Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Giving Him Airs

I was reading an article in The Smithsonian the other day and came across the following description:

"Amone, a tall, bespectacled physician with a baritone voice and an air of quiet authority...."

An air of quiet authority.

I see that phrase sometimes in various novels, articles, and descriptions of people and am never sure what it means. I think it's a lazy phrase, if I may nitpick. A writer or reporter should show the person being quietly authoritative rather than just telling us that this person has a mysterious, amorphous, and unspecified air of quiet authority about him and expecting us to take the writer/reporter's word on that.

And yes, I've never actually seen a woman, or a person with, say, a soprano voice, described as having an air of quiet authority.

Julia Serrano, in her book Whipping Girl, talks extensively about how even though she acted the same way before and after she transitioned from male to female, people treated her much differently based on her gender presentation. She writes, "[As a woman my] behaviors are still the same; it is only the context of my body (whether people see me as female or male) that has changed."

Likewise, I would reckon that when most people say that a person has an air of quiet authority, that air of quiet authority is less a thing that a person has and more of perception that other people have of him. It is something that is granted to him, if you will, not primarily because of things he actually does, but primarily because of his maleness, and particular physical traits and characteristics that he possesses in conjunction with that.

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