Research on Male/Female Politeness
In our society we have many expectations for both genders in terms of the way they speak and act. Not all individuals of their respective gender (male or female) tend always perform the way they are expected, many times consciously and on purpose and others unconsciously and unintentionally. This expected gender roles that are performed through language and actions reveal a lot of the gender asymmetries in our society. Many of these asymmetries are revealed in the ways in which levels of certainty and uncertainty are expressed in people’s speech.
Moreover, face threatening acts and strategic ways to use politeness are means in which people some times displayed the expected genders and is also ways in which they break those societal expectations as well. In the second presidential debate we witness many ways in which the candidates and the moderator display and some times break this gender expectations. This is also where we can see many different communicative strategies that all parties use.
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Regardless of all the pressure that Crowley had over being a firmer mediator than Jim Lehrer, some of her and the candidates’ language strategies support a lot of the societal gender expectations, but some of it does not. In the first clip we see Candy Crowley using negative politeness in her speech when she says, “Governor, I gotta, I gotta”. She is supporting his negative face because she is yielding (deference) to Romney by calling him by his title as “Governor”.
In our society, I think it is safe to say that this type of speech is expected of Crowley because of her gender but also due to the formality of the debate. In this specific part she is using negative politeness and it is evident from the way she was supporting his negative face by calling him “Governor”. However, Romney completely diminishes her authority as moderator when he choses to ignore her and continue to talk. Crowley later uses positive politeness when she says “I understand the stakes here, I understand both of you”.
In this part she is empathizing with both of them as a means to be polite and to settle both of the candidates down. In this case because she is empathizing with them she is supporting their positive faces. Later she goes back to using negative politeness to mediate again when she says, “I will get run out of town”- deflecting the responsibility to the crowd. In this exert she finishes by once again using negative politeness when addressing Obama and says,“Mr.
President, we are keeping track, I promise you”. Here once again she is supporting Obama’s negative face like how she initially did with Romney but but in that same sentence she is also reasserting her authority as the moderator. In this case, Obama ends up acknowledging her authority by quickly uttering, “okay”. This whole switching back and forth with positive and negative politeness relates back to Browns article “How and why are Women More Polite: Some Evidence from a Mayan Community”.
In this article he hypothesizes that in societies where women are in an inferior and powerless position they will tend to use more negative politeness and in societies where the men tend to control the public sphere (politicians) that they would use more positive politeness. Furthermore, Crowley uses negative politeness three times and positive politeness once as part of her speech strategies. As Brown would probably conclude, Crowley is being put in a more powerless position, regardless of her being the moderator, and that the ones controlling the floor (public sphere) in this situation are both of the male candidates.
Regardless of how sexist the societal assumptions may be, her speech in this clip supports the expectations people in our society would have of a female moderator- lacking control of the debate and being powerless. In clip seven we see Crowley using a less assertive communicative strategy at first. She uses a more uncertain kind of speech when she is talking to Romney about being off topic and she says, “we are sort off way off”.
Here we can see her use what Lakoff calls “Women’s Language” which is later corrected by Obarr and Atkins as “Powerless Language”. She only hedges that Romney is way off which is a very passive way of calling it to his attention. In other words she is using powerless language to convey the message to Romney. Interestingly enough, soon after she notices that she fails to gain control, she attempts to be more assertive by using more negative politeness with a lets/we directive that she already had used in her softer earlier statement.
She repeats this negative politeness but in a more assertive way by taking out the “sort off”- “we are way off”. Notice that she was not off topic but she included her self anyway. However, in order to save both of their negative faces she includes her self. At the end she uses appreciation to request for Romney to settle down, which in a polite way she is exercising her authority as a moderator when asking him to sit down. This also obviously threatens Romney’s negative face because she is ordering him to sit down.
What I later found even more interesting is that this less assertive speech was also adopted by both of the male debaters. When Obama said, “wow wow we’re a… li’l off”, he was also directing the fault of getting off topic to all of them and not to one individual, which is the same negative politeness that Crowley used. This also goes back to Obarr and Atkins article on how this powerless language is not only a women’s language. Later we even see Romney begin to use that same directive strategy when he says “so let’s”.
I do however find the need to acknowledge that the debaters choice of words may have been influenced by the moderator’s words- meaning that they may have used “we” and “let’s” simply because that’s what the moderator chose to use first. However, this is still supports Obarr’s argument that passive and polite speech which was referred to as women’s language by Lakoff, is really a the powerless language because not only she was using it but both Obama and Romney were using it with each other as a means to be retain their politeness.
This was one of the communicational strategies that they both used to avoid singling anyone out. On the excerpt of clip nine where Romney said “I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror=” we see the levels of politeness drop more from Romney’s part by questions Obamas comments on the attack. Moreover, in this particular part Romney threatens Obamas positive face by attempting to criticize what he suggested that Obama had said.
The ironic part is that Obama punches back after Romney is fact checked by Cowley by requesting to “Get the trans[cript. ”. This request in it of it self is not only threatening Cowley’s positive face, but it is also threatening Romney’s negative face because he is attempting to correct him by checking the record. As Crowley fact checks what Obama actually said, Obama ends up stealing the floor from Romney for a little bit when he says to Cowley, “[Can you say that a little [louder, Candy? ”. This becomes more evident as the crow starts clapping.
At the end it is Candy Crowley who ends up gaining control of the debate by fairly stating, “He did call it an act of terror. It did as well (. ) take (. )it did as well uh take uh two weeks or so: ah for the whole idea there being a riot out there about this tape uh to come out. You’[re correct about that. ” By her giving Obama credit for calling it an act of terror but at the same time giving Romney credit for how long it actually took Obama to do it, she is exercising her authority as moderator and letting Romney have the floor to finish off his argument.
In many ways Candy Cowley had a lot of pressure on her to be a good and firm moderator, but at the same time she was also bounded by the fact that she grew up in our society in which powerless language tends to be more predominant in women. Therefore, it was not surprising to me that a woman of her status would end up performing different gender expectations. Moreover, both candidates did not seem prepared at times when she was very assertive- specially Romney. Though she did a better job at controlling the situation than Jim Laher, bot of the debaters still talked over her a lot and did take control over her many times.
I do question how this scenario would have been in a different and less formal environment because a lot of the politeness that all individuals used was very much influenced on where they were at and not much on their gender. Finally, the whole debate seemed to me like a constant struggle for who would control the floor and for Cowley to prove her self as a good moderator by re establishing her mediator’s authority in the debate every time she would request the participants to settle down.