There are purportedly different communication styles between men and women. Women are thought to be more expressive of emotions, caring and sympathetic communicators, whereas men are believed to be more assertive and direct speakers.
The author of Psychology of Gender talks about studies that show women who use assertive and “masculine” styles of communication are less influential on men than women who use “tentative” language. Male speakers had a similarly high influence on the audience regardless of their styles of speech. The author attributed this result to the status and likability of the speaker.
When the female is being tentative, she is acting in a traditionally feminine manner and not threatening the male audience’s status, and therefore is seen as more agreeable and is more influential among men. When the female is being assertive, she is challenging the male’s status, which is seen as a favorable trait among female listeners but causes her to be less influential among men.
This study seems to indicate that because of females’ lower social status, they must speak in a more deferential style to men and speak more assertively with other women in order to gain influence. It is an adaptive trait rather than an inherent trait. Another study that shows that women and men may not have innately different communication styles is done by Basow and Rubenfeld.
According to social role theory, men tend to be instrumentalist communicators and would tend to give advice to distressed friends, whereas women are expressive communicators and would give sympathetic responses instead. The study by Basow and Rubenfeld shows that the number of expressive and nurturing responses was not clearly gender related, and the results imply that different communication styles are functions of social circumstances.
In online communities, the predominant communication style online tends to be masculine and aggressive. In conversations and debates in chat rooms, forums, and video games, men prefer to use strong assertions, self-promotion, challenge and sarcasm. Often interactions between males online become aggressive and antagonistic, and the males refer to such exchanges as “e-peen complex” and “pissing contests.”
During these arguments, disagreements, and conflicts, men make frequent use of profanity, hostile insults and personal attacks, and over time these practices become the norm and are incorporated into normal conversation. However, acceptable behavior among males can be intimidating to some females, and online communities with a large male base can be unfriendly to female users.
Females can adopt the “masculine” way of communicating in virtual space, but they risk being viewed as “bitchy” and “whiny” women. Despite the lack of physical indicators of gender, people believe that there are feminine and masculine characteristics of online writing. For example, women are thought to ask more questions, make polite expressions, express more support for others, and add emoticons such as smiley’s to communicate agreement. However, a woman can pose as a man online, and vice versa, and use the communication style of either gender depending on the situation.
When I was honest about who I was, a 15-year-old girl online, and tried to be witty or “cool,” it backfired on me consistently. When I switched my handle to a nickname that was a demonic derivative obviously hinting at maleness, I gained a lot more immediate “respect” using the methods that were worthless to me previously. I didn’t really change, only what others presumed my gender to be changed. Since then I’ve adopted a very soft and sweet-natured online persona, which is not necessarily counter to my “real” personality, but I have had to actively suppress certain parts of my personality in order to fit into male-dominated communities.