Stop me if you’ve heard this one before–women are less assertive than men, as evidenced by the way we soften strong statements with “hedges” (sort of, maybe, kinda, pretty much), “disclaimers” (I feel, I don’t know, I’m not sure, That’s just my opinion), and “tag questions” (Don’t you think? Isn’t that right?). It’s a favorite topic of women’s mags and students of communication, often taken as a given, but, the results of a recent study suggest that there’s more to it.
In this week’s press release announcing the findings of the study, Nicholas Palomares, assistant professor of communication at UC Davis writes:
Women hedge, issue disclaimers and ask questions when they communicate, language features that can suggest uncertainty, lack of confidence and low status. But men do the same, according to new research.
Hold the phone. Men do the same?
Yep, Palomares found that–in written (email) communication at least–men were tentative when discussing stereotypically feminine things (from the study: “one man, believing he was corresponding with a woman, wrote: ‘…maybe girls prefer the quality of products at Sephora over other major department stores? I don’t know.’), while women were tentative when discussing stereotypically masculine things (insert requisite how-to-change-a-tire anecdote here), and found “no difference in tentativeness when he asked his subjects to write emails about gender-neutral topics, such as recommending a good restaurant.”
But what of all of those studies showing that women are less likely to raise their hands in the classroom, less likely to ask for raises in the boardroom? More on that in a second. But first, the study’s tidy wrap-up:
His conclusion: Some topics cause men and women to think and communicate in terms of their gender, which leads to tentativeness when the topic is inconsistent with their gender.
Inconsistent with their gender. That, well, that got my mind spinning. Stay with me. Could it be that, because for so long women had such “low status” at school and work, that those very environments felt foreign–maybe even masculine? Is that why, statistically, we don’t demand the raises we deserve at work, don’t raise our hands at school, even when we know the answer? And could it then be that, because for so long women had so few choices about what to do with our lives, could the reason we hem and we haw, we analyze to the point of paralysis, we second-guess ourselves at every turn, could it be because making confident life choices based on what it is we really want seems a little, oh I don’t know, bold, assertive… ahem, manly?
I mean, I don’t know, that’s just my opinion.