An Analysis of Words Coined by Women and Men: Reflections on the Muted. Group Theory and Gilligan’s Model
Researchers have long been interested in the various relationships among sex or gender, communication behavior and psychological attributes (e.g., Bostrom & Kemp 1968; Bradley 1981; Cook, Fritz, McCornack, & Visperas 1985; Jespersen 1922; Lakoff 1975; Maccody & Jacklin 1974; Wheeless, Hudson, & Wheeless 1987). One of the prevailing criticisms of this body of research has been its lack of theoretical grounding (e.g., Konsky & Murdock 1982, Putnam 1982). However, in her 1981 work, Cheris Kramarae provides four different theoretical positions which could be used to guide gender and communication research. For purposes of this paper, one theory that Kramarae describes, the Muted Group Theory, will be examined.
The muted group theory argues that not all speakers are equally served by their language since not all speakers are equal contributors to formulating the language. Kramarae refers to Edwin Ardener (1975) who points out that the high status groups of a culture largely determine the communication system of that culture. At the same time, subordinate groups in the society are rendered “inarticulate” (Ardener 1975:21-22) since the language they must use is rooted in the perceptions of the dominant group, which will naturally differ from their own. Dale Spender concurs with this position, noting “[I realized that] the codified language had been constructed primarily by men, that men considered themselves representative of humanity, and that this has had numerous consequences for women” (1984:196). Spender’s argument is that, of course, men are not completely “representative of humanity” and therefore, many of women’s unique life experiences are not named in English.
Kramarae (1981) sees the muted group approach as useful in describing the situation for women with regard to language usage. Men in our society have created and shaped the language; therefore, it is well suited to their experiences and communication needs. Women, however, must go through a kind of translation process when they use their native language since it does not provide a good “fit” with their life experiences.
First, women must cognitively identify their experiences for themselves and then scan the male-centered lexicon they have to work with to find the word that most closely approximates the experience. Since, as Marcia Millman and Rosabeth Moss Kanter (1987:30) argue, men and women “inhabit different social worlds and realities,” this is a difficult process. Even if women are successful in this translation, they appear more hesitant and tentative than male speakers. If the translation process is unsuccessful, women are simply mute.
Kramarae states the following assumptions of the muted group theory as it pertains to men and women: 1. Women perceive the world differently from men because of women’s and men’s different experiences and activities rooted in the division of labor. 2. Because of their political dominance, the men’s system of perception is dominant, impeding the free expression of the women’s alternative models of the world. 3. In order to participate in society women must transform their own models in terms of the received male system of expression (Kramarae 1981:3).
As a practical illustration of these assumptions, Kramarae (1981) discusses the quandary women often find themselves in when trying to find a label for common, female-centered life experiences. An extended example from a seminar Kramarae attended makes this point clear. A women attending the seminar describes her situation. She and her husband, both working full-time outside the home, usually arrive home at about the same time. She would like him to share the dinner-making responsibilities but the job always falls upon her. Occasionally he says `I would be glad to make dinner. But you do it so much better than I.’ She was pleased to receive this compliment but as she found herself in the kitchen each time she realized that he was using a verbal strategy for which had no word and thus had more difficulty identifying and bringing to his awareness. She told the people at the seminar, `I had to tell you the whole story to explain to you how he was using flattery to keep me in my female place.’ She said she needed a word to define the strategy, or a word to define the person who uses the strategy, a word which would be commonly understood by both women and men. Then, when he tried that strategy she could explain her feelings by turning to him a and saying, `You are – ‘ or `What you are doing is called – ‘ (Kramarae 1981:7-8)
Judy C. Pearson (1985) reports success in using a variation of this situation as a classroom exercise. The exercise, which she calls “genlets” or “Sexlets,” was created in order to help students understand the three assumptions of the muted group theory (Kramarae 1981). The activity consists of having that they believe are uniquely experienced by their own sex and for which, currently, no word exists.
Based on the muted group theory the following hypothesis is advanced: H1: Females will generate more genlets than will males.
