Silence is Golden, But Only for Women

Women Prefer Men Who Look Like Dad

In the land of romance, ladies might do well to shut their traps, while men can continue to blab.

That's the message of new research revealing that both men and women judge harshly couples in which the guy is a timid talker and the gal dominates conversations and shows assertiveness.

The scientists suggest gender stereotypes are to blame for study participants' negative views of couples breaking the mold.

"We reasoned because men are expected to be in a position of power over women, couples in which the woman is verbally dominating the man would be rated more harshly than couples that adhere to the traditional role," said lead author Jennifer Sellers, assistant professor of psychology at Green Mountain College in Vermont.

Past research has found such mismatched couples (those that violate gender-role stereotypes) tend to be less satisfied. In the current study, published in the October issue of the journal Sex Roles, the researchers investigated whether gender-role expectations play a role in the dissatisfaction.

Couple dynamics

Sellers and her colleagues had 95 students (about equally split between men and women) watch either four videos of married couples in which the woman was verbally assertive or four videos with a verbally assertive man. Participants rated each actor's competence, likeability, and desirability as a friend.

Here's what the actors in the four videos did:

  • The verbally assertive spouse discusses a conflict between him or herself and a family member.
  • The more submissive partner causes the couple to be late for an engagement.
  • The more submissive partner discusses a conflict with a faculty member and how the partner doesn't express anger and instead just says nothing.
  • The couple is in a kitchen and the more submissive partner gets angry. Instead of saying anything, he or she tosses down a dishtowel and leaves the room.

Both men and women were more critical of the couple when the female partner was verbally assertive. They also viewed the submissive men as less competent than their loquacious counterparts.

But when the roles switched and women bowed out of talking while men stood up to the plate, participants reported liking the couple, and they gave high competence scores to the men.

Who wears the pants?

Whether or not we like to admit it, Sellers said, we take heed of gender stereotypes. And these societal limits can hurt both men and women alike. A recent study found that women are expected to miss more work than men, a societal view that could foster workplace discrimination.

"We have these gender stereotypes where we expect men to be dominant and assertive," Sellers told LiveScience. "And if they're not out there speaking and taking charge of situations they're accused of not being a man."

While talk time doesn't directly equate with dominance in a relationship, they are linked.

"If you are talking more often, you are getting your ideas heard more," Sellers said. "You are just taking over more of the air time. So they are kind of correlated in that sense."

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.