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Self-Presentation Online: the Gender Aspect

Bondareva Evgeniya Petrovna

PhD in Philology

associate professor of the Department of Foreign Languages, the Russian Language and Literature at Kemerovo Institute (Branch) of the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, Ibrahim Çeçen University of Ağrı

650024, Russia, Kemerovo Region, Kemerovo, pr.Kuznetsky, 39

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Podgornaya Ekaterina Arturovna

PhD in Philology

associate professor of the Department of Foreign Languages at Kemerovo Institute (Branch) of the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics

650024, Russia, Kemerovo Region, Kemerovo, pr. Kuznetsky, 39

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Chistyakova Galina Viktorovna

PhD in Philology

associate professor of the Department of Foreign Languages at Kemerovo Institute (Branch) of the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics

650024, Russia, Kemerovo Region, Kemerovo, pr. Kuznetsky, 39

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Abstract: The aim of the research is gender analysis of communication strategies and tactics by which the Internet users of online dating sites create free-text (without multiple choice option) self-presentations. The data for the study are the profiles made up by Russian and English-speaking men and women aged 18 to 60. The data are analyzed by means of three methods: descriptive, comparative and quantitative. The analysis results show five universal speech strategies: Self-characterization, Addressee’s characterization, Purpose of searching, Representing an ideal situation, Orientation to communication, which are verbalized in self-presentations of both Russian- and English-speaking men and women in online dating sites. Each speech strategy has a certain set of communication and speech tactics that are described from gender position. Furthermore, the authors point out two commonly used speech strategies: Self-characterization and Addressee’s characterization. The researchers conclude that there are no fundamental gender differences in choosing men’s or women’s specific speech strategies. The gender preferences reveal in the choice of tactics, communication and speech.

Keywords: profiler, online dating site, communicative tactics, speech strategy, communicative strategy, gender, self-presentation, speech tactics, universal tactics, gender-based tactics

Modern scientific paradigm gives clear concepts of the relationship between language and gender of its speaker. Gender studies throughout the decades highlight the key points when studying communicative messages of different styles and genres. Widely regarded as the founder of gender and feminist linguistics, Robin Lakoff described the verbal behaviour of women in her book “Language and woman's place” [10]. In national linguistics gender studies is firstly concerned with issues on gender reflected in language use. The aim of this approach is to describe and explain how people of both sexes are manifested in language (nominative system, lexical units, syntax, gender, etc. are primarily investigated), what traits are attributed to men and women and what semantic areas they are most significantly/clearly expressed in. Secondly, researches study verbal and, generally, communicative behavior of men and women with its typical gender strategies and tactics, gender-based specific choice of lexical units, ways to achieve success in communication, preferences in the choice of vocabulary, syntax, etc., i.e. female and male peculiarities of speaking [4; 5].

It seems reasonable to analyze gender differences and correspondences of self-presentation texts, since self-presentation as a special type of communicative message in modern society is one of the most important ways to create one’s own image. American researchers originally discussed timeliness of self-presentation studies, in their works the notions “self-presentation” and “impression management” were used as synonyms. Research publications in linguistics were initially based on the writings of psychologists and sociologists having studied the features of social identity in the process of interpersonal dialogue. The founders of the specified scientific approach are E. Goffman [3], C. Cooley [2], etc.

Despite the necessary skills of drawing up high quality self-presentation texts, not all issues related to the texts construction have been resolved. The article is concerned with communicative and speech strategies and communicative and speech tactics through which free-text self-presentations (without multiple choice option) made up by women and men in online dating sites are represented.

We interpret “communication strategy” as “the outcome the communication act is directed to” [7, p. 320], while “speech strategy” as “a decision on the sequence of speech acts defining the speaker’s speech behavior in terms of choosing the best means and ways to achieve goals” [6, p. 28]. Therefore, the concept “communication strategy” is wider in meaning than the concept “speech strategy”. They correspond to the categories “the whole” and “the part” respectively.

The concepts “communication tactics” and “speech tactics” have the same relations as “speech tactics is a speech act which corresponds to a particular stage in the implementation of a strategy” [8, p. 176], “communication strategy” is “a set of practical steps in the actual process of verbal interaction” [11, p. 98].