In addition to the pragmatic difference found in the number of nameless experiences, it seems likely that the content of genlets created by women will differ from those generated by men. Alan Sillars, Judith Weisberg, Cynthia Burggraf, and Elizabeth A. Wilson (1987) note that an analysis of content themes in marital conversation can be revealing of the couple’s perception of social reality. It is their contention that couples from a private culture which can be entered via an examination of content themes. In a similar vein, it could be argued that the two separate cultures represented by men and women might be illustrated in the themes of their genlets.
In a theoretical perspective different from the muted group theory, Carol Gilligan (1982) reasons that women and men perceive “reality” and moral decision making differently and that these different perceptions are manifested in the language they use. Thus, Gilligan voices; one informed by an ethic of justice and one by an ethic of care. For Gilligan, women’s moral domain is informed by an interpersonal logic while men’s moral domain develops from a justice approach derived from the formal logic of fairness.
As Gilligan and her colleague Nona P. Lyons (1983) argue, men and women may conceive of and experience the “self” differently, Men’s conception of self is separate from other or essentially autonomous. Women’s experience of selfhood is one of connection to others. These differing perspectives lead women and women to different moral codes according to Gilligan and Lyons and to different themes underlying their communication behaviors. These two separate approaches point toward different understandings of morality and different thematic concerns. “Women’s sense of integrity appears to be entwined with an ethic of care, so that to see themselves as women is to see themselves in a relationship to connection…” (Gilligan 1982: 171). However, for men, identity is forged through separation and “instead of attachment, individual achievement rivets the male imagination, and great ideas or distinctive activity defines the standard of self-assessment and success” (Gilligan 1982: 163).
Further, as Gilligan (1988) posits more recently, although women and men raise both care and justice concerns, they tend to “focus” on one set of concerns, elaborating that set while minimizing the other. After surveying several studies examining moral choice making including her own work, Gilligan (1988:xix) concludes “the tendency to focus was equally characteristic of both the men and the women studied;” however, the direction of the focus differed. Virtually 100% of the men who focused, concentrated on justice. Women were split in their focus between justice and care, leading Gilligan to conclude that although not all women exhibit a focus on care, this focus is almost exclusively a female phenomenon when it is displayed.
By extending Gilligan’s perspective, two additional hypotheses are advanced: H2: The genlets created by females will reflect themes of interdependence and relationships more than those of males. H3: The genlets created by mal es will reflect themes of justice, competition and a hierarchial ordering of values more than those of females. Method
Subjects and Procedures. Subjects were 14 undergraduates (5 males, 9 females) ranging in age from 19 to 23. Subjects were students at a private Midwestern university enrolled in an elective communication class called “Gender and Communication.” During regularly scheduled class time, early in the semester before the students had been exposed to Kramarae or Gilligan, they heard a short lecture explaining the concept of genlets and describing the exercise of creating them. Then the students were divided into two groups by sex (one all male and one all female) and given 60 minutes to brainstorm a list of sex-appropriate genlets. At the end of the hour, each group turned in their lists of words and definitions. After the lists were collected the activity was debriefed, and permission was requested and received from the students to use their work for this research.
Analysis and Results. Twenty-two words were created by the participants (9 by the male group, 13 by the female group). A Chi-Square Goodness of Fit test was employed to see if males and females differed significantly in terms of the number of words generated. The Chi-Square was not significant X² (1, N = 22) = .03, p> .05. Therefore, hypothesis 1 was not supported, males and females in this sample did not differ significantly in the number of genlets that they created.
Martin Bulmer’s (1979) method of analytic induction was used by the author to develop the theme categories for the 22 genlets. This procedure involves forming initial categories based on a small portion of the data set. Further data are then incorporated into the category scheme, making modifications and additions as needed. Through a series of iterations, four categories were found to satisfactorily summarize the data. Although intuition did guide this process. Gilligan’s theoretical distinctions also offered clear guidance. Thus, the category formation represents a balance between induction from the data and deduction from the theory (Sillars et al. 1987).
