Most people modify their ways of speaking, writing, texting, and e-mailing, and so on, according to the people with whom they are communicating. This fascinating book asks why we 'accommodate' to others in this way, and explores the various social consequences arising from it.
In this book, addressed to an audience of researchers and advanced students, the author provides a review of the literature on gendered discourse, addressing both the theory and methods of gender and discourse studies as well as examining past research on gender discourse, such as gender as portrayed in children's literature and in the media. The author also examines such areas of thought as the construction of identity through gender, how gendered discourse may be damaging, and methods to correct it.
Introduction In the introduction, the author lays out the focus and the organization of the book, which is identifying gendered discourse in texts The author also deals with key themes in the field, such as there being no finite and easily identifiable set of discourses: the concept is inherently permeable. "Discourse" simply means a length of spoken and written text, and there are any number of kinds of discourses. The author also addresses the organization of the book: Part 1 discusses key concepts in the field, and Part 2 has an empirical focus and looks at past studies in discourse analysis. Interestingly, the author does not address part 3 in the introduction, but it deals with the issues of construction of gender through discourse and damaging discourses.
Chapter 1 Discourse, Discourse Analysis, and Gender In this chapter, the author deals with important issues in the field, such as discourse study, gender, and construction of self through discourse. The author also discusses related fields and lines of inquiry, such as critical discourse analysis and conversation analysis. The author offers definitions and examples of each of these concepts
Chapter 2 Discourse, Discourse Identification, and Naming Here the author addresses how to identify discourses and offers examples as well as presents lists of currently identified discourses. Traditional practices within the field, such as identifying lexical choices and grammatical features associated with specific discourses, are also discussed. The author offers examples of "discourse spotting," or identifying discourses, such as an advertisement of a hall available for weddings, which the author found had various discourses associated with it, such as a promotional discourse and a "biggest day of a woman's life" discourse (p. 35). Linguistic features identifying the "promotional discourse" are noun phrases such as "spectacular backdrop," "the most romantic and idyllic of settings," "spectacular views," etc. The author concludes by naming some different discourses identified to date: descriptive discourses such as "classroom" and "cultural" as well as interpretative, relational discourses such as "alternative," "dominant," "oppositional," and finally gendered interpretative discourses such as and "equal opportunities" discourse and "mother as main parent" discourse (p. 48-50). This sets the stage for Chapter 3, where the author focuses specifically on gendered discourses.
Chapter 3 Some Gendered Discourses Identified to Date The author here identifies a "gender differences" discourse as probably the most "popular" of gendered discourse, an overarching discourse under which a number of "subdiscourses" fall, such as a discourses concerning gender and employment opportunities and discourses on the menopause. The author offers specific examples of each of these.
Chapter 4 Gendered Discourses in the Classroom
Chapter 4 begins Part 2, where the author reviews past studies in gendered discourse. The line of inquiry discussed in this chapter, the study of gender differences in classroom talk, is rather traditional now, being a focus of feminist work for thirty years. The author explores both discourses found in classrooms, both unique to classrooms and not, such as the equal opportunities discourse, privileged femininity discourse, neat girls discourses, girls as good language learners' discourse, and poor boys discourse. The author addresses the problem that what may appear to be an emancipatory discourse and celebrating the alleged superiority of women (e.g. "women as good language learners") are really conservative discourses designed to keep the status quo: e.g. language teaching jobs are poorly paid positions traditionally held by women.
Chapter 5 Fatherhood Discourses in Parenting Magazines In Chapters 5 and 6 the author analyzes how fatherhood is represented in print text. She finds the institution in a state of flux, as are gender relations more widely. The author begins by addressing the notion that we "perform" different selves through the selection of different discourses: this is called "self-positioning" (p. 102): for example a man may, through discourse, "perform" and "position" himself as an involved, hands-on father. Different parenting magazines were analyzed in these studies on the discourse of fatherhood, for both what was present and what was notably absent. The author found representation of fatherhood -- or often, lack thereof -- in "parenting" ("mothering"?) magazines "at best, mixed, at worst, discouraging" (p. 109) because of such notions "part-time fatherhood," apparent in the absence of fathers and focus on the mother: it is apparent that mothers are considered "the main parent" in most of these publications.
Chapter 6 Celebrity Fatherhood: The Blair Baby The author begins with a discussion of what "to father" has meant traditionally: it is not an equivalent term to "to mother" (i.e., actual involvement in childcare; a man can "father" a child and have no contact with the child). The author examined other fatherhood discourses, beyond those found in the parenting magazines, specifically the May 2000 birth of British Prime Minister Blair's baby, as it was covered in British newspapers. The birth was interesting to gendered discourses as Blair is viewed as a "modern" leader and therefore might be expected to "promote (if not practise)'shared parenting' more than most prime ministers" (p. 125). The author examined the reports of the birth in a small corpora of news reports in the days after the birth and in editorials. The author found that, as with the parenting magazines discussed in the last chapter, these articles drew heavily on a "part-time" father discourse as well as a "modern, hands-on father" discourse. This was achieved both by the journalists' representation of Blair as well as his own self-construction, or how he represented himself through language.
