This post is very long. If you read it that’s fine. If you don’t want to read it that’s fine, too. But everyone should watch the video about talking like a Minnesotan–linked near the bottom of the post.
I have to come up with a conversation. Something that I am willing to listen to, participate in, transcribe, and then say something smart about. And it has to be really, really interesting. Any ideas? Also, it has to reveal something about gender. And maybe education. People talk about… Movies. Cars. Their pets. Each other. Sports. Politics. Maybe politics? How do the genders react when stressful, polarizing, controversial topics are introduced into the conversation? What happens in a classroom vs. in a family situation? Do people take on certain roles? Rely on certain linguistic tools? Exhibit gendered linguistic behavior? How do people vie for power in these situations? Ah. I am having flashbacks to uncomfortable family car rides. What else? People talk about music. Celebrities. Art (sometimes). Food (but mostly when they are at restaurants and eating it). People make small talk about the weather. In class people talk about teachers. About meetings. Hair. Beer and wine and the like–but this is probably straying way-to-far from schooly topics. Historic days and events. Holidays. Books. T.V. shows. Netflix. Significant others. Potential significant others. The significant others of other people. Bosses, supervisors, all-those-on-high. Yeah, I know: my best idea is still politics. I am thinking! Give me a break. Kitten videos. Electronics. Their new computers. Their new phones. Their old computers. Their old phones. Money. Plans. Vacations. Babies. Directions. Sunrise and sunset. Taxes. What somebody said on Twitter. Facebook. What someone watched on YouTube. Sales. Shopping habits. Birthdays. Parents. Siblings. Job experiences. Traditions.
I don’t know if this is working. Try something else! How about questions I have about gendered speaking habits? Language habits at all? I guess I am interested in thinking about the way men and women are represented as speaking within the teaching profession. I feel like I know of stereotypes of the shrill school marm and the sweet, mothering elementary school teacher.
For men, the stereotypes are more slippery. I feel like there is the male disciplinarian (notice that there isn’t even a derogatory term for such a teacher). There might be a stereotype of an efete elementary school teacher (though stereotypical speech would be modeled on the stereotypes of women’s speech, I think). There’s the male teacher who is only teaching to coach–the “coach,” I guess (just google-image searched this and got HUNDREDS of pictures of men and women involved in school-sex scandals…hmmmm.)
The nerd? That’s the only picture that showed a male teacher (besides sex-offenders) in any sort of negative light. But aren’t nerdy, academic males also stereotyped asas less masculine than other males? One thing, at least, that is interesting about the teaching profession is that it looms large in our collective consciousness. It’s one of those professions which easily calls up images, speech patterns, gestures in the imagination. There are representations of teachers in film, in photography, in literature, in theater, T.V. shows and, of course, on YouTube. But there are so many images and representations, I don’t know that it would be possible to analyze them in a useful way. What would that study look like? Or, maybe it could be studied, but it would be hard to do a transcription that would confirm or debunk any of the stereotypes. What would I do? Record 15 female teachers teaching and track their speech patterns in a comparison with popular representations of teachers? Measure them all against Mrs. Wormwood? Or Dolores Umbridge?
I haven’t struck gold yet. This has the makings of the longest post ever. Woman-on-woman shame culture? (Where did I get this?) I guess there’s been a lot in the news recently about “slut-shaming” and “Slut Walks” and the like. I made my students read an essay where I woman describes her eating disorder and how women police each others’ eating habits. Interesting: Yes. Likely that I will be able to record one woman “shaming” another without staging it? Nope. That’s the trouble with the political-conflict conversation, too. How am I going to find and tape a really uncomfortable conversation? Who would agree to be taped while they are angry, tense, embarrassed?
I wrote an essay about culinary literacy. A part of me wants to pursue the ideas from that. But, again, I am not sure that I can capture a naturally occurring conversation about food/cooking. It just doesn’t come up that much. It would be really really really really nice if whatever I come up with here could work for my computers and writing project, my first year exam, my dissertation. . . The agony! Dolores says: “That’s right. Because deep down you know that you deserve to be punished. Don’t you Ms. Parsons?”
I also really love musicals–see the straws? I am pulling at them. But people rarely talk about musicals (unless they are at one, going to one, or live in New York, I suspect).
I know that there use to be male / female teacher etiquette manuals (books? something?). Do gendered versions of these still exist? A quick amazon search says there are *some* but not all that many. The ones that do exist seem to be concerned with showing that teaching can be manly–despite stereotypes suggesting otherwise. Other texts think about the dearth of black, male teachers. Teacher lunchroom chat would be a great place to record a conversation. But I don’t have that sort of access any more. I am also interested in /infuriated by the cultural perversion of the female-slutty-school teacher. Of all the stereotypes of female teachers this one makes me the angriest. But again, how to measure this language-wise? There are plenty of representations of this teacher in pop culture. I could interview just about anyone to get them to talk about it. But, would this particular stereotype elicit any different language behaviors from a person forced to discuss it?
Alright, what about speech stereotypes of certain groups. Cowboys? Yes, but where to corral one? Minnesotans? A phone call away, but are northern accents gendered in any particular way? What about verbal ticks–like the use of “so”–as an interjection, an intensifier, a conjunction, and so on. I suppose that could be gendered. But in a way that I care about? ARGGGH. I guess I might be interested in how people try to adopt certain speech patterns/behaviors when then enter a new environment in order to fit-in. I see this in student essays–and even in conferences with students–and, OK, I am self-consciously aware that I do it some…but not too much!–it’s that academic-ese. That putting on of airs. I feel like that has relevance to the classroom. It might also be gendered. I don’t know if I have a theory about which gender would fall into the practice more–maybe men? I have this terrible memory from high school where I was doing a presentation–and I think I must have giggled or done something that indicated a quasi-serious stance–and one of my classmates, another girl I think, said (in front of the rest of the class)–“You can’t just try to be cute all the time, Molly.” Or that what she says over and over again in my memories. . . Wuh wuuhhh. This could be an interesting question–how do we perform intelligence? How do we perform academic prowess? How does syntax, diction, and even tonality change when we are trying to ‘sound smart’? I think I lower my voice. I use the word “conceptualize” too much. I definitely try hard not to giggle. Maybe that’s enough for now.