Last week’s recap reading “Post-structuralism and deconstruction” cleared up what was for me a big lurking question– “So what?” I have been carefully (sometimes painfully) following the philosophical paths from linguistics to deconstruction– sign= signifier+signified, language is arbitrary, text is boundless, etc. but I was struggling with why this is important or what can we do with this information.
The very beginning of this reading hit me with an idea that has been bugging me since the first day of my return to the undergraduate classroom– the plague of “like”, “you know”, and “you know what I’m saying?” that peppers the language of what otherwise seemed to me as very bright capable young people. First, let me acknowledge and apologize for my “kids these days” tone. I don’t mean it. I love young people and have willingly chosen to spend my days surrounded by high school students. I don’t think I’m any smarter than you all and in fact have learned quite a bit from my classmates. What’s disturbing to me about the “like, you know” disease is that it seems to be more of an issue for the young women in our class than the young men. And, oh does this make my feminist heart bleed. Because you girls are so smart! (So are you guys, no offense.) But you apologize for your brilliance or stammer through it in a way that sometimes totally clouds your meaning. So when you ask, “you know what I mean?” I can’t say that I do.
Last week’s readings both offered possible reasons for this fracture between the ideas in my classmates’ heads and their methods of explaining them. In “Post-structuralism and deconstruction”, Barry explains this language anxiety as “pervasive whenever we have to use language at any level beyond that of casual daily exchange with people we know very well and whose status is the same as our own” (62). Is it because males have been socialized to perceive themselves as a higher status that they don’t suffer quite as much from the “like, you know” problem? It seems to me that the young men in our class either speak their minds succinctly or stay silent, where the young women all participate fairly actively, but rarely without explaining themselves, apologizing for being wrong, or adding many throat clearing interjections throughout their speech. I’m sure they don’t even realize they are doing it, and I’m hoping that my little rant here will encourage them to be bold and speak their brilliant minds without hesitation!
But, perhaps, to bring in the other reading from last week, they are permanently stuck in this loop– like Mary Shelley trying to write an autobiography using only “male” language and male form, their language is bound to take on monstrous dimensions because they have been relegated to the underprivileged space in the gender binary. And maybe the only reason I’m a little better at it is because I’ve had more practice. I have a feeling I have apologized and “liked” my way through many a speech– maybe I still do and am not even aware of it? Looking back over my blog I can see my need to apologize haunting me (“I love young people!” And “You guys are smart too!”). Perhaps it is an inescapable loop– you know what I mean?