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.
EDITOR: Baxter, Judith TITLE: Speaking Out SUBTITLE: The Female Voice in Public Context PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan YEAR: 2005 ISBN: 1403994072
Kerry Linfoot-Ham, University of Florida
''Powerful speech has long been associated with masculinity and powerless speech with femininity [...] almost all the contributors [to this volume] demonstrate in their work that dominant androcentric assumptions shape and define the social and discursive practices operating in public, institutional life.'' Baxter (2006:xvi-xvii)
This edited volume addresses various aspects of female speech in public arenas, an area of life traditionally, and historically, dominated by male voices. While each chapter addresses different perspectives, different historical settings, or different theoretical frameworks, it is clear from the editor's quotation above that there is a common theme that initiates and drives research in this field, i.e. the access, maintenance, and recognition of women and their public voices. The overwhelming optimism of the works emphasises that, whether women accommodate by assimilating to male styles of speech or find other ways of being heard, change for the better is possible.
Part I: Theorising the Female Voice in Public Contexts
Chapter 1: ''Theorising the Female Voice in Public Contexts'', by Deborah Cameron
Cameron introduces this volume with a highly theoretical chapter establishing the setting for the papers to follow. To situate historically and theoretically the position of women in current and past discourse arenas, Cameron shows how the domains of private and public came to be associated with women and men, respectively, and how, therefore, the public sphere became elevated, and the private stigmatised in correspondence with the established historical gender roles.
With this hierarchy came the inaccessibility of the public domain to women both, as Cameron puts it, in the 'economic' and the 'symbolic' senses. By economic, Cameron refers to the social distribution of educational resources that allow women to achieve the level of skill necessary to participate in the public realm, be these the classical education afforded to males in the 'civilised' west, or the access to a superordinate language (such as English or Spanish) necessary to progress in 'primitive' cultures. By symbolic Cameron refers to the lack of language available to express the female experience in a male-dominated society, and the socialisation of gender roles which silence female voices on a number of levels, creating and compounding sex-based gender barriers.
Cameron ends her chapter with a note of caution. It is not enough for researchers to describe the problems that prohibit or limit female voices in the public realm – suggestions for what is to be done with this need also to be made for the research to be useful and applicable in real-life situations.
Chapter 2: ''Gaining a Public Voice: A Historical Perspective on American Women's Public Speaking'', by Judith Mattson Bean.
The main focus of Bean's analysis in this chapter is summarised in the following quotation: ''A particular culture or speech community determines who that community will accept as a public speaker, not usually by law but by customs that are linked with that culture's norms of leadership, power, and range of speech events'', (p. 22). As this suggests, Bean addresses public speaking as a cultural happening, and her use of Hymes' (1962) analysis system, the 'ethnography of communication', allows her to study each aspect of the speech event in its required context. Bean addresses, in turn, what types of speech events and what types of audiences permitted and validated early female speakers, as well as the sociological attitudes towards these speakers and their own motivations for choosing this particular career path. Her detailed analysis of the choice of topic and register show how limited early women speakers were in their choices.
Bean ends her chapter with a comprehensive analysis of a lecture given in the 1830's by African American speaker Maria Stewart. The analysis shows how Stewart was forced to, and succeeded in, developing her own agency during the speech act, and how this relied heavily on a religious register for validation. Bean concludes that this type of speech register was common to women speakers of this time, but that these women saw public speaking as an expression of freedom, requiring validation from other women to maintain their status, but simultaneously challenging the 'typical' female roles of the time.
Chapter 3: ''Constructing Gender in Public Arguments: The Female Voice as an Emotional Voice'', by Lia Litosseliti.
