Exercises for Gender

Written Exercise:


Identify each sentence as “masculine,” “relatively gender-neutral,” or “feminine.” Which features of “masculine style” and/or “feminine style” are featured in each?

That jacket is kind of big on you, isn’t it?

This is more feminine. Not only is there hedging (kind of), and a tag question (isn’t it?), there is focus on you (2nd person pronoun). (Stereotypically, of course, women might also care more about clothes and how they look.) We can’t say much about the situation without more information, but it is certainly possible (given that this is already quite “feminine” in feel) that this is an indirect negative comment, to indicate that “you” shouldn’t be wearing the jacket, that it doesn’t look good.

Need some help with that?

Although this may seem relatively gender-neutral, it will be judged by many as more masculine, particularly if it is spoken to a woman. The speaker does not use a complete sentence, and expresses a great deal of confidence (he assumes he is able to help, that he can solve the problem).

I just love Colorado — it’s absolutely gorgeous!

This is very feminine. A boy or man who speaks this way is most likely either proudly claiming a non-traditional gender identity for himself, or is mocking someone else. The speaker uses a 1st person pronoun (I) and a private verb (love) to express a private feeling rather than a simple fact about the world, she uses hedging (just), intensification (absolutely), a “flowery, feminine” descriptor (gorgeous), and contrastive stress. Presumably, the exclamation point also indicates a strong intonational contour. That’s seven feminine characteristics in seven words!

Oh, shoot, I don’t know if you remember, but today is Mary’s birthday.

This is fairly feminine as well. “Shoot” is a euphemistic version of “shit,” and much weaker as an exclamation, and so more feminine in feel. “I don’t know if you remember” contains an admission of ignorance as well as emphasis on I and you, and the whole clause would be irrelevant if we don’t interpret it as being an indirect comment. The speaker seems to be reminding you (or complaining) that you forgot Mary’s birthday, but is avoiding expressing this in a negative or angry way. She mitigates the threat of the speech act by showing (or pretending) that she just remembered herself (“Oh!”), so you can’t be blamed too much for forgetting.

That guy’s a dick.

This is a masculine sentence: brief (no added hedges or intensifiers), direct, and vulgar. Even if a milder noun had been chosen (jerk, say), it would still be quite masculine. The statement expresses complete certainty, with no invitation to disagree or discuss, and it’s not a statement of feeling or belief; it’s an observation about the world. It doesn’t even sound emotional (no exclamation point). Women may say sentences like this, but they know they sound more masculine when they do.

My Mom makes awesome lasagna!

This is fairly gender-neutral. “Awesome” is used for positive evaluation by young men and women alike. There is an absence of specifically feminine features (no hedging or indirectness, e.g.) but an equal absence of markers of masculinity (no vulgarity or nonstandard uses, e.g.). The only emotion expressed is enthusiasm for food, which is considered appropriate for either sex. (And both men and women are allowed to appreciate their mammas.)

Gotta run. Later, dude!

This is masculine style. There are sentence fragments and informalities (gotta, dude). There is some politeness here (offering the “explanation” that the speaker “has to” leave, and assuring the other he’ll see him later), but not as much as we might expect from a woman.

How was the concert last night?

This is fairly gender-neutral. It’s a direct question, but not one that requires the hearer to express private or emotional thoughts.

I’m so sorry, I couldn’t quite hear you just then. What did you say?

This is very feminine. It features not only a direct and intensified apology (where none is actually needed), but a further “explanation” (doubly hedged with “quite” and “just then”) of why the following request has to be made. That’s a whole lot of politeness for a simple request for repetition. (And note that asking someone to repeat their words shows that the speaker really cares what the other has to say!) A man might use such a style when speaking to someone with great power over him (his boss or his professor), but it is hard to imagine a man saying this to another man he considers to be his equal.

You gotta be fuckin’ kiddin’ me!

This is masculine style. Informal words, pronunciations, and grammar (with the auxiliary have omitted). There is some emotion, but it appears to be frustration, which is more socially acceptable from men than from women, and the only intensification is taboo language. Although the focus is on me and you, this is confrontational and argumentative, not cooperative and supportive.
Follow-up Written Exercise:


On each of the following tabs is an utterance you should have identified as feminine in the previous exercise. For each one, consider how might it be said by someone trying to appear somewhat less feminine and how might it be said by someone trying to appear positively masculine. (Note that many different answers are possible; ours are only suggestions only. Check yours with someone you know!)


