Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Girl Talk" in the Official Style

The third wave of feminism is alive and active in the United States, and this time, supporters are determined to ensure that a fourth wave won’t be necessary. Thousands of people have become advocates as the new wave turns heads and stirs up controversy. As was the case in the first and second waves in the late 1800s and 1960s, scholars have hopped on board and begun stringing together feminist texts chalk full of the official style. Use of the official style is controversial in itself, as it tends to be riddled with high-falutin language and twisted, brain-warping sentence structures, making it nearly impossible for the average reader to interpret. Since advocates, in any context, intend to draw attention to a particular issue and persuade a broad population to join the movement, it seems counter-productive to make use of the official style within the sphere of feminist advocacy. However, plain language TED Talks alone, full of emotional appeal but lacking adequate information about the subject, won’t cut it. Could there be a place for the official style in feminist advocacy?
            Simply put, feminism is a big issue. It involves first-world and third-world nations, gender equality, understanding and acceptance of LGBT individuals, and issues of racism, and it weaves between disciplines with ease. It is this complexity that requires the work of scholars to delve into every aspect of feminism. Although scholars write about a wide variety of subjects, we can see parallels within their work. Notable journalist and feminist scholar Susan Faludi, in her book “Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women,” took on the issue of male superiority vs. female inferiority, writing,
“When an attack on home soil causes cultural paroxysms that have nothing to do with the attack, when we respond to real threats to our nation by distrusting ourselves with imagined threats to femininity and family life, when we invest our leaders with a cartoon masculinity and require of them bluster in lieu of a capacity for rational calculation, and when we blame our frailty in 'fifth column' feminists - in short, when we base our security on a mythical male strength that can only increase itself against a mythical female weakness - we should know that we are exhibiting the symptoms of a lethal, albeit curable, cultural affliction (p. 295).”
This excerpt is one sentence. Just one. It uses several official style strategies, including excessive prepositional phrase strings, difficult vocabulary, and long, complex sentences (or sentence, since there’s only one). Despite the average grade level of 37.6 and Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease of -40.1, Faludi does, for the most point, avoid many of the impassive and “overly polite” strategies, like “is” verbs and euphemisms, to really attack the issue at hand, making this sentence a potentially effective mode of advocacy.
            Judith Ann Perez, however, in her work on Latina feminism, uses more blatant official style strategies, although the grade level is significantly lower at 19.2, most likely due to the shorter sentence lengths.
“Latina feminism was born out of a civil rights initiative that addressed structural inequalities and is a modified Latino version of the women's liberation movement. The pioneer women's movement failed Latinas because it did not address the many differences, compared with White middle-class women, that inform a pan-ethnic Latina consciousness. Since the 1960s and 1970s, the feminist movement has infrequently recognized internal differences among women of color, including Latinas. Because Latinas can be of any race, it is no easy task to achieve an inclusive pan-ethnic Latina consciousness that can thrive within a general feminist dialectic.”
Perez uses “is” verbs, feminist jargon, and nominalization, in addition to prepositional phrases, difficult vocabulary, and complex sentences that mirror strategies in Faludi’s piece, although, content wise, they have little in common. These strategies are displayed in a vast variety of feminist texts, including L. Vogel’s “Debating Difference: Feminism, Pregnancy, and the Workplace,” RW Connell’s “Gender and Power: Society, the person and sexual politics,” and even many of second wave feminist Simone de Beauvoir’s works.
            These strategies aren’t, however, seen in more commonplace acts of feminist advocacy. Emma Watson’s address to the U.N. averaged a grade level of 6.3, and author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk came out to a 6.9. When analyzing the content of these and several other well-known speeches on feminism, there appears to be little to no official style present, favoring instead plain and creative styles. Of course, this isn’t exactly surprising. An address to the general public of the country or world should be written at roughly the average reading level in order to reach the masses. Since, in America, the average reading grade level is seven, Watson and Adichie’s speeches fit perfectly. But, where does that leave Faludi, Perez, and other feminist scholars? Compared to these mainstream speeches, it might appear that their in-depth, official analyses have no place in the sphere of feminist advocacy.
            Advocacy aims to reach as many people as possible in as many modes of communication as needed to achieve that goal. That means men, women, millennials, baby boomers, students, working-class citizens, and, yes, scholars. Academics tend to communicate with higher vocabulary and more complex sentence structure than “lay people.” Even the most accomplished of scholars have more to learn, and in order for the various realms of feminism to reach scholars, it almost certainly needs to be delivered not by typical activists, but by other scholars. However, the separation between scholars and activists could be problematic. Regardless of subgenre, the root of feminism is equality. By that logic, it would make sense to treat all people as equals in terms of spreading the ideas of feminism instead of grouping them as “academics” or “non-academics.” With this in mind, it is still difficult to say that the official style should be abolished in feminist advocacy.
            To an average American, scholarly feminist texts may seem too convoluted to ever be effective. But, upon deeper analysis, it is difficult to deny that more information appears to be given in scholarly articles than in widespread speeches. Yes, some of the official style is excessive and unnecessary, and yes, there is certainly a larger time commitment involved when it comes to feminist academia than a TED Talk. However, many of those prepositional phrases, coordinations, relative clauses, and difficult diction are actually accomplishing something. These techniques exist for the purpose of further clarification and providing more information. Faludi’s epic, grade 37 sentence provides readers with a variety of scenarios that are detrimental to the feminist movement, information that is valuable if society is to move forward. Perez uses the official style to explain improvements that can be made to feminist advocacy in order to include the elusive Latina race. Information is knowledge, and knowledge is power. The official style’s place in feminist advocacy is providing as much knowledge as possible, and while knowledge can obviously be passed via other writing styles, none use language strategies as potently as the official style to pack in lots and lots of knowledge. Removing all that knowledge from advocacy would be completely ineffective.

            Feminism is big, not only it’s content, but also it’s audience. No one person can master it all, which means that there is no perfect advocate, whether activist or scholar. For this reason, the official style does have a place in feminist advocacy. The question is, how large of place does it have? Is there a way to achieve a “happy medium,” utilizing the emotional, passion-inducing techniques of mainstream activists along with the informational aspect of official style strategies? Generalized speeches are a great place for the average citizen to begin to delve into the world of feminism, but they can’t be expected to go straight from there to scholarly articles. By employing, but not overindulging, the official style, this third wave of feminism will go down in history as the one that changed everything.

By Elena Montanye

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