Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique turns 50 this year, and the anniversary has offered an occasion to reflect on just how far (or not) gender equality has come. A new study, however, locates one particular arena in which distinct differences between the genders are plain to see. Men and women tweet differently.
The study, by a trio of researchers from Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Stanford University, looked at the tweets of some 14,000 users and came away with two key findings. One, there is language that’s more commonly tweeted by men and some that’s more commonly tweeted by women. And two, in cases where those patterns don’t hold, the individual in question is likely to follow less members of their own gender than is average. That is, you write what you know—or at least you tweet who you follow.
The gender-specific language isn’t entirely surprising:
Female markers include a relatively large number of emotion-related terms like sad, love, glad, sick, proud, happy, scared, annoyed, excited, and jealous. All of the emoticons that appear as gender markers are associated with female authors, including some that the prior literature found to be neutral or male: :) :D and ;). Of the family terms that are gender markers, most are associated with female authors: mom, mommy, moms, mom’s, mama, sister, sisters, sis, daughter, aunt, auntie, grandma, kids, child, children, dad, husband, hubby, hubs. However, wife, wife’s, bro, bruh, bros, and brotha are all male markers. Computer mediated communication (CMC) terms like lol and omg appear as female markers, as do ellipses, expressive lengthening (e.g., coooooool), exclamation marks, question marks, and backchannel sounds like ah, hmmm, ugh, and grr.
Several of the male-associated terms are associated with either technology or sports—including several numeric "tokens" like 1-0, which will often indicate the score of a sporting event. Swears and other taboo words are more often associated with male authors: bullshit, damn, dick, fuck, fucked, fucking, hell, pussy, shit, shitty are male markers; the anti-swear darn appears in the list as a female marker.
Making broader categorizations based on these words is, however, more difficult. The authors explain:
The argument that female language is more expressive is supported by lengthenings like yesss and nooo, but swear words should also be seen as expressive, and they are generally preferred by men. The rejection of swear words by female authors may seem to indicate a greater tendency towards standard or prestige language, but this is contradicted by the CMC terms like omg and lol. These results point to the need for a more nuanced analysis, allowing for different types of expressiveness and multiple standards, and for multiple ways of expressing gendered identity.
In all, the variety here is a good thing. A little expressive lengthening here and a little expressive swearing there is probably an easier read than a timeline filled up with one or the other.
Read the full study here.
[Hat tip: Kottke]