I worked for the linguistics professor and department chair at my undergraduate institution, so I heard a fair bit about Deborah Tannen. She also did her doctoral work with Tannen, which meant I and my fellow English majors heard a LOT about Tannen. J That’s how these things tend to go in academia. She’s done a lot for the subfield of sociolinguistics, and I’ve long wanted to read her work firsthand for myself. I bought You Just Don’t Understand! from a thrift store years ago and am finally reading it now.
The book engages the differences in conversation between men and women. She looks at discourse styles, interactions, and social situations in which men and women communicate with themselves and each other. She highlights contrasts in homosocial and heterosocial conversations and uses plenty of anecdotes to analyze as proof of her claims.
Here’s the thing. I’d like to acknowledge Tannen’s work in understanding the nature of gendered language and its impacts on social structures. That said, this book was published in 1990, and in 2017, that date shows. This book subtly (or not) uses language that favors or excuses male behavior and increasingly places the burden of change upon women. It calls on women to be more assertive, even while it admits that when women do so, they are less likely to be acknowledged or respected by men. Further, Tannen conflates gender and personality in ways that are worrisome. Not every man is assertive and outgoing; not every woman is shy and shrinking. I know that society conditions us to be passive, but at the same time, women are not introverts and men are not extroverts—this is falling into the “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” trap.
Cross-posted to my blog.