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Genderlect in the TV Show Parks and Recreation


From time immemorial, men and women have communicated using slightly different languages. This observation is accurate for almost all cultures and throughout human history. In some parts of the world, women and men have entirely different styles such that they cannot converse directly with each other (even though they belong to the same tribe). In most instances, the differences between the language that men and women use have been taken as indicative of the social strata that exist in every culture. Specifically, some people believe that women and men use different languages because they are unequal members of society; with men being the dominant players while women have always been the submissive and the inferior players. In this regard, cultural issues and considerations shape the language that individuals use for communication. In places where men and women have clearly defined roles, communication styles among the sexes show significant variations.

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The term genderlect refers to the different styles of communication that men and women have. It is a kind of language dialect that is shaped by the sex of an individual. For example, in day-to-day face-to-face communications, women tend to be more relational-oriented and men more task-oriented in their conversations. Therefore, by looking at discussions in natural settings, one can identify issues that are indicative of the masculinity and femininity of the people engaged in those conversations. In men’s discussions, evidence of status and independence abound. On the contrary, the language that women use tends to show intimacy and connection. Part of the reason for this is that while men have been trained to take the lead, women are mostly dependent on men.

Review of Literature on the Genderlect Theory

The genderlect theory was proposed by Deborah Tannen, a linguistics professor, in 1990. Having specialized in the conversational rituals that men and women have, she published her first best-selling book in 1990, launching the theory (Blair, 2000). The title of the book is “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversations.” Following the successful launch, other scholars have done some work reviewing and providing additional information about the theory. For example, Blair (2000) agrees that when it comes to conversations, men and women have different approaches because they have different desires. The focus of a man’s talk is to show assurance, independence, and leadership in most communities. For women, the focus of conversation in most places is to show respect, dependence, and the willingness to take direction. Part of the reason for this is that in most communities, men are the ones tasked with the responsibility of guiding the family.

For a man to guide his family, he must make crucial decisions affirmatively. Such decisions can only be made unwaveringly. Not surprisingly their communication style has evolved over the years to affirm the changing roles. In many cases, people love to listen to decisive men talking because they seem to know what they say. After all, firmness is characterized by an authoritative diction and status assertion (Galvin, Dolly, & Pula, 2013). The vocabulary used is also firm and decisive. For women in most cultures, the opposite applies. In most cultures, women are expected to talk less and ask for permission from their husbands or fathers before making decisions. Over time, their language has evolved too to reflect these cultural practices (Borry, 2018a). However, as the community continues to change, the vocabulary that men and women use changes too.

People in contemporary society are no longer affected intensely by cultural practices. Increased globalization is one of the reasons for the waning influence of culture on language styles. Globalization has not only brought many different cultures in contact, but it has also eroded individual cultural practices (Blair, 2000). Today, many children are born in foreign lands where they have exposure to new languages distinct from their parents. For instance, Chinese parents can give birth to a child while living in the United States, and the child might grow up speaking fluent English and little or no Chinese. Another aspect of the differences between cultures is intermarriage. As people live in different parts of the world, they may fall in love and marry people from different races and tribes. The children born into such marriages will have no access to an influential culture, and this will show in how they communicate.

Existing literature indicates that the Genderlect theory plays a vital role in understanding the changing circumstances of contemporary communication. According to Tannen (1990), gender is not a determinant of language use per se; it is reflective of roles that people play and the languages they should speak. Since communication is used to express cultural issues and stereotypes, one’s gender will ultimately influence how one goes about conversing and communicating with others. In the past, most communities valued intricate relations and cohesion. Therefore, they did everything possible to ensure a cohesive and collaborative society. One of the ways of ensuring this was creating standards for every member of the community depending on their status. For example, leaders had different standards, and men and women also had their standards. In most cases, such stereotypes were affected by language use.

Today, thanks to globalization, requirements for individuals and organizations to converse in specific ways have been reduced. As women have also become more independent, their language has changed. Today, it is not uncommon to hear people talking about “women who use a masculine” voice and “men who use a feminine voice.” The changing language among men and women shows that how men and women speak is influenced by their role in society; men’s and women’s parts have continued to change in the contemporary world. In other words, if a woman plays a dominant role in society, her language will be indicative of this role (Price, 2017). Similarly, if a man plays a less dominant role in society, his speech will be symbolic of the same issue. Therefore, the observation that men and women have different language rituals is accurate to some extent. However, the leading cause of this language variation is individual responsibilities within the community. Even in the contemporary world, which is more permissive, it is still possible to note a significant difference between men and women in their conversations.

