You Are What You Say by Robin Tolmach Lakoff

Pathos: Lakoff opens her essay with pathos. She talks about how women’s language is “dainty” and “never-aggressive.” Words like these will immediately do one of two things for a female reader. 1. She will read it and be insulted by the stereotype that she is fragile and in need of saving or 2. She will read it and agree with that notion and take pride in the fact that she is dainty. Either woman will be compelled to read more. The insulted woman will read to find out if Lakoff is going to counteract this stereotype and the proud woman will read to find out why Lakoff is stating this in a sarcastic tone. This is the perfect way for Lakoff to open the essay because she immediately has her readers hooked.

Flat statement: Lakoff’s tone throughout the whole essay is very confident. The reader can tell she is speaking from first-hand experience, as well as what she has observed in society. The bold, flat statements she is making makes her argument much more persuasive and makes the reader believe what she is saying.

Arrangement: Lakoff was very thoughtful in the way she arranged this piece. She starts by talking about women as “dainty” and then moves into “ladies.” Slowly, she approaches the “taboo” topic of sex and how women are defined by their sexuality. I believe that the reason Lakoff did this was to ease narrow-minded readers into the topic of sexual identity. Men have no problem flaunting their sexuality, but when a woman does it, it is all of a sudden wrong and she is looked down upon for it. Lakoff knew this and therefore, built up her claims with the simpler topics before addressing the topic of sexuality.
–Grace Dearing

The intention of this essay is to explain how the contrasts in the way men and women speak could be linked to cultural biases.

Lakoff uses the appeal of ethos throughout this essay by allowing her audience to connect with her words in a complete and relative understanding.  She uses the term “we” to display her own experiences of sexism while at the same time, referencing that her audience has shared these experiences.  This makes her appear trustworthy and credible.

In You Are What You Say, Lakoff also uses the appeal to logos quite often when listing several phases or responses commonly said to women.  She does this when she displays five ways to ask to close the door.  This makes her seem knowledgeable and resourceful in her ideas linking to her overall intention of the essay.

My favorite quotation is, “I know of no evidence suggesting that women actually see a wider range of color than men do.” I love this quotation because it shows the essence of Lakoff’s tone.  She is witty, poised, and self-assured as she writes this empowering essay.

–Maria Schroeder

Intention: Lakoff writes this piece to argue that women are taught to speak in a docile way that makes them “communicative cripples.” She bolsters her argument with specific examples and specific linguistic terms.

First, I want to share this comic by female cartoonist and literary nerd Kate Beaton. It features Jane Austen working on her novel, only to be faced with a fan who views her work as vapid fluff. The comic fits well with Lakoff’s description of women’s speech– whatever we say (even well-written, witty social commentary) is viewed as shallow drivel.

I will defend Jane Austen to the death

Lakoff uses her ethos as a professor and researched linguist to refute the assumption that whatever she has to say will be the Light Fluff of Womanspeak. She absolutely knows her topic, and uses precise linguistic terms to prove it. The straightforward authority of terms like “tag question” are unequivocal, just as Lakoff intends the essay as a whole to be.

I’d also like to argue against the class’ general idea that the piece is dated. Sure, Lakoff pioneered the idea of women’s language and wrote this piece from the perspective of the 1970’s, but this isn’t so long in linguistic time. Women are still infantilized despite their credentials– consider Rebecca Solnit’s account of having her own writing “mansplained” to her.

(This is as good a time as ever to point out one of my favorite book quotes. In Ted Mooney’s sci-fi novel Easy Travel to Other Planets, the female protagonist attends a science convention with some female peers. A man in the elevator makes smalltalk, cheerily addressing them as “girls.” Stone-faced, the protagonist replies, “We’re not girls. We’re Vagino-Americans.” She keeps up the joke for the whole elevator ride, satirically adopting the detached tone of an anthropologist describing a tribe.)

-Olivia Short


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