Contributors: Sylvia Buchanan, Andree Dumont, Mubeen Ladhani, Tara Litherland, Sultan Rana

Keywords: Gender Roles, Stereotypes, Women, Muted, Language

What is Muted Group Theory?

Attempts to explain why certain groups in society are muted
•Worked on this concept in the context of gender
•Males act in different ways than females
•Muted=lower in status
•Act and speak in accordance with the audience – are not being truly heard
Major Proponents of Muted Group Theory:

Shirley & Edwin Ardener (1927 - 1987):

- Influential British social anthropologist
- Important contributions in the areas of social, demographic, political, economic
- Worked to link social anthropology and lingusitics
- Tried to reconcile scientific and humanistic views in the study of society
- 1975- described women as "muted"
- "The problem, Revisited" in Perceiving Women" - edited by his wife Shirley Ardener
- Complete Biography:

Cheris Kramarae:

•Ph.D. UniverCheris.jpgsity of Illinois 1975 – Urbana-Champaign – Speech - Communication (Sociolinguistics)
•Centre for the Study of Women in Society, University of Oregon
•Language, gender, communication, education and technology
•Further information:
•Takes the theory a step further and adds the concept of perception:
•The way that women perceive the world, and the way that they are perceived in the world
•“Men and women speak a different language. According to popular belief, at least, the speech of women is weaker and less effective than the speech of men. Our culture has many jokes about the quality of women’s speech . . .. Compared to male speech, the female form is supposed to be emotional, vague, euphemistic, sweetly proper, mindless, endless, high-pitches, and silly" (Kramarae, 1974, p. 82).
Case Study (Present Day Relevance & Current Media):

Situation:(perspective of a female legal assistant working for a male attorney)

- The legal firm consists of four attorneys (3 Men & 1 Woman) and three female legal assistants
- Majority of the cases that come in pertain to defending women through arbitration, mediation, or litigation because of sexual harassment or job discrimination
- Female legal assistants are only treated appropriately by male attorneys when they perform or play the "feminine" role
- The female attorney was not treated differently by the male attorneys because she portrays herself as one of the "men" in the office (i.e. spoke their "language")

Application to Muted Group Theory:

1. Men & Women perceive the world differently because they have different perception shaping experiences. Those different experiences are a result of men and women performing different tasks in society.

  • Different tasks were performed by the attorneys and the legal assistants. These roles are created and expected by society (i.e. Men = bread winner & Women = nurturer)
  • The males are in a powerful position and the female attorney is accepted into this power structure because she dresses, acts, and talks like the males
  • The female legal assistants are heard only when they adopt a "feminine" role (i.e. a servicing role to those power positions)

2. Men enact their power politically, perpetuating their power and suppressing women's ideas and meanings from gaining public acceptance.

  • The male attorneys frequently suppressed the ideas provided by their legal assistants (i.e. "pretend listening") because no action was taken based on the recommendations provided by the legal assistants
  • Put downs were common in front of clients, especially when the legal assistants tried to intervene and inject their ideas
  • However, the female legal assistant working for the female attorney was listened to by the male attorneys because she was a "representative" of the female attorney and learned how to behave in a more "male-like" manner

3. Women must convert their unique ideas, experiences, and meanings into male language in order to be heard.

  • The female attorney changed how she talked and reacted to the male attorneys so they could relate to her. She became a professional in a male-dominated profession which required her to present herself in a male-like manner to be taken seriously
  • The female attorney's legal assistant was also treated similarly because she was a "representative," an extension of the maleness.
  • The female legal assistants working for the male attorneys were only "heard" if they adopted the stereotypical "feminine" role

Conclusion: The women in this case study were multifaceted and portrayed varying levels of mutedness

Current Media Connections:

Mad Men: This show takes place in the early 1960's in an advertising firm in New York. The gender roles that are displayed in this show are very distinct and explicit. With respect to the females in the office, their roles are very multifaceted based on certain criteria that they possess such as socioeconomic status, marital status, and physical appearance etc. A common thread that each woman portrays is their desire to take control over their own lives however, they are unable to take full reign because of the limited opportunities afforded to them as women.

