Duels and duets: Why men and women talk so differently

Duels and duets: Why men and women talk so differently. By John L. Locke. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Pp .ix, 241. ISBN 9780521887137. $17.

Reviewed by Ece SevgiYeditepe University

Men duel by intimidating their rivals in competition for the things that they need, while women duet by sharing their intimate thoughts and feelings in harmonious ways to achieve their goals. To John L. Locke, this is how men and women differ in their verbal behavior. Is there a reason that men and women exhibit such differences in the way they talk? Do these differences affect communication between them? Are we influenced by the way we communicate judgments about the opposite sex? The eight chapters in Duels and duets seek answers to these questions, focusing on the terms ‘dueling’ and ‘dueting’ and on how they complement each other.

L’s opening chapter, ‘Speech, sex, and gender’ (1–22), introduces the topic of comparing the communicative interactions between people of the opposite sex to interactions when people are with ‘their own kind’. L claims that men and women experience a clash in their conversations, and he lists some possible causes of this clash. This introduction is followed by two subheadings: ‘Gender and sex’ and ‘Vocal differences’, in which L further discusses from where the basic differences between the preferences of males and females stem by supplying the reader with research findings on learned behavior together with the cultural and biological factors that contribute to these differences.

Ch. 2, ‘Duels’ (23–59), consists of seventeen sections looking into several types of oral duels. The next chapter, ‘Bards, heroes, romeos, and clowns’ (60–75), focuses on solo performances by men and questions the need for dialogue in dueling. Ch. 4, ‘Why do men duel?’ (76–101), as the name would suggest, searches for an answer to the question ‘Why do men consume their energy to run verbal battles against each other?’. The following chapter, ‘Duets’ (102–16), takes the focus off of men and places it on the talk of women. Throughout the chapter, L discusses the goal of the participants involved and the style used in duets, which he defines as ‘[v]erbal interactions involving the mutual exchange of intimate human material…an exchange that occurs in a context of closeness and trust’ (105). In Ch. 6 ‘Complicity’ (117–31) and Ch. 7 ‘Why do women duet?’ (132–61), L investigates the nature of the partnership and harmony observed in the verbal interactions of women. In the final chapter in the book, ‘Collaboration in language and in life’ (162–79), L shows the readers that a ‘clash’ between men and women does not necessarily mean war. Basing his ideas on ‘the opposites attract’ theory, he points out the ways that men and women complement each other.

With clear language, L addresses an audience of different ages and backgrounds. His true talent in writing is revealed in that he takes a seemingly simple issue that has been discussed for decades and, without being heavy-handed, is able to engage the reader.