In this chapter, Litosseliti places the idea of female speech, and assumptions that surround it into a critical discourse analysis framework, contextualising and defining the idea of 'emotion' and female public speaking. The author emphasises and illustrates that people 'do' language variably, depending on the situation and audience, but also that the notion of 'feminine language' is a myth created by poor psychological studies and the breeding of stereotypes. Litosseliti states that social generalisations occur throughout language use in public, but it is not so much these generalisations that are dangerous, but what people do with them. If these categories are used to keep women out of public speaking, or to diminish their agency or validity, their true damage may be realised. Through a detailed discussion of discourse analyses conducted upon a number of sources, Litosseliti shows how such access is limited, especially in such important and influential fields as politics and international relations.
Part II: Researching the Female Voice in Public Contexts
Chapter 4: ''Gender and Performance Anxiety at Academic Conferences'', by Sara Mills.
''It is clear that neither gender identity nor confidence are fixed and part of our personalities, but are worked out in the process of assessing the local norms and judgements of ourselves which we consider to be in play within particular contexts'', (p. 71). This chapter introduces the empirical part of the book, and the preceding quotation from this chapter illustrates a major aspect of these analyses: the evolution of aspects of 'female' personality, their conceptualised underpinnings, and how these facets are realised and interpreted.
In her chapter, Mills discusses the reasons why women are seen to suffer more from performance anxiety in the academic sphere than their male counterparts. Her thesis is that public academic presentations display a number of features that are associated with the essentialised 'masculine' style of speech, such as a portrayal of both personal and professional confidence, placement of the self within the academic hierarchy, and assertive control over verbal skills. Though the writer states that her research shows performance anxiety may decrease with age, it remains a stark fact of her results that there is a highly gendered split in both the way her questions surrounding the issues were approached by women and men, but also in the outcomes revealed.
Chapter 5: ''Governed by the Rules?: The Female Voice in Parliamentary Debates'', by Sylvia Shaw.
''Speaking out is the business of parliamentary debate. In possibly no profession other than politics does success depend so strongly upon an individual's ability to speak effectively in public and often adversarial contexts'', (p. 81). From this quotation, and given the other chapters of this book, it is clear that female speakers are culturally and socially at an inherent disadvantage in politics given the contemporary linguistic climate. In her study, Shaw demonstrates how these social effects are felt and manifested by female politicians in the British House of Commons, and how they may have wide-reaching and distressing effects on their abilities to perform as effective representatives.
Through detailed ethnographic description, Shaw highlights major aspects of the obstacles these politicians may face, including difficulty in acquiring the rules of the House debate, and a tendency to conform to such rules when they are frequently broken for different effects by their male counterparts. These behaviours may be seen as gendered communicative choices, but, the author contends, are also demonstrative of the pressures of visibility these women feel, and the associated need to be seen as irreproachable when they are participating.
Chapter 6: ''Silence as Morality: Lecturing at a Theological College'', by Allyson Jule.
Jule undertakes a very interesting study into the behaviour of female and male participants at a Canadian Evangelical College in this chapter. Her thesis is that the tenets of the religion and its affiliates work together to create a system that encourages, and expects, a lack of female voice: ''...being female may include the avoidance of speaking in public as specifically demonstrative of feminine morality'', (p. 104).
The ethnographic analysis undertaken showed the performance of female students and of male lecturers over a year of close observation. Jule's results illustrate that the females believed themselves to be both unqualified and unready to undertake to speak in their lectures, whereas their male classmates typically felt no such compunction. She states that, in this situation in particular, ''the teasing out of gender or the focus on it inevitably intersects with other influences, such as religious identity'', (p. 106), a condition that both supports and recreates the females silence that she observed.
Chapter 7: ''Gender and the Genre of the Broadcast Political Interview'', by Clare Walsh.