The author found evidence for these discourses in the recurring themes of nappy, or diaper, changing and tiredness. "Nappy changing appears to be the prototypical activity for the 'hands-on' father within these reports" the author points out (p. 129). The author cites as an example a report of how Blair had taken on the "nappy changing" duties while his wife, exhausted after 12 hours of labor, rested. The author points out, however, it was impossible to believe the prime minister only changed diapers if this were truly the scenario: the baby would also have to be comforted and walked with and rocked and cleaned and so forth. But it is the diaper-changing the press chose to focus on, perhaps because it fits well with both a "hands-on" father discourse and a "part-time" father discourse (that is, one could change a baby's diaper without taking full responsibility for the child.) "Nappy changing (and awkwardness) seems to be one way the media are able to present Blair as an acceptable 'new father' without running the risk of showing him as one who might be fully responsible for…baby care, something that would 'disturb' contemporary heterosexual gender relations" (p 130).
Chapter 7 Gendered Discourses in Children's Literature Critiquing children's literature, the author points out, has been a fundamental part of the women's movement from the beginning. Feminists' critiques of classic fairytales, such as Snow White, for example, and what they say about gender are well-known. In this section, as in others, the author uses a framework of critical discourse analysis to identify discourses through linguistic traces, or features, in contemporary, award-winning U.S. children's fiction and nonfiction. The author found four sets of gendered discourses in these books: the "traditionally gendered," a "division of labor discourse," "men as artists," "boy as adventurer," "feminist discourse, " and "subversive discourse." The author also addresses certain concerns in children's literature: most of the protagonists are male; most of the readers are female, and whether or not females are disadvantaged in reading such books: that is, probably written with a male audience in mind.
Chapter 8 The Discoursal Construction of Gender This chapter begins Part 3. In this chapter, the author analyzes the notions of discourse, gender, and construction of gender from a variety of perspectives and disciplines. Gender is viewed as a construction produced in discourse. The author also dealt with performance, which "challenges the whole notion of gender, which becomes something that is 'done' in context, rather than a fixed attribute" (p. 189) Examples the author offers of "performing gender" are transsexuals researching male and female speech styles and telephone sex workers choosing a style of speech that they believe shows "female helplessness," which they think is attractive to customers.
Chapter 9 "Damaging" Discourses and Intervention in Discourse In this chapter, the author considers in what ways discourse may be considered damaging and feminists intervention in such discourse. Traditional targets of feminist intervention have been of what is left out: e.g. the masculine as the "neutral" form, which excludes women. At issue, however, is what exactly the damage is by such linguistic practices, although these practices have been seen by feminists as "defining, degrading, and stereotyping women as a group, and potentially rendering women invisible" (p. 192). With more interest in discourse practice, and the contextual nature of meaning, interest in specific, potentially "sexist" linguistic items are of less interest to feminists. "One thing that discourse as a locus can achieve that a 'sexist language' approach cannot is the critique of sexist text which do not contain any sexist language items -- for example, many pornographic written narratives" (p. 193).
The author also addresses ways to intervene in damaging discourses: creation of anti-sexist terms, such as the title "ms." and nonsexist generic terms such as "chairperson." The author also catalogs the backlash against such terms in ridiculing and trivializing. The author addresses the lack of success of attacking sexist language, quoting Cameron (1992): "There is something absurd about the notion that language or words can be attacked independently of their users (p. 102). She distinguishes this from intervening in discourse: because of their fluctuating, flexible nature, they can be disturbed and disrupted. The author refers to one form of disruption, discourse intervention, which is grassroots, as opposed to formal changes in language policy. Some ways she sees discourse as being disrupted are through critique and "principled nonuse" (p. 203).
Conclusion Here the author summarizes her purpose and organization of the book: exploring old and new gendered studies from both a theoretical and practical perspective. She also reviews some of the key concepts of the book.
I find this a helpful text for its intended audience, the beginning researcher in discourse analysis. The reader is likely to find helpful the definition of all key concepts as well as the review of past literature and methodology in the field. The book is somewhat repetitive in places, Chapters 5 and 6, both on fatherhood, for example, could easily be combined. In addition, I find the logic behind the organization at times obscure: the importance of the information in Part 3 as a separate section escapes me, for example, and as the author does not mention this part in her introduction, the reader is left wondering if perhaps this last section was tacked on at the end to make up a word count requirement.
While generally accessible to a nonspecialist audience, some sections, especially in Part 3, are difficult to read because of the technical, jargonish level they are written at. For example, the term "post structuralism" is thrown around throughout the book, yet the author, as much as I can tell, never explicitly defines how she is using this term. Because the book was written and published in England, an American audience is likely to find some of the language and references obscure: e.g. the suggestion a quoted from a newspaper and addressed to the British Prime Minister Tony Blair's wife, Cherie Blair, a lawyer who had just had a baby, to be "a new mum who puts her career on ice on for a while and gives her baby her all" (p. 51). (Translation: "new mothers ought to stay home.") The book's British publication is obvious also in places where the author makes statements as "'Ms." is an alternative to Mrs./Miss, not a replacement," (p. 201) and has various connotations such as lesbianism and divorce. This is not the case in the States, where the terms' use seems fairly entrenched in the business and professional world.
With these caveats, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in studies of gender through language and/or discourse analysis.
Cameron, D. (1992). Feminism and linguistic theory, 2nd ed. London: Macmillan.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Stacia Levy is an English and education professor in California. She has completed her dissertation, which examined the vocabulary patterns found in college student and professional writing. Her areas of research interest include academic writing instruction, adolescent literacy, and vocabulary acquisition.