That jacket is kind of big on you, isn’t it?

less feminine

Your jacket’s kinda big. (This drops the tag question, making it sound more assertive, but still indirect and hedged.)

positively masculine

Hey, that jacket’s too big, you look like crap. (Completely assertive and confrontational, though it may be said with affection and friendly teasing.)


I just love Colorado –- it’s absolutely gorgeous!

less feminine

I love Colorado — it’s gorgeous! (Drops the hedging and intensification, but still personal, emotional, and using “flowery” adjective.)

positively masculine

Colorado is amazing. (Impersonal, factual, more monotone.)


Oh, shoot, I don’t know if you remember, but today is Mary’s birthday.

less feminine

Dan, did you forget Mary’s birthday? (Drops euphemism, & more direct — but not completely so.)

positively masculine

You idiot, you forgot Mary’s birthday! (Direct and confrontational.)


I’m so sorry, I couldn’t quite hear you just then. What did you say?

less feminine

Sorry, I missed that. What? (Minimizes both the apology and the explanation, while still accomplishing both functions.)

positively masculine

What?    (or “Huh?”)

Video Exercises: Varying Performances of Femininity
Here are two videos featuring the same woman (in the middle, in the blue shirt), edited to show only her turns at talk (so the effect is somewhat choppy). Compare her speech in the first conversation with her speech in the second. What differences can you spot in the way she performs her gender? Can you explain this in terms of the situation (how she sees herself relative to the other people involved and/or her purpose in speaking, e.g.)?

What We Saw and Heard

Although she’s discussing baseball in the first video (not traditionally a “feminine” topic), she comes across as very feminine. She both hedges and intensifies a great deal (e.g., “It’s like very technical,” “he was so biased the whole game.”). She (indirectly) laughs off disagreement rather than engaging in an argument (“Whoa! Fightin’ words!”). She even empathizes with the umpire she’s criticizing! (She points out that there was a lot of pressure on him, and that if he made the wrong call, “all of America” would hate him, focusing on feelings and emotion.) She is in the powerful position of explaining (knowing more about the subject than at least one of the other women), so she has no need to establish her credibility or try to impress. Rather, she might emphasize the more feminine aspects of her speech to establish a sense of community with the other women, despite their differences in knowledge and/or opinion.

In the second conversation, she shifts to a less feminine style, presumably in order to be taken more seriously in her argument with the man. She doesn’t hedge or intensify nearly as much, and does not go out of her way to be particularly polite (she doesn’t avoid argument or seek compromise). She speaks more loudly, with greater intensity. You can’t tell because of the editing of the videos, but she displays fewer active listening behaviors in the second video as well (although she maintains a steady gaze on the speaker when someone else has the floor in both conversations), actually interrupting the male speaker at one point.

Video Exercise: A Performance of Masculinity
Here is the clip from the previous exercise unedited (with the other people’s turns restored). This time, focus on the male participant and the various ways he performs his masculinity.

What We Saw and Heard

“No, no — that is completely stupid!” He seems to seek disagreement, is direct, even insulting (hence, less polite). (He does intensify here, but only to heighten the disagreement.) He does not phrase his opinion as “I think” or “I believe” or “I feel” (using public rather than private verbs), talking about the world, as if his opinion were objective fact. He feels comfortable expressing anger (as opposed to the women he’s talking to, who never appear more than annoyed). His gestures are large and emphatic, in keeping with his dominant body language. He uses sarcasm in an aggressive, challenging way, interrupts the woman he’s arguing with, and uses taboo language (repeatedly: “Bull. Bull. I call complete bullshit on that.”)

Audio Exercise:
Listen to this snippet of a conversation between two men (a professor and his student advisee). Can you spot the ways that they perform their masculinity? (How might the conversation have gone differently if either had been using a more feminine style?)

What We Heard

Both men are very direct and speak with complete confidence, except when it comes to expressing emotion. When the professor says “We came so close to JBA workin’ out!,” he implies that both men feel disappointment about “JBA” not working out (whatever that means), but although the student agrees “Yeah, I know,” neither one speaks directly of emotion, preferring to speak of external things. There are multiple instances of terse comments: “Nice!”, “Yeah, I know,” “Cool!” (where a more feminine speaker would elaborate, or use first person language like “I love that!”). It appears that the student could not take advantage of a summer opportunity because he needed to attend his cousin’s wedding. Stereotypically, a female student would apologize and give more reasons/explanations, but he does not feel the need to do either.

The only significant difference we heard in their performance of gender (and they may have been doing some mirroring, here, converging their styles somewhat) was that the professor used some larger intonational contours and more stress on individual words, while the student stayed relatively monotone.

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