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Review of Literature on the TV Show Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation was a funny political satire that aired from 2009 to 2015 on NBC. The sitcom depicts the ridiculous antics that public officials in Indiana town use as they pursue various projects to improve the cleanliness and appeal of their town. Greg Daniels and Michael Schur created the series. The sitcom starred Amy Poehler, Jim O’Heir, and Nick Offerman among others. According to Barry (2018a), the sitcom is a hilarious and absurd depiction of reality in the current political scene in America. The actions of the main actors and the script followed by them were developed with a clear understanding of contemporary politics and how issues of public interests can be mixed with personal wishes. Although the film uses a subtle example, its focus on political absurdity in the context of American society is evident. The film also shows that while politicians can be friends, their connections and loyalty can be severed by differing political interests and disagreements about the use of public funds.

In the show, language use is used for two specific purposes. The first one is communication with satire. Throughout the show, characters utilize funny language. The satirical nature of the conversations that the stars of the series use ensure that people’s interest in it remains unchanged. For this reason, the series aired for six years. Without a doubt, “Parks and Recreation” illustrates that keeping people’s interest in a TV show takes more than just an exciting story (Borry, 2018b). The language must be catchy; it must have interesting twists and turns. Speech is not just about communication; it is also about the way of passing ideas from one place to another; how one selects his or her words to determine his or her effectiveness in communication. However, it is essential to note that some language choices are wrong because they hinder communication.

As an example, the use of satire can be entertaining if people get the joke. However, it can hinder communication if participants fail to understand each other. Therefore, although there is no guarantee that people will realize the exciting twists and turns in a satirical statement, it is possible to reduce confusion that may emerge from such communication by using non-verbal cues (Galvin et al., 2013). The actions or gestures will indicate that specific comments in a conversation are satirical and should be treated as such to enhance communication. It will help the listener to understand jokes and improve intimacy among individuals. Without the use of different figures of speech like irony and satire, conversations will be dull. In the show, there is an attempt to ensure that every conversation is interesting not only using creative stories, but also an interesting choice of words. The use of provocative language makes people look differently at issues. Therefore, exciting style not only makes people laugh but also stimulates their mental capabilities,

In Parks and Recreation, the language used is not only satirical but also influenced significantly by people’s roles and status in society. For example, men and women in this show tend to have significantly different language preferences. Given the same idea to express, men and women in the show will use words and phrases that are entirely different because they have been programmed by society to look at life differently. One’s attitude in life and perception of things changes their communication approach in significant ways. It also influences their choice of words. However, the assumption here is that men and women have the same vocabulary. Men and women cannot have the same vocabulary, and this means that the choice of words they make during conversations is due to individual language proficiency. The more fluent an individual is at a given language, the better he or she is to express himself or herself. If some form of language barrier exists, the choices that an individual makes in conversation will vary greatly.

Parks and Recreation also show that people in leadership positions and those not in leadership positions use different language approaches. For a leader, one’s words are critical because people take them seriously. Therefore, the leader has to learn how to say things that endear them to people. In most cases, such words have to be neutral for purposes of political correctness. If a leader is careless with his or her words, he or she may get in trouble. For example, a carelessly talking leader may be accused of inciting community members or insulting others. Leaders have to be careful without compromising on their desires and aspirations. A leader can still stand firm and address issues that concern them without worrying about being politically correct.

However, it was also noted that even among leaders, the language that a man uses differs from the one a woman uses. These dynamics show that gender roles over millennia ended up changing how men and women talk in most communities around the world.


For this study, data was collected by watching “Parks and Recreation.” The series has 125 episodes in a total of seven seasons. In the study, the researcher watched all the seasons, carefully analyzing how men and women use language. To ensure increased effectiveness, the researcher considered the language choices, non-verbal cues, and the surrounding conversations. A particular emphasis was placed on specific instances where emotions are involved. For example, how men and women use language during a happy or sad moment was noted. After that, the collected data was analyzed. The analysis looked at the masculinity and femininity of the phrases used by different individuals. Notably, the study of the words was done using semantic approaches. It was difficult deciding the masculinity and femininity of a word.

