Indigenous Nationhood: Kahnawà:ke Mohawks

Indigenous Nationhood: Kahnawà:ke Mohawks

How can you be a nation when most of your initial territory is taken? It is difficult to model independence and self-governance as a nation when you are given “land reserved for your ‘use and benefit,’ with regulations on how you use that land, who gets to use it, what the terms of that use are.” (Simpson 10). Under these conditions, how does a group of indigenous peoples proceed as a sovereign nation? What is the appropriate compromise between indigenous peoples and settler nations? For the Kahnawà:ke Mohawks, the answer lies not in acceptance of that fate, but in their refusal to be dissolved into the colonial system. Audra Simpson, an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Native rights activist, argues there are three key ways in which the Mohawks of Kahnawà:ke have refuted full immersion into settler society, and those ideologies pave the way for indigenous peoples of the future.

Refusing ties to Canadian and American citizenship, the Kahnawà:ke Mohawks “insist upon the integrity of the Haudenosaunee governance.” (Simpson 7). They try to live in a state of nationhood, a complicated combination of being both indigenous peoples and occupying a territory overrun by colonialism. The struggle beginning in 1996 is best defined as the “question of membership,” an ongoing issue in which the Kahnawà:ke Mohawks attempt to balance both “political membership and formal recognition within their community” that is independent of the Canadian state (Simpson 8). Membership talk plays a large role in the community because although there are limited peoples on the reserve, it is crucial to understand why and how other members are connected to one another. While settler government seeks to absorb and control the Kahnawà:ke, “their political form predates and survives ‘conquests’; it is tangible (albeit strangled by colonial governmentality) and is tied to sovereign practices.” (Simpson 2).

To fully define their nationhood, the Kahnawà:ke want the local government to recognize a sovereignty within a sovereignty, which means acknowledging a Kahnawà:ke legal system within that of Canada’s. Although they identify as Kahnawà:ke Mohawks under Haudenosaunee governance, they are often forced to conform to many of the settler state ways, including registrations and international travel. What citizen are they? What authority do they answer to? “One challenges the very legitimacy of the other.” (Simpson 10). A society nested within another society will only work if one acknowledges the authenticity of the other. To make their culture and government defined, the Kahnawà:ke have fought to validate items such as a Confederacy passport for travel and politics apart from settler governance. However, their sovereignty can only be recognized if it legitimized in some way.

Therefore, the Kahnawà:ke want more than their culture to be recognized; they want their political sovereignty legitimized. Colonial governments often want to simply distinguish indigenous culture and traditions instead of declaring native governances to be successful and flourishing societies apart from the government, and so the “Iroquois [specifically the Kahnawà:ke] peoples remind nation-states such as the United States (and Canada) that they possess this very history, and within that history and seized space, they possess a precarious assumption that their boundaries are permanent, uncontestable, and entrenched.” (Simpson 22). This fleshed out through the Preamble to the amended Kahnawà:ke Membership Law in 2008, where it specifically rejects assimilation into the Canadian government and expresses the value of individual rights over collective rights (Simpson 14).

Finally, the Kahnawà:ke want detailed research dedicated to the history of their cultural and political systems so they can better govern themselves by their original ordinances. While the field of anthropology has paid attention to the histories of native peoples, little has been done to research their culture and background in light of political science, and both fields have failed epically in regards to a proper accounting of political theory because the research has been inclined to cultural traditions (Simpson 11). The assumption that indigenous nations are stable because they have been given land and allowed to keep their traditions is a dangerous one, and the Kahnawà:ke understand that much of their identity lies in defining their own self-governance. Research is required to evaluate what has and has not worked historically and paves the way for societal success.

By refusing to be eliminated from history and seen only as cultural memorabilia for tourism, Kahnawà:ke people are breaking ground for indigenous peoples all over the world. Native peoples cannot thrive under colonial sovereignties put into effect by settlers. They are more than their traditions and the meager amounts of land allotted to them. A society is not one or two aspects, but a medley of culture, people, and practices that give it the freedom to thrive under self-governed ordinances. If more indigenous peoples fight their assimilation into settler governments, refusing to adopt colonial mindsets, and more immigrants support the independence of these peoples, the world will see thriving native cultures in action for years to come.

Works Cited

Simpson, Audra. Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States.

Durham: Duke U Press, 2014. Print.

