Gender, speech and politics


Sir, – The response to Tanya Sweeney’s article “Why is gossip so central to female friendships?” (People, August 10th) by Dr Jennifer Martyn (Letters, August 21st) also hints at the underlying reason for the gender imbalance we see in politics and business leadership.

In her book Women, Men and Language, Dr Jennifer Coates, professor of English language and linguistics at the Roehampton Institute in London, states that “women’s speech is collaborative while that of men tends to be competitive, at least in Anglo-Saxon countries”.

For example, mixed male-female business meetings in Mediterranean countries tend not to follow set agendas, and side-conversations between two or more members often take place while the principal speaker is still talking. Item four on the agenda might be discussed in parallel with item two if there is commonality.

This is not allowed under the strict, disciplinarian Anglo-Saxon model of meeting we are familiar with and which is observed (sort of) in the Dáil, where every item has to be dealt with in strict order and not returned to later.

Prof Coates suggests that this one speaker at a time format has its origins in the tribal hierarchy of primitive people where a “leader” had to reign supreme, but this format does not appeal to women who may prefer to speak all at once in a manner that reinforces the ideas common to all members, only remaining silent while a dissenting voice is making a point.

The speaking procedures in the House of Commons and the Dáil are a combative, competitive, male-preferred format and may simply not appeal to those women who do not wish to adopt the aggressive and domineering tone of many of the male politicians that we witness regularly on televised debates. – Yours, etc,




Co Wicklow.