Last night I had a dream that I was giving a talk in front of a large group of women. I don’t know the topic of the talk, but there I was, on the stage of a hundred person lecture hall droning-on, on. . .Oh yeah, I was also shaving my armpits.

Guess I was wearing a tank top, because I alternatively raised my right or left arm to expose a pit–never missing a beat in my oration–and attack those bristly hairs with a razor. I wasn’t even looking–lord knows how I didn’t die bleeding in front of my audience. The hair kept growing back (the loaves and fishes of armpit hair)–an entire lecture-worth of shaving labor. That’s not the weird part though. The weird part was that the women were all about it. Swipe the razor in one direction and up rose a chorus of “Mm-hmmms.” Zig the razor elsewhere–vigorous nodding, smiling, and eye contact. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that they were there for this show of personal hygiene rather than my ideas about . . . (even I was more interested in the shaving then the lecture.)

I blame Maltz and Borker (he he: their names remind me of Borgin & Burkes of HP’s Diagon Alley) and their article, “A cultural approach to male-female miscommunication” (1985?). I was reading it right up till bedtime. In they article, they construct a list of “Women’s features” (aka features of women’s language that appear to distinguish female speech behaviors from male speech behaviors): 1)  Women tend to ask more questions, 2) Women are charged with doing the “shitwork” in conversations, 3) WOMEN SHOW A GREATER TENDENCY TO MAKE USE OF POSITIVE MINIMAL RESPONSES, ESPECIALLY “MM HMM,” 4) Women engage in silent protest when they feel they’ve been conversationally wronged, and 5) Women use “we” so that everyone feels included.

Fade-back to my dream. I am surrounded by women who feel the need to affirm my *choice* to shave my armpits in front of them. A shitty job–mine and theirs.

There’s a lot of interest in the Maltz and Borker piece. I disagreed with most of their conclusions, but I have to present on this tomorrow, so I am going to try to spend some time now thinking of what is still useful in the piece. Affirm. Affirm. The trouble is that the other article we read for class pretty much addresses everything useful and everything silly in the Maltz and Borker.

I suppose what I like about the Maltz and Borker is that they fly in the face of what the “deficit approach” for explaining difference in communication. It *tries* to show that men and women speak differently by not unequally–each type of speech having its own advantages and merits. A pretty thought. A cuddly thought. Once we all understand each other, we will all get along. OK. The question that I suppose arises from this is whether or not “getting along” should be a goal. Uchida shows us the consequences of miscommunication. And those aren’t good (I’ll let you guess which gender loses out in instances of ‘cross-cultural’ male-female conversation). But is “understanding” better? Understanding means that everyone has an excuse, nothing has to change. . . They also raise the provocative question of where difference is greatest: Is it in adulthood (where men and women communicate cross-culturally, and where, therefore, miscommunication is more likely to appear)? Or, is it in childhood, when we are still learning to perform gender roles and when, perhaps, we exaggerate our performance to prove our differences from ‘others’?

In all their talk of the importance of context (“Different types of interaction lead to different types of speaking” p. 215) they fail to see the larger context — they see individuals, and absolve them of intention; they see communities and use community characteristics as evidence that practices are different but equal; they fail to see culture on a macro-level–where institutions and systems pull the metaphoric strings. Where do all Maltz and Borker’s test subjects live? Truman-show bubbles? Oh wait, they don’t have any subjects. . .

I am really doing a terrible job.

So, I guess this is what I will add to the discussion. I am calling it the Tina Fey intervention. Maltz and Borker say: “These problems are the result of differences in systems of conversational inference and the cues of signalling speech acts and speaker’s intent” (p. 201). In other words, when ‘miscommunication’ happens, it’s no one’s fault–we should assume that everyone is intending to be friendly to one another. They frame the cross-cultural conversations which are the topic of their analysis as “conversation between equals” (pg. 215). Uchida (who I pretty much always agreed with) offers: “An analysis of miscommunication must take into consideration who gets what they want, who is punished, who is forgiven, and in what ways–both on the individual level and on the societal level–after the miscommunication” (526). Instead of offering a solution to a problem, she offers another ways of conceptualizing the problem.

Then there is Tina Fey–the author of Bossypants, famous comedian (yadda, yadda–see Aubrey’s blog). She offers a revision of what miscommunications AND a model for changing those patterns: “Do your thing and don’t care if they like it” (http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/top_right/2011/07/we_didnt_come_to_saturday_night_live_to_be_cute.html). In this view, dominance is recognized and a model of how to subvert dominance is presented (it involves scaring Jimmy Fallon and is well-worth the read).

After reading Fey, I wonder whether or not this move is the move that matters. We can think,think,think but even if we fully see the shit hole (or armpit. . .), isn’t it likely we are still inside it?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s