Sex and Gender Differences in Personal Relationships

By Sherwood, Jessica Holden | Journal of Marriage and Family, November 1998 | Go to article overview

Sex and Gender Differences in Personal Relationships


Sherwood, Jessica Holden, Journal of Marriage and Family


Sex and Gender Differences in Personal Relationships. Daniel J. Canary & Tara M. EmmersSommer, with Sandra Faulkner. New York: Guilford. 1997. 190 pp. ISBN 1-57230-256-9. $27.95 cloth.

Despite its title, this book is oriented to sex and gender similarities as much as differences. The authors state a dislike of recent research literature, especially books aimed at lay audiences, that perpetuates stereotypes by painting women and men as polar opposites. By way of response, this monograph reviews research finding both gender differences and gender similarities in the areas of emotion, the communication of intimacy and control, and the division of household labor. The authors are caught in a paradox: Their stated aim is to refute generalizations about sex differences, but in reviewing the literature, they cannot help but sometimes report them.

The upshot is, unsurprisingly, that sometimes men and women differ systematically, and sometimes they do not. This is found in reports and expressions of fear, anger, sadness, joy, and love. It is also found in intimate relationships, in friendships, romantic partnerships, and sexual activity and in conversational habits, relationship maintenance, and conflict management. Inequity in household labor is reported, although-like many polarized findings-the most extreme results are said to be overdrawn. The authors argue for the importance of context. For instance, they write that in conversation, the subject matter, relationships, and partner's behavior are at least as influential as the speaker's sex.

The authors wisely caution against biological essentialism, but they fail to provide an alternative explanation.

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