Gender, Power, and Communication in Human Relationships

By Pamela J. Kalbfleisch; Michael J. Cody | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Women's Style in Problem Solving Interaction: Powerless, or Simply Feminine?

Anthony Mulac University of California, Santa Barbara

James J. Bradac University of California, Santa Barbara

Since the suggestion was first made by Lakoff in 1973, some theorists and researchers have maintained that women's language reflects their position of low power compared to men. Moreover, their use of particular linguistic forms, for example, tag questions (It's good, isn't it?) and hedges (It's kind of good), reinforces their low power, according to advocates of this position. But there are other possibilities. For example, it may be the case that men are as likely as women to use particular forms indicating tentativeness or uncertainty, at least in some contexts -- that is, there may not be a coherent code of powerlessness or "women's language" as Lakoff suggested ( 1973, 1975, 1990). It may also be the case that whatever linguistic differences do exist are not attributable to differences in power, but rather to differences in socialization unrelated to power. This alternative to the "power-discrepancy" hypothesis, sometimes referred to as the "gender as culture" hypothesis, argues that linguistic differences are the result of the fact that boys and girls grow up in different cultures ( Maltz & Borker, 1982; Mulac & Gibbons, 1992; Mulac, Gibbons, & Fujiyama, 1990; Tannen, 1990).

In this chapter we examine the issue of gender and power in the realm of language. Specifically, we examine the question: Can we find evidence supporting the claim that women's language use is attributable to their low power position vis-a-vis men? We search for this evidence in the context of problem-solving

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