You’re Wearing That?

I’ve never been a mother. I’ve never been a daughter.

So why would I want to read You’re Wearing That?which bears the subtitle Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation?

Two reasons:

  • The author is Deborah Tannen, as shown above the title. Tannen, if you don’t know her, is a public sociolinguist who wrote the outstanding book You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation along with several other prominent and popular works.
  • Although I’ve never been a mother or a daughter, about half of the people I have taught have been daughters, and I have taken part in plenty of parent conferences with their mothers.

So I naturally expected — especially because of the title — that most of the daughters in the title would be teens and preteens, but actually most of them turn out to be adults. If you fall into either or both of these categories, either a mother or a daughter, I strongly suspect that this book will resonate with you.

A word about the style of this non-fiction work. Like many other books of its genre (Oliver Sacks comes immediately to mind), it consists primarily of lots of short case studies, with theoretical explanations growing out of specific examples, not the other way around as might happen in a textbook. Since the author is a professor at Georgetown, these examples tend to come from her graduate and undergraduate students; many of the daughters are thus young women who are just barely out of their teens. So a lot of the book felt very familiar to me as a teacher of high-schoolers. And since Tannen’s students were taking sociolinguistics courses and fulfilling assignments to analyze their own conversations, the book tends to be very introspective. That is unexpected to me as an outside observer, since I always see a lot more introspection in my female students and friends than in my male ones (and myself). In fact, one of the issues that Tannen touches on several times is that some of her conclusions also apply to conversations between mothers and sons, or fathers and sons, or fathers and daughters — but those interactions are not the focus of the book, although the special connection that often obtains between fathers and daughters comes up a lot as it affects the mother-daughter conversations.

There isn’t a whole lot of technical jargon in this book. If you can get past “complementary schismogenesis” — a term that recurs a lot as it’s an important concept in Tanner’s exegesis — you won’t have any problem with too much academic linguistics or sociology. You’ll just find You’re Wearing That? an insightful and informative analysis of half of the human race.

Categories: Books