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Chapter 33—Muted Group Theory
- To Cheris Kramarae, language is a man-made construction.
- Women’s words and thoughts are discounted in our society.
- When women try to overcome this inequity, the masculine control of communication places them at a disadvantage.
- Women are a muted group because man-made language aids in defining, depreciating, and excluding them.
- Muted groups: Black holes in someone else’s universe.
- Anthropologist Edwin Ardener first proposed that women are a muted group.
- He noted that many ethnographers claimed to have “cracked the code” of a culture without referencing female speech.
- He and Shirley Ardener discovered that mutedness is caused by the lack of power that besets any group of low status.
- Mutedness doesn’t mean that low-power groups are completely silent. The issue is whether people can say what they want to say when and where they want to say it.
- He claimed that muted groups are “black holes” because they are overlooked, muffled, and rendered invisible.
- Kramarae argues that the ever-prevalent public/private distinction in language is a convenient way to exaggerate gender differences and pose separate sexual spheres of activity.
- The masculine power to name experience.
- Kramarae’s basic assumption is that women perceive the world differently from men because of women’s and men’s different experiences and activities rooted in the division of labor.
- Kramarae argues that because of their political dominance, men’s system of perception is dominant, impeding the free expression of women’s alternative models of the world.
- Men’s control of the dominant mode of expression has produced a vast stock of derogatory, gender-specific terms to refer to women’s speech.
- There are also more words to describe sexually promiscuous women than men.
- The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that muted women may come to doubt the validity of their experiences and the legitimacy of their feelings.
- Men as the gatekeepers of communication.
- Even if the public mode of expression contained a rich vocabulary to describe feminine experience, women would still be muted if their modes of expression were ignored or ridiculed.
- Kramarae points out that both the law and the conventions of proper etiquette have served men well.
- Kramarae observes that most gatekeepers are men—a “good ole boys” cultural establishment that historically has excluded women’s art, poetry, plays, film scripts, public address, and scholarly essays.
- Mainstream communication is “malestream” expression.
- Authors such as Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Smith have argued that women have not been given their rightful place in history.
- Many women have suppressed their feminine identity to satisfy the demands of a male gatekeeper.
- To some extent, Kramarae thinks advances in technology create new spaces where women can make their voices heard.
- But tech executive Eli Pariser notes that these programs are likely to “simply reflect the social mores of the culture they’re processing.”
- Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg believes technology won’t reflect the interests of female users until we have more women in technology fields.
- Speaking women’s truth in men’s talk: The problem of translation.
- Kramarae believes that in order to participate in society, women must transform their own models in terms of the received male system of expression.
- This translation process requires constant effort and leaves women wondering if they said it right.
- According to Kramarae, women have to choose their words carefully in a public forum.
- Speaking out in private: Networking with women.
- Kramarae believes that females are likely to find ways to express themselves outside the dominant public modes of expression used by males.
- She labels women’s outlets the female “sub-version” that runs beneath the surface of male orthodoxy.
- She is convinced that males have more difficulty than females understanding what members of the other gender mean because they haven’t made the effort.
- Dale Spender hypothesizes that men realize that listening to women would involve a renunciation of their privileged position.
- Enriching the lexicon: A feminist dictionary.
- The ultimate goal of muted group theory is to change the man-made linguistic system that oppresses women including challenging sexist dictionaries.
- Traditional dictionaries pose as authoritative guides to proper language use, but because of their reliance on male literary sources, lexicographers systematically exclude words coined by women.
- Kramarae and Paula Treichler have compiled a feminist dictionary that offers definitions for women’s words that don’t appear in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and presents alternative feminine readings of words that do.
- Sexual harassment: Coining a term to label experience.
- The popularization of the term sexual harassment represents a great victory for feminist communication scholarship—encoding women’s experience into the received language of society.
- Although unwanted sexual attention is not new, until recently it went unnamed.
- The battle over sexual harassment is as much a struggle over language as it is over sexual conduct.
- Communication professor Ann Burnett (North Dakota State University) identifies similar confusion and powerlessness regarding date rape—an acute form of sexual harassment often directed at college women.
- Uncertainty favors men—and mutes women—before, during, and after date rape.
- Critique: Do men mean to mute?
- Feminist scholars insist that “the key communication activities of women’s experiences—their rituals, vocabularies, metaphors, and stories—are an important part of the data for study.”
- The theory has inspired many scholars to take the voices of women and other muted groups seriously.
- Few other interpretive theories in this book can claim such wide-ranging support and enthusiasm.
- Steeped in the critical tradition, muted group theory is exceedingly candid about trying to clarify values.
- So, can men be members of a muted group? Kramarae’s answer is yes, especially if those men identify with another marginalized group, such as the economically disadvantaged or an ethnic minority.
- Kramarae acknowledges that oppression is more complex than identification with any one group.
- Her perspective on men’s motives is contested by scholars such as Tannen.
- Kramarae thinks Tannen’s apology for men’s abuse of power is too simple.
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