Genderlects in Film:
by Michi Saki (Ryukoku University)
This paper talks about how gender plays a major role in how men and women communicate with each other. The American film "The War of the Roses" (1989)
is examined in terms of the ways in which the male and female characters are represented in terms of both linguistic and non-linguistic features.
It also examines the communicative approaches and textual features reflected in the characters' speech and non-verbal actions.
Keywords: genderlects, communication styles, discourse analysis, dominance, contemporary American gender roles
[ p. 70 ]She claims that while Western society has created masculinity and femininity in our ways of behaving and believing that we are just acting naturally, and that what women and men sense as "natural" quite often differs.
If women speak and hear a language of connection and intimacy, men speak and hear a language of status and interdependence, then communication between men and women can be like cross-cultural communication, prey to a clash of conversational styles. Instead of different dialects, it has been said they speak different genderlects. (p. 42)If this is so, it may be worth analyzing some types of communicative approaches and textual features used by men and women in order to understand their complex social relationships and how their distinctive gender identities are reflected in their speech.
|"… gender involves not just features of observable behaviour, but our whole way of regarding ourselves as male and female. This includes ways of behaving as well as relating to others and ourselves."|
[ p. 71 ]According to the difference approach, a relatively new approach of gender analysis, women and men coexist in different subcultures in which women tend to have submissive roles and men dominant ones. Even further, they have different ways of using language and, according to the Dictionary of Feminist Theory (1989) as cited in Coates (1993), women have, "a different experience of love, work and family from men." (p.13)
.. men who approach conversation as a contest are likely to expend effort not to support the other's talk but to lead the conversation in another direction, perhaps one in which they can take centre stage by telling a story or joke or displaying knowledge. But in doing so, they expect their conversational partners to mount resistance. Women who yield to these efforts do so not because they are weak or insecure or differential, but because they have little experience in deflecting attempts to grab the conversational wheel. (p.125)In other words, male conversations are frequently akin to battles, whereas conversations among women tend to be based on a different ethos. According to Zimmerman and West (1975), as cited in Coates (1993):
…interruptions are violations of the turn-taking rules of conversation. The next speaker begins to speak while the current speaker is still speaking, at a point in current speaker's turn, which could not be defined as the last word. Interruptions break the symmetry of the conversational model: the interrupter prevents the speaker from finishing their turn, at the same time gaining a turn for themselves.If men are more prone to interrupt in conversation, "gaining a turn" for oneself also gains them more of a central role in social conversation, thus raising their rank within their distinctive social circle.
[ p. 72 ]Let us now examine three features of women's language: hedges, questions, and polite/standard forms.
[ p. 73 ]The text under analysis is two episodes from the printed script of the movie The War of the Roses by Michael J. Leeson. Originally published as a novel by Warren Adler in when he turned 54 in 1981, its story inspired a major motion picture in 1989. The War of the Roses is a black comedy about an "ideal" upper-class, white, American family,
It is noteworthy how terms pertaining to "seduction" are often used to describe a women's sexual activities. In this context, the choice of the word, "seductively" depicts Elke's social stereotypical role of being a fair-haired seductress.
32) (Elke takes a bite of the food and smiles seductively across the table to Gavin. Through the glass table top, we can see Elke's foot stretching underneath the table, nuzzling into Gavin's crotch. Gavin reacts. Barbara notices Gavin's reaction.)
81) (…Carolyn, wearing an ice-skating outfit holds a pair of ice-skates over her shoulder.) 82) (…Josh, wearing a soccer uniform, gets out of the Volvo.)
[ p. 74 ]
The use of these gender-based words clearly represents the gender differentiation in contemporary North America. Labels such as "sweetheart" are used more so for females than males. Terms such as "buddy" are reserved exclusively for males.
24) OLIVER: (to Carolyn, with a kissing sound) Good night, sweetheart. 26) OLIVER: (to Josh) Good night, buddy.
This expression was used to compliment a junior in a direct, short sentence, without expressive detail. The use of the swear word "hell" in this expression exemplifies the dominance approach, by showing how men talk to men. Mr. Dell may have felt it appropriate to express his masculinity and to make his power known to his subordinates.
9) MR DELL: Hell of a litigation.