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Analysis of the words followed immediately after the collection of data. Men and women use different languages because of the way men and women are brought up. Even in the contemporary world, men and women still have different roles in society, and this shapes how they build and use their vocabulary. The analysis was based on a review of six relevant groups of issues. They are connection and status, emotion and rapport, private and public, listening and interrupting, jokes and stories, and conflict. In these six issues, several typically men and women behavior were observed. For example, under the status and connection group, men are seen as using language that affirms their status while women use language that shows a connection. This was observed throughout the series. Always, women were seeking relationships (even in their conversation) throughout the series while men were seeking status. For this reason, some men in the series boasted several times of their achievements, heroic acts, and development. On the contrary, women hardly used language that showed them as being boastful of their economic successes.

Regarding emotion and rapport, it was observed that women were emotional and men focused on rapport. The language that men used in the series tended to avoid challengeable intangibles and embraced solid facts. On the other hand, women talked more about feelings, emotions, relationships, and people. For men, avoiding language that shows emotions was important if they wanted to appear strong (not weak). After avoiding emotions, men throughout the series showed a preference for objectivity, authority, and expert stance so that they were above others. Meanwhile, women were comfortable sharing ideas and connecting emotionally with each other.

To do they, they may use intensifies like “so,” as in, “I am so happy to see you.”

Regarding the private and public groups, the main difference between men and women is in their conversation. Throughout the series, women tended to talk more about private issues like relationships. These private issues, when discussed, helped women to have a connection with each other. On the other hand, men talked more about public issues like relationships in general, politics, and the weather. Men also talk more when in public forums and women less frequently in these such settings. Women prefer to have small, private, intimate conversations with their friends.

In listening and interrupting, women in the series were attentive to their colleagues. Empathy lets them find hooks for connection. In this regard, women in the film tended to listen for an extended period without interrupting the talker. On the rare occasions when they do interrupt, women do so to show support or provide additional information to help the speaker express himself or herself more clearly. The women also interrupted less frequently to ask questions that clarify ambiguous responses or information from the speaker. On the contrary, men throughout the series interrupted conversations so often that at times it was difficult to follow what they were discussing. Seemingly, interruption is a power play that men use to grab people’s attention so that they can demonstrate their status. Men also avoid asking questions because they hate seeming weak and ill-prepared. It was also noted that men could jump from one topic to another as each tries to take the lead in the conversation. For women, a single conversation could continue for a long, establishing connections.

Men in the series, men also tended to use stories and jokes more than women. It was also observed that men that use stories in conversations always have themselves as heroes. Humor is used to trivialize issues and stories are used for emphasis. About jokes, men tended to put others down as if doing so raised their status (as it did sometimes). Women only use jokes and stories to enhance their connections with friends. For example, a woman can tell the story of how she has been hurt, and this approach was evident in the series. Men and women in the film also handled conflicts differently. For a woman, it was observed that the period of conflict represented an opportunity to reduce connection with others. For men, dispute gave them a chance to prove their status.


Undoubtedly, men and women use different languages in daily conversations. The differences in how men and women use vocabulary are caused mostly by cultural issues. Since diction is used to enhance relations, men utilize it to prove their status while women rely on it for emotional connections. Throughout the series, men were using language that tried to affirm their status while women used it to connect with others. The series also uses satire throughout. However, the approach that the characters used varied depending on their gender. For women, jokes and stories are meant to benefit individuals by creating more connections. Men use banters to prove themselves; it was evident in the series.


  1. Blair, H. A. (2000). Genderlects: Girl talk and boy talk in a middle-years classroom. Language Arts, 77(4), 315-323.
  2. Borry, E. L. (2018a). Teaching Public Ethics with TV: Parks and Recreation as a Source of Case Studies. Public Integrity, 20(3), 300-315.
  3. Borry, E. L. (2018b). Linking theory to television: Public administration in Parks and Recreation. Journal of Public Affairs Education, 24(2), 234-254.
  4. Galvin, S. M., Dolly, M. R., & Pula, J. J. (2013). Genderlect and participation in the college English classroom. Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 79(2), 22.
  5. Price, P. (2017). Parks and Recreation: Pilot. Children’s Book and Media Review, 38(2), 23.
  6. Tannen, D. (1990). You just don’t understand: Women and men in conversation (p. 42). New York: Morrow.

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StudyCorgi. "Genderlect in the TV Show Parks and Recreation." December 29, 2021.


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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Genderlect in the TV Show Parks and Recreation'. 29 December.

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