This chapter offers a fascinating perspective on females in broadcasting, focusing on the political interviewer. Traditionally a male-dominated and highly combative domain, Walsh concentrates on the BBC Radio programme ''Today'', and the experiences of its lone female presenter, Sue MacGregor. The chapter analyses data and statistics from the programme's coverage of the 2001 British election campaign, and illustrates through discourse and statistical analysis how MacGregor is continually marginalised by being given 'soft' news stories, and failing to be allocated interviews with the political forerunners in the campaign. The irony shown in Walsh's analysis is the MacGregor continually tested amongst listeners as the favourite presenter, and that the argumentative and bullying styles of some of the more prominently featured male presenters actually turned listeners away from the programme. Despite these facts, however, MacGregor's less aggressive and non-confrontational style, in which she often aligned herself with her interviewees to draw further admissions and statements from them, fostered the perception that she was a less effective interviewer than her male colleagues.
Chapter 8: ''Trial Discourse and Judicial Decision-Making: Constraining the Boundaries of Gendered Identities'', by Susan Ehrlich.
In this chapter, accomplished courtroom discourse analyst Susan Ehrlich examines the expectations imposed by the construction of agency in society. Through the study of a particular sexual assault case, Ehrlich shows how these expectations overshadowed and affected the interpretation of the victim's statements, framing them in androcentric discourse and constraining the ''formation of participants' gendered identities'', (p. 140).
Language is, in court as in life, the primary means of conveying information. The difference in this situation is the presence of a judge and, perhaps, a jury that play a 'third-party' role that is, nonetheless, crucial to the communicative act as the ''indirect target of trial talk'', (p. 141). Ehrlich's close analysis shows how the lawyers in the case manipulated the typical expectations of female-male sexual relations to rule against the 'victim' in two trials, until the Crown Attorney permitted a feminist viewpoint to be acknowledged. By providing transcripts and discussion of the contributions of the lawyers, the victim, the defendant and the judges, Ehrlich gives an excellent account of this process, as well as demonstrating how this could have been avoided much earlier in the trial process.
Chapter 9: '''Do We Have to Agree with Her?' How High School Girls Negotiate Leadership in Public Contexts'', by Judith Baxter.
In this superb example of comparative discourse analysis, Judith Baxter studies single-sex group discussion exercises at the secondary school level in order to posit an explanation as to why comparatively fewer women are inclined towards accepting leadership roles in public speaking. By observing these two groups of 8 students, Baxter demonstrates that the role of leader, when adopted by a female speaker in an all-female group, often draws with it a feeling of resentment from others in the group that is absent in the all-male context, thereby trapping females either into silence, or into a conspicuous position that may incur ill-feelings from their peers.
By analysing the group talk and conducting interviews with the groups after the discussion, Baxter showed that, although the female 'leader' appeared to be supported by the majority of her peers during the event, subsequent discussion showed that her role and self-positioning as leader had led to bad feelings among the other girls. Contrary to this, the all-male group had readily accepted and actively supported their self-appointed leader both during the discussion and in the subsequent interview. Baxter concludes that female leaders become exposed to ''censure and possible exclusion'', whereas the male group strongly supports '''popular' male peers who establish leadership roles in public contexts'', (p.176).
Chapter 10: ''Positioning the Female Voice within Work and Family'', by Shari Kendall.
This chapter addresses the use of language in the workplace, specifically the creation of family identity between co-workers in casual conversation. By analysing recorded conversations between a female and male in the course of a working day using a positioning approach and interactional sociolinguistic analysis methods, and by focusing on aspects of the conversational features that pertained to family life, Kendall showed how the female worker positioned herself as a caregiver, whereas the male worker aligned himself with the role of breadwinner. Kendall's findings may have serious implications in the business world where women's roles and their expected commitment levels are still being constantly negotiated with their family expectations: ''I suggest that the parental identities women and men create through social talk about family may influence how they are perceived in the workplace'', (p.182), leading to men being offered positions that require more autonomy as the threat of family interference is seen as being less than if a woman were given the job.
Chapter 11: ''Culture, Voice and the Public Sphere: A Critical Analysis of the Female Voices on Sexuality in Indigenous South African Society'', by Puleng Hanong.
