Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Monster-in-Law Portrayal and The Official Style

When it came to the journal article I chose to assess, I looked into all sorts of communication journals and found one that caught my attention.  With a title like Making Sense of Hurtful Mother-in-law Messages: Applying Attribution Theory to the In-Law Triad, I couldn’t help but wonder how The Official Style was used and why it was used in this case.  Looking more deeply at the text as well as the trends throughout, I was able to recognize the “monster-in-law” stereotype embedded within the text using The Official Style.
 I started off my research by looking into the authors’ backgrounds and their credibility.  Both Associate Professors were in Communication Studies at accredited universities, but I noticed one small detail that may have skewed the article.  Christine Rittenour, of West Virginia University, specializes in women and gender studies.  This explained a lot of the diction used that didn’t necessarily seem to fit the context.  For example, words like “betrayal” and “threats” connect with the topic of gender studies and the oppression of women.  In other words, I would consider these to be more severe choices in diction to help the audience grasp the “seriousness” of the topic.  I think that it made the argument more convincing and helped to facilitate the negative image of a mother-in-law and oppression of the daughter-in-law.
To enhance the audience’s perspective on mother-in-laws, appositives were used throughout to give a better understanding of the topic at hand.  At times there were relevant examples like definitions to clarify the terms in the context of a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship.  On the other hand, there were clarifications that ended up being irrelevant to the general topic.  For example, the word “evaluations” was used and followed by “(e.g., “Going out with you was the biggest mistake of my life”).”  These forms of appositives because of the disconnect from the topic.  I saw the underlying women and gender studies background of Rittenour here as well considering these statements were still directed at the daughter-in-laws, which reflect the words of the man in the relationship and the oppression of women.  Rittenour’s bias was deep within the text.
This bias leads to the stereotype that is being reinforced by this journal.  Mother-in-laws were being villainized.  There was a consistent lack of daughter-in-law responsibility when it came to understanding the messages that mother-in-laws were sending.  Using terms like “threats”, “mistreatment”, and “betrayal”, as previously mentioned, to describe the mother-in-law was contrasted with words like “fear”, “humiliation”, and “shame” when talking about the daughter-in-law.  This instills an image or expectation of what mother-in-laws represent.  It creates a villainized versus victimized relationship between the mother and daughter-in-laws.
Interestingly, the language throughout the article solidifies the stereotype, but the lack of specific examples and use of passive voice create a disconnect between the audience and message.  In terms of the topic, I think that specific qualitative evidence pertaining to hurtful messages from mother-in-laws would solidify the main idea about the relationship between mother and daughter-in-laws.  With the study consisting mostly of statistics gathered from a structured survey, it’s harder for the audience to relate to the information.  Personal experiences give explanations, context, and a thorough understanding of the situation.  It eliminates any messages that might infer that the mother-in-law isn’t completely at fault, which would complicate the outcome of the study and more openly lose credibility.  In the long run, I think this hurt the study, especially with the audience being those who read the Communication Quarterly.  Knowing that the statistics come from a strategically made survey also shows the bias within the study alone.  Personal testimonials would serve as more obvious and understandable evidence.  This shows there was some sort of bias involved, like the authors was pushing for results that confirmed their argument.
I can strongly identify the bias and purposeful choices within the text that reinforce this mother-in-law stereotype, but I recognize how the context shapes the way that Communication Studies professors like Rittenour created the argument.  These authors were attempting to make the connection between Attribution Theory and the messages mother-in-laws were sending.  To their defense, I do understand and appreciate that their study was focused on one specific relationship, but I don’t think that they considered the hit that their credibility would take when only discussing one side of the interaction.
The article was a perfect fit for the Communication Quarterly, which I assume had a huge influence on the formatting and use of language throughout.  Commonly, communication concepts are labeled in a technical-sounding way to prove to the audience that the topic is important, that it is complicated and technical.  Being that I have this prior knowledge, I looked for specific examples of technical-sounding elements within the text.  I noticed acronyms immediately.  Typically, the purpose of an acronym is to abbreviate a long-winded or technical concept, especially within the realm of published journal articles.  The use of these acronyms within this specific journal was much different.  The terms mother-in-law and daughter-in-law were abbreviated to MIL and DIL.  Because of the truly uncomplicated nature of the topic, it seemed as though this device was used to make the document more “official” and more “complicated.”  The influence of having the article published in such a journal seemed to influence the way the authors shaped their message in even the smallest way.  If the journal had not used The Official Style, it probably would not have met the criteria to be published in the Communication Quarterly.  It seems that there is a very complicated connection between The Official Style and this published journal article.
As you can see, subtle choices in prose can create a whole different meaning or understanding about text.  I touched on very specific details about the types of choices that were made throughout the journal article and their effects.  With that being said, this does not encompass every device within The Official Style and the other elements used to reinforce the mother-in-stereotype.  Now I leave this to you; what kinds of other devices do you see that contribute to the stereotype?  How else might the authors justify The Official Style?  How does looking at The Official Style change the way you perceive any text?  

Kendra Woyahn

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