Recently, the world lost the last speaker of a “women’s language” in China. This language was one created and spoken exclusively by women so that they could discuss their lives with one another. Is there also a “women’s language” here?
While, obviously, women and men both speak English, the ways in which women use language can express qualities that some associate with “being female,” and these can be very positive. Some of these ways women speak have been derided as being passive and weak and women have, for years, been told to speak more like men, especially if they are in, or seeking, positions of power. But, perhaps some of these ways can be looked at differently. For example, women tend, the experts say, to make statements into questions. This, they claim, makes it sound as if women aren’t sure of what they are stating. Or, could it be that they are inviting dialogue, that they are creating relationships rather than simply declaiming facts? That they are acknowledging that no one can be sure of just about anything and they want to know what others think and believe? That they value the opinions of the person to whom they are speaking and not only their own?
Women are also criticised for speaking softly. But, does not nature so often speak powerfully in just this way in the opening of a rose bloom or the quiet gurgle of a river that has flowed for thousands of years or the cascade of a leaf onto the ground in the fall? When we speak softly, we invite others to tell us how they truly feel, knowing that we will listen and not overshout them. As long as we also know when to speak loudly and make our voices heard, speaking softly can bring gentleness into a world where almost nothing is needed more urgently.
When I edit women’s writing or listen to women speak, I will frequently find that women are more likely to express themselves in a way that brings ideas together rather than separating them. Could this not be a way of communicating wholistically, showing the greater whole when one does not divide and classify? How much more do you taste a sundae when you read “vanilla ice cream with hot fudge sauce and nuts and whipped cream and a cheery on top” than “vanilla ice cream, hot fudge sauce, nuts, whipped cream, and a cherry”? How much more do you feel the flow that is how life is actually expressed when you read “Today I witnessed the sunrise and counted the geese flying across the noontime sky and then lay in the field and sang to the stars” than “Today I watched the sunrise, counted geese, and sang to stars”?
Women’s writing, especially when they are communicating casually with one another, may have lots of !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and other indicators of emotion. Some may call this hysterical; I call it enthusiastic and expressive of feeling, giving a sense of the person behind the words and how she perceives what she is writing about. If I had to choose a lunch companion with whom I knew I could discuss real issues in my real life and who would show compassion and understanding, I would much rather go with a “!” than a “.”.
The differences in the way women and men speak and write are important. Language is important and shapes how we view the world. If we want a world that has balance; that values women and the way they think, then we must also value those aspects of communication that present and foster those human qualities that we associate with women.