Authoratative Language

Continued from the first Language post: A related concept I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is using an authoritative voice when writing. I tend to use passive or apologetic phrases regularly in my writing: “In my opinion,” “I think that,” “I don’t speak for everyone, but…” “I’m sorry, but…”

To speak in a passive or constantly apologetic tone invites patronizing responses and indifference. Of course, to speak in an aggressive or authoritative tone invites hostile opposition and snark, among other things, but I believe that being respected enough to be argued vehemently against is more constructive and progressive than to be condescended to or brushed off, and I value progressive and constructive behavior and thought over condescension and indifference.

This is a phenomenon that is frequently discussed in feminist spheres, because of the observed correlation between females/passive and males/authoritative in terms of writers and speakers. Women as a whole are socialized to be passive and peacemaking in an effort to maintain harmony, while men are socialized to be aggressive and authoritative in order to dominate. Most people respond more critically and constructively to authoritative tones rather than they do to passive tones, so it is important for women to feel comfortable and confident in their ability to speak authoritatively in order for our voices to be heard.

To accept this, though, one has to believe that authority (a trait commonly thought of as masculine) is preferable to passivity (a trait commonly believed to be feminine in nature), which perpetuates the idea that masculinity is inherent in men and femininity inherent in women, and that masculinity is to be valued and respected more than femininity. Which means that men are more respected and taken more seriously than women, as a whole. This leaves many others who do not fit into the male-female/masculine-feminine binary out of the picture entirely, erasing their experiences and identities.

So why worry about whether or not I’m speaking authoritatively, if doing to would only perpetuate the idea that I’m inherently flawed because I’m female?

I don’t know. But I do know that I want people to take me seriously, and most people won’t take me serisouly if I do not speak authoritatively. Am I giving up? I’m not sure.

I do know that I’m tired of being so quick to concede a battle because I am eager to avoid further conflict, and give up being “right” or respected as a result. I am tired of being patronized because my writing style, that’s been subconsciously encouraged since I learned to communicate, is not the one more valued in society.

If I am a person who would, by nature, be more subdued and peacemaking, I am not opposed to that identity. The problem is that I don’t know whether or not I am, because I am a female, and I was socialized to behave and think in one way, while my male counterparts were socialized to behave in a different way. Until we stop raising and teaching our children to behave according to which genitals they have, we will not know who we really are.

As a woman, I am tired of feeling like I need to add a disclaimer to everything I write. It’s as if I’m saying to the world, “Hello, I’m very sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to let you know that although I am a woman, I thought it might be fun to maybe write something quick about my experiences and things that I feel. I hope I don’t take up too much of your time– I mean, if you hate what I’m saying, please, don’t feel bad, I won’t be offended if you leave and go somewhere else. And by all means, if you do manage to read through this whole thing, please don’t worry, if you want to criticize me in the comment section, I don’t mind at all. I probably have a thing or two to learn, anyway!”

I’m tired of reading what I write and hearing that. I’m tired of reading other women’s writing and hearing that.

New Year’s Resolution: Stop being afraid of constructive confrontation and responsible aggression.

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4 Responses to Authoratative Language

  1. Pingback: On Language, Speaking, & Writing « ethecofem

  2. Desipis says:

    I don’t think it’s a matter of doing one or the other. Even though I’m male I was brought up to be “passive and peacemaking in an effort to maintain harmony”, and I think I’m better for it. I do sometimes speak with authority, however do so mainly when I’m projecting authority from another source such as from a respected person or a collection of evidence or research. The only time I speak from personal authority is where I have demonstrable experience (rarely on the internet) to do so and feel comfortable I have an objective argument. I don’t see it as “apologetic” as much as “clear communication” distinguishing objective facts from subject opinion. I also generally form an impression of arrogance (or ignorance) where I see others speaking as if they have authority they really have valid claim to.

    Stop being afraid of constructive confrontation and responsible aggression.

    I think qualifying an opinion is more likely to lead to constructive confrontations than framing opinions as undeniable facts. It’s more likely to raise curiosity into why a particular opinion is formed which, while is possibly more likely to lead to focus on irrelevant aspects of the individual. is also more likely to lead to examination of the logic behind the opinion rather than flat dismissal or disagreement.

  3. kissiegrrrl says:

    You’re both right, the difference is context.

    When I’m speaking with those who know me well, these people often having a similar speaking style to my own, I constantly qualify what I’m saying to be sure I’m discussing things in an open way. However, I do this with the understanding that these are people who won’t dismiss my ideas based on the passivity in which I’m speaking.

    Now, on the other hand, I basically work in communications with my political work. Whether I’m talking to legislators that are totally with (or against, or on the fence around) me, talking to folks all over the country on the phone about progressive issues, or working to get out the vote in my neighborhood, I have to be very aware of how I speak.

    In my crowd, we call what April describes as “weak language”, it implies to the other party that you are less than confident and thusly allows them to figure anything you just said that conflicts with their preconceptions is crap, propaganda.

    So, there’s the rub. While the “feminine” communication style, the passive voice, may be the most honest- it’s the confident, authoritative speaking style, free of qualifiers and potentially misleading (Limbaugh, Beck and Palin all are great in terms of “strong language), that’s what ends up getting the job done in the greater community. And, in my opinion, an activist’s job isn’t to preach to the choir, but to identify & mobilize those who don’t know they’re activists waiting to happen.

    • desipis says:

      While the “feminine” communication style, the passive voice, may be the most honest- it’s the confident, authoritative speaking style, free of qualifiers and potentially misleading (Limbaugh, Beck and Palin all are great in terms of “strong language), that’s what ends up getting the job done in the greater community. And, in my opinion, an activist’s job isn’t to preach to the choir, but to identify & mobilize those who don’t know they’re activists waiting to happen.

      I think that’s a pretty good explanation as to why a progressive mens movement needs to be independant from and to a certain extent in opposition to feminism. Political feminists are willing to forego the truth and nuace required for real gender equality in the name of “getting the job done” for women.

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