Indigenous Feminism: A Discussion of Mana Wahine and Māori Women’s Theory

Indigenous Feminism: A Discussion of Mana Wahine and Māori Women’s Theory

Understanding one’s background is key to self-discovery and fruition, so it is no surprise that Indigenous peoples are intent on the separation of their pedagogies and theories from those of the Western societies that colonized them. Instead of accepting a one-lifestyle-fits-all approach, they are determined to reconnect with their roots by studying the influence of their culture and historical background and the impression it leaves on social movements and the personal development of others. Using feminism as an example, Māori women believe that the Western definition of feminism is too broad and assumptive, and quick to leave out traces of historical and cultural impact. Māori people argue that those factors are crucial to developing new theories and defining movements, and Māori women state that sexual oppression is tied together with historical and culture oppression caused by colonization. Essentially, Indigenous peoples approach theory and pedagogy with a firm grasp on their background and the effect it has on the present movements, and this can contrast with Western views of feminism.

One primary issue Māori women have with Western feminism is the connotation of feminism in Indigenous cultures versus Western society; this is, perhaps, best described as the Indigenous abrasion to the conventional meaning associated with feminism coined by said cultures due to the obligation of white matriarchy. Dr. Leonie Pihama, a Māori scholar and activist states that “we [Māori women] are forever trying to see ourselves in the images created by the colonisers.” (4). The opinions and traditions of Indigenous peoples, especially women, have been diluted at best and erased at worst in terms of various movements started by Western culture. Instead of immediately discussing theory and change under the predetermined Western definitions, Indigenous people first must combat the adverse effects of colonialism and build a cornerstone for the development of theory and eventual pedagogy. Western societies fail to address the cultural and historical struggles of Indigenous people, therefore not starting with the underlying problem, and consequently having a weak foundation for mutuality in social movements.

This leads to another point of contrast: the assumption by Western and white cultures that one stance or classification fits all, thereby assuming positions for multitudes of diverse peoples without acknowledging the cultural and historical struggles of Indigenous peoples. Awatere argues that the “ability to control definitions is a consequence of white power and privilege.” (Pihama 5). While Western mainstream feminism focuses on sexual oppression, Indigenous feminism believes sexual oppression is rooted in cultural and historical oppression, arguing that the concepts are inseparable. This suggests that the best ally for Indigenous feminists is not Western feminists, but instead the men of their culture and background who have struggled with similar injustices. “It is Māori women and Māori men,” Pihama states, “who are more likely to be working alongside each other.” (8). This is contradictive to standard Western feminism, which often drives a wedge even further between men and women. If women across the world are to unite together for a form of global feminism and justice, it is vital that the Western feminists acknowledge the struggles unique to Indigenous women.

To combat the effects of colonization and its ties to feminism, many Māori women have reinvented their original place in society per the Mana Wahine theory. Pihama defines Mana Wahine theory as “a particular form of Māori theory that affirms the position and status of Māori women.” (10). Mana, loosely translated, means being simultaneously of the earth and ethereal, while Wahine means everything that is female and feminine in the Māori culture. This theory challenges the current view of Māori women and encourages people to study and hypothesize what happens at the juncture of being both Māori and female. It also directly addresses the impact of colonization and vocalizes what it has done and will continue to do unless changed. When lived out, this theory exemplifies the rediscovery of the position of Māori women in their culture as one of strength in a system that currently lessens their status. Through it people are reminded of the critical role Māori women play in society, and it reaffirms their worth in both cultural and historical practices.

Mana Wahine lays the groundwork for a cultural framework that can begin to withhold the pedagogical chains that impede growth for Māori children in the education system. Colonial ideologies of race, culture, and gender must be addressed and separated from the hoard of Western teachings thrust upon indigenous societies. Western theoretical frameworks are often generalized and assume all-inclusiveness without assessing the impact of colonization on historical and cultural issues. Indigenous peoples must break that mold and contend with the current system, showing that the history and culture of a people are crucial to the education of their youth. Indigenous peoples do not want history, culture, and tradition forgotten, creating generations of people brainwashed by Western culture. By equipping the Māori people with a rediscovered understanding of the cultural and historical impact colonization has had, their decedents can address social issues and lay the foreground for political change.

Works Cited

Pihama, Dr. Leonie. “Mana Wahine: Positioning Māori Women’s Theory.” (2015).

