For language, as well as being a vehicle for communication, is also power. The author and psychoanalyst Eva Hoffman, who left her native Poland to complete her education in Canada and the USA, and who now practices as a psychoanalyst in London, writes about the relationship between language and identity in her autobiography Lost in Translation: Life in a New Language:
I was also delighted to be asked to speak at a conference marking the 60th anniversary of the host organization, Relate. My association with Relate goes back even further than that with the Commission, and I am a firm admirer of the contribution it makes nationally to trying to improve communication between women and men through its work with troubled marriages. Talk therapy does offer the chance of finding one's voice, discovering a new language in which difficult matters can be talked about, and repossessing one's identity. Relate may not have thought of itself as a language school, but it is in the business of offering interpretive services. In that, it shares an enterprise with the work of my own organization, the Tavistock Marital Studies Institute, which also celebrated an important occasion in 1998-its 50th anniversary. Both organizations are concerned with whether and how women and men talk to each other.
Not far from where I live in Hertfordshire is the village of Ayot St Lawrence. One of this little village's claims to fame is that the playwright George Bernard Shaw used to live there. His best-known play is probably Pygmalion, a quintessentially English drama about the divisions of class and gender, and one made popular by the musical My Fair Lady. The plot revolves around a bet, made by a dialectician, Professor Henry Higgins, that he can train a market girl, Eliza Dolittle, to speak and act in ways that would allow her to be passed off as aristocracy. In trying to eliminate the linguistic indicators of class, Higgins becomes increasingly frustrated by the differences of gender that he encounters. One plaintive, immortalized line from the musical, pleads `Why can't a woman be more like a man?'. The boot today is on the other foot. When it comes to communication, the exasperated cry is now `Why can't a man be more like a woman?'. You hear it in the consulting rooms of counsellors and therapists, in research reports on family life, and in media discussions on gender relations. The questions now are `why do men stonewall?', `why can't they talk about their feelings?', `why are they so orientated towards activities?' In an age where companionability is the primary expectation of marriage and partnership, men tend to get the blame for not delivering. Their 'failure' to communicate is taken as a key reason why marriages break down. They are no longer needed to bring home the bacon, nor even to provide the socially accepted framework of marriage for conceiving and raising children, and women are asking themselves what they need men for. Men, on the other hand, are facing a decline in their market, social and biological value. As if to underline the point, sperm levels are falling in our increasingly oestrogen-ridden environment, and even male delivery systems have proved inferior (at least, in terms of efficiency) to those carried out in the hospital laboratory. The recent explosion of interest in the male potency drug, Viagra, tells its own story. Is this story just of `Boy's