By Liv Stephens
It’s time to talk about a little bit of Monica, Erica, Rita, Tina, Sandra, Mary, and Jessica.
Lou Bega was definitely not afraid of name dropping when he wrote the jive pop 1999 classic Mambo No. 5. However, the song has us vibing for more than one reason; it promotes female autonomy!
No, it’s not a trap. You see, research suggests that male and masculine voices address women using language that identifies women through their relationships with other people. It is almost never done with malicious intent, and research basically chalks it up to a style of speech that men learn by talking with other men called “attachment erasure”and it looks kinda like this:
“This is so-and-so, she’s that one dude’s __________ [girlfriend/roommate/sister/cousin/ hookup/friend/classmate/dog groomer]”
“Oh, I know you! You work for/with ______ [the name of your sweaty co-worker] ”
You may not have even noticed it before, but everyone does it to everyone. It’s hard to not fall into this language pattern. The problem is that references to women are much more likely to use attachment erasure than references to men. This means that womens’ networking looks and sounds a lot different than mens’.
Here’s the deal: generally speaking, we prefer to network with people who we like. And research indicates that we like people more when we perceive them to be similar to us. It’s called the principle of homophily.
Here’s why that matters: A 2006 study conducted by Vasilyeva and Doerfel interviewed and surveyed employees of a retail company to study differences in the ways that guys, gals, and androgynous pals communicate. Among the tsunami of relevant findings they uncovered, they found that women need a higher degree of homophily (aka social sameness) than men do when networking with men in their field. As in, women need to be seen as similar to the man they are talking to in order for social attachments to form. Unfortunately, this “one of the guys” feel is confirmed through statements of attachment erasure.
Men, on the other hand, do not need need to establish similarity through others to affirm their attachments in the workplace, and can instead assert their sameness through personal characteristics such as similar goals, activities, or achievements.
A 2016 article by Susan Durbin explains that mentor relationships that involved at least one woman were only reported to form between those who already had common social connections, often initiated through a statement of attachment erasure.
This might look like:
“Oh, you’re Linda’s cousin!”
“Hey, did you work for Tom over at Company Inc.?”
Men, on the other hand, were able to create mentoring relationships via activities and hobbies both internal and external to the workplace.
That might look like:
“Hey, did you also go to Expensive University?”
“Were you the guy who gave that presentation at that conference last week?”
You get the picture.
So, what does this mean for women? Women must focus especially on their social credentials, and not their personal credentials, to boost their networking abilities. The semi-unfortunate truth is that who they know may be more important than what they know. In order to regain their autonomy, women must establish personal similarities (or what the research calls attachments) instead of social attachments through other people.
We can all help close this attachment gap by referring to people of all genders using their personal characteristics, instead of their social connections.
Bega said it best: you “must stay deep, ‘cuz talk is cheap.”
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