“Sex, Lies and Conversation” is an article written by Deborah Tannen and published in The Washington Post. The article’s main thesis is that communication is a significant issue in relationships, especially in marriage, and this issue actually begins far before the marriage even starts. In “Sex, Lies and Conversation,” Tannen points to childhood behavior patterns in both genders and establishes various reasons why communication differences occur in marriages. This paper will take a rhetorical approach to “Sex, Lies and Conversation” and argue that despite a few missteps, Tannen is largely effective in her writing. Further, this paper will show that Tannen’s effectiveness is derived from her background, her use of credible sources, and her ability to effectively use emotional appeals.
Following the conclusion of “Sex, Lies and Conversation,” The Washington Post lists Deborah Tannen as a “professor of linguistics at Georgetown University” (Tannen, 1). This is very helpful in establishing the credibility of the writer of the article. Tannen has a degree in linguistics from an established and highly regarded university. In the mind of the average reader, seeing a credible university next to the name of an article’s author gives that author a valuable amount of clout and authority. Further, Tannen’s degree was achieved in the field of study that is the topic of focus in “Sex, Lies and Conversation.” The footnote following the conclusion of “Sex, Lies and Conversation” also mentions that the article itself is adapted from Tannen’s book “You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships.”
“You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships” was published by a credible publishing house, Ballantine Books, which provides Tannen with further credibility and trustworthiness. In fact, by all accounts and inspections into Tannen’s status as an author and into her previous work, she is a very credible author. Tannen has written and published multiple books (in addition, these books’ subject matters are concerned with the subject material of “Sex, Lies and Conversation”) and has had her work featured in The New York Times, Time Magazine, The Atlantic, National Public Radio, Harvard Business Review, and The Washington Post (where the article “Sex, Lies and Conversation” appears). Finally, it is important to note that The Washington Post is a more liberal-leaning paper. While “Sex, Lies and Conversation” is not a political article, it is possible that the article might be interpreted differently by readers with differing political leaning simply because it appears on a more liberal website.
However, despite all of this credibility, Tannen begins “Sex, Lies and Conversation” with an unsubstantiated anecdote that is merely intended to appeal to the emotions of the reader. At the very begging of “Sex, Lies and Conversation,” Tannen tells the reader a story about “a small gathering in a suburban Virginia living room – a women’s group that had invited men to join them” (Tannen, 1). Tannen’s story highlights stereotypical communication disparities between men and women, in which men talk more in public while women talk more in private. The anecdote uses key words such as “hurt,” “silence,” “quickly,” and even “havoc” to establish the severity of this disparity in inter-gender communication.
It is clear why Tannen included this virtually meaningless anecdote; Tannen wants to engage the reader from the very start and persuade the reader to be emotionally invested in what she wants to present in the rest of the article. Certainly, Tannen employs this appeal to emotion very well. While Tannen strings in a few, small emotional appeals throughout “Sex, Lies and Conversation,” such as when she writes the sentence “a woman expects her husband to be a new and improved version of a best friend,” her article is largely based on peer-reviewed evidence and credible sources. Tannen does not need emotional appeal to be an effective writer, but she employs emotional appeal in order to gain the reader’s attention.
Tannen is very effective in her essay. Tannen provides the reader with information from numerous studies as well as observations from credible sources. Tannen’s most compelling piece of supporting evidence comes when she writes about male and female eye contact during conversation. Citing her own research of psychological videotape, Tannen demonstrates to the reader that disparities in inter-gender communication begins very early, with males facing diagonally during conversation and females facing face-to-face. This piece of information, as well as numerous other pieces of information in “Sex, Lies and Conversation,” help support Tannen’s overall point. However, despite Tannen’s ability to provide the reader with easy-to-read sociological facts and information from research, she occasionally commits logical fallacies.
The most glaring fallacy occurs early on in “Sex, Lies and Conversation” when Tannen writes about divorce, beginning with the sentence: “Sociologist Catherine Kohler Riessman reports in her new book ‘Divorce Talk’ that most of the women she interviews … gave lack of communication as the reason for their divorces” (Tannen, 1). This is certainly is an important insight. However, Tannen commits a logical fallacy when she follows up the above sentence with: “Given the current divorce rate of nearly 50 percent, that amounts to millions of cases in the United States every year – a virtual epidemic of failed conversation” (Tannen, 1). Tannen falsely generalizes that marriage conversation woes account for or could account for up to 50 percent of divorces in the United States. Further, she establishes this determination based on women’s interviews from a single source, which excludes other studies as well and the entire male gender.
- Tannen, Deborah. “SEX, LIES AND CONVERSATION.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 24 June 1990, www.washingtonpost.com