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Deborah Tannen’s book, The Argument Culture

Deborah Tannen’s book, The Argument Culture is full of many arguments, some more intriguing then others. In this book, she tackles everything from politics to the Internet, and everything in between. I was especially taken by the gender issues that she addressed. Such issues were approached in nearly every chapter, it did not seem to matter what the topic was; she always managed to bring the battle of the sexes into it somehow. One chapter was dedicated strictly to this very topic: Chapter 6, entitled “Boys Will Be Boys: Gender and Opposition”, was among my favorite parts of the book.

She really tackles the differences between boys and girls, which start at a very young age. I was awe-struck by the examples she uses of very small children who already are playing the gender specific roles which society has assigned to them. Children learn very quickly what is expected from them and how they are supposed to act. Very young boys know that they should not play with dolls just as little girls do not want to play with trucks.

The example about the blocks was especially intriguing, the way that boys just want to destroy and wreak havoc on each others ‘creations’, and girls keep the blocks so neat and orderly says a lot about our society. However, I am not so sure that this is always true. Boys are not always the rough, tough ones, while girls are prim and proper. Growing up, my mother babysat my male cousin while his mother was at work. Being two years younger then I and four years younger then my sister, he was very impressionable.

He did play Barbie’s with us, and we played G. I Joes with him. As a result, Jim is not gay, he is just a well-rounded person, however, he learned at that young age to become extremely dependent on my sister and I. Jim is an only child, therefore, Beth and I were all he ever knew as siblings, as Jane and I grew apart, Jim and I grew closer. As children we all went to the same private elementary school, we would see each other every single day. I will never forget his first day if school, he was three and starting pre-school, I was I kindergarten. He was heart-broken that his Mom was leaving him in this strange place.

His teachers came in and got me out of my class to go talk to him, and try to get him to stop crying. He was not like the rest of the boys, he was very emotional, and I think he got that from being around my sister and I for so long. Now, that he is grown up, he would be the last one to get angry. I have the very aggressive personality while he is more passive. We really rubbed off on each other, therefore influencing our personalities. We had no idea what ‘society’ wanted us to act like or play with. We were just kids trying to have fun, and it is only in hindsight that I realize what effect it had.

Another issue addressed in chapter six is a ritual thought to be common in many college campuses: hazing. This was a very poorly backed part of the book. If Tannen wanted to broach such a subject, I believe that she should have presented more evidence to back her claims. Hazing is a very serious crime, and she just comes out and accuses fraternities and sororities as a whole of hazing. I was quite offended by this; she lacked the evidence I felt was necessary to make such an allegation, in addition, I found myself questioning her warrant.

Based on my own experience, I believe hazing to be at thing of the past. As a member of the Greek community at UCLA, I have found that hazing is, for the most part a myth. First of all, the term ‘pledge’ is no longer used, however, I do not believe that referring to someone as a pledge would be hazing. Most of the stories you hear about hazing incidents are false. Contrary to popular belief, a goat plays no part in the initiation ceremony. I found this part in the book to be outdated and hypercritical.

She shows no evidence for her claims and I found that to be quite offensive. The conversation that she documents is completely one-sided and misleading, I believe that it was blown out of proportion by an outsider who did not know any better. Tannen failed to mention that hazing is against the law, and that every single national sorority has made hazing against national policies, along with most fraternities. The majority of nationally affiliated Greek organizations would lose their charter for hazing, but Tannen forgot to mention that too.

Overall, I believe Tannen’s argument was one of just that, argument. I believe that she related one chapter to the next very effectively and made a generally well -rounded argument. Though at times it may have been monotonous and repetitive, she got her point across in the end and wrote a book that was fairly interesting to read. Although she could have done without a good number of the examples and stories which she documented, their presence did not have an enormously negative effect on the book. They did however make for a rather monotonous read.

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