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Reading from Inside or Outside Perspectives

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    The fairly heated exchange below shows the very different approaches between Emma and Claire in terms of conceptualizing text and context. Claire was discussing the particular fragment in the text [1] (which Emma and Claire had also disagreed over in Lesson 1), which she said was being stereotypical. Claire had just mentioned that she thought these stereotypes consisted of women being represented as having masculine traits:

    G: En jij vindt dat mannelijk. Wat is er mannelijk aan?

    Claire: Ik vind dat mannelijk want de vraag die ik citeer over seksueel rendement... voor mij is dat heel mannelijk, want ik vind dat dat is hetzelfde als de vrouwen in het eerste voorbeeld en dus voor mij is dat eh hij doet een eh ‘t franse woord ‘rapprochement’ eh ja...

    [er wordt gelachen]

    Claire: Wat is dat in het Nederlands of Engels? ‘t Brengt dat eh...

    Marijke: Toenadering.

    Claire: Ja...

    G: Hij brengt die twee dingen bij elkaar.

    Claire: Ja.

    G: Maar hoe...wat is er nou precies... hoe komt het dat dat op elkaar lijkt... het feit dat vrouwen eerst worden beschreven met wat ze dragen... designer clothes, cellulitisvrij... getrainde billen...

    [er wordt gelachen]

    G: Je zou kunnen zeggen dat daar een soort...

    Claire: Op zich is dat mannelijk want...

    Emma: Neeeee! Waarom?

    Claire: Ja, dat hele...

    Emma: Als je succesvol bent, bent je dan mannelijk als vrouw?

    Claire: Nee, maar...

    Emma: Maar dat zeg je dan.

    Claire: Nee, ik vind dat als je dat vind belangrijk, ja ik vind dat een beetje mannelijk.

    Emma: Dus jij wil gewoon onderdanig blijven aan een man en met geld...

    G: Emma, Claire zegt volgens mij niet dat dat mannelijk is, maar dat de schrijver het presenteert als mannelijk, dat de maatschappij dat zo vindt.

    [door elkaar praten en lachen]

    Claire: Maar wanneer je een lijst maakt met alle dingen... ik...

    Emma: Hij beschouwt het als mannelijk.

    Claire: Ja, als je geen namen hebt, als je zegt dat hij eh Maarten en zijn drie vriendin eh, vrienden, dan voor mij is dat misschien niet zo, ja, misschien niet die billen

    [er wordt gelachen]

    G: Nou, die billen zijn wel belangrijk natuurlijk. Waarom zijn die...

    Claire: Seksueel.

    G: Omdat hij toch de vrouw daardoor als seksueel aantrekkelijk neerzet.

    Emma: Dus als ze dan dit allemaal hadden maar toch die cellulitis dan was er toch niet zo...

    [onverstaanbaar door het door elkaar praten]

    Claire: Luister... dakterras of balkon, ja vlot karretje, ja niet die cellulitis, hoe zeg je dat voor mannen, is dat eh... hoe zeg je...

    sommige studenten: Sixpack.

    Marijke en Yasmin: Wasbord.

    Claire: Wasbord, ja make-up niet, maar koelkast met zalm en champagne en die job met uitdagende perspectieven, ja voor mij dat kan mannelijk ook...

    Eve: Typisch zo’n bachelor...


    G: Dus het is... de vrouw wordt beschreven in die succesvolle... economisch succesvolle termen en het prestatiegerichte... eh hij zegt ook op een gegeven moment eh... hij definieert het mannelijk zijn als eh prestaties verrichten... op blz... ik weet niet zo gauw.

    Marijke: Ja, op blz. 49 aan het einde... ‘zo bouwen ze een door het leveren van bepaalde prestaties’.

    G: Ja, inderdaad, [ik herhaal het]... is een mannelijke identiteit, ja dus met andere woorden, prestaties leveren is een mannelijke eh karaktertrek.

    Emma: Ja, dan ben ik het met je eens dat het inderdaad zo gepresenteerd is, maar...

    Claire: Ja, ja. Emma: Maar...

    G: Ja, je bent het niet eens met wat ie zegt.

    Emma: Nee.


    G: And you find that male? What is male about it?

    Claire: I think that it is male because the question which I’m citing about sexual gain for me that is very male. I think that that is the same as the women in the first example and this for me he is doing... eh the French word is ‘rapprochement’ eh yes...


    Claire: What is that in Dutch or English? It brings that...

    Marijke: Approach.

    Claire: Yes.

    G: He brings those things together.

    Claire: Yes.

    G: But how... what exactly... how come that that looks like one another... the fact that women are first described by what they wear... designer clothes, cellulite-free trained buttocks


    G: You could say that there is a kind of

    Claire: In a way that is male...

    Emma: Noooo… why?

    Claire: Well, the whole…

    Emma: When you are successful as a woman, you are being male?

    Claire: No, but…

    Emma: But that’s what you then are saying.