Serious Non-Fiction Development: Part 1 of a Semester’s Reflections

Serious Non-Fiction Development: Part 1 of a Semester’s Reflections

*In one of my classes this semester (one year left!), we are taking on a serious non-fiction book proposal complete with example chapters. Over the next few weeks, I will be following discussion prompts and fleshing out ideas for my book. I’ll be sure to share the final project after I turn it in—if you are so inclined to preview it. For this first week, we were assigned to read an article and respond to two of the questions prompts. 

  1. Whether Your Book Will be Unique and Necessary.

To answer the first part of the question, my book wouldn’t be overly unique in content as much as much as the format it is delivered in. Necessity is hardly enough to describe the need for this topic because the survival of a species depends not only upon raising awareness but also inspiring change. I have a passion for all things environmental, and ever since I was a little girl I have been obsessed with the soul-piercing eyes and bone-chilling howls of wolves. I believe many people admire them, but few know or choose to realize the danger they have been in since the turn of the twentieth century. There are books galore on wolves, but little focused specifically on their eradication from this continent and even less on ways to flourish the remainder of the species. Many websites offer a great overview. Environmental non-profits do their best to raise awareness in bite-sized doses. But I believe a solid book on the matter could be the gut-wrenching experience people need to get off their selfish butts and stand beside others for a cause bigger than themselves.

  1. If You Have Enough Content to Fill a Book.

Content won’t be an issue so much as figuring out how many details to include and how broad to make the historical section to give readers a good grounding before introducing solutions. I envision this book having four main parts: a brief history of the wolves in North America and the effect of settlers from the mid-1600s up to the environmental awakening in the twentieth century; recovery and rehabilitation efforts by environmentalists from the 1960s to the present; the benefit of wolves to our ecosystem and what will happen if things do not change or worsen; suggestions to sustain and grow the wolf population and specific ways people can help.

It’s a broad undertaking and I understand that environmental issues move many people in the moment they hear about it only for them to forget hours later. My goal for this book is to do more than make people concerned. I want them to be happy, enraged, brought to tears, determined, and ultimately inspired to speak up for a species that cannot do so on their own. We are stewards of this planet and all its creatures. Hopefully, a narrative driven story of the wolves in North America is enough to let people see the faults of their ancestors—even themselves—and get caught up in the story of life we all play a part in, causing even a handful of people to stand together and do something.

Battle for Beauty: A Memoir

Battle for Beauty: A Memoir

*This story is may be unacceptable for young padawans as the content is mildly disturbing.

Please don’t go,” I plead under my breath while I attempt to concentrate on the lines in front of me. The papers crinkle in my hand as Cindy warns the kids they only have five minutes to go. Nicole asks me in her mousy, three-year old voice, “awre you coming wif us Befferny?” Part of me tries to resist staying in. I entertain the idea, but I know deep down the battle is already over. I force a smile and say no. Jakob rushes by, his gi and white belt in tow. I wave goodbye and wish the kids good luck at practice. The door slams shut, and I peek through the mesh curtain until I see the minivan clear the driveway. I sit back on the futon for a moment and pretend to read my sides again. Ten seconds later I’m standing by the cupboard. My actions are mechanic now, as I reach in with mixed feelings of guilt and excitement.

I don’t recall the exact moment my thought process became unhealthy. I was a skeptical, but happy, girl with little to no concern about my image. It was a slow fade into oblivion, something so gradual and blurred that by the time I came to my senses, I could no longer see the shore. My mom foresaw the warning signs, and whether her approach was brash or not, I would have been wise to heed her insight. Instead, I found a way to better mask the truth, deceiving myself and others. I recall little moments leading up to the climax, such as deep yearnings for perfection and an overwhelming desire to be anything but unwanted. The beauty pageant that took place the summer after my high school graduation planted the first official seed, for making top-ten overall in the competition was nothing short of failure in my eyes. Something was wrong, but I wasn’t aware what aspect of my being I needed to correct. Nothing seemed feasible at first, but one day it occurred to me that I had the utmost control over my food intake, and therefore my looks and body.

The Fall after my pageant I began restricting my daily meal consumption. I started creating forbidden foods like cookies, chips, and soda, and lowered my daily calorie intake significantly. Standing a few inches over five feet, and weighing a little over one hundred pounds, I had absolutely no need to take such drastic measures. This illness, though, if one can call it that, is anything but logical. Since the absence of daily meals is somewhat hard to conceal, I conjured up what I believed to be clever tricks that convinced others I was eating normally. This would entail pushing food around on my plate to make it appear less in volume, sneaking bites into a napkin that I kept hidden between my legs at meal time, and taking my food to eat somewhere secret so I could throw it away or flush it down the toilet. It all sounds rather morbid, but I convinced myself of quite the opposite more often than not. It was the only feasible way to gain an ideal image while appeasing society’s standards of food intake.

