Muted group theory (MGT) defines that the English language basically devalues experiences, words and thoughts of marginalized groups.
This is basically due to the fact that the language itself is controlled by the dominant groups because of that the marginalized groups find it harder to be able to express themselves freely through language and are hence known as to be silenced or muted.
The main theory of MTG is based on gender inequality and how the language silences and marginalizes women.
However, the same theory of MGT can also be used to describe and explain the experiences of disabled people, people with color, LGBTQI, etc.
Here we are gonna discuss the main definition of MGT theory, its key features, some examples regarding the muted group theory and what are the strengths that make this theory prominent and its weaknesses.
Muted Group Theory Definition
Muted Group theory explains that marginalized groups in our daily routine especially women have to put in more effort to explain themselves as they are usually limited in conversation because they are unable to express themselves freely as to do so they have to speak a men’s language.
The muted group theory also states that the main part of the language was made up by men that is why it is more easy to express the experiences and views of a man as compared to a woman.
Women in such cases find it more uncomfortable and harder to explain themselves and describe their feelings using language as it was specifically made to express views of the opposite sex.
Some examples of such instances are :
- Women are usually referred to as a man’s property (e.g. as they take man’s name after marriage)
- The title of men is retained to be Mr. throughout their lives whereas women are divided into Mrs. and Miss.
- Most of the words used to describe the sexuality of women portray negativity while those portraying a man’s sexuality are positive.
- In order to express themselves better women always try to express their feelings and thoughts into masculine metaphors (sports, or war metaphors).
This is why it is harder for women to express their feelings freely and are most of the time ignored with their ideas going unheard of due to the inequality present in our language.
Muted Group theory is not an easy theory to get your head around, but fortunate this is based on three key points that can help understand it better.
These three key features were described by Cheris Kramarae and are explained below :
1. Language was mainly made by dominant groups, especially men.
The circumstances present in the history of the world dictates that the main power to shape and create language practices lie with men.
Women were always seen as a group with lower social standings and without much power.
They were mostly described as subservient in the media and were restricted to have any position of power in the society, their main role was that one of a housewife while the main work of shaping and creation of language was done by men.
The same circumstances goes for other minority groups that were present in history based on their disability, race or any other factor that might have made them the margins of the society with the inability to have any influence in the society.
2. It is harder for marginalized groups to articulate themselves.
As language has been controlled mostly by the dominant group, they are also the one controlling the communication and the experiences that were explained by them have also taken privilege in history.
Their stories are told more often than the ones of the marginalized groups and are spread over not only in different shows on TV but are also shown in movies.
They are the ones that have full control over the figures of speech, metaphor and label for things.
As a result, the default way of expressing oneself using language has become more masculine than a balance between feminine and masculine way which has further made it hard for women and minorities to articulate themselves and are often referred to as having less linguistic agency.
3. Marginalized groups generally translate their thoughts before speaking
When women and minorities are trying to speak in public, even though they are confident and more open they still have to translate their ideas and thoughts into a more dominant form of speaking so to convey their message properly.
If not done in the correct way they can be misunderstood or could be completely ignored while talking and might not be able to express their views and ideas correctly to the general public.
Examples of Muted Group Theory
Some of the examples for muted group theory are given as :
1. Explaining Women’s Heart Attack Symptoms (Example in Medicine)
Historically the symptoms of heart attack were only considered from men’s point of view in medicine and other perspectives like that of women were not taken into account.
Until now, heart attack symptoms are usually taken as numbness in the left arm and heaviness on the chest.
However if taken into account the women’s perspective of heart attack symptoms, researchers have studied that most common symptoms of a heart attack in women are different than that of a man like tightness in jaw.
Still, as a society we are more aware of the symptoms for a heart attack in men than the symptoms for that of a woman, which makes it more hard to identify and diagnose a heart attack in case of a woman.
2. Linguistic Subordination of Women in Marriage
Kramarae also puts up the argument that women are often subordinated to men linguistically.