After the categories were created, a coder blind to the intentions of the research, independently sorted the genlets using these four categories, producing an absolute coding agreement of 85%. Where difference existed, they were discussed on a case by case basis until 100% agreement as to where to place each genlet was achieved (see Appendix A). The four theme categories are as follows: 1) Dating or Relationship concerns. Genlets that referred to problems of maintaining a male/female relationship and problems specifically related to dating norms (n = 7; 32% of the total sample of words, 100% written by females) 2) Personal concerns. Genlets that related to personal needs or fears or to concerns about one’s personal appearance (n = 6; 27% of the total sample of words, 100% written by females). 3) Competitive concerns. Genlets that described competitive situations (n = 5; 23% of the total sample of words, 100% written by males). 4) Drinking concerns. Genlets that described alcohol related activities (n = 4; 18% of the total sample of words, 100% written by males).
Hypotheses two and three received some support from these results. First of all, no categories contained words created by both sexes. A Chi-Square contingency test of theme category by sex was significant X² (3, N = 22) = 6.25, p < .05. Secondly, Category 1 and Category 3 parallel Gilligan’s two voices. Category 1, containing seven words coined by females, revolves around issues of relationships and interpersonal connections. Category 3, containing five words created by males, focuses on issues of competition and individual prowess. Category 3 illustrates Gilligan’s notion that men are concerned with individual attainment and hierarchical order. In Gilligan’s work, hierarchical order refers to an ordering of moral values, whereas in the genlet exercise reported here, the males were concerned with a rank ordering of who is the “best”: who can eat the most; who has the best car; the best physique; etc. Category 2, containing words written by women includes fears of not measuring up to men’s standards of beauty and the need to get together and talk with other women. Although not so clearly focused on relational issues as Category 1, the words in Category 2 generally reflect personal concerns influenced by relationships (needing to talk with friends, to look good for boyfriends, etc.). Category 4 contained for words created by males that have to do with drinking, a topic outside of Gilligan’s perspective. Discussion
Before examining the implications of these results, it is necessary to discuss several qualifications with regard to the methodology and procedures employed in this research. This study must be considered a pilot effort, more heuristic than conclusive. First of all, the sample size was small (14 students in two groups) and not randomly selected. Further, the methodology actually reduced the sample size to two since the data were generated in the two single sex groups. The age range was restricted (19-23) and the results may not be representative of a wider age range. Finally, the subjects were university students. However, Gilligan’s work was conducted with junior high children, university students and young adult women with similar results. Overall, these results may not have extensive generalizability and further research should be undertaken to remedy that.
Additionally, the procedures could have exerted a “peer group” effect which may, in turn, have had an impact on the results. The procedures here involved all the members of each sex generating a single list of words together. Pearson (1985) conducted the exercise by having students come up with their words individually. In examining the words her students have coined, the clear difference between the sexes does not seem to exist (pearson, personal communication 1986). For example, Pearson (1985) reports a specific word coined by a male: chronoloneliness. This means the loneliness he feels at being separated from his girlfriend for long periods of time. Obviously this word would be categorized in the Dating or Relationship Concerns category had it been in this study. Perhaps if the participants had been directed to work on this task individually, the results would not show such a strong division of themes between the sexes.
Finally, it is the case that the category formation was in part guided by Gilligan’s (1982) model. Perhaps it is not surprising that the results offer some confirmation for this model. However, it is also true that the categories were, at least partially, derived from an examination of the data set itself.
