Synthesis on Language and Gender - Gender Essay Example
Synthesis on Language and Gender
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Hegemony is a concept that has been use to describe dominance of one group over the other. There are also several processes by which a dominant culture maintains its dominant position; they can use the institutions to formalize power, the employment of a bureaucracy to make power seem abstract (and, therefore, not attached to any one individual); the inculcation of the populace in the ideals of the hegemonic group through education, advertising, publication, etc.; the mobilization of a police force as well as military personnel to subdue opposition.
Antonio Gramsci, offered us a definition of the word hegemony, he meant the permeation throughout society of an entire system of values, attitudes, beliefs and morality that has the effect of supporting the status quo in power relations. In this sense, hegemony is defined as an ‘organizing principle’ that is diffused by the process of socialization into every area of daily life. To the extent that this prevailing consciousness is internalized by the population it becomes part of what is generally called ‘common sense’ so that the philosophy, culture and morality of the ruling elite comes to appear as the natural order of things.
As a subject matter, it has increasingly beguiled several philosopher and thinkers. In fact, Gramsci coined the word ‘ideological hegemony’, by which he meant that the majority of the population accepted what was happening in society as ‘common sense’ or as ‘the only way of running society’. People may seek for reforms and improvement but the existing beliefs and values systems underpinning society is seen as either neutral or of general applicability in relation to the class structure of society (Parker 139).
Taking off from this premise, we can surmise that gender typically provide a powerful basis for constructing opposing cultural categories of masculine versus feminine, but the content of these categories is not permanently set, but rather is constructed in an ongoing fashion through the daily practices of social interaction. Furthermore, the notions of gender daily inform cultural behavior in the understandings we bring to social relationships and in turn are constructed by our practices in these relationships, in short, our habitus is engendered (Foley 286).
Gender-relations is a contested cultural category. There are valued styles of speaking associated with men’s activities in the public realm, and this is sometimes denied to women. The male dominance is explicit in this claim. However, this male domination in society or linguistic practices for that matter is being challenge nowadays. In Kiesling study, he argued that the authoritative stances involves in masculinity implicates social hierarchy. Language played an important role in creating and recreating gender identities of male. (251)
In Abu Lughod’s ‘The Romance of Resistance’, the author noticed a significant event, which is of great interest among anthropologists. Abu Lughod is also an eyewitness to the narratives of resistance among the Bedouin women. The women resist marriage, which have been actually arranged for them. (44) This explicitly implicates the negotiation which undergoes in challenging the status quo, which is being upheld by society. This is also an expression of structure vis-à-vis agency debate. Although structures are very powerful and often regarded as hegemonic in all its sense, one cannot undermine the negotiation which is transpiring in our everyday life experiences. Though some theorists downplay the importance of agency and/or individual – Anthony Giddens asserts that:
“We are all the authors of our own actions, no matter whether there be influences which affect us which we do not fully understand, or whether there be consequences of our activities which we do not in any way anticipate (Perry 121).”
The narratives of resistance among Bedouin women are apparently a reverberation of what Giddens claims. No matter how dominant and powerful the structures, the negotiations that are happening reflect challenges being imposed by individuals and/or agencies. The dynamic relationship which is transpiring between society and its individual members contests the current hegemony (Perry 120). It has also been pointed out that linguistics should analyze how various linguistic practices are gendered and how it shapes our ways of thinking about the social world and ordering of social relationships. Females are known to be more vulnerable of the two sexes that is why, emotionally they are more open to discuss their feelings (Foley 289).
Male on the other hand, embodies dominance in terms of linguistic practices. Dominance is expressed and constructed through language, by which, dominance is seen as being “sustained by privileging in community practice a particular perspective on language, obscuring its status as among many perspectives, and naturalizing it as neutral or unmarked (Foley 293).” Masculine is thereby categorized as unmarked or the privilege one, on the other hand, feminine as the marked or the less privilege.
To prove the above premise, one should look at the various realms of linguistic practices and interactions – the domestic sphere of influence as well as the public realm. Women roles’ are often regarded as revolving around the domestic sphere – the childrearing responsibilities are often associated with their roles. Because of this, women are viewed as inferior and less powerful as compared to men. And since men, are free of this domestic responsibility, they are much engage in a wider scope of linguistic practices which is the public realm. Linguistic engagement involves political alliances, religious sects, economic ties and the likes. The universal asymmetry of sexes through development perspective is seen above.
The femininity seems to be acquired in a relatively easy and straightforward manner. The domestic sphere, in which she is reared and nurture, somewhat provide a clear model of what her lifetime responsibility would be. On the other hand, a boy must learn to be a man. The activities which the society is expected him to do such as hunting, political debate among others are largely unavailable in the domestic sphere in which he is being raised. Hence, he is expected to detach himself from this domestic sphere and responsibility rather he should seek outside the domestic sphere in order to establish his identity (Lakoff 153).
The ideology of gender categories is typically enacted in linguistic practices, it is through language that the individual cultural understandings of gender categories are learned and the coordination of gender roles achieved (Foley 289).
