Gender and communication, and women’s disadvantage in the law

by Jacqui Brauman

Gender and communication, and women’s disadvantage in the law

by Jacqui Brauman

by Jacqui Brauman

Women are disadvantaged straight away in accessing the legal system, just because of the way we communicate. Women are brought up with an emphasis on being polite, quiet, and meek. But the language that men use mirrors the power that males have and use to maintain power within the institutions and structures of Australian culture.

I am writing another book to help empower women to access and use the legal industry. This means that I’m doing a fair bit of research, and particularly into a lot of the unconscious, underlying biases in the legal system towards women.

Women are more apt to speak and hear a language of connection and intimacy, whilst men speak and hear a language of status and independence. The male interactional style is direct and outcome focused, whilst the female language style is indirect and person oriented. 

The body language of women is more deferential and more personal. The female speech style is more indirect, less powerful and more self-effacing. Women’s sentences are more apt to end with a question market either by intonation or with a ‘tag’ question, like ‘does that make sense?’.

These differences effect women engaging in the legal system, including in negotiation. Women tend to be more collaborative, facilitative and conciliatory in contrast to a masculine autonomy, competitiveness and confrontational style. Women often give in to keep the peace.

The distaste women have for negotiation is more about how we were raised and socialised than something inherently female. Some women may be natural negotiators, or may develop techniques that work after years of training. However, from infancy many women are trained to be modest, and to wait to be spoken to. Those women who do negotiate run the risk of being seen as pushy, and may be negatively sanctioned, whilst men are more likely to be rewarded for the same behaviour.

Speaking in a non-dominant style can result in a perceived reduction of credibility and strength in communication, particularly in a judicial setting. The modesty and tendency for women to end their sentences with a question, can make a woman present as unsure and unreliable as a witness.

There is evidence that the legal system may no reflect women’s experience. Instead, the legal system sees and treats women the way men see and treat women, which has been described as irrational, illogical, emotional and erratic. A masculine style of cognition seems to permeate the law with its emphasis on directness and rules, rather than the indirect, people-oriented style of women. 

Hence, I am exploring in my new book about how, with this bias already against a woman engaging in the legal system, I can coach women into being more empowered. 

First published here on my personal blog.

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