I vividly remember a day a few months into my restriction period when my mom’s suspicions could no longer be silenced. We had ordered pizza for dinner, a longtime favorite of mine, but I was quite traumatized at the thought of consuming those horrid fats and calories. I crept off with a little piece up to my room, and then promptly threw it away. I went to great lengths to disguise the slice by wrapping it in napkins. I went to the mall briefly and returned to my room later that evening only to be met with shock and anxiety. My bare toes curled and tugged at the beige carpet as I hugged my arms closer to my body. The sun had already set on that brisk November evening, but I didn’t feel the chill as my eyes drilled into the stale piece of pizza resting atop some papers that were spread across my silk purple comforter. I slammed my bedroom door, which caused my picture frames to shake. A pencil fell silently to the floor. I dropped my Aeropostale bag on the ground and reluctantly stepped towards the out of place conglomeration.

My mom had googled pages burdened with eating disorder warnings and descriptions -all pointing to anorexia- and left the printed sheets under the piece of pizza. In addition, there was a hand written note filled with a mother’s angst and concern about my habits as of late. I rushed downstairs and told her she was making a big deal and that I just wasn’t feeling well. She stood her ground, adamant that I was too skinny. Our anxious words turned into a huge fight, and the subject became moot for a period of time. I don’t blame my mom, or anyone else for that matter because a full-blown eating disorder was bound to follow my obsessive compulsions. However, in some way, direct or not, the realization that others noticed my skimpy eating habits was partly what steered me towards bulimia. Purging became my ticket to eat food in front of people, a lot of it, and still remain the weight I wanted. I could even lose weight this way. Before I knew it, I was spiraling downwards, out of alignment with the control I ironically desired in the first place.

After the encounter with my mom, I was mortified at the chance of being caught. It would devastate my family and friends, and worse, put a halt to my successful weight loss program. I managed to fend onlookers off for a while by utilizing my normal tricks, but knew is was only a matter of time before I was confronted again. The body can only tolerate so many limitations as well, and without die-hard dedication, one can easily lose heart. One evening while my family and I were watching J.J. Abrams’ new rendition of Star Trek, I was again tempted by my arch-nemesis: pizza. My morale didn’t fare as well this time around. I gave in and consumed the calories my body had been desperately needing. Satiety didn’t sit well with me, and I started having panic attacks. I kept myself composed and excused myself from the family film, feigning ill. My bedroom door closed and I frantically searched around the room. Operating solely on emotions, I grabbed my trash can and stuck my fingers down my throat. The experience was humiliating, painful, and practically unsuccessful the first time around. Yet, the process hooked me like a drug and left me feeling far better about myself afterward. I finally had control.

I started getting to a point where I would purge after nearly every meal because I was paranoid about weight gain. Once I learned the food could be emptied immediately afterward consumption, I started eating larger portions to satisfy my cravings and trick my body into thinking it was full. I pretended the term bulimia didn’t exist for quite some time, but curiosity eventually got the best of me. I found myself poring over websites laden with life-threatening conditions related to the addiction. It was enough to frighten me into submission, and I managed to quit cold turkey for roughly two weeks before my Los Angeles journey where I had aspirations of studying acting. I thought I was cured. As expected, however, bulimia returned with a vengeance. I would have a day off every once in a while -usually due to circumstance, not choice- but I binged and purged most of the time.

I would begin my morning with an extremely healthy, yet meager, meal, only to binge and purge that afternoon and evening. The binges grew in both volume and time frame. I went from a binge consisting of  a dozen cookies, all the way to a binge session containing three bowls of cereal, a quesadilla, two sandwiches, half a jar of peanut butter, as many cookies as I could get my hands on, a couple slices of pizza, six cereal or protein bars, half a gallon of milk, mac and cheese, pudding, chicken, and loads of chocolate. Unfortunately, that list is not exaggerated in any way.  A binge flipped a switch in my head that made me consume anything within reach. I became careless and absent-minded mere minutes into the process. The food would stop tasting like food, and I’d enter a numb state of mind. My binges would typically start with a trigger food, like cake, but halfway through I’d eat healthy food, items recently thrown in the trash, even food I didn’t like if nothing else was available. My bank account suffered too, for I would often make special trips for guilty pleasure items that would never sit in my body longer than a few hours.