Notion of context in linguistic practices
Notion of context is significant in linguistic practices. Considering this notion, women’s speech is stereotype as being more polite as opposed to men. In his article “Language and Woman’s Place”, Lakoff mentioned several linguistic features which are associated with women’s politeness vis-à-vis to men. This is exemplified with the tag questions, which is often used by women. This idea of usage of tag questions implicates the reluctance of women to make assertions and to avoid potential conflicts with her addressees. (49)
Moreover, Lakoff argued that tag questions serves two functions; (1) modal tags, which indicates request information from the addressee and/or confirmation of the truth of a statement from the addressee; example of which are – Lily and Joy went to church, didn’t they? On the other hand another type of it is – affective tags, which shows the speakers concern to the addressee – ‘You didn’t went to that party, did you?
Lakoff on the other hand, classifies affective tags into two types: softeners and facilitative. The former type lessens the criticism or request, Lakoff classified it as negative politeness. The latter, on the one hand, express the speaker’s intention to continue the conversation or positive politeness. (50)
Hence, large majority of men use modal tag questions to gain or confirm information while women, use affective especially facilitative tag questions to develop and encourage conversation. We can also surmise that men use tag questions in order to get information which is of great value and importance relative to statue competition. On the other hand, women, use tag questions to facilitate associations and/or relations (Foley 305).
To substantiate our claim that women and/or girls are typically polite as compared to men and/or boys, Goodwin study of play activities among black children in an urban neighborhood of Philadelphia, argued that boys consistently give orders in blunt form. Sometimes they refuse to execute the order given to them – in effect challenge the status of the one who direct the order. This is an explicit instance of negotiating for relative status: notice that most men postures, challenges and counterchallenges until a hierarchy is settled. He also pointed out that hierarchies in boys’ groups are fluid; what emerged in this task may have been different in another task domain.
Women and/or girls, on the other hand usually use modalized expressions rather than give orders or commands. “Let’s go around Subds and Suds: Come on; Let’s go find some; Maybe we can slice them like that; We gonna paint em and stuff.” (169) These are some examples of modal expressions in girls linguistic practices. Unlike men and/or boys, women and/or girls usually accommodate requests rather than refusing it. It is also important to note that, if a conflict emerged, rather than regarding it as a challenge to status, girls typically reacted with requests for further information.
Intimacy and connection with others using language to establish and maintained these connections is often associated with women. According to Tannen, women avoid direct confrontation and utilize language to suggest actions. They somehow avoid the habit of giving orders instead women are shows more politeness as compared to women. While men, on the other hand make use of language as a weapon to assert themselves, their status and power. Men use language to display their power and skills as well as to defend themselves from the kind of verbal attacks they typically launch to others’ claims to status and power. (151) If, for women, language is the means to forge connections, for men, it is the way to establish positions and ultimately power.
“Stance is defined as the specific interpersonal relationship constructed by talk interaction (Kieslang 251).” With this definition we could then substantiate our claim that linguistic practices involve constructions of power, intimacy, solidarity and politeness. However, Kiesling further argue that ‘stance’ can be interchange with the term ‘footing’, by which, he means that there are speaking roles attributed to particular gender. In effect, people are then expected to choose a particular stance and/or footing when a linguistic interaction occurs.
Tannen, in her study ‘The Relativity of Linguistic Strategies: Rethinking Power and Solidarity in Gender and Dominance’, examines that the tendency of women to be indirect does not necessarily mean that she is powerless. Instead, Tannen perceived this as a sign of power without having to directly express it. (174) Tannen challenged the idea that gender asymmetry in the control of conversational interactions through interruptions doesn’t necessarily suggest dominance in linguistic practice. Tannen, emphasized that what counts as an interruption is really a matter of an analysts interpretation of the interlocutors. She argued though, that speakers from different subcultures may have high-involvement styles of speaking, which display short pauses, fast pacing and what are read as interruptions, but these are often used to reinforce the speaker’s point, rather than contradict him or snatch the floor. Interruptions in such subcultures are not necessarily claims to dominance, but rather assertions of interest and solidarity. (179)
She emphasized a great importance how power and solidarity is being created and/or recreated in the realm of language and gender. One should be aware that there are several factors which affect one’s usage of language. Furthermore, in order to grasp the meaning of language usage in a particular linguistic practice – Tannen suggested that the idea of ‘context’ should be put into consideration. Such context includes; textual, relational and institutional constraints. The manner of speaking as well as both speakers’ interaction of styles with each other must also be taken into consideration. (183)
Unlike sex, gender is a cultural construction, and part of this construction seems to be that women everywhere and their domestic sphere of influence are accorded inferior valuation as opposed to men and their world of public action. This differential evaluation finds articulation in the regard accorded to women’s versus men’s typical linguistic practices in many cultures. The fact that women typically use more prestigious variants is often attributed to their greater linguistic conservatism, but this conservation is really a fact about their social connections in the community, and in some cases this can result in their being the linguistic innovators.
Foley, William A. Anthropological Linguistics: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 2001.
Goodwin, Marjorie H. He-Said-She-Said: Talk as Social Organization Among Black Children. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.
Kiesling, Scott F. “Now I Gotta Watch What I Say”: Shifting Constructions of Masculinity in Discourse.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 11 (2001):250-273.
Lakoff, Robin. Language and Woman’s Place. New York: Harper and Row, 1975.
Parker, John, Leonard Mars, Paul Ransome and Hilary Stanworth. Social Theory: A Basic Tool Kit. New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2003.
Perry, Richard J. Five Key Concepts in Anthropological Thinking. Upper Saddle, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003.
Tanne, Deborah. The Relativity of Linguistic Strategies: Rethinking Power and Solidarity in Gender and Dominance.
Tannen, Deborah. You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. New York: Ballantine Books, 1990.