What Is Feminine Style Rhetoric and Why Is It Important?
If you’re like me, you may be a bit cautious when you come across content explaining gendered ideas (like this one). Often, descriptors like ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ (in regards to rhetoric, leaderships, etc.) create misunderstanding. So let’s make sure we’re all on the same page before moving forward talking about feminine style rhetoric.
‘Feminine style’ doesn't mean ‘women do this’. It’s broader than that. Feminine style indicates that the characteristic traits of the style are softer, group focused and collaborative.
“Feminine style” doesn't mean “women do this”.
Researchers call these traits feminine because they align with characteristics that, from an evolutionary perspective, were important for females to develop.
For example, the skills needed to keep a strong relationship with a spouse, nurture kids and contribute to the community. These are different than the characteristics that were most important for men to develop, such as competitiveness and the ability to protect themselves and others.
Now, let’s break down rhetoric.
Rhetoric is the artform of communicating and persuading an audience. Rhetoric is the thought and planning about how information is structured and presented for optimal impact. Rhetoric applies to both written and spoken communication.
That means that feminine style rhetoric is the style of speaking and presenting that uses traditionally feminine techniques.
It’s likely that some feminine-style traits do come more naturally to women than men, and vice versa for masculine style-traits. But here’s the most important thing to remember: we can use and borrow from both styles, no matter our gender.
Feminine style rhetoric can be extremely effective and powerful when used well.
Feminine style rhetoric is used by both women and men to appeal to a group and motivate a team spirit. It can be extremely effective and powerful when used well.
At its core, what feminine style does is it creates a relationship between the speaker and the audience that is, for the most part, equal. The focus isn’t so much about authority, but rather a shared commitment for a greater good.
When a speaker (or writer) uses feminine style rhetoric, they use a voice that invites the listener to test their personal experiences against what the speaker is saying. When common understanding is found, it creates agreement through identification.
That is so powerful because it motivates the listener to act based on their own experience. This is different than the masculine style rhetoric in which motivation happens through expressing authority or dominance.
“In addition to unifying the audience and generating respect, feminine-style rhetoric helps the speaker claim authority, persuade, and empower the audience, yet in a compassionate manner” (Larner).
Feminine style rhetoric is frequently used by politicians, both male and female, to gain momentum and group buy in during a campaign. As with anything, there are pros and cons* to the feminine style.
*Stay tuned for next week’s post in which we’ll focus on how feminine style rhetoric can go wrong!
When used thoughtfully and specifically, feminine style can bring a group together by finding common ground, a greater purpose and shared responsibility amongst group members.
Four key distinguishers of feminine style rhetoric:
Hedging: This is using statements like, ‘I wonder’ or ‘You know’ at the start of your sentence. Hedging doesn’t have very positive connotations because it comes across as if the speaker is unsure or insecure. But when used well in feminine style rhetoric, it can function more as a suggestion, or a call for the audience to participate in the wondering or consideration.
Tag Questions: The most common tag question is probably, ‘isn’t it?’ Tag questions appear at the end of the sentence to prompt a response. I use these All. The. Time. I actually annoy myself for how frequently I use them. It bothers me because I wonder why I can’t just make a statement and let it be? I crave responses to what I’m saying and it’s evident in how I use tag questions!The positive side of tag questions is that it perks interest and engagement in what you’re saying. People tend to respond, even if it’s just internally, when asked a question.
Inclusive Pronouns: This is the tendency to speak with a group voice. Using ‘we’ and ‘us’ over ‘me’, ‘you’, and ‘they’. This rhetorical device can go a long ways for creating a group bond. But you do need to be careful you don’t use it in a way that assumes information about your audience. More on this one next week!
Weakened Statements: Weakened statements are similar to hedging, but there are subtle differences. For example, words like ‘maybe,’ ‘probably,’ or verbs like ‘could,’ or ‘would’ weaken whatever statement we’re making at the time. These types of words can help build trust between a speaker and the audience. As opposed to stating everything as fact, it represents humility and compassion from the speaker.
Remember, each of these describe a trait of feminine style rhetoric. The important thing to remember is that rhetoric is an intentional art form. As with almost everything, you can use these communication tactics to your benefit or they can have negative effects (hedging, for example). This knowledge can help you understand how the way you use your words affects your audience. I hope it inspires you to develop you rhetoric and possibly use these tactics when it will achieve the right result.
Whether you’re a woman or a man, how do you see yourself effectively/ineffectively using feminine style rhetoric?
Citation: Larner, Lindsay R., "The Role of Feminine Rhetoric in Male Presidential Discourse: Achieving Speech Purpose" 01 May 2009. CUREJ: College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal, University of Pennsylvania, http://repository.upenn.edu/curej/102.