Greeting Cards

Candace, 20 July 2005, Comments Off on Greeting Cards
Categories: Language, Life, Relationships, Sexism, Women's Studies

Deborah Tannen says, “women and men have different past experiences.” This different experience means that men and women’s perception and understanding of the world will be different. Tannen supports the dual culture approach to analyzing men and women’s behaviour and the characteristics she describes can be found in an analysis of the attached greeting cards.

Tannen describes the stereotype of men as strong and silent (439). The baby boy card analyzed for this paper illustrates this concept repeatedly. Repeatedly the author refers to the boy’s strength: in lines 7, 9, and 12 the amount of strength the child has is noted. The baby boy is crafted with “sinew” (line 6). Sinew implies strength as it is used for connecting muscle to bone. The child’s ‘frame’ (line 6) is a metaphor for a strong, stable building. The author furthers the metaphor of the strong-standing structure when he or she discusses how “the storms of time would . . . never break him” (line 8). This building has such a powerful frame that it will be resilient and invincible, much like the child will be because he is male. Regardless of the hurdles this child will face in his life, there is no reason to fear because he was made to “take the stresses of life” (line 7). Come what may, this male child will survive. He will be successful. “Like a sunrise, the child is dependable” (line 10). The author says the child will be “unafraid to live” (line 9). Bravery is a stereotypical male characteristic that the author uses here to further describe the male experience.

An infant is not capable of high level reasoning but that is what the author suggests in line 5 when he or she says the infant boy will at birth be asking the philosophical question of “why?” This is an example of another stereotype, men’s superior intelligence, that is perpetuated in this card.

Tannen also points out that boys spend more time playing outdoors than girls do (440). This is shown in the outdoor imagery used in the card (kites, rainbow, clouds, sky). Each of these implies the great freedom that is available more to males than to females.

In contrast, the baby girl card emphasizes her need and dependency. The visual image of an infant in a basket symbolizes helplessness and immobility, much like the stereotypes associated with women. The ribbon is symbolic of how women are restrained or ‘tied down’ in society. The focus in this card is how the baby girl will love the family and what she will offer to them, that is, her unconditional love (line 3). In the boy’s card, his strength is emphasized whereas in the girl’s card her dependence and need is stressed (lines 4-5). She is helpless and will need tender care in order to survive. It can also be questioned whether that this baby “will change [her family’s] life forever” (line 7-8) is a positive thing. To receive the challenge of raising someone this dependent does not sound like an enjoyable task. One could question if these changes are going to be ‘good’ changes. The metaphor of the clinging, draining leech seems fitting when reading the description of this baby girl.

Both the baby boy card and the baby girl card perpetuate the traditional stereotypical gender marking of pink for girls and blue for boys.

The cards for mother and father also present some interesting contrasts. The card for mom is pink like the one for the baby girl. The father’s card is blue. The mother appears to have been out shopping, a stereotypical female activity. Mom is further stereotyped by her clothing: Mom is a homemaker, hence the apron and oven mitts; her mini skirt and wild colour and pattern combination shows that Mom is stylish and aware of current fashion trends – she is concerned with her appearance; her bag full of vegetables means that Mom is health conscious and responsible for the health of others. The only word on the face of the card is “Supermom.” The pressure is high for Mom to be all things to all people, a struggle feminists have been fighting for a very long time.

Mom is described with the metaphor of the superheroine, except that she is represented as invincible in only traditional female roles. Inside the card, Mom can “conquer . . . laundry” (line 2). She is a genius of the domestic trade. She can multi-task including acting as chauffeur (line 4). Even though it is Mom’s birthday, the author says Mom can “still find time for a little one-on-one” (line 6). This implies that Mom still must give of herself to the giver of the card. Mom’s “heroism” (not her ‘heroine-ism’) is based on her ability to complete household chores. Mom is solely appreciated for her success in the long-established female sphere. Women are expected to be caretakers and that is perpetuated in this card.

Dad’s card however presents a parent who has a lot more leisure time than Supermom. Daddy equals fun; he is “your best buddy” (line 18). Mom equals work; she takes care of you. Maybe Daddy has a lot more time (line 15) because he is not preoccupied with trying to be Supermom. Daddy is affectionate throughout the imagery and language of this card, which differs from the traditional stereotype of men being emotionally distant. But whereas the male card has expanded to include some non-traditional behaviour for Dad, the same does not apply in the card for mom. Daddy plays games with his child (line 8-9). This could be because Daddy’s work is outside the home and hometime is his leisure time. If Mommy is a full-time homemaker then she likely does not have leisure time at home. Two more male stereotypes are illustrated in this card: “A daddy helps fix things (lines 3-4) and Daddy “buys ice cream” (lines 5-7). Tannen says men like to talk about “how things work” (443). This father is involved in showing his child how to repair the wagon, perpetuating the stereotype that men have good mechanical skills. When Daddy buys the ice cream for his child instead of Supermom buying a treat for her child in her card, it shows insight into who controls the family money. Mommy buys the necessities of life; Daddy buys treats.

All four of these greeting cards perpetuate gender-based stereotypes for males and females. Although there were a few gender-neutral cards available, for the most part, these cards reflect the choices available at this time in our community.

Works Cited

Tannen, Deborah.


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