Robin Lakoff‘s "You Are What You Say" – Linguistic Double Standards in Society

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In the essay “You Are What You Say” written by Robin Lakoff, she educates readers about the “linguistic double standards” throughout society. She believes this expected language makes them “unfit to hold a position of power” in the second paragraph. Lakoff uses various examples to further her argument about why a woman’s “language limits their effectiveness” and is unfair. She describes this “cultural bias” throughout her essay and states in the final paragraph that something needs to change.

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Robin Lakoff’s essay “You Are What You Say” takes place “in Ms. Magazine in 1974” and is influenced with ideas around this time period like gender biases as men were believed to be greater than women. Even though Lakoff’s examples of a women’s language were written back then, all of her points are still relevant today because of standards that are expected of by society. When she states in the final sentence that “it’s time to speak up,” this means that the issue Lakoff shed light on back then still has not been solved now.

“You Are What You Say” written is addressed towards English speakers. She wants her audience, both men and women, to realize the problem of double standards in the English language within society that is overseen, making “women to be less important and less powerful than men.” To connect with this audience and convince them of this issue that the language causes, Lakoff explains examples “in all levels of English” to make them understand its relevance.

In Robin Lakoff’s essay the purpose is to analyze “women’s linguistic habits” in order to show the readers an ignored dilemma throughout society. Through examples that are still relevant today, Lakoff discovers “something about the roles played by men and women,” making it known to the audience that women should not be constantly held inferior to men. She strives for change, hoping to leave readers with a desire to fix the issue in the English language, made clear in the last sentence.

The subjects of “You Are What You Say” include “lady-like language,” tag questions, “the use of euphemisms” (specifically woman, lady, and girl), and more. These subjects are created by Lakoff through specific examples as she further explains their influence on women. Her main points make readers realize and question why these standards are expected of women even till this day. These subjects draw attention to ideas that are often overlooked by everyday speakers.

Robin Lakoff’s tone throughout her “You Are What You Say” seems to be defensive and outraged. She seems to be dissatisfied with the standards in women’s language, making them “communicative cripples.” Lakoff challenges the status quo and questions these expectations, such as when she says, “Why is this?” Clearly wanting change, she describes “linguistic double standards” with words such as widow. With a language that is “fuzzy-headed and unassertive,” the writer wants to stand up for all women against society’s standards.

The central idea in “You Are What You Say” is that women should not be confined to society’s expectations within the English language. Lakoff believes that women can be just as powerful and influential as men. However, being prevented by standards in languages, this is unjust because it causes “inadequacies in her own intelligence and education.” This makes women seem to be polite, while “impolite implies that the speaker is in a superior position,” one that society believes is only meant for men. Lakoff says this should no longer be the case and how this unfairness needs to stop.

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