Sex. Lies and Conversation; Why Is
So Hard for Men and Women to Talk to
by Deborah Tannen
The Washington Post, Jnne 24, 1990
I WAS ADDRESSING a small gathering in a suburban Virginia living room .- a women's group that had
invited men to join them. Throughollt the evening, one man had been particularly talkative, frequently
offering ideas and anecdotes, while his wife sat silently beside him on the couch. Toward the end of the
commented that women frequently complain that their husbands don't talk to them. This man
quickly concurred. He gestlued toward his wife and said, "She's the talker in our family." The room burst
into laughter; the
looked puzzled and hurt. "It's true," he explained. "\Vhen ] come home from work I
say. Ifshe didn't keep the conversation going, we'd spend the whole evening in silence."
This episode crystallizes the irony that
Illen tend to talk
women in pJl!>lic
The pattem was observed by political scientist Andrew Hacker in the late '70s_ Sociologist Catherine
Kohler Ricssman reports in her new book "Divorce Talk" that most of the womcn she interviewed
few orthe men -- gave lack
as the reason for their divorces. Given the current
divorce ratc of ncarly 50 percent, that amounts to millions of cases in the United States every year
virtual epidemic of failed conversation.
In my own research,
ro.£~<LQns2_!E!~!"tl~~J!.Q)l: "1:!£.QQ.~:tIil.l~UJQJ!le," "1:!!'._<iQl:.~u1.l<l.l!iJQJJK,"
I round, as Hacker
observed years before, that
partllers, but rew husbands share this
In shorl, the image that best represents the current crisis is the stereotypical cartoon scene
al the breakfast table with a newspaper held up in front of his face, while a woman glares at the back or it,
talk. Linguistic Battle of the Sexes
How can women and men have such different impressions of communicatipn in
widespread imbalance in their interests and expectations?
In the April issue or American Psychologist, Stanford University's Eleanor Maccoby repons the results or
her owu and others' research
Boys and girls tend to play with
OWE gender, and their sex·separate
groups have dirrerent organizational structures and interactive norms.