Being Feminist, Being Christian: Essays from Academia. Ed. Allyson Jule and Bettina Tate Pedersen. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
Chapter Two: "Silence as Femininity?: A Look at Performances of Gender in Theology College Classrooms"
This chapter is by the book's other editor, Allyson Jule, and I found it incredibly illuminating. Jule begins by self-identifying as " an applied feminist linguist-educationalist," saying that she "explore[s] the patters of girls and boys and women and men in various contexts, particularly...classrooms" (35). She follows up this definition of her chosen field by saying that her interest in the way gender shapes language and communication stems from her personal experiences in Catholicism (35).
I'm very interested in in her recounting her initial consciousness of gender in religion. She says she always felt acceptance in Catholicism, and her personal proof of this comes from the fact that she and her mother and sister were heard and respected when they intellectually engaged with priests or other men in the faith, as well as from the fact that such men shared in labor traditionally gendered feminine, like cooking and cleaning, when the gatherings that produced their discussions took place. Since my feminist consciousness comes largely from an absence of gender equality in the religion in which I was raised, this view is foreign to me. I agree with her ultimate conclusion that human rights are central to the doctrine of Christianity, but I can't conceive always knowing that. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject.
After detailing how feminism and Christianity intersect for her personally, Jule gets to the question at the heart of the chapter: "What might gendered patterns of language use mean when they intersect with a religious identity?" (37). She begins by giving a quick overview of feminist linguistics, and she mentions a book that helped me in college, Robin Lakoff's Language and Woman's Place (pub. 1975). Lakoff said that women have linguistic tendencies that are read as passive ( frequent use of qualifiers such as "sort of" and "like," raised inflections that can sound unsure, etc.), and that these tendencies cause men to dominate conversations. After the book was published, a nature/nurture debate regarding these tendencies sprang up, and it's a debate that hasn't stopped in the intervening thirty-five years. Something interesting that Jule does in this section is to interrogate the role of teacher in the classroom power structure. She questions where the line is between open-ended discussion and a lack of guidance, specifically from the perspective of a teacher at a Christian university, who she suggests (and I agree) is obligated more than most to ask students to formulate their own opinions while still offering moral, ethical, and religious direction. That balance is something I'll be thinking about a great deal in the coming months, and I'd welcome advice there as well.
Because I'm still working out my thoughts on Jule's classroom observations on gender and language, that's another post.