Gender Dynamics in Communication and Body Language

I was really excited today when I happened to come across this post, “Some Friend Advice for Female Graduate Students,” on a blog I recently starting following, Feminism and Religion, because the author of the article was a professor that I had as an undergrad! I took a class with her called Women, Ethics, and Religion, that I absolutely loved.

Anyway, in this post she gives some advice to female graduate students (which could also apply to young professional working women as well) about how to pay careful attention to their speech and body language, as women often have the tendency to make conscious attempts to speak and come off as gentler and less aggressive than men. I feel like we’re all (and by “we” I mean those of us in the feminist community) aware of this problem, and yet don’t as often hear about specific practical advice for how to overcome it.

Here’s the advice she offers:

1. When speaking, avoid turning statements into questions by ending a sentence in a higher tone.

2.  In written papers, avoid qualifiers that weaken your argument, such as “I think.”

3.  Always be sure to give a firm handshake!

The last point is especially my favorite because I made a conscious effort to loosen my grip for a handshake after one encounter when I felt like I gripped the person’s hand too tightly and thought it would make me seem too intense (I thought of Paris Gellar on the show “Gilmore Girls”). Since then before a handshake I’ve always thought to myself, “Ok, not too tight.” This is especially important to me as I’m beginning a job search.

This advice is also useful outside of academia and the working world as well. Even in casual conversations with friends, I find myself trying to have discussions in the most easy-going manner possible. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing–discussions don’t necessarily need to become heated, but the problem is I consciously soften my opinion so I won’t hurt someone else’s feelings, even if it’s something I feel strongly about.

It should go without saying of course that we can’t generalize for all women here, and it’s certainly not what I’m trying to do or what I believe the author of the post is trying to say. It’s just a very common pattern among women that should be addressed.


4 thoughts on “Gender Dynamics in Communication and Body Language”

  1. Great post, and I also liked the article you linked to. She used the word “self-sabotage,” which, along with her advice and approach, reminded me of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In a lot. Sandberg writes about “sitting at the table,” having seen many a capable woman exclude herself from discussions out of politeness or lack of confidence. The concrete advice you cite might even seem trivial on their own, but they’re the tip of an iceberg.

    On the handshake thing, I certainly had practice. At the end of every day at high school basketball practice, we had to go and make a firm handshake+eye contact with our coach. It was his way of making sure everyone personally owned up to the effort level he’d put up in practice, but it was also a way of giving us that sort of habit for the future. I have to imagine a certain extent of that whole ritual was about masculinity too.

    Thanks for posting!

    1. Thanks! I like your comment about handshakes in basketball–I think it definitely has a lot to do with “proper” masculinity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *