A couple of months ago Idahospud favored us with a fascinating analysis of blogging genderlect over at FMH, which reminded me of a long-simmering desire to take a manly stand for womanspeak. (Oh, the androgyny.)
Every once in a while the Bloggernacle revisits the familiar critique of the stereotypical LDS woman’s inability to make a definitive statement. (The Sugar Beet did the definitive satire which, sadly, I can’t seem to find.) Periodically this alleged inability is bemoaned hereabouts, and there’s certainly something to the criticism. From time to time I have encountered LDS women who seem so uncertain of themselves, so timid, so petrified of offending that they are unable to take a stand or risk disagreement about anything. But I’ve known more LDS women who have no difficulty speaking their minds than I have LDS women who can’t summon the confidence to speak definitively. Passive-aggressiveness and backstabbing, sadly, seem able to coexist quite happily with discursive confidence, and seem also to flourish in a culture in which niceness is the supreme virtue.
But, to the point of this post: I’d like to hear some criticism run in the opposite direction. If we’re going to be critical of stereotypically feminine waffling, let’s be equally critical of stereotypically masculine rigidity. While I think it’s vital for all human beings, women as well as men, to be morally sturdy enough to stand on conviction, to think and act in a certain independence of others’ opinions, it’s equally vital to consider those convictions with the utmost care, and that means–among other things–considering them in the light of others’ judgment. It’s partly for this reason that there’s much to be said in favor of framing one’s statements with the phrase “I think that…” or “I feel that…” or “It’s been my experience that….” These feminine conversation markers, sometimes denigrated as self-abasing, self-hobbling, indications of uncertainty or insecurity, needn’t necessarily be read in this way. They’re also acknowledgments that a conversation is taking place, as well as invitations for that conversation to continue. By framing one’s assertions with “I think” or “In my experience,” we correctly acknowledge our own limitations and allow for the possibility of other voices and other perspectives. “I think” implies “What do you think?”; “In my experience” implies “What’s your experience?” These feminine conversation markers make space for conversation by acknowledging the reality of others’ lives and experiences, the possibility, the validity, the necessity of multiple narratives, of multiple points of view.
When people make heavy-handed statements of the form “This is how X is. There is no room for disagreement” there’s no place for the conversation to go. It either shuts down or flares into violent disagreement, as someone feels that her entire view of the world has just been precluded. Then it escalates. “NO, THIS is how X is.” “Only a fool would claim that X is other than….” “The only possible reason you could believe X is that…” or “I have seen you claim X elsewhere and therefore know that you cannot be trusted in your assertions about Y” and we’re off the races, questioning one another’s motives, namecalling, bound and determined that no one think some other way about X in our presence.
Hooray for feminine language, I say.
At least, that’s what I think. What do you think?