Despite these reservations about the generalizability and robustness of these results, it is worth discussing the clear differences illustrated here. First, I would like to discuss the results with reference to Hypothesis 1 and the muted group theory and then with reference to Hypotheses 2 and 3 and Gilligan’s perspective. The Hypotheses
Although the muted group theory was not given any support in this study, it is possible that the small sample size did not have the power to detect the significant difference that did exist. Whether the sample size is considered to be two or 22, it is not possible to compute the power of the test accurately since the power tables for Chi-Square Goodness of Fit tests begin with 25 (Cohen 1977). Using 25 as the N, the power for the test would be .86. Before dismissing the muted group theory, it is important to discuss three issues relative to this perspective. These issues present theoretical arguments suggesting that testing the muted group model via these procedures may be problematic. First, although Kramarae (1981,1988) asserts that women are a muted group, discouraged and prohibited from speaking both in public and within the household, she also acknowledges (1981) that the stereotype of the strong silent male mutes men on some subjects. Thus, men may have topics for which they need new words as well. My observation of these students concurs with this notion, in that I did not observe either group approaching the task differently. Males did not seem to sit and discuss the instructions any longer than Females and neither group seemed to address the task with any more or less enthusiasm than did the other. This group of five males did not seem to find our language significantly more descriptive than did the nine females in the sample, if language adequacy can be assessed by a scarcity of new words developed to describe common life experiences.
Secondly, and more importantly, it may be the case that women are muted to such an extent that they fail to recognize their own nameless experiences. Carol Christ (1980:5) states, “indeed there is a very real sense in which the seemingly paradoxical statement `Women have not experienced their own experience’ is true.” Claudine Herrmann (1989) believes that the process of education distances women from their experiences. This is the case Herrmann argues because education teaches women to see themselves and their world through the eyes (and language) of men.
Finally, although the results in this study do not support the hypothesis derived from muted group theory, they do tend to confirm a power differential between women and men. The words coined by women tended to reflect subservience, while the men’s words focused on competency and personal agency. Women coined perchaphonic, which means waiting for someone to call you on the phone. They also created the word herdastudaphobia which refers to feeling fear when passing a group of strange men on the street. These two words illustrate that women have experiences that render them passive and anxious.
The world seems to be a much different place for men, the dominant group. Men’s words included gearheaditis (making your care the best on the road) and beer muscles (fighting because men think they are tough after they drink). These words reflect a sense of power that is absent from the words created by women.
Thus, although women and men did not differ in the number of words they created, the differences in power implied by their words is consistent with the assumptions of the muted group theory.
Despite the fact that this study does not directly clarify the usefulness of the muted group theory, it does shed some light on Gilligan’s model. There were vast differences in the themes of the words coined. Some of these differences were in the directions predicted by Hypotheses 2 and 3 and some differences were unexpected. In support of Hypothesis 2, females exhibited a much greater thematic emphasis on relational concerns than did males. Eight of the thirteen words coined by the females in the sample, or 62%, referred directly to experiences relating to men (perchaphonic, chameleon-cooker, piglabelphobia, checkology, nagresort, pseudosocialite, lidomania, and herdastudaphobia). Only one word created by the males (11% of the total) referred to females. Further, even when males and females created words that tapped in to similar subjects, the treatment of these subjects differed, offering some support for Gilligan’s (1982) perspective.
For example, both women and men created words to deal with eating issues. But the female definition reflects a concern with what their relationship partner thinks about their eating habits. The word that women created focuses on changing their behavior to please or impress their partner (piglabelphobia). However, males, in this sample, portray eating as a competitive event where each man tries to win by eating more than any other (scarfaholic).
Both males and females created words that alluded to the physical standards of masculinity and femininity set by models and movie stars. Again, however, their treatment of this topic reveals very different themes. Women talk about brinkley-mirror as the insecurity women feel at being compared to glamorous figures. Whereas men see schwarzenneger-syndrome as a challenge to work out overtime to get bigger muscles than the other guys. Where females register a theme of concern to please another and insecurity at ever measuring up, males see essentially the same situation as an arena for competition. The theme the females sound implies a standard set outside of themselves and an outside judge who will always find them wanting. The male’s theme indicates more confidence that they will be able to compete successfully. These implications indirectly offer some support to Gilligan’s perspective which asserts that the world is a different place for men and women. However, the message here has more to do with locus of control than with issues of interconnectedness and separateness. In the example from the data set, it appears that the world for women is controlled from the outside while a man’s world has an internal locus of control, an assertion made by many researchers about male-female issues (e.g., Deaux, White, & Farris 1975; Doherty & Baldwin 1985; Johnson & Black 1981).