Little Mermaid: The following is a clip from little mermaid that conveys the concept of muted group theory perfectly! Have a look and see for yourself:

Muted Group Theory & Education:

If this theory were to be applied to the realm of Canadian education, it would mean that white male perspectives influence curriculum and the entire institution of education. This would include:

-roles and responsibilities of teachers (male phys-ed teachers, female art teachers/ female elementary teachers, male high school teachers)
-most school secretaries are female
-most custodians are male (although females are beginning to show up in custodial roles)
-until recently, administrative roles were predominately held by men, although this is changing

How do we address this theory in our classroom?

-open, critical classroom discussion
-provide opportunities for everyone to speak (a Tribes approach may be helpful in making minority groups feel comfortable contributing to discussion)
-challenge the norm, embrace alternative opinions, explore ideas
-give the quiet or minority students opportunities to use their voices (problem-based learning activities, group work, presentations, personal research assignments)
-critically review biases that exist in society today, where they came from, etc.
-appreciate everyone’s opinion as equally important and worth hearing

Extension of Muted Group Theory & Feminist Perspective (Cross Cultural Connections):

As the years have progressed, the focus on research in this sector has taken new forms, and gone down different avenues. Taking nothing away from the feminist perspective, the Muted Group Theory has broadened it's impact on minority and cultural groups as well within a dominant society also. Researcher, Mark Orbe applied the idea of Muted Group Theory in the context of African Americans in a White Anglo Saxon Prodestant/ Cacuasian dominant society. This extension of MGT can be described as Co-Cultural Communication. To be touched on briefly, three important extensions developed in light of this deeper observation, and those are:

1) Dominant cultures have created the illusion that all African Americans communicate in a similar manner, regardless of age, religion, gender, class or sexual orientation.

2) There is no one way a muted group deals within a dominant culture. It is dependent on muted group previous experiences and the cost-effect/ rewards assessment the individual take in his/her mind when making the decision to integrate/ assimilate/ interact with the dominant group

Co-cultural Communication Theory is ideally seen as how underrepresented group members negotiate their muted group status. At times, they will either assert themselves or (for lack of better words) degrade themselves in order for acceptance or integration of the dominant group.

The Tables Have Turned? Trends of the Dominant Culture Losing Prominence/ Dominance

In the past 20 years, an increased trend in commentary and criticism from dominant groups has increased in light of these members feeling (recently) disenfranchised, ostracized and/ or the loss of their rights. In the face of such programs as affirmative action, globalization and competitive foreign markets and with recent political activities in the United States, white males are feeling a sense of rejection and minimal, and are being very vocal about the trends they see. Theories that are in-line with some of these trends are (to name only a few):

White Guilt: Individual or collective guilt felt by Caucasians for the mistreatment of black people due to past and/or present racist events.
This is a concept that some take offense to and disregard as a cop-out to "weak" or "right" thinking.

Reverse Racism: Mistreatment and prejudice directed towards a dominant group (generally, Caucasian) based on the fact they are considered white by members of a non-dominant group. This was addressed in situations surrounding affirmative action and various educational initiatives.

Male Oppression: The theory and ideal that males are becoming minimized, disenfranchised or ostracized because of their gender in a female populated environment.

These ideas are currently under greater scrutiny in the social sciences, and depending on the bias of particular media outlets, has been shared and given a great deal of attention (i.e. FOX's Hannity and Combs, and Bill O'Reiley focus on Reverse Racism during the Obama 2008 campaign).


Baer, J. (1998). Comm 3210: Human Communication Theory, Muted Group Theory by Cheris Kramarae. University of Colorado at Boulder. Retrieved from

Definition of White Guilt:
Wikipedia,, Last Updated 6 November 2010.

Margie. (2010). Mad Men, Mad Women? A Look at Gender & Culture [Web log message]. Retrieved from Picture of Cheris Kramare retrieved from
Orbe, M.P. (1995). African American communication research: Toward a deeper understanding of interethnic communication. Western Journal of Communication, 59, 61-78.