This research includes the analysis of gender differences manifested in the analyzed text messages; also it covers some observations made on convergence and divergence in choosing strategies and tactics used by Russian / English speakers. Self-presentations of men and women aged 18 and above presented in the Russian-speaking (trulolo.com, mamba.ru, mylove.ru) and English-speaking (site4dating.com, datingdirect.com, loveawake.com, friendsdatingagency.eu) online dating sites form the factual research base. The base was formed in March-April 2015. The fragment of self-presentation in which a definite strategy / tactics is verbalized is used as a unit of analysis. The data selected for the study were analyzed by means of three methods: descriptive, comparative.

Results and discussion

When creating a self-presentation in online dating sites the Internet users implement only one communication strategy – Searching for a partner. This flagship communication strategy is achieved by several speech strategies: Self-characterization, Addressee’s characterization, Purpose of searching, Representing an ideal situation, Orientation to communication. The analysis of the data has shown that all these strategies are common to the speech of the Internet users of both sexes and speakers of both Russian and English languages. Each of these speech strategies is implemented through a series of communication tactics verbalized by different speech tactics. It is at the level of speech tactics gender and language differences are manifested.

The studies showed that the speech strategy Self-characterization is realized through seven communication tactics that follow.

By using Self-esteem communication tactics, profilers regardless of their gender talk about appearance, character, intelligence, age and family values. Women, to a greater extent, express their attitude to the family describing themselves as mothers: translated from rus. I am happy and the happiness is my only-begotten, darling, little, adorable son! / eng. I have 3 children and I am a really proud mum . Men, in general, talk about family life and express their attitude to the parents: translated from rus. Family is the most important thing in my life / eng. I’m a great friend son, dedicated to family. Men do not focus on the age, but on their material welfare instead: translated from rus. I work and provide enough money to support myself / eng. I have a good and promising career and make good money. While using Self-esteem communication tactics differences in choosing speech tactics among Russian- and English-speaking women were not found. However, differences were present in men groups: describing their appearance English-speaking Internet users talk about the state of health: eng. I am in a very good health, I have never been sick or have health problems ; mentioning the intellectual abilities they pay attention to knowledge of foreign languages: eng. I can speak four languages:English, Estonian, Finnish and Russian.

Choosing the tactics Estimation by another person, women pay attention to appearance, personality, intelligence: translated from rus. My ex partners called me the most sensitive woman / eng. Sometimes guys think my personality is different, like easy to get, immature… . Men describe only their personality traits: translated from rus. My ex partners never say bad about me… / eng. People say I am an affectionate and easy going man .

Implementing Description of lifestyle communication tactics, men and women talk about hobbies and preferences, their relations to other people’s opinions. In addition to the speech tactics mentioned above men report about their law-obedience: translated from rus. Do not drink, do not smoke, has no criminal records / eng. I'm free of crime. Women set themselves in opposition to a partner or communicate about life credos: translated from rus. Love the woman you have created or make her so you will love!!! / eng. A genie could never grant me any wishes. I do it myself!

Both women and men provide Description of real facts of life communication tactics. Men are more open to talk about their age, weight, place of residence, occupation, details of family life: translated from rus. A refugee from Donetsk / eng.My name’s Mauro, I’m 41 years old. I live in province of Lucca in Italy , while women stress their marital status and number of children: translated from rus. I am a therapeutic, I work as a family doctor. I am a widow, I have 2 children living separately from me and having their own families / eng. May 2014: Just completed all the legalities of divorce…

Russian- and English-speaking men actively use Religious / national / racial self-determination tactics. As for the opposite sex profilers, this tactics is used only by English-speaking women: eng. I am a 45 year-old African-American female from Houston, TX USA; I am a Christian whose faith is the basis of my existence.

When evaluating their own image (Image estimation tactics), profilers, regardless of gender and language, use two opposite trends: they either create more positive image of themselves: translated from rus. I do not eager to spend time with someone who does not want to spend it with me / eng. Basically, I’m just a genuine girl looking for a genuine guy ; or more negative image: translated from rus. I am a one-armed man / eng. I am visually impaired but NOT blind . General assessment of the author’s image is very popular in men’s profiles: translated from rus. I am an ordinary guy having my own little quirks and whims / eng. I’m a simple man who wants a serious and good relation .

