4.12 The implications of gender differences in communication
If it were true that men and women tend to communicate in very different ways, what might be the implications for health and social care in terms of:
The allocation of staff?
Staff training and development?
Working with male and female service users?
If there is any truth in the claims that men and women have very different styles of communication, it would make sense to allocate male and female staff to different kinds of roles. For example, an organisation might decide to allocate tasks involving sensitivity and the expression of feelings, such as counselling, exclusively to female staff, and jobs that need a degree of competitiveness to male workers. Staff training and development would include courses to make all staff aware of men's and women's different styles of interacting. It might also focus on developing male workers’ sensitivity and female workers’ assertiveness skills. Finally, in working with service users, different approaches might be needed to engage the interest and involvement of men and women (remember the course tester whose family centre had tried to attract fathers through sporting activities).
As you worked on this activity and read the comment, you may have wanted to take issue with the social constructionist critique that was developed here. Perhaps, while accepting that writers such as Tannen and Gray simplify matters in order to sell books, you wanted to hold on to the idea that there are, after all, some evident differences in the ways that most (if not all) men and women communicate and relate. Your own experience, perhaps of working in a team or providing services for male and female service users, may have left you with a sense that differences remain and need to be addressed.
Is it possible to accept that some gendered differences do exist, without buying into the kind of stereotypical gender-essentialist approach explored here? Some feminist writers have argued that there are, indeed, identifiable differences in the ways men and women tend to interact. Carol Gilligan, for example, argues that a male-dominated society has acted to suppress and devalue women's ‘difference’ from the male norm. She identifies two ‘voices’ or gender-related ways of communicating and relating: ‘one voice speaks of connection, care and response, while the other speaks of equality, reciprocity, justice and rights’, the former being characteristically feminine and the latter masculine (Gilligan, 1988, p. 8). She sees men and women as having different moral orientations, women's outlook implying ‘a sense of self and other as interdependent and for relationships as networks created and sustained by attention and response’ (p. 8).