Gender plays a fairly important role in regards to communication and its effectiveness and nuances. This fact is largely due to the immense value which people have always placed upon language, which can be thought of as a means of identifying and, in some instances, even defining what it means to be of a particular gender since "communication is thought to be, at once, the process by which we learn to be male or female, and the product of our attempts to behave sex appropriately" (Arliss, 1991, p. 10). In the 21st century in particular, communication has increasingly become attached to the concept of computer-mediated communication, in which the dimensions and boundaries of communication take on subtly different aspects that are not found in everyday, face-to-face communication. The 1998 major motion picture release You've Got Mail exemplifies a number of these facets of computer-mediated communication, and also illustrates a number of other communication theories (such as attribution theory and social penetration theory) that take on important connotations related to the idea of gender. While some of these concepts are expressly related to social dimensions of gender, communication and culture, others are relevant to notions of communication and gender in general and provide excellent examples of the aforementioned vocabulary terms and theories.
As the name of the film implies, You've Got Mail is a virtual case study for computer-mediated communication, especially when one considers that the title is a direct reference to one of the most popular platforms for email at the close of the 20th century, America Online. Essentially, the film depicts a romance between Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly that is largely developed through one of the most accessible forms of computer-mediated communication (which is, essentially, the linguistic interaction of two or more people via computers), email. While the pair are able to enjoy an online romance that is devoid of many of the complications and peculiarities of actual life (and is somewhat fantastic or romantic in that regard), their relationship is soon complicated by their conflicting professional interests as rival bookstore owners. However, largely due to Fox's resourcefulness and email savvy, he is able to salvage what begins as a poor personal relationship with Kelly in person to restore the pair's romance so that they eventually are able to enjoy it in the physical world as well as online.
Because of the unrealistic nature of computer-mediated communication, several of the problems that would eventually envelop Fox and Kelly in person were able to develop. Computer-mediated communication is all verbal, and in the beginning it enabled Fox to overcome some of the traditional roles that women encounter in relationships with men. She is able to be assertive and even somewhat demanding, if not outright aggressive, when she meets Fox's online persona, "NY152," and sets all of the boundaries of the online relationship that includes no revealing of each other's real names, or any other information related to career, class, physical location, or families. Such a demanding, assertive presence in verbal communication has traditionally been reserved for males and is due to a difference in worldviews between the sexes, as the following quotation indicates.
This is due, at least in part, to differences in the way men and women generally look at the world. Therefore, it is no coincidence that women see talk as the essence of a relationship while men use talk to exert control, preserve independence, and enhance status. The ways in which concepts of social relationships (and their accompanying communication patterns) differ between genders are parallel to gender differences in world view (Mulvaney, 2005).
However, because of the artificial environment provided by computer-mediated communication, Kelly is able to take on gender roles assigned to both men and women. She is the one who preserves "independence" and "exerts control" by assigning the boundaries of the relationship, while still being allowed to engage in talk as the "essence" of the relationship.
Additionally, due to the very nature of computer-mediated communication, it provides a great opportunity for social penetration theory. Social penetration theory is the concept that relationships oftentimes start off slow and eventually develop to points of greater intimacy. During the beginning stages, however, it is not uncommon for there to be boundaries set and for each person involved to be careful about what information they…