Talking from 9 to 5: Chapter 4

July 2, 2014 | Diana Stancy

Women are given options. They may wear simple and traditional clothes, or they may wear clothes with bold and daring colors. Some may wear elaborate jewelry, while others wear none. They may wear spike heels or ballet flats. However, anything a woman chooses to wear is a reflection of who she is. Tannen states that women are “marked”.

Regardless, men do not encounter being marked based on their clothing, in part because of the limited selection. As Tannen asserts:

“A man can choose a style that will not attract attention or subject him to any particular interpretation, but a woman can’t. Whatever she wears, whatever she calls herself, however she talks, will be fodder for interpretation about her character and competence. In a setting where most of the players are men, there is no unmarked woman” (112).

Similarly, a woman’s form of address marks her. Choosing “Mrs.” or “Miss” reveals her marital status, while selecting “Ms.” may cause some to wonder why that prefix was chosen. Meanwhile, men only select “Mr.”

Additionally, Tannen cites examples of sexism in the workplace. In certain cases, women in leading position have had their male secretary or aide be mistaken for them. Tannen states that women are assumed to be secretaries, staff, and nurses. This is not always the case though, and Tannen states:

“When our expectation are not met, we call it sexism—responding to old patterns of gender that no longer apply, or no longer apply in all instances” (118).

Likewise, Tannen evaluates that women in professions dominated by men eventually emulate men’s conversational patterns. Unlike men though, women do not receive the same result men do.  Tannen observes:

“In a workplace situation, it is frequently a man who has been the model, while a woman who tries to behave like him is distressed to find that the reaction she gets is very different” (122).

Lastly, Tannen addresses the potential problems that may arise from discussing gender. Particularly, she shares concerns that “polarization” between the sexes may occur. As a result, she suggests that awareness be raised to foster mutual respect.

Discussion Questions:

1)   Do you think having greater fashion diversity is necessarily negative, even if it “marks” you?

2)   Are men actually “unmarked?” Do you agree or disagree with Ms. Tannen’s assessment?

3)   Why do you think women who speak like men do not achieve the same results as men?

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