I’m a woman, so this article is going to be long. And you’re going to love my tweet about it! 😉
At least that’s what you’d think from recent headlines about differences in the way we use language based on each individual’s sex and gender. One study suggests that variations in brain chemistry explain why young girls are more verbal than boys, while another study found that men and women tweet differently. And though this research may seem like reason to uphold gender stereotypes (e.g. women are emotional blabbermouths), a closer look reveals that these studies actually support a more complex perspective on sex and gender.
What’s the Deal?
To study sex differences in language, scientists started by examining rats
This research was published the same week as another study that focused on gender differences in the way people tweet. Researchers looked at 14,464 Twitter users and found, in most cases, it’s possible to predict a user’s gender based on the language he/she includes in public tweets. Specifically, women are more likely to use words that describe emotion (love, sad, annoyed), family terms (mom, sis, hubby), emoticons, and expressive lengthening (riiiiight?). Men, on the other hand, are more inclined to use swear words (we don’t have to give you examples), as well as words associated with technology and sports.
Why It Matters
Almost every news outlet that’s picked up the FoxP2 story has portrayed the findings as an explanation for why women can talk their male peers under the table. In particular, they’ve cited a study that found women talk about three times as much as men on a daily basis (those statistics were originally included in this book). But this study focused on sex differences in kids; in fact, researchers say further studies are necessary to determine if brain chemistry really has anything to do with sex and gender differences in adult speech.
Moreover, there are plenty of studies that suggest adult men and women are actually equally talkative
As for the Twitter study, it’s easy to assume men and women are still from different planets. But the study authors say their findings provide a more nuanced view of gender roles than previous analyses. When other researchers referenced women as more expressive, this study suggests that men and women are expressive in different ways. The authors also propose that people use Twitter and other social media to help construct a gender identity. For example, people who deviate from gender-typical language on Twitter are also more likely to have lots of opposite-gender friends in their social network.
While these studies are fascinating on their own, the discussion they’ve initiated is even more interesting. It’s all too easy to take a cursory glance at scientific research and see it as support for stereotypes about sex and gender. But these studies are actually excellent examples of the way sex and gender are too complicated to be explained by biology or a simple set of sociological rules. This research reminds us that there’s still so much left to discover about how our sex influences our behavior and the way gender roles evolve. In the meantime, I’m going to start including more curse words and sports scores in my tweets, just for fun.
Do you think women are chattier than men? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author directly at @ShanaDLebowitz.