Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus

Rebecca Kemp

For my fourth and final blog posting, I wanted to explore the greater differences between men and women in their communication, adding on to my last blog posting As Otto Santa Ana describes in his text, “Brown Tide Rising: Metaphors of Latinos in Contemporary American Public Discourse”, often language is constructed as a barrier in which he refers to bilingual children in United States’ schools. The student’s Spanish in these schools is seen as a barrier to their English learning and thereby their education as a whole, as Ana exemplifies: “The only path to professional success is fluency in English, and prolonging the transition from Spanish just impedes children, he said” (208) taken from Rick Ledesma. Professional success is only achievable through learning English, and in this instance, Spanish is seem as a blockage in order to achieve success. What I want to do in this blog posting is complicate this assertion, and unpack it outside of the academic world: what of the language barrier between men and women, for instance?

In the cartoon depicted above, two women are seen conversing about their relationships and the women on the left’s previous boyfriend. This woman asserts that their relationship did not work out because of their “communication barrier”, which prompts the other woman to ask whether her boyfriend spoke another language. The first woman replies, “No, he was an idiot”. What is interesting to me is if you consider their communication barrier not so much as because of stupidity, but because of the gendered language barrier: they simply did not communicate in the same way and this, therefore, led to the demise of their relationship. I first initially reflected on the difference between men and women’s language in my post about code switching and how it is necessary for women to code-switch in order to communicate better with men. Can this be taken a step further, however, in the sense of the quote from Rick Ledesma, in which this language barrier must be eradicated in order to achieve success within our relationships (i.e. must one genderized form of language be abolished or deemed as an impediment, such as the insistence that Spanish inhibits bilingual students from succeeding in the English speaking world?)

This cartoon imagines the problems between Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to not be one of sin and disobeying of God, but of a language barrier. The caption insinuates that the “world’s first language barrier…came much earlier than the Tower of Babel”. For those unfamiliar with the Tower of Babel in the Old Testament, basically the story goes that the people of Babylonia wanted to build a tower that would reach Heaven, and at this time, everyone spoke the same language. God decided to disrupt their efforts and to make it impossible to communicate with one another and thereby build the tower—he forced everyone to speak a different language, leaving the tower unfinished and these people speaking in different languages, unable to complete the tower. What I find most interesting about this cartoon is the insinuation that language was a problem long before the actual creation of different languages, if you follow the history of the Old Testament: that perhaps the communication barrier between Adam and Eve was the original language barrier. In the cartoon, Adam and Eve are both seen questioning whether the other speaks differently: “Sometimes, I think you speak a totally different language!” Relying upon the assumption that Adam and Eve spoke the same language, this infers that the difference in speech between Adam and Eve, between man and woman, was what lead to original sin.

To shift a less religious and more cultural example, take Dr. John Gray's book "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus".
The book promises to understand the opposite sex through a variety of ways, one being to break down the communication barrier that exists between men and women. Echoing the sentiments of the book, “Code Switching” that I mentioned in my last blog post, this book relies upon the inherent differences in communication between men and women and ways to overcome this language barrier. Chapter 5, for instance, entitled “Speaking Different Languages”, (among other gems such as “Women Are Like Waves” and “Men Are Like Rubberbands”) Behold an excerpt from this chapter found on Google Books:
The supposed language barrier that exists between men and women causes meanings and connotations to be confused and thus a failed relationship in regards to communication. What I find interesting is to seek the parallels between the performance of the bilingual students that Otto Santa Ana mentions in his piece and the success of couples together—their forms of communication prevent them from achieving success in their endeavors (whether passing a test or program in an English speaking school or having a meaningful relationship). Gray spends much of this chapter translating between “Venusian” (the language of women) and “Martian” (the language of men), such as the following translation:
What I think Dr. Gray’s book inevitably leads to, however, are generalizations—generalizations that may not represent the majority of situations, generalizations that are based off of claims that are differing and not consistently true. This can be said for the misconceptions about language acquisition and bilingual children in general. In Ana’s piece, children who do not speak English are seen as having a barrier to overcome, their Spanish a hindrance—but as Ana claims, “how can language be a barrier and problem if it is commonly recognized that all normal children, by their nature as human beings, fully acquire the languages they need to use, without schooling or any particular training at all?” (208). The assumption that men and women speak differently, despite whatever “scientific” evidence is provided, is often flawed and incorrect—these assumptions are based on myths, much in the same way that another language for children learning English is a barrier. So now, my fellow bloggers, the question is how we can reconceptualize these myths that are so prominent in American society in a way that imagines them differently; that men and women perhaps aren’t so different in their speech, and that bilingual children do not have a “language barrier” to overcome so much as the inconsistencies within the United States’ school system.

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