Communication tactics Offer from both men’s and women’s standpoints can be aimed at physical contact: translated from rus. Let’s meet and have lovely time together? / eng. I give great massages from head to toe! ; communication, based on togetherness with a partner: translated from rus. Let’s become a united puzzle made up of precisely matching parts. It should be noted that the English-speaking men as opposed to the Russian-speaking men also promise to be considerate to a woman, listen and give attention to a woman, observe legal aspects of the relationship with the opposite sex: eng. I respect the women rights .

Realization of the speech strategy Addressee’s characterization is implemented through six communication tactics given below.

The tactics Assessment is used by both men and women. Profilers evaluate an addressee’s appearance and character. Women are interested in parental status and intellectual abilities of a desired partner: translated from rus. The first thing I appreciate in a man is his intelligence / eng. I prefer a man who has kids. They compare desired partners with other men on the basis of their past experience: translated from rus. I want to find a kind, caring and honest man, who helps me to recover from the effects of marriage / eng. I’m looking for a guy who is cute, sweet, caring and not trashy like most guys out there today.

Description of an addressee’s lifestyle is an important factor in evaluating a prospective partner for both sexes. Unlike men, women also pay attention to household and practical habits: translated from rus. A man who does not think that all the housework must be done by a woman is not a man / eng. I do not want a man who NEEDS ‘looking after’ – pick your own socks up!

Religious / national / racial determination of an addressee is significant for Russian- and English-speaking women as well as for men filling in profiles in English: eng. I am looking for Filipino women for friendship as well as possible relationships / Age or color differences do not matter to me at all, as long as she loves me .

The tactics Improving an addressee’s image is common to both men and women and involves an extensive use of expressional lexis and complimentary statements. It is noteworthy that women often turn to some fairy-tale characters as ideals: translated from rus. Where are you my prince, though you are Russian / eng. Looking for prince charming. However, a little bit of irony is present in some profiles: translated from rus. I am now waiting for a prince, I just want to find an all-around nice guy:-)) / eng. Who is my prince on the gray horse???

The tactics Description of an addressee’s specific actions in both men and women self-presentations is implemented either through a description of unwanted actions of a prospective partner: translated from rus. Angels Online would be unloved if they didn’t tell a lie / eng. I am a guy who wants a lady who can flirt but only with good intentions and not play major head games…; or through a description of an addressee’s actions aimed at reaching harmony in future relationship: translated from rus. I want to find my soulmate / eng. Like the one single hand cannot applause I cannot give the best of me if the other person is not on the same wave with me…

Using the communication tactics Taboo in their profiles, authors of both sexes talk about height, weight, having children, place of residence, personal qualities, and relationships with the opposite sex. It is also important for women to point out some acts prohibited towards her: translated from rus. If you seek only benefits from being with a woman, then pass me by; financial matters: translated from rus. Dear GIGOLOS and SPONSORS, don’t waste your precious time on me. I am not so ugly to finance the former and not so poor to «serve» the latter ... / eng. If you want any kind of money from me then you are barking up the wrong tree.

The data gathered in the study suggests that the speech strategy Purpose of searching is qualitatively different from the communication strategy, which is concerned primarily with the main goal-setting of authors of self-presentations: searching for a partner. Following this speech strategy, profilers additionally indicate more specific purposes in their dating profile self-descriptions. Purpose of searching is verbalized through the following communication tactics: Purpose of searching itself, Opposition to past experience.

As an additional purpose, men often state pretty pragmatic things, for example, looking for a travel partner: translated from rus. I like travelling. Are you with me? / eng. Aussie bloke, fresh out of Afghanistan, looking for a motorcycle pillion to accompany me through Scandinavia camping in the summer. No obligations. All you need is your passport! Using this communication tactics, women, on the contrary, tend to reach stability and harmony: translated from rus. Ongoing stable relationship based on mutual trust and attraction! / eng. I want to find stability and happiness. Women can either do not identify any specific goal or indicate a broad range of goals: translated from rus. I want kindness, respect, <…> material wealth. Marriage is not necessary! / eng. I am open to all options.