 I pull out a bag of mini Oreos and savor the first few bites. Perhaps it will be enough this time around. Just in case, though, I need to drink some milk because it makes the vomit come up easier and semi-coats my throat and teeth from the bile. I grab some peanut butter, eating spoonfuls at a time. There’s a large pancake wrapped up in the corner. Why not? I locate another package of cookies. I eat over ten, dipping some of them in peanut butter. Then I munch on some snack bars. Cereal. Some macaroni and cheese. I don’t bother heating it up. I make two sandwiches, chugging milk in between. I pull out a bag of my special purchased food. I begin inhaling the donuts: chocolate iced and apple fritters. I rotate the flavors in case I can’t finish them all. I normally eat until I reach the point where I’m in so much pain, I can barely move and already feel on the verge of throwing up. Sometimes I stop sooner because of lack of food or time. Sadly, today is not one of those cases. I enjoy my apathy and the bliss of the binge; the taste of the food in my mouth.

            Realizing I can’t physically hold anymore, I slink down to the floor, contemplating what to do as if I have a choice. I try to postpone the purge as long as possible, but finally, realize I need to get it over with. I grab the plastic bag from my shopping trip and set it in the bathroom trash can. I layer four more to prevent leaking. I prefer to purge in a toilet, but lately, I have been causing clogs and I don’t want to raise suspicions. Even though I’m home alone, I lock the door to the bathroom. I pin up my hair, make sure paper towels are nearby, turn on some quiet music in case someone walks into the apartment, and pop my retainers in; a pathetic attempt to protect my teeth. I check my stomach in the mirror so I can keep track of how much it deflates. I then stand and bend down, or occasionally kneel. I take two fingers, or three, depending on my gag reflexes that day, and stroke the back of my throat until I feel something come up. It’s a nasty, painful process that worsens with time. I hate this part, but I’m almost robotic as I do it.

I am satisfied as I see the pile of vomit growing bigger, watching and checking each item food off mentally as it comes back up. I don’t stop unless nothing more comes up, my stomach looks thin enough to me, or I physically can’t do it anymore. Then I wipe off my face and hands and let my hair down. Wash my hands and arms. Adjust my make up. Tie off the bag. Rinse my mouth out with water. Clean my retainers and soak them. I learned along the way that brushing right after is bad, so I rub toothpaste on my teeth with my finger and swish it around. I then rinse with either mouthwash or baking soda and water. I drink lots of water to restore all that I lost. Put on some chapstick. I check to see if anyone came home, and then I tiptoe out to the dumpster with my vomit sack. The whole process takes anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours depending on the size of the binge. Today it took an hour and a half. Now I’m physically exhausted and somewhat high on the empty feeling. I always tell myself it is the last time. It never is.

Recovery was not an easy path to walk down. I tried for nearly a year and a half to correct my eating habits on my own. I purchased countless books, created meal plans, and joined online support groups. I utilized every method but the one I needed most: talking directly to another human being about my problem. Assured of my capabilities, I strove to overcome bulimia alone. More-so, I was petrified and ashamed of someone finding out my secret. People would never view me the same again. I prayed about and hoped for recovery on a daily basis. Time transpired, and I had my little victory moments where I would make it through a few days without a relapse. I never made it more than a week, though. Eventually, Los Angeles became too much of a financial and emotional burden for my taxed body, and I reluctantly returned home, hoping the familiarity of family and friends would be enough to cure me. My condition only continued to worsen, though, and I was running out of options at an accelerating rate. I tried to scare myself into change by remembering dangerous side effects. My voice was getting ruined. My teeth could fall out and rot. My stomach was getting torn up. My esophagus could erupt. Heart failure. Yet, all those dangerous side effects weren’t enough to stop me, not even the possibility of death.

The following spring I sat on the corner of my mom’s bed and mentioned I wanted to talk about something. At a loss for words, I shoved my edition of Bulimia: A Guide to Recovery awkwardly at her. She said she already knew, and that counseling was probably going to be the best option. Four years and many relapses later, I’m ninety-nine percent free of my eating disorder. It will always by my Achilles heel to an extent, but I no longer live in fear of food, nor do I let weight control my life. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I was created to be more than a number, a look, or a like on Facebook. My self-confidence doesn’t need to spawn from external factors, including labels I place on myself.

