Examining Gender Styles in Dialogue

To some extent, all playwrights have to rely on stereotypes to make their characters believable and effective. What else besides stereotypic behavior universally signifies gender? Masculinity and femininity mean different things to each person, so stereotypes are the common bond among audience members everywhere. These stereotypes are emphasized through the dialogue authors and playwrights craft for their characters. The writers use speech characteristics that people most often associate with either men or women to convey character or make a point.

Dialogue in Plays|Dialogue in Short Stories

Test your gender awareness. If you can, blank out the character names the next time you are reading a play. Read two or three pages on which a number of both men and women are speaking. See if you can tell by what the author/playwright has them say whether each is male or female. How does this affect your reading of the play? I have had the experience of reading a play without paying particular attention to the genders of the characters, when suddenly I notice an obvious indication of gender. My sense of the relations between characters feels wrong, and I have to return to where I began and read the section again. .

Try another test. The next time you read a posting to a listserv, see if you can identify the gender of the author. Look for tag questions and hedges. Is the person being agreeable and appreciative? Telling as opposed to sharing? Being sarcastic or insulting other list participants?* A more detailed discussion of gender styles online can be found in Section Five.

*Just for a minute, think about how you feel not knowing for certain whether you're "talking" to a man or a woman. Consider one woman's reaction: "I don't think I'm easier on one gender or another, but I do think I relate to people differently based on their gender...Gender is probably the most important lens through which I view people and life. Being deprived of it makes me feel like a fish-out-of-water...." (Thanks, Laura.)

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