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Cheris Kramarae Essay: A Summary of the Muted Group Theory.


Colte Haines
September 28, 2003
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Cheris Kramarae Essay: A Summary of the Muted Group Theory.

Have you ever wondered why in Charles Shultz’s cartoon, Peanuts, you can never

understand what Charley Brown’s teacher is saying? It is always the sound of someone trying to

talk through a drive through speaker box, followed by a reply of “Yes ma’am” from Charley.

Perhaps Mr. Shultz wanted to cutback on the budge and not pay an extra woman actor for such a

minor role, or it could be determined that women in society have trouble communicating and are

hard to understand. Women, having trouble to communicate, is a theory expanded by Cheris

Kramarae called the “Muted Group Theory”?

The Muted Group Theory was originally thought of by Edwin Aredner, a social

anthropologist from Oxford University (Meyer, 2001, ¶ 3). Language works in a kind of

hierarchal system controlled by men. This creates an uncomfortable world for females. It makes

women seem silenced (Littlejohn, 1999). In a book written by Stephan Littlejohn, it said,

“Ardener concluded that our language favors men. Since men created the meanings of the words,

women are said to be muted” (1999). That is how we get the term “muted group”. Since the

original creation of the Muted Group Theory, a lot of scholars have expanded on it, but the

person who has done the most is Cheris Kramarae.

“Cheris Kramarae is one of the most prolific scholars in the communication field”

(Littlejohn, 1999). In 1972, she enrolled at the University of Illinois, Urbana. Here is where she

started her research in speech communications on feminist studies with a focus on gender and

language (Kalin, 2003 ¶ 1). Kramarae is very interested in language and gender. She writes on a

wide range of gender issues such as: technology, education, and women’s studies. She is also

interested in the hierarchical order of language, how language favors men, and the crippling

effect it has on the ways women communicate (Kalin, 2003, ¶ 2). Kramamarae has written in
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several magazines and scholarly journals, but she has written more books than anything else, and

is still being published during her retirement (Kalin, 2003, ¶ 6).

In an article written by Scott Chadwick called Muted Group Theory: Summary he says.
Muted Group Theory begins with the premise that language is culture
bound, and because men have more power than women, men have more
influence over the language, resulting in language with a male-bias. Men
create the words and meaning for the culture, allowing expression of their
ideas. Women, on the other hand, are left out of this meaning creation and
left without a means to express that which is unique to them. That leaves
women as a muted group (2003, ¶ 2).

Because women are the muted group, they have to find other ways to communicate. They

communicate though diaries, journals, letters, folklore, gossip, art, graffiti, poems, songs,

and many other ways (Meyer, 2001, ¶ 7). Another effect of women being muted is that

women have to take what they are going to say and convert it to male terms (Littlejohn,

1999). When male and female meaning of words conflict, the masculine meaning usually

wins, because it is more dominate in society, and again, the woman is muted (Littlejohn,

1999). The Muted Group Theory also explains some of the problems that husbands and

wives have when they try to talk to one another. Women are accustomed to using back

channels when they communicate, but men, because they developed our language, are

more straightforward with what they say, and have a hard time comprehending what the

wife is trying to say (Kramarae, 1981). The Muted Group Theory also states that these

problems are cultural based, not biologically, and can be fixed if men forfeit the power

they have over our language (Chadwick, 2003, ¶ 5).

Cheris Kramarae Muted Group Theory is based on 3 assumptions. First, men and

women look at the world differently, and because they look at the world differently, they

do different jobs in society. Second, men are politically dominate and suppress women’s

ideas and meaning though public support. Finally, women must translate their meanings,
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their thoughts, and their feelings into man’s terms in order to communicate (Chadwick,

2003, ¶ 3).

Cheris also has several hypotheses about women’s communication. First, women have a

harder time expressing themselves compared to men. Second, women can understand men better

than men can understand women because women have to learn the male system of

communication. Third, women use other channels not accepted by men to communicate. Fourth,

women are not as content with communication. Women do not coin new words, although women

do create words just so they can express the feelings and situations special to them (Chadwick,

2003 ¶ 4). Also, women have to use more nonverbal expressions than men, in order to express

feelings not defined in male language (Littlejohn, 1999). Finally, women have a different sense

of humor than men (Wall and Gannon-Leary, 1999, ¶ 11).

The Muted Group Theory is important in society because it brings into focus the issue of

women in society being suppressed in their attempt to communicate. It also is important because

it deals with power and how it is used against women (Chadwick, 2003 ¶ 1). Muted Group

Theory also says that we need to study the different ways that females and males use nonverbal

language when they speak to help us understand the language difference between them

(Kramarae, 1981). It also states that women have had to toil through a communication systems

created by men so they are more apt to have a better understanding of a man’s worldviews

(Kramarae, 1981). Again, it explains why men have a harder time understanding women than

women do of understanding men.

Cheris Kramarae has worked to bridge the gap between men and women’s

communication “She wants to see a world that makes connections rather than separation, and a

world that respects rather than rejects differences” (Littlejohn, 1999). To achieve this goal,
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Cheris says first women must better understand faint signs of “linguistic domination”. We must

also study women’s communication, and find another form to communicate, and use it

(Littlejohn, 1999). Cheris, along with Paula Treichler and Ann Russo, have written a dictionary

just for women called Feminist Dictionary. It has entries in it such as foremother, meaning

ancestor and birth name, instead of maiden name (Littlejohn 1999). This dictionary helps in

coining new words that give a women’s point-of-view to our vocabulary.

There are a few weak points in the Muted Group Theory. It states that women would

have a harder time expressing themselves than men however research says the opposite

(Kramarae, 1981). In addition men are sometimes classified as the “muted group” as well.

Kramarae wrote in her book Women and Men Speaking that “Men are less likely to talk about

their feelings, troubles, and pain. This makes them the muted group” (1981). Also, as children,

males are likely to meet aggression with violence, while women will more often talk it out

(Kramarae, 1981). “Kramarae's balanced look at the tenets of Muted Group Theory indicates

areas of potential weakness. Evidence advanced by Ardener in his support of the theory, seems

narrow in scope and relevance” (Wall and Gannon-Leary, 1999, ¶ 12).

Allot has changed since Cheris Kramarae expanded on the Muted Group Theory, and

even more has changed since Edwin Aredner first introduced it. In today’s society, women are

doing more, and are equal to men. Women are also speaking more, even if it is in a system of

communication created by males, or in the case of Charley Brown’s teacher though a drive

though speaker box.


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Reference

Chadwick, S. (2003, June). “Muted Group Theory: Summary”. Retrieved September 24, 2003,
From Iowa State University Communication Department site
http://chadwick.jlmc.iastate.edu/theory/mutedgrp.html.

Kalin, R. (2000, November) Biography: Cheris Kramarae. Retrieved September 12, 2003, from
From California State UniversityCommunication Department.site: http://hyper.vcsun.org
/HyperNews/battias/get /cs600/bio/12.html?nogifs.

Kramarae, C. (1981). Women and Men Speaking. Rowley: Newbury House.

Littlejohn, S. (1999). Theories of Human Communication. Albuquerque: Wadsworth.

Meyer, C. (2001, November). Muted Group Theory. Retrieved September 24, 2003, From Dana
College Communication Department site: http://www.dana.edu/lschreib/students/
Theory%20Papers/meyer.doc.

Wall ,C. and Gannon-Leary, P. (1999). A Sentence Made by Men: Muted Group Theory
Revisited. The European Journal of Women’s Studies. Vol. 6,. Retrieved September
24, 2003, From: http://www.academicarmageddon.co.uk/library/EJWS.htm.