I don’t know the exact reason I went through years of pain, whimsically chasing unrealistic beauty goals. I also don’t understand how I survived, and with so little damage to my body. I do believe there’s a purpose in it all. I’ve experienced tremendous growth and wisdom due to my burden. Control is an illusion, and mankind, myself most assuredly, would be wise to understand that. External beauty is fleeting, therefore time spent bettering one’s heart and soul is the only sound investment. Finally, food is sustenance; nothing more, nothing less. I anticipate helping others one day. Eating disorders are an epidemic in modern society, and many don’t escape the grip of bulimia or anorexia without support and assistance from another human being. If the story of one broken and confused girl can help another, I will be satisfied. I want to whisper to her and let her know weight and looks do not echo in eternity.

Cultures Apart: Gendered Interaction and Language

Cultures Apart: Gendered Interaction and Language

One does not need to do much research to realize that the way men and women talk is different. It is evident in all aspects of language, from tone to word choice. Many people have scoffed at the other gender’s communication style, walking a tightrope of amusement and frustration with the variances. Cultural norms imply that masculinity and femininity are, in part, defined by communication styles. What is not as easily understood is what the specific differences are between gendered language and interaction, and exactly what those discrepancies mean and why. Although sexes are inherently male and female, the social grooming of people combined with natural inclinations is what makes their speech distinctly masculine and feminine. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the different ways in which men and women use language and to assess the impact it has on gendered interactions. Before beginning this discussion, it is important to note that the ways men and women speak have a greater number of overlapping features than disparate ones. Rather than viewing the differences in terms of dogs and cats, then, it is better to compare the language inclinations of men and women as domestic cats to wild cats—diverse, but similar.

To fully discuss gendered speech and interaction, it is best to begin with a brief overview of the origins of language. One way to decide whether language is innate or learned is to discuss its formation. Steven Pinker, a leading expert on language and the mind, believes all language begins with a form of mentalese, which is best described through real-life instances: an experience where what one saying or writing down is not actually what one is thinking in his or her mind. This “mental language” gets lost in translation to the lips or page; one lacks the proper vocabulary or sentence manipulation to converse properly with others; one simply does not have language suitable to grasp certain concepts. Pinker goes on to prove his point, stating “to have that feeling, there has to be a ‘what we meant to say’ that is different from what we said” (57). If what people mean to say is different than what they say, it is logical that humans must have some sort of mother language in their minds. This idea is similar to how many scientists and artists claim their work starts out with images and thoughts as opposed to words. A perfect example is author C. S. Lewis. His entire fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia, began with an image of a fawn (he did not know what to call it at first) standing in a forest, while it was snowing, holding an umbrella and some parcels (Bane 1). That thought haunted him for decades, and then one day he finally translated it into words. Most (if not all) inspiration occurs this way, and then it is often a struggle to translate mentalese into writing, speaking, or actions.

There is clearly something special about human brains that allows people to master language so thoroughly in such a short amount of time. Pinker states that “a person would need a childhood of about a hundred trillion years to memorize [all the sentence possibilities]” (86). It is literally impossible to memorize language as people know it, argues Pinker, so humans must have this predetermined understanding of syntax and grammar, or at least an inclination towards it. Still, even though we are biologically programmed with innate inclinations towards first language, we are also dependent on other humans to acquire language. People have a natural predisposition towards grammar, but they use external forces and rules, too. Essentially, humans have an innate capability to understand and construct a complex language, but those instincts must be fostered by more advanced users. For example, a wolf taken from its pack as a pup will still have natural inclinations to hunt and attack smaller game, hence the concept that a wild animal is never truly safe. However, that wolf may not be a skilled hunter, and he or she may also be less inclined to hunt and more inclined to rest content with a human owner. Language is similar in the sense that it comes naturally to the human race, but people still need that rudimentary concept to be tended to in order for it to flourish.

