Thursday, June 11, 2009

Do women judge differently?

During my undergraduate years at UC Santa Cruz I took mostly language and linguistics classes. But among the most memorable in the area of language was a class called Language and Gender taught by Sociology Professor Candace West. She had written several books on the sociology of language, and she gave us some thoughtful commentary on how men use language differently from women.

We were told about how men are more likely to interrupt women and how women tend to show more frequently a style of uncertainty in their language by using tag questions. My final exam was an essay. The paper dealt with interactions between male and female doctors and patients. Part of the class was supposed to compare conversations between female doctors and their patients. Another part of the class was given transcripts of conversations between wardens and male and female prisoners. We were to use similar counting procedures for both population groups. By counting the frequency of tag questions and filler words in the transcripts, it became obvious that the male doctors or, as the case may be, the male wardens used fewer of those devices and interrupted more than the female doctors did. They aslo did not leave time for female interruption. This language behavior had varying effects on the patients/prisoners.

Using language this way, the female doctors came off more sympathetic and less authoritarian than their male counterparts which served them well in their roles as doctors.

The objective was to show how different population groups use language effectively in different ways. I came away from this experience understanding how men use a difference in language style to assert their power. They tended to appear more bossy than the women. This is not to say that they were more effective in the long run. It was mainly meant to show communication styles.

Whether this style leads women to judge differently from men, is a question that may never be answered. That they do have different styles became obvious in the transcripts.

It seems certain that various experiences shape a person's judgment. The language people use also reflects their experience. The more you learn, the more likely it is to have better judgment. Language is the expression of experience, and without the understanding and experience of language there is no judgment. Does it really matter whether a person is male or female, white Anglo-Saxon, African-American, Chinese or Indian? It does matter.

A person is shaped by the culture he or she grew up in. But to put more value into a man's judgment than a woman's ignores the fact that society is made up of all kinds of characters. If this were not so, we wouldn't need nine Judges on the Supreme Court. We would only need one.

The reason for the desirability of more than one judge is that we have diversity in the general population, and that includes women. The judgment in a court of law should reflect what the general population deems to be just.


Post a Comment

<< Home