The Muted Group Theory
Just as the name suggests, the muted group theory attempts to explain why certain groups of persons in the society do not have an equal voice in as far as passing their messages across the board is concerned. What this implies is that a certain group is muted i.e. they are silent or unheard. This paper seeks to tackle the muted group theory in detail. The paper will analyze the theory by looking at various aspects pertaining to the theory and communication; what the theory is and its impact on human communication, how the theory developed, what problem or phenomenon was it designed to solve, examples of application to real life situations, what are the implications of the theory and finally, the paper will look at possible remedies that will be more of a support to human communication.
Origin of the Muted Group Theory
The muted group theory was developed in the 1970’s. Cultural anthropologists made observation that most other anthropologists practicing ethnography in the field were only talking to the leaders of the cultures who were by and large adult males. The researchers would then use this data to represent the culture as a whole, leaving out the perspectives of women, children and other groups made voiceless by cultural hierarchy (Ardener; 1975). Communication specialists like Cheris Kramarae, further gave more meaning and relevance to the theory in relation to communication, especially from a feminist stand point. Other communication specialists like Mark Orbe extended Kramarae’s work on the group muted theory from a feminist standpoint, to other groups made up of various cultures. From the origin of the theory put forward in the introduction, it is therefore in order to state that it, the theory, developed out of the cultural anthropology field but more recently has been developed in communication mostly as feminist and cross cultural theory. This theory was developed to address the issue of unequal opportunity to be heard in the society. Some groups were thought of as inferior and therefore they were not awarded the equal chance to air out their views as the ‘superior’ colleagues were.
Muted Group Theory and Communication
Having looked at the origin of the theory and what basically caused the concern in the society, it is now imperative that we address the issue with reference to communication. It is clear that many groups thought of inferior were and are still sidelined in as far as getting an equal opportunity to address their issues is concerned. In the book Women and Men Speaking; Frameworks for Analysis (1981) by Kramarae, she argues from a feminine point of view in explaining this theory further. She lays out three central assumptions to the feminist muted group theory;
- “Women perceive the world differently from men because of women’s and men’s different experience and activities rooted in the division of labor” (pp.3):- this is a true fact considering that the society has nurtured its people in the division and specialization of labor. Right from the onset, men were required to perform the hard tasks in the society; this made them believe that the strength they posses is superior to that which the woman possesses. Unfortunately, this has grown and even affected the communication pattern in the society. In the same book, it is stated that “men and women speak a different language. According to popular belief, at least, the speech of women is weaker and less effective than that of men. Our culture has many jokes about the quality of women’s speech. Compared to the male speech, the female form is supposed to be emotional, vague, euphemistic, sweetly proper, mindless, endless, high-pitches and silly” (pp.82).
- Because men are the dominant group in the society, the male perception is also dominant. Women’s perceptions and systems of perceiving are seen as less competent: – this assumption basically talks about the suppression of the female voice by the males. The assumption does not specify the nature of male dominance in the society. Yes, there are areas where the male dominates and makes many of the major decisions but that does not imply that in all things man should be dominant. This convention is what has suppressed the feminine voice.
- In order to become participating members in the society, women must first transform their perceptions and models of perceiving into terms of the dominant group. This assumption is self explanatory and the most logical. It provides a solution to the existing predicament. What Kramarae puts forward here is that women must convert their unique ideas, experiences and meanings into male language in order to be heard.
In 1995, Mark Orbe came up with the idea that the muted group theory cuts across all cultures. He particularly looked at the African-American community where they were not being given the kind of opportunity they deserved in as far as communication was concerned. This affected the communication in the society owing to the fact that they were shunning good ideas and thoughts based on the fact that the African American community’s opinion was inferior to that of the whites.
Example of application to real life situation
I recently had the chance and privilege of working with a community based organization dealing with family matters. The organization basically supports families that are not able to meet their living costs and deals with cases of harassment within the family. In most of these families, the common need is that of financial support. The organization I worked with, gets its funding from other international organizations and sees to it that majority of the very needy families are catered for. What surprised me, however, is that in most of these families, the decision on how to spend the finances received is left to man of the house. One would think that in this day and age, particularly in first word countries, a wife and husband would sit together and decide on the methodology of spending. This is not the case. A wide 60% of the families that receive financial live the decision on how to spend the money to the male; the remaining 40% is not a figure to be pleased with as the families in this case are single parent families there fore a decision has to be made regardless.
Kramarae’s assumptions come into play here. In the first instance, since the man is assumed to be dominant in the specialization and division of labor, the major decisions pertaining to the spending of the family income is left to the man. In the second assumption, the male perception is dominant to that of the females. This is the case in these families, the female voice is suppressed by the male voice and they therefore can not participate in the decision making process. The third assumption will give a solution to this situation. As we found out, the females do not engage in the decision making. They are the ones who leave it up to the man. Were they more involved in the process and try to engage in it, they would be more involved in the process.
Implications of the Theory
One thing that wed need to understand is that what this theory brought out in the light is what was, and, still exists in the society. We therefore need to appreciate the founders of this theory. The implications of this theory, however, vary in the sense that there are some that are positive and those that are negative. We shall first examine the positive implications of this theory. One major implication of the theory is that it opened many people’s eyes and the suppressed groups were given an equal chance in airing out their grievances and views. This opened up the communication pattern and fresh ideas were put on the table. That leads to the second positive implication which was that new ideas were and a better way of looking at things developed. Take an instance where it was the man making all the decisions. Men are known to be aggressive and will use force to pass their ideas across. The introduction of the woman into the picture will lead to a more sober mind making a decision and the aggressive nature of decision making will no longer exist.
This theory had negative implications. One of them, and the most obvious one, is the fact that it goes against some rules of nature. It has been practiced over the years that the male species is superior to the female species. At no point will the two species ever be in an equal platform. Inclusion of the females in all the decision making processes becomes a tragedy. In the same instance where the males use their aggressive nature to make the decisions while the females use their less aggressive nature, it is imperative, on occasions that decisions are arrived at aggressively. This is what might lack with the inclusion of women.
The theory attempted to bring out who the muted groups in the society are. It, however, ended up muting the voices of the ones so powerful persons.
The conclusion will discuss the possible remedies to the already existing communication problems as seen in the muted group theory. In finding possible remedies, the first step therefore, is to accept that there is a problem in the communication pattern. Having found out that many groups are being suppressed and not given the opportunity they deserve in communication, one of the remedies therefore, would be to accord all the opportunity to air out their views. This will ensure that everyone gets an equal chance. Another remedy would be an initiative of the suppressed persons and groups. They will be required to think and engage themselves in the process and communicate like the other people who are thought to be superior.