Different but Equal: Communication between the Sexes

By Kay E. Payne | Go to book overview

only men could be pilots and females should be flight attendants suggested an adherence to conformity “previously” endorsed by society. However, the eruption of applause by the majority of passengers suggested something much more interesting and forward thinking. Most of the individuals on this particular flight had undergone at some previous time a paradigm shift from an old to a new belief structure. Changes in society make it no longer easy to predict how a person will play out his or her occupational or family roles. The inescapable changes in male/female roles intimately relate to communication, for communication announces social images of gender and seeks to persuade all of us about correct male and female behavior.

Legitimate perspectives about how people should play out their roles secure individuals in sustained practices of what they think of as normal and right. Because individuals often do not question their perspectives, what seems natural to one may impose rigid boundaries on another. In recent years research explaining why people communicate the way they do has focused on the concepts of masculine and feminine rather than male and female. This research has led us away from the rigid boundaries of limiting gender sex role stereotyping. By exploring the similarities and differences between male and female roles more accurate descriptions of human communication behavior have emerged. Increasing awareness and reflecting on gender role theory and communication improve a person’s ability to discern the arbitrary from the desirable. As a person enlarges his or her awareness of prescriptions for gender roles, freedom to choose a course of action and identity suitable for that individual produces greater gender role fulfillment.

Gender includes the social construction of masculinity and femininity within a culture, whereas sex refers to a person’s biological or physical self. Gender reflects the interaction whereby a person incorporates his or her biological, psychological/sociological, cultural, and religious characteristics. Stereotyping an individual according to sex or gender often leads to sexism, an action discriminating against a person on the basis of sex. Sexist ideas often account for and justify divisions of labor and family responsibilities by gender.

Communication involves the exchange (sending and receiving) of messages, or information, through speech, signals, or writing. Communication incorporates interaction on two levels: instrumental (task) and maintenance (relationship). Communication both proclaims and reflects the interaction of those characteristics of role development within a specific culture. Four theories of gender role development intimately connected to communication are the biological, psychological/sociological, cultural, and religious. In the next few sections each of these will be discussed in an effort to explain phenomena each of us often observes and experiences in everyday life.

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