Many of the words in the data set indicate the primacy of talk for women(e.g., nagaholics anonymous, perchaphonic, nagresort). These words point toward the importance of communication in women’s lives both as a means of furthering a relationship (perchaphonic) and as an end in itself (nagaholics anonymous). Talking for women may be a way of both furthering the relationship among the communicants and engaging in a pleasurable activity. There is no parallel emphasis on talk in the men’s words in this sample. Instead, in stereotypic fashion men have concentrated on doing things: fixing cars, working out, eating, drinking, etc. The only word that the males in the sample created that has to do with talk is pseudostudliness which had the negative connotation of empty talk, bragging about something that probably was not true.
Additionally, there seemed to be a concern in the women’s words for what others thought. Piglabelphobia and brinkley mirror, discussed previously, both indicate that women monitor their relational partners and try to accommodate themselves to the expectations they think their partner has for them. This accommodation is clearly described in the word chameleon-cooker which means trying to be like your date, trying to “blend in”, to like what he likes, etc. This concern was absent from the themes sounded by men. Mark Knapp (1984) refers to the “perceptual distortion” that he says is present in the early stages of attraction and infatuation. This distortion occurs, he asserts, because of an interaction and infatuation. This distortion occurs, he asserts, because of an interaction between seeing what you want to see in the other and presenting yourself to the other as you think they would want to see you. In Knapp’s explanation, both males and females engage in this process, however, in the current study, “perceptual distortion” was salient only to the females in that they coined a word to describe it. The males did not have a parallel word on their list.
An examination of this data set reveals no direct support for the muted group theory but a thematic analysis of the 22 words developed by the subjects in this study indicates some support for Gilligan’s position that women find their identity in connections and men find theirs in individual achievement which can be rank ordered in a hierarchial format. There is evidence in these data indicating that relational concerns inform the females’ genlets and that competitive concerns inform the genlets created by males.
However, it is also true that more than two concerns emerged in an analysis of this data set. Females were concerned with connections, the primacy of talk, looking good, rewarding themselves, etc. Men were concerned with alcohol-related activities, engaging in competition, and winning. Further, women and men voiced some issues that can be interpreted as expressing their relative power. Women and men do seem to be using different “voice” as Gilligan suggests, but these voices may be tied to a more complex set of differences than Gilligan describes. Further examination of the themes underlying men and women’s talk should be a fruitful area of future research. APPENDIX A Dating or Relationship Concerns Perchaphonic perching by the telephone waiting for that special one to call Chameleon-cooker trying to be like the other on a date – blending in with his likes and dislikes Piglabelphobia fear of being labelled a pig when dating so inhibiting what you eat while on the date Checkology the study of who pays what part of the check tat a restaurant on a dinner date Nagresort when men resort to calling a women a nag because they do not want to hear the women’s advice Pseudosocialite worrying about your social life to the extent of lying about it Lidomania the rage a woman feels when she us es the bathroom and finds the toilet seat has been left up by her partner Personal Concerns Onecalcreed ordering diet soda and sweets believing you will not gain weight that way Brinkley-mirror the insecurity women feel being compared to glamour models Nagaholics women’s need to get together Anonymous and talk Herdastudaphobia the fear of passing a group of unknown guys Shopastroke the need to buy yourself something because you deserve a reward Powder pressure the mad rush for the bathroom in the morning Competition Concerns Scarfaholic eating contests among men – each wanting to outdo the others Gearheaditis an obsession with fixing up your car, talking about your car, and having your car be the best on the road Pseudostudliness the overly macho guy who talks on and on about being the best with women Fartathon contests as to who can fart the most Schwarzenneger- working out overtime to build bigger muscles than the other guys Drinking Concerns Pregame warm-up drinking before going out to the bars to go drinking Beer muscles a bunch of guys drinking a lot leading to a fight because they all believe they are so tough after a few beers Obdrunkious a group of men getting drunk, loud and obnoxious Beer-goggles looking at the world through a beer induced haze References
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