Gender and the social construction of stereotypical communication norms

“Lecture” Nine

Steph’s Nose Gets Longer (not like Pinocchio, maybe more like a foot?)

Building off of the last batch of postings (so I can get this done in a timely manner), let me respond to your answers on the questions about standpoint theory, speech communities, and evidence of socialization in our discussion about gender and communicating with intimates.
Concerning Standpoint Theory, Geoff and Tim nail the transmission model implications of approaching communication challenges on the basis of gender. [Note: “As distinct from ‘sex’ (which is biological), gender usually refers to socially/culturally constructed (invented) characteristics which are then attributed to the different biological sexes. If sex is ‘female and male’; then gender is ‘femininity and masculinity’.] Geoff wrote, “The communication happens and the message is transmitted with an already implicated reason for that message and is not constructing new meaning but rather the meaning is in the message, it is stationed there.” This is important to realize, otherwise, the very fact of reading about so-called (!) feminine and masculine “standpoints” reinforces these distinctions: talking about the differences has a way of making the differences “more real.” In fact, Tim and David both show this, Tim by stating that he does believe in differences between women and men, and David by applying one model (transmission) to men and another model (social construction) to women. Now, try to follow me here, because this is an example of how the two models interact with each other:

Allison and Erin both recognize the social construction implications. Allison: “Men and women are often brought up and taught these standpoints from an early age,” and Erin: “Standpoints are formed by the environment you live/grow up in.” Exactly. And so the theory (standpoint) reinforces the message of gender difference, as David says, “I separated males and females by the standpoint theory,” and Tim asserts, “there is a major difference between how males and females communicate to one another.”

But hey, let’s check this out against our own reality! There are no patterns of gender differences identified in our class, nor in the stories of a heterosexual and gay couple having communication difficulties! So where is the support for gender standpoints? I think some of you named evidence of social change: the norms for your age group (mostly traditional college-aged) are different, and standpoint theory by itself only reinforces the old, transmission model. “You were socialized like this so you must communicate in these ways.” I am not discounting socialization (please!) but I am questioning the presence of an article based in a theory (standpoint) that is obviously a transmission model in a textbook that purports to support the new social construction model? It is evidence of how tough it is to bridge the “distance” from the familiar and traditional to the new and different even though the “new and different” is actually already operating in your own communication!

Where do I read this evidence? Several of you (Ajia, Geoff, and others) note that being of a common age might contribute to similarity in your analyses of the stories. Allison describes most of the responses being “somewhere in the middle,” a middle that David labels, “gender neutral.” Geoff also suggests that there are norms of communicating with each other here in this class that are similar because of this class, and therefore indicate our own small speech community. So, what are we going with this standpoint information? One thing that struck me, is that the Presentation Team chose different stories for the activity. I wonder how responses might have changed had the story been the same, and only the genders changed. Would this have brought more heteronormativity to the fore? I suspect so…

As to the concept of a Speech Community, the definitions I read were fine but there was trouble when people tried to apply the transmission and social construction models. This is a case of both/and. Speech communities exist because the same meanings are transmitted consistently across generations, speech communities continue because the repetition of the transmission creates social reality. Dawn quoted Erik’s definition: ” The transmission model is the linear progression of communication, genders learn to communicate and interpret a message a certain way depending on their speech community.” This is exactly what I want to problematize by analyzing the implications of reading standpoint theory in this class. Are we reinforcing gender messages against new social constructions that allow, recognize, and create new possibilities?

Meanwhile, as I work/write my way toward engagement (!) with the Engaging Communication Team (whose Presentation I messed up the most), I want everyone to notice how nonverbal communication has been present in all the topics this week, how gender worked it’s way into the nonverbal presentation (many examples of boyfriends, for instance), and how “engagement” may &emdash; perhaps? &emdash; have occurred in the topics where it was NOT the topic of conversation but nonetheless is (and will always be) the means of conversation.

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