Differences between "gender cultures" influence the way that people of different genders communicate. These differences begin at childhood. Maltz and Broker's research showed that the games children play contribute to socializing children into masculine and feminine cultures. For example, girls playing house promotes personal relationships, and playing house does not necessarily have fixed rules or objectives. Boys, however, tend to play more competitive team sports with different goals and strategies. These differences as children cause women to operate from assumptions about communication, and use rules for communication that differ significantly from those endorsed by most men.
Gender Differences in Social Interaction
Masculine and feminine cultures and individuals generally differ in how they communicate with others. For example, feminine people tend to self-disclose more often than masculine people, and in more intimate details. Likewise, feminine people tend to communicate more affection, and with greater intimacy and confidence than masculine people. Generally speaking, feminine people communicate more and prioritize communication more than masculine people.
Traditionally, masculine people and feminine people communicate with people of their own gender in different ways. Masculine people form friendships with other masculine people based on common interests, while feminine people build friendships with other feminine people based on mutual support. However, both genders initiate opposite-gender friendships based on the same factors. These factors include proximity, acceptance, effort, communication, common interests, affection and novelty.
Context is very important when determining how we communicate with others. It is important to understand what script it is appropriate to use in each respective relationship. Specifically, understanding how affection is communicated in a given context is extremely important. For example, masculine people expect competition in their friendships.They avoid communicating weakness and vulnerability. They avoid communicating personal and emotional concerns. Masculine people tend to communicate affection by including their friends in activities and exchanging favors. Masculine people tend to communicate with each other shoulder-to-shoulder (e.g., watching sports on a television).
In contrast, feminine people are more likely to communicate weakness and vulnerability. In fact, they may seek out friendships more in these times. For this reason, feminine people often feel closer to their friends than masculine people do. Feminine people tend to value their friends for listening and communicating non-critically, communicating support, communicating feelings of enhanced self-esteem, communicating validation, offering comfort and contributing to personal growth. Feminine people tend to communicate with each other face-to-face (e.g., meeting together to talk over lunch).
Communication and Gender Cultures
A communication culture is a group of people with an existing set of norms regarding how they communicate with each other. These cultures can be categorized as masculine or feminine. Gender cultures are primarily created and sustained by interaction with others. Through communication we learn about what qualities and activities our culture prescribes to our sex. While it is commonly believed that our sex is the root source of differences and how we relate and communicate to others, it is actually gender that plays a larger role. Whole cultures can be broken down into masculine and feminine, each differing in how they get along with others through different styles of communication. Julia T. Wood's studies explain that "communication produces and reproduces cultural definitions of masculinity and femininity. " Masculine and feminine cultures differ dramatically in when, how, and why they use communication.
Deborah Tannen's studies found these gender differences in communication styles (where men more generally refers to masculine people, and women correspondingly refers to feminine people):
- Men tend to talk more than women in public situations, but women tend to talk more than men at home.
- Women are more inclined to face each other and make eye contact when talking, while men are more likely to look away from each other.
- Men tend to jump from topic to topic, but women tend to talk at length about one topic.
- When listening, women make more noises such as "mm-hmm" and "uh-huh", while men are more likely to listen silently.
- Women are inclined to express agreement and support, while men are more inclined to debate.
Women adhering to a feminine gender culture often feel more comfortable being intimate with one another.