Next, one must understand how language works as whole before analyzing the complexities of gendered speech. the easiest way to understand language is the phrase structure of grammar. Pinker argues that language structure is more like a tree than a chain because the words are grouped into phrases just like how twigs are grouped onto a branch (98). An example is the common sentence structure of a noun phrase followed by a verb phrase. In the sentence “The fluffy cat drinks milk,” “The fluffy cat” is the noun phrase and “drinks milk” is the verb phrase. The words are the twigs, the phrases are the branches, and the whole sentence is the tree. This connects back to the meaning of grammar, because “grouping words into phrases is also necessary to connect grammatical sentences with their proper meanings, chunks of mentalese.” (Pinker 101). Mentalese itself is best described through real-life instances: an experience where what one saying or writing down is not actually what one is thinking in his or her mind. To summarize, Pinker states that “a sentence, then, must express some kind of meaning that does not clearly reside in its nouns and verbs but that embraces the entire combination and turns it into a proposition that can be true or false.” (117).

Individually, these theories seem to only further complicate how language works. There is a collective meaning to this madness, though, as Pinker concludes that every person’s brain has a mental dictionary of words and a mental set of grammar rules unique to that person and his or her culture (85). People have a mental grammar software, so to speak, that is innate and nurtured during the critical learning period. The complexity of language pales in comparison to the complexity of thought, and so goal of language is merely to capture the mentalese of human thought and convey it in a way where other humans can be easily taught the same structure. Pinker sums up this phenomenon best: “complexity in the mind is not caused by learning; learning is caused by complexity in the mind.” (125). Mentalese is the reason we utilize language because it is the most efficient way to communicate the concepts originating in the mind. The question, then, should not be “how does language work?”, but rather, “how do people continuously tweak language to better express their thoughts?”, for language is merely tool to better understand the souls of mankind.

Now that the prerequisites of the origins and structure of language have been discussed and found they are the same for both genders, it is logical to examine the physical properties that define male and female speech patterns. George Yule, a linguistic educator and author, states that “men [generally] have longer vocal tracts, larger larynxes and thicker vocal folds than women.” (275). The transition takes place during puberty, as most voices are alike prior. These physical characteristics and differences correlate directly to pitch, which is a scientific term used to define “the quality of a sound governed by the rate of vibrations producing it,” or the grade of highness or lowness in a tone (Merriam-Webster). Although men and women may be inclined towards certain pitches, they are often capable of speaking in tones common to the opposite sex. Per voice teacher Dr. Brian Lee, “functionally all voices have the same scientific registers available to them.” (1). Although the size of the larynx cannot be altered after puberty, men and women can learn to speak and sing in higher or lower registers than natural to them. Likewise, some perfectly normal men have larger larynxes, while some perfectly normal women have smaller ones (Lee 1). Because of this, there is never a guarantee that one can discern which gender is speaking strictly on tone alone.

Since register alone is not enough to set apart male and female speech, perhaps there is something in the speech patterns of each gender that allows them to be more defined. Yule expounds on this idea, stating that “there is a tendency to exaggerate the differences [of gendered voice] in many contexts in order to sound more ‘like a man’ or more ‘like a woman.’” (275). These prosodic cues can be used to analyze the primary differences in male and female speech patterns. For example, women speaking American English tend to speak with more “rising and falling intonation.” (Yule 276). Men tend to speak in a slightly varying register that ends on a lower intonation; however, female statements and questions often conclude with a rising intonation, as if to invite the other speaker to respond with his or her opinion. Women are also prone to hedges and tag questions in their speech. Study the following sentence: “It’s rather dark out today, isn’t it?” In the sentence, the hedge word “rather” is used to qualify the following word “dark.” The speaker then follows up the statement with the tag question “isn’t it?” Yule defines a tag questions as “short questions consisting of an auxiliary and a pronoun, added to the end of a statement.” (276). This technique is used frequently by women when sharing an opinion. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to avoid both hedges and tag questions, resulting in a sentence like this: “It’s as dark as night today.”

Where do these varying speech patterns and inclinations come from? According to Julia T. Wood, professor of Communication at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the answer lies within the upbringing of children. In her book, Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and Culture, she discusses how men and women are conditioned to have different communication styles or to talk differently. Communication is a cultural phenomenon, claims Wood, and it “exists when people share understandings about goals of communication, strategies for enacting those goals, and ways of interpreting communication.” (19). When people share these understandings, expectations arise and norms are created that best serve the goal of efficient communication. These expectations are implemented in childrearing, resulting in most adults being brought up with the same social norms of communication and language within a given culture. Gendered speech patterns are greatly fostered in the rudimentary period of childplay. Per a classic study by D. N. Maltz and R. Borker in 1982, the researchers discovered two key traits: children almost always played in same-sex groups, and the girls and boys usually played different games (Wood 19). For example, boys tend to play in larger groups with competitive games that establish hierarchal relationships (I’m the general of the army, so what I say goes), while girls prefer smaller groups with cooperative activities that establish reciprocal relationships (Ok, it’s your turn to be the owner and I’ll be the puppy) (Yule 276). These groups and different games lead to different forms of communication and therefore different societal roles.