Both men and women contrast new relationships to their past experience. The experience of family life, a profiler’s attitude to an ex-partner, and profiler’s lifestyle are often negatively characterized: translated from rus. I was married, got divorced and do not want to repeat past mistakes / eng. Divorced. Yes, everybody makes mistakes….; translated from rus. I was a careerist in the past, now I have a regular income and I eager to realize my potential in the family / eng. I have worked more with addicts and their families. This was a very demanding and challenging job. <…> I’m looking for someone who can put the smile back on my face .

The speech strategy Representing an ideal situation is verbalized in textual self-presentations by the following communication tactics: Description of real life situations, Picture of your ideal life.

Description of real life situations is found in profiles of the Internet users of both sexes; the possibility of changing the place of residence and some common hobbies are among the described situations: translated from rus. Let’s sit quietly in a cozy living room in the evenings, as long as we are alive / eng. I would like to meet a nice girl whom I can spend nice time with, chilling out, day outings around London shopping, sightseeing and sharing similar interests .

When describing the desired emotional environment, profilers of both sexes represent an idealized image of living together: translated from rus.I am looking for a life partner who will be with me in sorrow and in joy) / eng. I am one of those men who are ready to love and to be loved, for whom love of a dear family is more precious than any treasure in the world .

The final speech strategies found in the self-presentations of men and women is Orientation to communication . It is implemented through several communication tactics: Orientation to further communication, Refusal of further communication.

The communication tactics Orientation to further communication from the both men’s and women’s points of view can be implemented by means of various channels of communication. A profiler can cause a communication partner to take action by intriguing them: translated from rus. COMMUNICATION. RELATIONSHIP – my phone number is … / eng. I’m on Facebook as James Gibbs so you can look me up and add me if you like. Hope to chat soon .

Using the communication tactics Refusal of further communication allows authors (both men and women) of profiles initially reduce the number of unwanted contacts, refusal of which may be caused by different reasons: political differences, unwillingness to relocate, displaying fake photos, mismatching life principles, age: translated from rus. Pretty girls with pictures from slick magazines, whom are you going to grab in such a way? Is everything so bad that it’s too much for you to show your real photo? / eng. I’m a size 18/20 woman, so if you would like a skinny woman just stop reading my profile now, please!


In the course of the strategic and tactical analysis five universal speech strategies which are typical for men’s and women’s speech of both Russian- and English-speaking users were discovered. Self-presentations in dating sites are verbalized by these five speech strategies, each strategy has a certain set of communication tactics:

  1. Self-characterization: self-esteem, estimation by another person, description of lifestyle, description of real facts of life, religious / national / racial self-determination, image estimation, offer;
  2. Addressee’s characterization: assessment, description of an addressee’s lifestyle, religious / national / racial determination, improving an addressee’s image, description of an addressee’s specific actions, taboo;
  3. Purpose of searching: purpose of searching itself, opposition to past experience;
  4. Representing an ideal situation: description of real life situations, picture of your ideal life;
  5. Orientation to communication: orientation to further communication, refusal of further communication.

Gender differences in the choice of communicative tactics are insignificant, while gender preferences are brightly revealed in speech tactics options.

The statistical analysis shows that the speech strategies Self-characterization, Addressee’s characterization are the most important, essential for profilers. These strategies are presented twice in a profile: in the specified columns in the part with multiple choice option and in a free-text self-presentation part. Summing up the results, it can be noted that these speech strategies have more gender-based differences manifesting in speech tactics.

This paper has developed V. Labov’s idea formulated in 1970-s [9]. The researcher examined gender differences in language using and proved that: there are no fundamental differences, but there is a greater probability that women would prefer one variant and men – the other. The choice depends primarily on social, but not natural factors. Besides empirical studies proved that Russian and English-speaking profilers of one sex use the same speech strategy. Language differences deal with communicative tactics [1].

The speech strategies, communication and speech tactics listed in the article are not surely the full range of tactical and strategic methods used by the Internet users while making self-presentations. Further research may involve discovering some new strategies and tactics. We have ventured to suggest, however, that the fundamental speech strategies Self-characterization, Addressee’s characterization will keep dominant.

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