Cries and Whispers: The Shattering of the Silence
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Feminists have devoted a great deal of attention over the past quarter century to speech and its effect on gender and power relations. l Less consideration has been given to its complement, the absence of speech, or silence, and that much more recently.2 This lack of attention to the meanings and functions of silence in gender relations is not really surprising. It is easier to perceive what is there as meaningful, as opposed to discerning meaning in the absence of a phenomenon. What is explicit and apparent responds to analysis more readily than what must be inferred. So it is not surprising that there exists within linguistics, to my knowledge, only a single collection of papers on silence (Tannen &. Saville-Troike 1985). Silence is popularly equated with the absence of content, although we also recognize, if subliminally, the uses of silence in power relations. Adults demand answers of children, superiors of subordinates. The powerless cannot choose to be silent, any more than they can choose to speak, or choose the meaning of their speech.