Critical Reading of Deborah Tannen’s Marked Women

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 19 September 2016

Critical Reading of Deborah Tannen’s Marked Women

Marked Women, a short piece by Deborah Tannen (1993), is a fine example of a well planned and effect piece of literature. When read properly, that is to say with the metacognitive process engaged, a full meaning of the author’s intent is able to be achieved. This process not only involved questioning the ideas presented, but also analyzing them for the contextual clues that may be revealed. This helped to place the text more completely within the reader’s mind and comprehension. Additionally reading as a writer as opposed to a mere audience was necessary.

This encouraged a total enjoyment of the piece through understanding of Tannen’s plans, understandings and strategies. Again, this well thought out and presented writing accomplished its goal of being effective at engaging its readership. When reading a piece as short as Marked Women, it is vital to read for meaning as opposed to just reading for pleasure. Reading for meaning involves several parts as a whole process which will yield a more rich understanding of what makes up the text. This primarily involves questioning the writing.

This helped me to become a much more critical reader by assisting in seeing the connections between various parts of each idea. When seen as connected pieces instead of unrelated topics, I found myself seeing what Tannen’s own thoughts and opinions were shaping up to. The initial question that I placed to the piece was, “Does the author’s indication of a marked gender indicate any reliance of it upon the unmarked gender? ” I posed this because of the fact that what she was saying about the genders discussed appeared to be completely unrelated to her apparent placement of the theme within the topic of linguistics.

The answer to this question was somewhat surprising to me. Tannen did not, anywhere indicate that the marked gender, in this case female, depended upon or relied upon the unmarked gender, male. What I mean is this: by dependent, I mean that it derives itself from the basis of the existence of the other. Or more succinctly, one cannot exist without the previous presence of the other. This turned out not to be true of the genders, according to Tannen. In the paragraph that includes, “There is no woman’s hair style that can be called standard, that says nothing about her.

The range of women’s hair styles is staggering, but a woman whose hair has no particular style is perceived as not caring about how she looks, which can disqualify her for many positions, and will subtly diminish her as a person in the eyes of some” this is clear. Rather than saying that the lack of style for a woman’s hair is somewhat standard or in relation to that of a man, Tannen describes it as a situation of just not caring. Therefore, the implication is that the two genders are not dependent or reliant but rather completely independent.

Considering the rest of the piece, this would turn out to be very enlightening and important. It made me a better, more critical reader. The above question naturally led to a series of follow up questions: “Is Tannen really talking about linguistics and the marking of verbs? Or does she truly have a different purpose? Is the discussion of gender markings for the sexes not actually a metaphor for language usage, but in reality the other way around? ” The presence of these questions in my mind was very satisfying. I began to feel I was getting a true grasp of what Tannen was up to here.

It also encouraged me to think that I was becoming a more capable and interactive reader. The answers, in brief, by the way, to the above question are cohesive: Tannen is fooling herself, and others, if she claims that she is really talking about linguistics. More about that below, regarding contextualization understanding. Contextualization aids understanding by relating topical discussions in a paper to the main idea as a whole. With this tool in a reader’s arsenal it is easier to not get lost in the paper or work being read.

It is very easy to get sidetracked by an issue and fail to see how it relates to the author’s thesis. Especially in a genre of metaphorical discussions, such as Deborah Tannen’s writing here, this ability is vital. Without this application, one would be apt to see each paragraph as a stream of consciousness sort of writing without any cohesive meaning. The section which I analyzed for context was the discussion of the marked and unmarked males and females in the working conference of the early part of the paper.

At first take, and without the benefit of the rest of the text, it would appear that Tannen is in fact merely talking about gender roles and perhaps gender dominance. However, as she turns to a talk of linguistics and the presence of marked or unmarked words, we are to understand that contextually speaking, the initial part was a metaphor or demonstration of this linguistic theme. However, and even more importantly, once I returned to rereading that first section, about the meeting, I realized that this understanding of context yielded the secret that the author is withholding or even denying.

Because she fails to fully place the gender discussion properly in parallel with the language discussion, it is apparent that she is revealing her main opinion: that women do not rely upon men for their meanings. In other words, she is, in fact a feminist. The context betrays her. Reading as a writer was what really helped me to critically analyze the context. Because I was able to see or understand her writings as metaphoric, I was able to compare and contrast the various sections, as I described above.

I have often used metaphors and other symbols in my writing as being allegorical to my main point or theme. Because of that, I am able to see this tool at work in the writings of other authors. It is enjoyable to be let into their process and see what significance it holds. As a writer, I find myself attempting to explore the various ways in which an author connects the pieces of a work to establish context and meaning. Sometimes, as in this case, it is truly enjoyable as I feel that I have discovered a secret within the paper.

Tannen’s readable plan is that of introduction of theme by word picture – the metaphor – and then realizing this theme by clear topical address afterward – in this case the lexical discussion. This worked very well. It was also an entertaining and clever way of expressing the motif in narrative form, which is quite an accomplished skill in such a short piece about such a potentially mundane topic. Her plan introduces, and then transitions, and then concludes. It is neat and tidy; overall its style and organization is a complete success for Tannen.

As a subset of this, she uses an explanatory strategy to accomplish this. The first indication of this is where she writes “The term ‘marked’ is a staple of linguistic theory. ” This follows the conclusion of the previous discussion of men’s styles as being unmarked. Now we begin to see what her paper is really about. Because she explains the connection between writing about women’s styles and language usage, the topical motif becomes much clearer. The critical reader can now begin to understand and enjoy the clever introductory section of the work Marked Women.

It is also at this point that she starts to explain, nearly unconsciously, that she is really talking about feminism and independent station. Without this explanatory strategy, this understanding would never have been conveyed. Tannen integrated the sources of linguistic information well to continue the discussion of marked and unmarked states. In particular she used well the example of the unmarked tense of verbs in English being the present, while the marked versions of adding endings indicate past. This is a concise, and easy to grasp, integration of the source of linguistics.

It avoids being too technical, and offers an example that all readers would understand. That is how sources should be utilized. Otherwise, they tend to distract the reader from the primary focus too easily. This all adds up to a full engagement of the critical reader. This is the tour de force of Tannen’s short piece. The rounding out of Marked Women is nearly coy, with its connections being present but not logically cohesive, as I pointed out earlier. This leads the more engaged reader on a bit of a treasure hunt to infer the true meaning of the work.

Tannen’s style is all the more successful, then, because of the engagement, satisfaction, and enjoyment that it offers any reader who reads critically enough to gain this perspective. To sum up, then, Deborah Tannen’s Marked Women is worthy of reading, and reading more than once. Because of its effectiveness through metaphor, organized strategy and use of contextual clues, it is a piece that will satisfy all readers who take the time to be critically engaged. ? References Tannen, D. (1993). Talking From 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work. : New York: Quill.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 19 September 2016

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