April 26, 2005

Language and gender: the cartoon version

Simon Baron Cohen has been promoting the idea that autism is a symptom of an "extreme male brain" -- runaway male-associated systematic and analytic thought with associated deficits in female-associated social and empathetic processing. It makes me nervous when a scientific theory lines up so nicely with current cultural stereotypes. An earlier Language Log post featured Marcel Just's alternative idea -- that autism is lack of neurological coordination. And a year ago, I discussed some examples of the problems that come up when scientific research engages gender stereotypes about language use.

Today, we'll look at some cartoon versions of these ideas.

Yesterday, Tank McNamara got his first lesson in the International Women's Code:

...and today he verified the translation:

A couple of weeks ago, Sara Toomey demonstrated Jeremy Duncan's social and interactive cluelessness (from Zits):

Finally, Deadlock. This is a wonderful account of dating as game theory, by Dan Zettwoch. It which was previously discussed on Language Log 11/24/2003, but deserves to be linked again.

There are hundreds of similar examples out there -- 10-20% of all Cathy strips, for a start. For example, this year's Cathy series on income tax preparation (an annual feature) began on April 3 with a strip about gender styles

and ended on April 16 with another one:

With so much evidence to support them, how could these ideas be wrong?

Posted by Mark Liberman at April 26, 2005 07:46 AM