Mr. Marshall not only shows his hierarchal status by expressing his opinion in such a blunt, forceful manner - at the same time he makes a joke of it. Only a man of his position and status would take that sort such liberty.
52) (Mr. Marshall suddenly slams his palm on the table, startling everyone. Mr. Marshall leans over to Mr. Dell.) 53) MR. MARSHALL: Then we are paying our associates too much! (The guests laugh)
[ p. 75 ]One reason why misunderstandings and miscommunication between men and women in speech arise may be because of a conflict of interest based on the power balance in the social community. Some men miss the point of what is being said to them because in order to find this information out, they would have to understand the utterance from the position of a subordinate in relation of power. For example, in Episode 4 when Barbara is telling Oliver of how she sold pâté to her friend:
Barbara was expressing to Oliver about how she felt to receive real money and make her own money again after being out of the workforce and out of touch of society for such a long time. This feeling would be difficult for Oliver to understand and relate to, and as a result, Oliver does not understand the reasons why Barbara is saying this. Oliver merely mentally registered the fact that she just "sold a piece of liver to their friends." It may be interesting to also point out how Oliver degrades pâté into "liver." This choice of words by Oliver not only demonstrates the roughness in men's vocabulary, but may also show Oliver's insensitivity to his wife's personal interests. Oliver is not thinking about what the social exchange meant for Barbara, but only how the information relates to him and the effects it might have within his own social circles.
125) BARBARA: So I asked her if she really meant it and she said she did … so I took a pound over to her and collected thirty-five dollars. I'd almost forgotten what it felt like to make money. 126) OLIVER: You sold liver to our friends?
Again, we see that Oliver only registers the piece of information about trading in the Volvo - in his mind, a very fine car in terms of status and again is feeling uneasy about the change in the status of car, which reflects his image of himself and his status. He does not ask his wife why traded in the car for another one, nor inquire about her reasons for choosing a more powerful and larger vehicle, or even ask about why she felt different by getting paid cash. Oliver's concern here is not about the personal reasons that prompted Barbara to change the vehicle. Instead he questioned why she would change an expensive, brand name car for one of lower status, which might threaten people's perception of their status.
127) BARBARA: She paid me in cash, Oliver. Somehow that … felt different from the money I get cashing a check. It made me feel like … trading in the Volvo for one of those … four wheel-drive things with the big, knobby tires and the two-hundred horsepower engine. So I did … I'm gonna pick it up tomorrow. 127) OLIVER: Thank you so much for telling me. Uh … and you think that you … need this? I mean, a Volvo is a fine car.
[ p. 76 ]The linguistic feature of interruption is represented by Oliver during a dinner with his bosses and his wife. In an attempt to impress his bosses, Oliver makes Barbara tell a story in front of the guests. Barbara attempts to tell a humorous story, but being nervous and unsure about the sequence of events, she makes mistakes and stumbles several times. Fearing embarrassment in front of his bosses and peers, note how Oliver tries to "save face" by interrupting Barbara:
Barbara's failure to tell the story correctly in order to impress Oliver's bosses posed a threat to his social image. Therefore, Oliver interrupts Barbara, thus gaining the spotlight in the conversation to show his skill at persuasion and negotiation in being able to convince the man to sell his crystal to him.
56) BARBARA: Well, we were in Paris … 57) OLIVER: (interrupting) It was our fifth anniversary. 58) BARBARA: We just had lunch in this wonderful little place in the market district called the Paday Cushon. 59) OLIVER: (correcting her pronunciation) Pied de Cochon. 60) BARBARA: Thanks. We were wandering around and we came upon the … 61) …… Well, I looked at Oliver and Oliver looked at me, (chuckles) and then … Oh, no. (Oliver shakes his head wearily.) 62) BARBARA: Well, before that there was this big black limousine out on the street. Now, now, this is important. Well, actually, before the limousine … 63) OLIVER: (interrupting) To make a long story short, a wealthy French couple had ordered a special design for their anniversary. By the time it was ready, they were getting a divorce. So the women smashed her half and I convinced the man to sell us his half cheap just to spite her.
