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From the Forum: Nature v. Nurture
May 27, 2003

I don't think that is anything new:)

A lot of how we are raised is effected by gender so I wonder if anyone can say which came first, the physical gender or the differences in language use.

The way we use our brains has been shown to effect how the brain physically is, or so I'm told by wiser heads, which would make it very difficult to show what it is that may account for any differences that might be found. I tend to think its a bit of everything.

I read a rather fascinating science fiction novel once- Native Tongue- in which a theory was that men- having had dominance in the fictional world of the book- were free to describe "this and that" because more precise words for what they wished to describe existed.

It was just science fiction.

To add to this...

The so what part is, as explored in science fiction and in linguistics (see S Elgin's sites ) there is a possibility that some of the things about our society could be self adjusting just by a natural process whereby more or different language becomes available. I actually think this is happening.

At a less science fiction level and more in your average realm of practical possibility-

There is always some element of "so what" to non experts discussing anything. We do, anyway. Why participate at all? Thats a very good question and probably one you answered for yourself before you took to using any discussion forum. I think its great that we can discuss various issues. Thats a very personal call of mine.

Gender differences in the use of language can have a very immediate impact on relationships. You are right about sex vs gender. I should have thought of that.

I have actually used gender differences in language use to help determine if cross dressing with an individual was an emotionally safe activity for me. Ask me abut it if you dare:) No-one needs to study these things for someone to use them at this basic "what I know, I know" level.

So What. So its kind of neat when learned people actually look at how things already are. Even if it is just a so what its nice to think of ivory towers and people slaving away in them thinking. The happenstance of academia needs so further excuse in my personal book.

I think, however, that there is something very practical about these things becoming part of the awareness of more folk. In schools, for example, where individuals may be treated to education in ways better suited to their needs as a result of increased awareness by the teacher.

As a highly verbal person I have found that in relationships with men I cannot use verbal language to achieve communication as readily as in relationships with with women. The exceptions are a joy. I have had to quite deliberately learn to moderate my verbal behaviour in relationships with men. And then I have had to learn to forget that and be myself whilst not taking unfair advantage(unfair stuff just never works for the best for me). Gosh. Since I have huge dislexia I imagine there must be other women who face this difficulty more than I do.

The major men in my life usually cant multistream conversation, and become distressed if I use the approach of looking at actual words rather than generally at what is intended by a communication. Add that to my personal eccentricities (I actually get disphasia and stuff like that. Im also famous for addressing a topic discussed three hours or even three months ago without reintroducing it- requiring considerable mental flexibility on the part of folk of any gender), and woah- *bad*.

It is a very subtle form of verbal abuse to use greater language access to achieve dominance without consent, and my very personal and unique experience is that it happens naturally unless one is aware and on guard.

My current partner often stops me mid conversation to discover the meaning of a word I am using. He is a math type. Can you imagine a relationship with a primary partner in which one partner uses a specially modified vocabularly to cater to the other? I can. I only dont do it because my ex-husband is a darling. This non comprehension thing happens both ways as my partner relates math and physics to ordinary life in a way which *deleted* and I just look at him blankly.

I have learned so much, like that a formula for working out how weight relates to volume and all that exists- or maybe thats only with water (ok, maybe I haven't learned). Why it matters when painting a wall he hasn't got through to me but he just cant understand my fascination with textiles as art, either.

My partner has a much greater understanding of the physical world, and even how to paint walls, than I do, and runs the same risks I do of unintentional/ un-consenting personal dominance, but through a different mechanism. (That was double speak.)

My sons both had some social difficulties with language from an early age, on account of having a large vocabulary, but soon learned to moderate their language. My eldest had it worked out that much of his vocabulary and his hobbies and interests were "old fashioned things" that could only be used with a trusted a few by the time he was three. He was seven before he found a teacher he trusted. The brutal fact is that if he had been a girl the pressure to conform would have been differently applied, and he probably wouldn't have been burdened by having to hide "old fashioned things" from peers.

People being aware that they have expectations/behaviours in various areas based on sex or whatever cant be an all bad thing. One good thing about us people is that when we are aware of things, and thinking, we don't have to stay in our boxes.

A lot of the much reviled "men are from mars, women are from mars" series is addressing the issues of different use of language at a very basic level. There is a huge demand for it, too. Not everybody has darling friends, advanced dyslexia, an awareness of personal social retardation and wide reading including S H Elgin to help them formulate a set of rules whereby communication can take place freely and fairly in an environment where the major participants in a relationship might as well have been raised on different planets. Im lucky. I honestly believe, at a very personal level, that increased awareness of gender distinction in language application (using the word gender carefully) can have practical, helpful, ramifications in our personal lives. I have no doubt that awareness of some of the many ways gender effects action can be of some use in formulating fairer personal politics.

Years ago I spent a lot of time on text based chat and there is a trick some folk can do after a while. Someone comes in and says hello and a few other words, not even a proper conversation, and some folk can determine gender, sexuality, expected age group, education level, and even a rough guess at social class, and a whole lot of other stuff, and usually be right. Just by how someone says hello in a text based chat. For those who can do it its just a very silly party trick.

Sure its no surprise that the huge differences in how men and women are treated have effects. Looking at what they are and working out where they come from is part of thinking about those issues, and thinking about them and discussing them is part of addressing them, or not, at a personal level, and possibly eventually at a society wide level.

Originally posted on the ifeminists.com discussion forum, May, 2003.

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