In Gloria Anzaldua’s text, Borderlands: La Frontera, chapter five is entitled, “How to Tame a Wild Tongue.” In it, she deals with the notions of what constituted women over-stepping their bounds in her Mexican upbringing. She discusses her natural inclination to speak and question, and how it was perceived as improper and out of turn. She describes and array of derogatory terms that meant gossip, liar, and big mouth, that she had only ever heard aimed at women. One example of this culturally enforced male/female inequality that she gives is the use of nosotros, a masculine pronoun to mean we, whether the speakers were male or female. It wasn’t until she was older that she heard two women of different origin using the feminine nosotras. She explains: “Chicanas use nosotros whether we’re male or female. We are robbed of our female being by the masculine plural,”-- her conclusion: “Language is a male discourse,” (76).
What I find so striking about Anzaldua’s text is that while it is meant to describe the inequalities rooted in her class-specific, ethno-specific, racially specific experience, it is representative of a more general, gender-based inequality, present in language and communication that transcends all of those categories.
A few weeks ago, in class, we embarked on a mission to identify biological presumptions about men and women the social implications of those presumptions. The discussion was inspired by one of our classmates’ blog posting on about a book called Code Switching: How to Talk so Men Will Listen, in which two Ph.D.’s illuminate their audience about the biological obstacles and deficits that plague communication between men and women. In the interview we watched with one of the authors, she cited patterns of early and high volume language acquisition as proof positive that we, (as women), are biologically destined to tell stories when we are asked a simple question. Additionally, the size and development in different regions of our brains provided “biological proof” that men are more logically and literally driven.
The problem with this argument is that it presumes a direct relationship between biology and its social effects, without accounting for the thousands of years of social roles projected on to the respective sexes. Masculinity and femininity are highly cultural concepts—concepts that have historically called for women to accommodate men. We see this both is the way it is natural for both men and women to use the masculine “we” in Anzaldua’s text, and the premise for the book, Code Switching, is that women need to learn the proper way to approach talking to a man.
I think that this concept of accommodation is also very pronounced in the reportage of many women’s magazines. Their websites have become virtual self-help books, instructing women how to look, act, and especially, speak to men. On the Glamour magazine website, every article receives a series of tags at the end. These tags are designed to help readers find article that would interest them, for example: marriage, dating, beauty, relationships, fashion and style are all tags that appear quite often. One other tag, however, seemed to be present on nearly every article written. It read : “What Men Want.” The simple phrase embodied the over-arching need to please that penetrated each of the articles it touched. Whether hairstyles, first date conversation topics or sex tips were the writings’ main focus, “what men want[ed]” seemed to be their driving force. Scrolling down the list of articles that received this tag, it became clear that popular media outlets continue to perpetuate the ideology of accommodation as a one way street from female to male.
Some of these informative articles are, “What Men Want: 13 Reasons He’s Psyched that You’re His Girlfriend” In it, the author cites getting to eat of his girlfriends plate at restaurants and the validation that being lazy and watching a movie is investing time in their relationships as two of the greatest merits of female companionship. Other favorite titles from the “What Men Want” tag include, “6 Really Unattractive Things That Women Do When They’ve Had Little Too Much To Drink” and “Hooking Up: Turns out Men Think About Food and Sleep Just as Much As Sex.”
Below, I’ve included one that speaks especially to the communicative inequalities I’ve been discussing in this post. It is titled “How to get a Guy: Talk about Technology.” This article recounts a Glamour writers experience in a bar getting guys to like her by talking about her ipad. She claims they told her usually girls only talk about superficial things, but she sounded smart. Enjoy!