Coloring Outside the Lines of Social Confines
Have you ever wondered how much control your role has in society? If life is like a coloring book, how far can a person actually color outside of the lines before a governing system returns your crayon-clenched hand back to the intended coloring surface? It’s a valid question; one that opens itself up in sociological and psychological and interconnects with history. Not to be mistaken for the question “how much control so you have over your destiny”, my first question focuses more on the historically-based societal-expectations have influenced present day standards, mannerisms, and connotations. Spoiler alert: I don’t have an exact answer, I’m in the process of learning it myself.
I was thrust into a journey through time for the source of my present day role by a most unlikely catalyst: the rhetorical triangle. Or, if more narrowly-focused, the concept of Audience. I’ve been taking a class called Understanding Rhetoric (which is as challenging as it sounds, but also more useful than I had initially given it credit for), when I realized that despite having learned the rhetorical triangle in high school, I really had no true understanding of audience. Although I had talked about composing adverting products to suit a client and commented on posters around campus that I thought were not particularly appealing in comparisons to others and why, I had trouble explaining what would have been a better idea for the client, and then why is would be better. My excuse was: “Well it’s hard to say what the audience will be most attracted to, since I’m not part of that audience.” My excuse was a cop-out and insupportable, because I couldn’t even explain why I, if I were an audience, would prefer one composition over another. “Because it does” isn’t a particularly strong answer.
Thus, the adventure into the land of rhetoricians and rules took place. To know the audience is to know the target. This knowledge enables the writer to adjust the strategy that will best relate to the audience their intended message. It’s obviously an important element to address when writing, but I’ve always pushed it off as a fill-in-the-blank that needs a name and not much thought. It is easy and thoughtless to take the word “audience” and replace it with a generalized title for your target. Is it really acceptable to say that you understand your audience on the basis that you handpicked them or because you are a part of that audience yourself? For me, the answer is no. Knowing the name of my audience meant nothing if I didn’t understand what they wanted, and to know what they wanted I’d have to look deeper. Keep in mind that while I’m being propelled by personal understanding, I’m also spending the majority of my week in a classroom setting.
Part of taking Understanding Rhetoric is reading the works of acknowledged rhetoricians or individuals who have further expanded the world of rhetoric (no kidding, right?). One such individual’s work I have read is a letter by Sarah Grimké to Mary S. Parker (the President of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society) in 1837. As I read Grimké’s observation on the behaviors by men and women that kept them in the socially constructed idea that women rights rubbed against divinity, I learned of my own comprehension of, or lack thereof, an audience that I had been born into, and that had been socially constructed before my birth.
I recognized through reading women writers in the past that the ladylike behaviors that I have been held to since birth as expectations were rooted in the same expected behaviors of the Grimké sisters. That isn’t to say that the present hasn’t grown from the past, but there are still a number of ideologies that are still preached under the expectation of “correct” behaviors, which had been intended to restrict society rather than accept it.
Please acknowledge that this isn’t a rant about freedom, this is a new understanding, on my part, that the actions in which I partake in as a member of a female audience were rooted in a historical context that I thought my generation had left behind. Without knowing the historical associations between the audience and the ideas, and without knowing the limitations on your audience role in society, the understanding of your audience is incomplete and flawed.