil: A Feminist Investigation of Sexual Murder).