That same-gender socialization is often “reinforced through separate educational experiences, creating young men and women who may interact with each other only rarely outside family settings.” (Yule 276). When they do begin to interact together at an older age, their language characteristics are strikingly different in many aspects, including frequency of speech and back-channels. Research has shown that these “natural tendencies often create a rift between men when communicating with the opposite sex as men and women approach conversations differently.” (Merchant 20). Adult conversation frequently mimics childplay, as women are typically more animated, hesitant, and well-mannered in conversation, while men are more confident and dictatorial (Basow and Rubenfield 184). Attributes already recognized in women’s speech patterns (such as ending on a high intonation and using tag questions) play directly into the act of turn-taking in conversations. For example, women “facilitate the exchange of turns” in conversation, while men “take longer turns in speaking” with a hierarchal organization (Yule 276). This creates a perfect flow with same-gendered conversation, but when both men and women are speaking, interrupting is rampant. One study found “96 percent of the identified interruptions [in conversations] being attributed to men.” (Yule 277). Returning to same gender conversations, women also tend to use more back-channels, which “describes the use of words (yeah, really?) or sounds (hmm, oh) by listeners while someone else is speaking (Yule 277). Men not only use these less than women, they also assume that others use back-channels to signify and agreement to what is being said (Yule 277).

Due to all these evident differences, many experts compare the communication of men and women to cross-cultural communication. Many of the disconnections discussed prior must do with the intended purpose of communication for both genders. Research shows that for women, “communication is a primary way to establish and maintain relationships with others,” but for men, it is a tool used for “exerting control, preserving independence, and enhancing status.” (Wood 21, 23). Using the same sentences that were analyzed prior, the woman who says “It’s rather dark out today, isn’t it?” is trying to keep the conversation equally balanced between the speakers, as well as build a relationship with the listener. This can also directly relate to the social norms of women being expected to be more submissive and questioning. Likewise, the man who says “It’s as dark as night today” is expressing a thought in the form of an opinion and showing his independence, as opposed to seeking affirmation from the listener. As the social norms of women are evident in their speech patterns, men are apt to communicate in a way that shows their dominance, self-reliance, and assertiveness. Although it is tempting to perceive one form of communication as weak and the other as strong, they are merely different types of communication that are oftentimes misinterpreted by the opposite gender.

When two or more people from distinctly different cultural backgrounds communicate, it likely that there will be misunderstandings. Since men and women are brought up in different communication cultures (intentionally or not), misinterpretations between the two is a regular occurrence. Since the root of the issue has been discussed, it is best to analyze a common example of miscommunication. One area that is greatly affected by it is relationship discussions. Often, men believe a relationship is going well when it does not need to be discussed (Wood 26). They will only instigate and/or be willing to discuss a relationship if they feel something is wrong. Women, on the other hand, usually think a relationship is going smoothly if there is frequent conversation about the relationship (Wood 26). The heart of the misunderstanding lies in the fact that, typically, men see conversation as a means to an end, while women see the act of communication a sign that a relationship is going well. This is only one of many scenarios where men and women struggle to understand the language culture of the other gender, but the lessons here can be applied to almost any situation.

The origins, acquisition process, and structure of language are the same for both men and women. What differs is their inclinations coupled with the nurture patterns with which they receive it, as well as the social norms they experience early on in childhood. By better understanding the culture of male and female language, each gender can learn to better interact with and understand the other. When the rules of each gender are understood between two people of the opposite sex, their conversation “has become bilingual, and so communication between them is smoother and more satisfying.” (Wood 27). This narrows the chances of misunderstanding motives due to being unable to interpret what the other gender was trying to say. This is not only beneficial to romantic relationships, but also to daily communication at work and in social settings. The lessons learned regarding opposite gender communication are also applicable on a global level, for people “must be prepared to try to understand the impact of the cultures we inherit and, through the creativity with language that we are also given, to find new ways of articulating those cultures before we pass them on.” (Yule 277).

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