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The recent furor over women reporters interviewing male athletes in the locker room raised again the centuries-old issue of how men and women relate to one another. The church, of course, has also struggled with this question.

On one hand, we find people who want to minimize the differences between the sexes. The National Football League considers gender differences less important than providing equal (and immediate) access to interviews for the post-game show.

On the other hand, differences between the sexes provide a steady source of material for stand-up comics ("When a woman behaves like a man, why doesn't she behave like a nice man?") as well as for serious researchers.

Both traditionalists and feminists are taking seriously the work of Georgetown University linguist Deborah Tannen, whose most recent book, You Just Don't Understand (Morrow, 1990), explores the different conversational styles and unspoken "metamessages" sent and received by women and men.

While admitting many individuals ...

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