Exploring the Impact of Gender Role Self-Perception on Communication Style

By Kirtley, Michelle D.; Weaver, James B.,, III | Women's Studies in Communication, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Exploring the Impact of Gender Role Self-Perception on Communication Style


Kirtley, Michelle D., Weaver, James B.,, III, Women's Studies in Communication


In this investigation, communication style was conceptualized as the way individuals perceive themselves interacting with others. Using the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI; Bem, 1976, 1985) and the Communication Styles Profile Test (CSPT; McCallister, 1992), three predominant communication styles were examined as a function of respondent sex and gender role self-perception. Consistent with expectations, the data show that gender role self-perception mediated reported communication style. Independent of sex, the findings revealed that communal respondents prefer a sharing, expressive communication style; whereas agentic respondents prefer a dominating, assertive communication style. Although a less distinctive pattern, significant sex-differences were also evident in communication style preference. Females reported a socially-oriented style of communicating while males reported a more direct, results-oriented communication style. Further, no sex by gender role self-perception interaction was evident. The implications of these findings for future research and application are discussed.

It has long been argued that men and women differ greatly in the way they communicate and interact with others (Aries, 1987; Kramarae, 1989; Lakoff, 1975; Tannen, 1990). Despite apparent differences, however, considerable research suggests that sex differences may play only a small role in the cognitive and behavioral processes that underlie communication (cf. Eagly, 1987; Weaver, Fitch-Hauser, Villaume & Thomas, 1993; Wood, 1989). This investigation explores the possibility that gender role self-perception, not biological sex, serves as the predominant referent for how people see themselves interacting with others.

Researchers often argue that language is not sex-neutral: it seems to divide, separate, and differentiate women from men (cf. Doyle & Paludi, 1991). The separation between male and female as a simple dichotomy prevails in many cultures as evidenced, for example, by the Chinese Yang and Yin, the Hindu Lingam (Shiva) and Yoni (Shakti), and the Tantric Buddhist Jewel and Lotus (Bakan, 1966).

In Western cultures, in particular, differences between the communication styles of males and females are often viewed as so divergent they are considered cross-cultural. Tannen, for example, contends that "instead of different dialects, (males and females) speak different genderlects" (1990, p. 42). Indeed, some commentators argue that it's as if males and females have been raised on two different planets (or, at least, two different cultures), with two unique patterns of communicating (Gray, 1992). Granted, we all can envision a stereotypical "Barbie Doll" female and "Marlboro Man" male. Within this stereotypic frame, as numerous scholars have observed (cf. Canary, Emmers-Sommer, & Faulkner, 1997; Deaux & Lewis, 1983; Doyle & Paludi, 1991; Hall, 1984; Kramarae, 1989; Lott, 1987; Lindzey & Aronson, 1985; Tannen, 1990), "Barbie" characteristically is emotional, passive, sweetly proper, mindless, high-pitched, silly, gentle, vague, euphemistic, endless, highly talkative, enthusiastic, self revealing, gibberish, easily influenced, and shows an abundance of hand and face expressions. "Marlboro Man," on the other hand, displays characteristics of being a "get things done" leader who is boastful, blunt, militant, aggressive, ambitious, straight to the point, domineering, angry tempered, and independent.

Although these "Barbie doll" and "Marlboro man" stereotypes seem to pervade Western culture, considerable research evidence suggests that these perceived differences in sex-typed language may exceed the actual differences (Ashmore, 1981, 1990; Bem, 1985, 1993; DeFrancisco, 1992; Eagly, 1987; Spence, 1985; Wood, 1994). Indeed, studies examining several different attributes suggest that sex differences yield only weak effect sizes at best (cf. Canary & Dindia, 1998; Epstein, 1988). For instance, Maccoby and Jacklin (1974; also see Block, 1976), in a monumental narrative review of the literature, concluded that there are few sex differences and that those that do emerge are small in magnitude and often overshadowed by interactions. …

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