Deborah Tannen’s Essay on “Sex, Lies, and Conversation”

             Deborah Tannen’s essay on “Sex, Lies, and Conversation” highlights the different communication styles of men and women. Tannen attempts to get beyond simplistic stereotypes that, for example, women chatter constantly while men are ‘strong and silent,’ or, conversely, that women are shy and quiet and men are more articulate than their female partners. Rather, the truth behind these contradictory stereotypes is much more complex. Tannen opens her essay with an anecdote drawn from her own personal experience, from one of her lecturing engagements. A man stood up, pointed at his mute wife, and said, quite loudly, “she’s the talker in our family” (Tannen 1) The crowd laughed, and Tannen uses this as an example of how women are often more talkative in social situations, where relational and establishing a human connection is a priority, while men are more apt to speak in public to gain social capital, and where they alone are the focus of attention.
             Tannen is an academic by training but her writing makes effective use of dialogue and dramatized real-life scenarios to illustrate her points. This also makes her essay more engaging for the reader, as the reader is encouraged to identify with the incidents Tannen relates in support of her theories. Tannen is also fairly compassionate and nonjudgmental in her depiction of the sexes. It would be easy to condemn the husband in the above-cited example as a heartless boor, but she does not, rather she suggests that he is merely unconscious about his conversation patterns, a common foible for all of us. “He felt challenged to show his intelligence and understanding of the lecture,” Tannen writes—perhaps, she does not say, because the lecturer was a female and he was a male and felt uncomfortable being the recipient of female wisdom in an area he wished to presume expertise, the arena of male conversation.
             Although the opening paragraph is quite funny, some of what Tannen de...

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Deborah Tannen’s Essay on “Sex, Lies, and Conversation”. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 14:34, January 21, 2017, from