Stephen Fry & Deborah Cameron on gender & language

Today’s edition of  Stephen Fry’s “Fry’s Delight” on BBC Radio 4 is a discussion of “whether men and women really use and understand language differently.” It features a very interesting interview with Prof. Deborah Cameron of Oxford University. There is even an extended (18 minute) version of the interview half way down this page. I noticed that today’s Woman’s Hour also deals with gender issues, specifically, the same research mentioned in jj’s earlier post by Cordelia Fine and Lise Eliot about gender behaviour not being genetically pre-determined. It’s been heartening to read and hear so much about feminist issues in the UK media lately, though it is a shame it’s all happening in the so-called ‘silly season’ (i.e. August is always a slow news month because parliament isn’t in session and most people are on holiday). Then again, perhaps it’s easier to get people’s attention when you’re not competing with the Con-Dems. (Apologies if, as I suspect is the case, all this is only accessible to readers in the UK.)

8 thoughts on “Stephen Fry & Deborah Cameron on gender & language

  1. Check out this take-down of the Mars-Venus literature at

    I’m using bits of it in my online “informal logic” textbook chapter 0 where I debunk Mars-Venus, The Secret, The Healing Touch and Chiropractic. What’s frustrating is that no matter how much all this stuff is debunked, the general public just seems to ignore the debunking and take it as established scientific fact. And they especially jump at and gobble up anything that purports to show male-female differences–women as well as men. That’s something that puzzles me. Leave aside true or false: why do people WANT to believe this stuff? What is the payoff for believing that men and women are equal but different?

  2. HEB: is your textbook generally available? Open web site, that is?

    About why people want to believe that stuff: one possibility is that it tells one that all those things forcing one to play a certain role were all really for your own good, since anything else would be unnatural. Mind you, it’s tough for people who don’t play the role at all well, but then maybe they’re less inclined to believe.

  3. It will be generally available open access for anyone to excerpt, use or tweek as they please as soon as I finish it and put it up to my class website. You can get to my logic class site and my analytic phil class site from my home page above, /logic and /analytic. Last spring I went textbook-free for analytic so that site includes a complete online analytic phil reader with all the classic articles (well, my slanted selection;-) ) as well as powerpoints to go with them and other stuff. My logic site, as yet unrevised for next term, includes powerpoints too and other stuff.

    I’m an open access promoter and everything I have is available to the world.

  4. >> What is the payoff for believing that men and women are equal but different? <<

    If you are genuinely curious, check out Baumeister’s new book. He locates significant, biologically-based differences not (or not so much) in abilities but in motivation.

  5. Hello, Rob. Please note: I didn’t ask whether there were hard-wired male/female differences, or what they were. I asked why the general public were so keen to belie that there were such differences, and that they were hard-wired in, biologically based, and immutable. That’s a different question.

    I myself, Rob, am an old-fashioned feminist. I believe that the goal of feminism, which is a sub-goal of general all-purpose decency, is not to valorize femininity but to liberate women from it.

  6. HEB – thanks for making all your teaching materials accessible – I’m trying to rewrite my feminism course at the mo, and it really helps being able to see what others are teaching and how they are teaching it.

  7. HEB: I understand the different question you are asking, and that’s precisely why I recommend Baumeister’s book. The case he makes for biologically-based differences in motivation helps explain why the general public is so keen to believe in deep differences (including, in most instances incorrectly, those of ability). And since he does provide wide-ranging empirical support for his self-consciously speculative hypothesis, not to mention the fact that he is a preeminent scholar in his field of expertise, I daresay it’s a book not to be ignored.

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