Are you a victim of modern day society? Women, raise your hands, because this question is consistently answered by you. Hair, makeup, clothing, everything the female gender is accustomed to, seems to be what they themselves accuse of causing judgement from men. Take a moment and think back to the last time you went on a date or were just looking for a potential candidate, did you not judge men by their clothes, their hair, their facial hair, or even their shoes? In Deborah Tannen’s article, “Wears Jump Suit. Sensible Shoes. Uses Husband’s Last Name”, she incorrectly states that the male gender as a whole is “unmarked” by clothes, hairstyles, and even the English language.
Tannen’s article begins with a business meeting and describes how the women around her look. She implies that one is classy, one is confident, and one is young and carefree (Tannen, 135). She goes on to tell the readers about the clothing choices of the women, and realizes that she hasn’t criticized the men because they are all “identical” (135). Tannen explains the history of “marked” linguistics in English and how it “conveys “male”” (136). She also explains how the term “unmarked” means that the subject is not judged by their everyday choices (135). Ralph Fasold then became her support system when she mentioned the biological fact that everyone is originally born a female, and that the English language should reflect that (137). Tannen concludes her article with a story about her experience on a talk show when a man in the audience accused her of “male-bashing” and she said that she thought it was sad that “women didn’t have the freedom to be unmarked that the men sitting next to us had” (140).
Contrary to Tannen’s article, men do not have the freedom of being “unmarked”. Her statement at the end of page 135, “I scanned the eight men at the table. And then I knew why I wasn’t studying them. The men’s styles were unmarked”, shows the ignorance she shares with many media-focused individuals. Although the market for men’s clothing is limited, every choice they make tells a story about them. Ties, for example. A man chooses a color or pattern based on his personal preference. A blue tie because it is his favorite color, maybe? A football pattern because football season just started and his favorite team is playing that day perhaps? And what about shoes? Will he choose leather shoes that are expensive because he has a high paying job? Will he choose brown loafers for a cheaper, but suitable substitute? What would you think if he settled with a brown pair of Sketchers to pair with his suit? They are both comfortable and durable, but wouldn’t you assume he does not care about looking professional or that his financial situation is not the best. Now think about life outside the office. A man can choose between button downs, T-shirts, a tank top, and various types of pants, shorts, and shoes. Everyone who comes across a man will judge him by his clothes. Does he look like a casual guy, a golfer, a skateboarder, a doctor, etc., just by looking at his outfit? What do these titles make you think about him? Is he rich, poor, middle class, does he have a family, is he single, does he enjoy hiking? You assume the information within seconds of passing by him, simply from the clothing he wears.
Likewise, a man’s hairstyle can give insight on his personality. On the second page (136) of Tannen’s article she claims, “One man was unabashedly bald; the others had hair of standard length, parted on one side, in natural shades of brown or gray or graying. Their hair obstructed no views, left little to toss or push back or run fingers through and, consequently, needed and attracted no attention.” But would a bald man not raise questions in your mind? Would graying hair on a younger man not make you stop and think? When seeing a man who is bald, you tend to take into consideration a few things. One, how old is he and does that explain why he is bald? Two, did he choose to shave it off? And three, why would he choose to be bald, is there a cause or is it a preference? The same things can be said for young men with graying hair. Is it in their genes, is it caused by stress? Does he work hard, does he have family-related problems? These are just a few questions that come to mind when we come in contact with men that have bald or gray hair. Longer hair can be associated with surfers, rockers, skaters, etc., while men sporting marine crew cuts are usually associated with authority or military service. Women, as well as other men, tend to judge men on the basis of hairstyles, just as men are said to judge women.
In contrast to Tannen, and Fasold’s, argument that the English language conveys “male” (136), the history of the language has nothing to do with sexism or favoritism of genders. According to Christianity, Adam was created first. After realizing the need for a companion, God used Adam’s rib to create Eve, therefore she is Mankind. But in historical context, the word “man” was originally used to mean “person”. The word for the male gender was “wer” as in werewolf, man wolf. It wasn’t until around the 1900’s that man became the commonly used word to describe a male. The word “men” meant “to think” and so Mankind meant “the thinkers”, which does not hint at sexism or misandry towards either gender. We use “he” to represent “they” simply because “Mankind” meant all of us, not just the men. Because of our extensive knowledge of history, we can now put the Tannen and Fasold argument that language is sexist to rest.
In the final analysis, twenty-two years after “Wears Jump Suit. Sensible Shoes. Uses Husband’s Last Name.” was published, we can lay this case to rest. Men are subject to being “marked” just as much as women due to outfit choices and their style of hair, but the English language does not affect either gender. Given these points, you can see how Deborah Tannen incorrectly argued that males are not judged, or “marked”. Both males and females are marked by our society without knowing it, it is the way we are accustomed to living and the way that we will continue to live.
“The Word ‘Man’ Was Originally Gender Neutral.” Today I Found Out. 24 Aug. 2010. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.
Tannen, Deborah. “Wears Jump Suit. Sensible Shoes. Uses Husband’s Last Name.” New York Times Magazine 20 June 1993: 135-140. Print.
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