In her analysis, Puleng Hanong shows how deeply ingrained cultural attitudes affect, and may hinder, the emergence of female voices in a new democratic society. In South Africa, one of the 'highlights', as Hanong puts it, of the new constitution was the inclusion of an array of gender equality acts and initiatives. Hanong goes on to say, however, that these schemes work apparently very well in the public sphere, but are having very little effect in private home lives. Through an experiment and analysis of discussion groups of women and men at three different universities, the writer illustrates how these pervasive cultural ideals are still maintained in personal attitudes towards the way women should behave.
Traditionally in Africa, women are expected to be silent, i.e. their voices are limited to ''non-prestigious genres'', (p. 201). A terrible result of this can be seen in the culture's increasing occurrence of sexual violence and the inherent spreading of sexually transmitted diseases. By having her groups discuss the notion of rape within marriage, Hanong demonstrates and analyses how the traditional attitudes live on, even among the educated, and how ''women can be seen both as victims of silencing and agents of silencing'' (p. 212) within the cultural expectations and framework.
Chapter 12: '''They Say It's a Man's World, but You Can't Prove that by Me': African American Comediennes' Construction of Voice in Public Space'', by Denise Troutman.
Troutman addresses an area in this chapter that is unusual and often inaccessible to the academic researcher. Drawing beautifully on her own interests and background, the writer introduces the linguistic world of the African American female, and then moves into the behaviours of the African American comedienne.
By identifying a limited set of linguistic patterns in the speech of African American women, Troutman analyses how the comediennes use and capitalise on certain linguistic tools in their routines, making their sets pertinent to their (predominantly African American) audience. By using diminutives (such as 'baby' and 'sistah') and bawdy language (including swear words and taboo terms) the performers' speech ''markedly parallels the manner of speech and linguistic strategies available in Black women's everyday talk'', (p.234), making this an important observation and study into an under-researched linguistic area.
Chapter 13: ''Effective Leadership in New Zealand Workplaces: Balancing Gender and Role'', by Meredith Marra, Stephanie Schnurr and Janet Holmes.
The main concern of this chapter is summarised in the following: ''Effective leadership involves achieving a balance between getting the work done and keeping people happy. [...] In addition, women face the challenge of combining ''doing leadership'' with ''doing gender'', while also avoiding negative evaluations'', (p. 256).
In their analysis, the authors address the notion of female leadership styles, utilising recordings from a huge number of sources, to understand how two very different managerial styles are, nonetheless, both highly effective. Despite essentialising many of the managerial traits as 'feminine' or 'masculine' (justification for which is more than adequately provided in the chapter), the authors show how these two high-level managers deal with meeting openings, decision-making, and humour to accomplish the set goals, and to maintain and encourage happy and productive working environments. These observations are very important for gender and language research, as well as holding vital implications for women in the workforce. As the authors state, ''typically women and men are evaluated differently for the same behaviour'', (p. 242). Research into how these women construct themselves and into the practices of popular and effective leaders is, therefore, of the utmost importance.
This book is an excellent resource for teachers, students and those with any type of interest in the interplay of language and gender. The chapters (each a manageable 16-24 pages) discuss different aspects of language and gender, utilise a variety of methodologies, and address different social concerns that stem from the area under discussion, making this book ideal for an introductory level class in this subject area. Certain chapters in the book will likely appeal to some readers more than others, though the majority of researchers and readers interested in the study of language and gender will find that there is something useful and enlightening in every chapter.
Hymes, Dell. 1962. The Ethnography of Speaking. In: Anthropology and Human Behavior, T. Gladwin and W. Sturtevant, eds., Washington: Anthropological Society of Washington, pp. 15-53.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Kerry Linfoot-Ham is a doctoral student at the University of Florida. Her research interests focus on police-citizen interaction, with particular reference to how pragmatic theories and issues of power-differentials (such as language and race issues) may be utilized to maximise the process of investigative interviewing. Her current work involves observation of 'first-contact' interviews between uniformed deputies and officers in response to calls for assistance, and how the application of linguistic theories may harmonize the interaction, with a view to training uniformed law enforcement officials.