As after marriage usually the women are defined in relation to their husband like Mrs.X, rather than their own name and mostly tend to take their husband’s name after marriage rather than having their own identity.
3. Derogatory Language about Women’s Sexuality
As the language is more bent toward men so the sexual exploits of men are often used with positive or celebrated words in the language whereas the same is not correct in the case of women and are mostly projected in a negative way.
They are usually seen as sexually deviant and promiscuous if it is known that they have multiple sex partners.
4. Masculine Metaphors
Hunting, sporting and fighting metaphors are usually used for explaining different things in English language and are taken as a common practice.
Metaphors like, ballpark figure, covering all bases, right off the bat, beaten to the punch, in a league of their own, etc are all associated with male dominant pursuits.
With such metaphors being the most dominant in English language, it becomes more difficult for women to often use these metaphors to describe their feelings and it becomes harder for others to understand them in public disclosures and at workplaces.
So, they work on adapting to the masculine way of using language.
5. In the Workplace
For women to make themselves more prominent and heard at the workplace, they have to work in framing their points and views in a masculine way so that they can be understood clearly and without any problem.
Workplaces are usually used to the masculine way of talking and masculine authority figures.
Once the women get promoted and are moved into positions of power, they have to change their attitude and need to emits masculine way of being the boss so as others in the office can take them seriously.
6. In Popular Culture
In recent culture, there has been a big push towards the inclusion of marginalized voices in books, television and movies.
These efforts have been made with full consciousness to make communication and language more inclusive of these voices.
This will help the marginalized people in voicing their concern and help them in reclaiming language as a part of them.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Some of the strengths and weaknesses associated with Muted Group Theory are described below:
- Explanation of marginalization occurrence: Muted Group Theory covers almost all of the marginalization groups that are present in the society. It also helps us in identifying the causes present in history that are related to systemic oppression that have its impact on the society.
- Help us be more aware: Muted Group Theory also helps different researchers like sociologists and anthropologists which can help them to reflect on their interpretation and use of language to make it more reflexive and inclusive in their research. This can also be described for the people in a workplace, which is the first step towards gender based blindspots.
- Argument for affirmative action: Muted Group Theory also states the importance of having a minority and female research group, business female, etc. When they are in a position of power, they can always use the interpretation of language and reframe it to make the gendered language to be more responsive and inclusive of minority and female group voices.
- Explains the relationship between power and language: Muted Group Theory also states the usage of power through language. It is not specific to use the brute force in a language, strength or coercion to be powerful.
- This theory is not considered to be quantifiable, as there are no solid facts in a scientific way that links the language to oppression so this theory relies on cultural logic rather than facts and scientific measurements.
- Usually people cannot be fixed in boxes based on their gender, whereas this theory uses this as a primary marker to identify different individuals. This grouping can be termed as restrictive as it does not take into account the human experience and its complexity.
- This theory also reaffirms the basic hypothesis of two cultures which states that men and women are basically from different cultures and express themselves differently from each other along with their distinct way of thinking.
- It is really hard to pinpoint a marginalized group, as the same people may be part of a dominant group while being part of a minority group at the same time too.
- This theory can also be used to promote victimization as in this case the minority groups or the women are considered to be the victims of being oppressed using language and are portrayed as helpless victims.
- It also ignores the basic fact that men can also have trouble while fitting themselves into a masculine mold for being more assertive in the society. Dominant masculinity does not cover up all of the males but only a small portion of alpha males while the rest of the male population is also mostly in disadvantageous position as in relation alpha males and also need to work on his linguistic translations.
FAQ about Muted group theory
Is it a Feminist Theory?
This theory of Muted Group Theory follows a critical and feminist approach with the fields of sociology, anthropology and communication studies so it can be said to one of the critical feminist theories.
Muted Group Theory – Definition + 6 Examples By Chris Drew (2020)
Muted Group Theory