[ p. 77 ]
2) her non-assertiveness in telling her husband Oliver her ideas of starting her own catering business, as this exchange illustrates:
69) … It was so … so … pretty. I mean, I felt … whatever the word. (chuckles nervously)
3) her uneasiness in moving into a very large and beautiful house, as this snippet attests:
119) BARBARA: Excuse me, you working? 120) OLIVER: Yes. Is it important? 121) BARBARA: Yes. Kind of. I hope so.
4) her concerns about hiring a live-in maid to take care of her most prized and valued possessions, being her home as this pronouncement bears out:
106) BARBARA: Well, I just feel kind of strange. I mean, this house is so beautiful…and we live here.
As Table 1 illustrates, Barbara uses hedges such as "well," "I mean," and "kind of" several times. This can be seen to exemplify her unsure feelings about events in her life.
150) BARBARA: The fact is, Susan, I don't need a live-in. This was my husband's suggestion. I mean, I have raised two kids on my own and now they're about to go off to college. They were both accepted at Harvard.
|Character||Hedge||# of Occurrences|
|I hope so||1|
[ p. 78 ]Politeness markers and standard forms are used more by female speakers than males. The way that Mrs. Marshall compliments Oliver on his crystal exemplifies this:
Mrs. Marshall uses what is pragmatically known as an "empty adjective" (Lakoff, 1975) to describe the crystal. By making this compliment, the conversation is facilitated.
48) MRS. MARSHALL: … Your crystal is lovely.
We also see Barbara and Susan, the woman to be hired as the maid, complimenting each other in this conversation:
88) MAUREEN: Hello. 89) BARBARA: Oh, I was just leaving. 90) MAUREEN: How kind. Please, won't you come in? 90) BARBARA: All right. 94) MAUREEN: I don't believe we've met.
This illustrates how the female characters use compliments as a device to make sure they do not threaten each other's status or role, and attempt to keep good social relationships, regardless of whether or not a given relationship will continue in the future.
146) BARBARA: Somehow the thought of a stranger living in my house just seems weird, you know? Doesn't it? I don't mean just for us, but for you, too. Oh, but then I guess you do this all the time. 147) SUSAN: No, no. I try this as a means of finding room and board and a little money. I'm also attending a few classes at William and Mary College. But that won't interfere with my duties. 148) BARBARA: Well, that's great. I'm happy for you, really. 149) SUSAN: So do I get the job? 150) BARBARA: The fact is, Susan, I don't need a live-in. This was my husband's suggestion. I mean, I have raised two kids on my own and now they're about to go off to college. They were both accepted at Harvard. 151) SUSAN: Hmm, that's a nice school, too.
[ p. 79 ]
Oh my. Whatever flavour is this?
No, don't tell me. Let me think now.
It isn't apples.
|◌ to invite other speakers to participate in a conversation
◌ to politely facilitate an addressee's entrance into a conversation
|50)||It's not Waterford?||◌ to invite other speakers to
participate in a conversation
◌ to politely facilitate an addressee's
entrance into a conversation
Oh my. Whatever flavour is this?
You know, the kind with the raised flowers that always chip after a couple of weeks, hmm? And they were always yellow, too, remember?
|◌ to ascertain that what is being said is acceptable to the addressee|
|106)||Well, I feel kind of strange. I mean, this house is so beautiful…and we live here. This is who we are? This is me?||◌ to express uncertainty|
|146)||Somehow the thought of a stranger living in my house just seems weird, you know? Doesn't it?||◌ tag questions used to 1) express uncertainty, 2) reflect concern for the addressee's feelings, and 3) check that what is being said is acceptable to the addressee|
|156)||You would be this new element in the house, you see?||◌ to reflect concern for the addressee's feelings.
◌ to check that what is being said is acceptable to the addressee
|"Barbara's character throughout the movie can be interpreted in terms of Coates' (1993) 'difference approach,' in which both the feminine and masculine characteristics appear to belong to different subcultures altogether."|
[ p. 80 ]The screenwriter, Michael Leeson, may have purposely cast these characters in traditional roles in order to build up the story towards its climax, which portrays a shocking and ugly battle of the sexes. It may be argued that Barbara's character throughout the movie can be interpreted in terms of Coates' (1993) theory of a "difference approach," in which both the feminine and masculine characteristics appear to belong to different subcultures altogether.
[ p. 81 ]