Many writers believe that we must understand the different gender role

Many writers believe that we must understand the

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Many writers believe that we must understand the different gender-role expectations that cultures have for men and women before we can understand their different nonverbal behaviors. Such role expectations are primarily a function of culture, and as such can change only as a culture changes. Writers describing U.S. culture say that expectations for women in the United States are characterized by reactivity ; whereas, expectations for men are characterized by proactivity . This means that women in our culture are expected to be sensitive, responsive to others, emotionally expressive, and supportive. In contrast, men are expected to be assertive, independent, self-assured, confident, and decisive. Mehrabian (1981) suggests that the male in this culture is expected to have a dominant social style; whereas, the female is expected to have a submissive social style. He concludes that women generally have more pleasant, less dominating, and more affiliative social styles than men. Males are more aggressive and dominant in their social styles. In a similar vein, Henley ( 1977 ) and Eakins and Eakins ( 1978 ) suggest that nonverbal behaviors differ between women and men because men in this culture generally have been in superior positions and women have been in subordinate positions. Society expects subordinates (women) to behave submissively (to perform the subordinate role) and supervisors (males)
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to behave in a dominant manner (to perform the superior or assertive role). Other writers are quick to note that the study of how sex differences might affect the way that people communicate presents a difficult research undertaking (Canary & Dindia, 1998). They note that many authors suggest that the differences between men and women are not as strong or definite as once thought (Canary & Dindia, 1998). We hasten to note that we are not advocating the desirability of such stereotypical gender-role identifications (after all, the senior author of this book is female). Rather, we are presenting this information in the hope of identifying where these stereotypes come from. Many people, both female and male, may wish that such stereotypical norms would just go away, but they will do so only if the culture changes sufficiently to make such stereotypical behavior dysfunctional in everyday life. That has yet to happen. The distinctive differences between male and female communication behavior seem to be based on what are deemed the appropriate societal roles of women and men. Men tend to be more assertive and women to be more responsive. Years ago, Bernard ( 1968 ) said: “Women are expected to stroke others and give reassuring smiles and silent applause.” Currently, there is still, whether we like it not, a strong cultural, societal bias for women to be the supportive persons and men to be the assertive persons in this culture. Therefore the stereotypical gender roles (assertive or responsive) may explain the gender differences in nonverbal behavior. The remainder of this chapter reviews the differences in nonverbal
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