Heterosexuality, Gender, and Difference: ‘Love Hunting’ Online in Japan

Erika R. Alpert

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


One might assume when heterosexuality is foregrounded, we might see more gender-dichotomous speech. Heterosexuality, and displays of heterosexual identity, are often founded on beliefs about gendered difference, contrast and complementarity between men and women. One manifestation of this in Japan is the idea that men and women both do, and should, speak syntactically and lexically distinct varieties of Japanese. Many variables have been shown by researchers to affect the choices that men and women actually make in speech, but Japanese speakers who fail to adhere to gendered norms, particularly women, still run the risk of social censure (for a comprehensive overview, see Okamoto and Shibamoto Smith 2004, Inoue 2006).

In previous research (Alpert 2014), I found that Japanese professional matchmakers believe the most attractive speech to be polite and considerate—norms associated with women’s speech more than men’s. In new research about online dating, I find that profiles from both genders suggests that dating site users agree with matchmakers. When constructing profiles, nearly all users write in a very standardly polite style, using addressee honorifics, but mostly avoiding the more elaborate referent honorifics often associated with women’s speech. Equally absent are the more plain, “rough” forms said to characterize “men’s speech.” What the writers of these profiles imagine to be most appealing to the reader, then, is not heavily gender-dichotomized speech, but polite speech that works to minimize gender differences. Where, then, is the “hetero” in “heterosexuality”? Why might dating site appeal to their readers using a more androgynous style?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventAmerican Anthropological Association Annual Meeting - Washington, D.C., United States
Duration: Nov 28 2017Dec 3 2017
Conference number: 116


ConferenceAmerican Anthropological Association Annual Meeting
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityWashington, D.C.


  • Linguistic Anthropology
  • Language and Sexuality
  • Digital Ethnography


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