    Claire: No, I think that if you find that [kind of thing] important yes, I think that is a bit male.

    Emma: So you want to remain submissive to a man and with money…

    G: Emma, I don’t think that Claire is saying that it is male, but that the author presents it as male, that society thinks it is male.

    [Students talking and laughing]

    Claire: But when you make a list of all those things… I…

    Emma: He thinks of it as male.

    Claire: Yes, if there wouldn’t be any names given… eh Maarten and his three friends, then for me [it could be about men]… well, perhaps not those buttocks


    G: Well, those buttocks are important of course… why would they be…

    Claire: Sexual.

    G: Because he is portraying the women still as being sexually attractive.


    Claire: Listen… roof terrace or balcony… yes, trendy little car, well, not the cellulite, how do you say that for men…?

    Marijke and Yasmin: Six-pack.

    Claire: Six-pack, yes, not the make-up, but the fridge with salmon and champagne and the job with prospects… yes, for me that can be male.

    Eve: A typical bachelor…


    G: So, the women are described in those successful economically successful terms and focused on achievement… eh… he also says somewhere… eh… he defines being male as eh… achieving… on page… I don’t know…

    Marijke: Yes on page 49 at the end: ‘that’s how they build a… by achieving things’.

    G: Yes, indeed. Achieving… is part of the male identity, yes, so in other words I repeat what was said is a male characteristic.

    Emma: Yes, then I agree with you that indeed that is how it is presented, but…

    Claire: Yes, yes.

    Emma: But…

    G: Yes, you don’t agree with him.

    Emma: No.

    Claire and Emma had discussed the same text fragment (the one about designer clothes etc.) in the first lesson, and they had both agreed that it represented a negative view of women, but they had each interpreted it differently. Emma had seen this fragment as representing women as superficial, being only interested in clothes and make-up, whereas Claire had seen it in terms of the representation of an ‘ideal’ that women would need to live up to. Those interpretations were forgotten now, and both Emma and Claire seem to agree that in this fragment women are described as being successful, having achieved a certain status due to these materialist possessions.

    Claire notes that this particular representation of describing women in terms of success is gendered: success is represented as a male characteristic. But Emma does not seem to recognize that Claire is making a statement about a representation in the text and she assumes that it is Claire’s own opinion that success constitutes a male characteristic. Emma steps outside the meta-communicative style of the classroom discussion and seems to forget we are engaging in the pedagogic activity of analyzing a text. She feels so strongly about this that she almost launches a personal attack on Claire: ‘Dus jij wilt gewoon onderdanig blijven aan een man en met geld…?’ (So you want to stay submissive to a man and with money…?).

    When I am trying to build on Claire’s point that the way that the women are presented is almost in male terms, and when I try and articulate that in terms of economic success and a focus on achievement (which the author later in the article explicitly defines as being a male characteristic), only Marijke latches on by pointing out where in the text this is said. Only then does Emma agree that, yes, this is an issue of representation, but states yet again that she doesn’t agree with the view that success could be seen as a male characteristic.

    Emma then seems to firmly remain outside the article, not trying to understand the text as discursive formations, but responding to the statement almost as an item for debate. Claire, on the other hand, is trying to understand the text fragment in the context of the article itself and link it to its socio-cultural environment. By doing so, Claire is moving away from looking at the text as a product and is starting to see the text as cultuurtekst, i.e. the discourses which underpin the text. Claire made use of her socio-cultural knowledge to come to this analysis and took on a position of critique. But, paradoxically, Emma’s strong criticism of the text using her personal experiences or views, formed a hindrance to a position of critique as she saw the text in relation to a discussion about content, not a discussion about discourses. Claire saw this fragment in terms of culturally located ways of presenting male and femaleness, Emma saw this as a statement of truth and she drew the discussion on to personal terms. This might suggest that a strong emphasis on personal experience, which is not being reflected upon, can be detrimental to being critical and even be stereotype confirming.

    However, as a result of the interplay between theory, data, and my own reflection, I realized in the later stages of this study that Emma’s response to the text cannot be solely explained by her taking a position outside the text. It was precisely her emotional response to Claire’s pinpointing of the particular discursive forces in society which represent success and independence as the prerogative of men, which alerted me to the fact that Emma was engaging with the text, and more so with Claire’s responses to the text, in a critical way, critiquing the ideologically motivated content, and how a truth-certainty is maintained about gender. Her emotional response was directed at these particular discursive understandings, even if she mistakenly believed that Claire personally held that particular view. Through asking Claire directly whether she would like to remain dependent on a man and his money, Emma brought both the personal and political domain into the classroom. Since I felt uncomfortable with the emotional and passionate tone of the discussion, I intervened, without giving this personal political element a chance to develop. However, the next set of data shows a moment in the class where that did happen. It shows that students’ engagement with their personal experiences can indeed be a step towards a critical engagement with the discursive forces of the text-producing environment.

    This page titled Reading from Inside or Outside Perspectives is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gerdi Quist (Ubiquity Press) .