Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Gendered Language

I never realized how much language, something that is all around us everyday, can shape gender roles. In his presentation, Mr. Robertson clarified how gender refers to our role in society, while sex is biologically determined. This role in society is something that is learned at a very young age, often times from parents, which can be seen in the gifts that they give their children and the way that they dress them. For example, we discussed how little girls are given Barbies and wear dresses and bows so that they appear “cute,” while boys are given toys such as G.I. Joe and wear sports-themed clothing. From a very young age, our society is conditioned into stereotypical gender roles. According to the article we read, “powerful differences in ways of talking often develop by age 3.” It also explains how in American society, men use language to assert independence and social hierarchy, while women criticize each other for trying to stand out or appear better. Implications of this could be seen in the study of creative writing of second graders, where the boys’ stories focused on contest and individual victories, while the girls focused on joint action, conflict resolution, and reinforcement of societal norms. While it may seem trivial in a second grade classroom setting, we learned how the difference in language between genders can have an important impact later on in life when we discussed performance reviews. In a study conducted by Stanford, they found that in a review of a female employee, it was much more likely to hear appraisal for her nurturing styles and team efforts, while getting criticism for aggressive styles. To contrast, men were only criticized if they were too soft, or not aggressive enough, in their communication, and were praised for expertise and vision. The conclusion of the study was that language shapes perceptions of others, and the differences in language used to describe men and women employees in performance reviews is one of the reasons that women receive fewer promotions, and therefore cannot excel as much as their male counterparts in the workplace.

When discussing the conflict that language creates in the workplace, Afoma brought up how women tended to not argue for a higher salary, even if they deserved a higher one, because women are conditioned to not be aggressive, and are criticized when they are. This reminded me of an episode of Grey’s Anatomy when the protagonist, Meredith Grey, was given a new contract after being promoted to chief of general surgery. After talking to her coworkers, Meredith discovered that her salary was far lower than it should have been in comparison to their salaries. It turns out, Meredith’s boss intentionally did this so that Meredith would come in to demand the salary she deserved to teach her how to be more assertive. I thought this connected nicely to our discussion, and also shows a contrast between the show and reality (according to the Stanford study) because being assertive and declarative is something women typically receive criticism for.

The aspect of Mr. Robertson’s presentation that I found most intriguing was how it is both men and women who use language in such a way that it pushes us further into typical gender roles. In my family, my mom prides herself on never cursing, while my dad will say whatever swear word comes to mind without thinking twice. Often times, we will hear my brother playing video games with his friends, dropping an F-bomb pracitcally every other word. My mom is never really bothered by this, and has said she thinks it is a normal way for boys to talk to each other. On the other hand, if my sister or I swear in front of my mom, she does not get mad at us, but tells us that she wishes we would not swear because it is unattractive and not how girls should talk. This is a good example of how it is not just men who are telling women what they should or should not say, but that women, too, create the difference in genderlects.

I agree with Lakoff’s thesis that females are taught at a young age that they can’t speak strongly, and that they are not allowed to assert their will as much as a male. The use of the word “like” and turning declarative statements into questions to soften assertiveness is something I know that I myself do, but I never realized why until now. I think that now, I will definitely take more notice to the way I communicate with others and the way others communicate to me because, as Mr. Robertson concluded, language is everywhere, and there are distinct differences in the ways that different genders use it.

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