2. Theoretical Position
2.1. Third Wave Feminism
I will be distinguishing in this book between two types of feminist analysis, Second Wave and Third Wave feminist analysis. Broadly speaking, Second Wave feminism focuses on the language of women as a subordinated group and Third Wave feminism challenges the homogeneity of women as a group, focusing instead on localised studies.11 I would like to challenge the notion that these forms of analysis are simply chronological so that Third Wave feminism supersedes and supplants Second Wave feminism; rather I argue that Third Wave feminism is best seen as a development from Second Wave feminism which nevertheless depends on the basic framework of Second Wave feminism for its theoretical integrity. The term Third Wave feminism is one over which there is a great deal of debate. In the UK it is generally used to refer to those feminists who are trying to work with more constructionist models of gender, that is who see gender difference and gender identity as socially constructed rather than as originating in biological difference. These feminists are trying to move beyond the notion of a simple binary sex difference. However, in the US, the difference between second and third wave feminism is characterised as less a theoretical issue but rather a generational conflict between younger and older more established feminists (see Gillis, Howie, and Munford, 2004; Gormley, 2008 forthcoming). In order to contrast the way in which these two approaches work and to demonstrate that each tendency can be put to work in particular contexts, I examine the difficulties which each approach finds with the analysis of sexism.
The term Third Wave feminism has developed relatively recently to describe a form of analysis which is critical of Second Wave feminism. Whilst the term Second Wave feminism is fairly uncontentious, referring to the largely liberal and radical feminism of the 1960s onwards which argued for the equality of women, the term Third Wave feminism is more contentious. A conference at Exeter University (2002) on the subject of Third Wave feminism together with the work of Mary Bucholtz (1999, 2000) and Janine Liladhar (2000) have convinced me that Third Wave feminism is a preferable term to postfeminism (which assumes implicitly that the aims of feminism have been achieved and that therefore feminism is largely irrelevant) and post-modern feminism (which, whilst theoretically more complex, has difficulty formulating any notion of a political programme).
Third Wave feminism seems to be part of a wider postmodernist-influenced theoretical position where `big stories are bad, little stories are good', but, unlike some other forms of analysis, such as post-feminism, it locates itself within a feminist trajectory (Holmes and Meyerhoff, 2003; Potter, 1996). Second Wave feminism has achieved a great deal: feminist campaigning and consciousness raising in the 1960s and onwards have changed attitudes to the role of women and have resulted, in Western Europe and the US, in equal opportunities legislation, greater access to work within the public sphere, access to childcare, and reproductive rights. However, this campaigning was largely focused on the needs of heterosexual white middle class women.12 Third Wave feminist linguistics has largely been concerned with analysing women’s speech without assuming that women are a homogeneous grouping. For example, Penny Eckert (2000) analyses the differences between the language use of different groups of girls in a high school in America, drawing on the categories and groupings that they themselves use, such as `jocks' and `burnouts'. Mary Bucholtz (1996) and Nancy Henley (1995) analyse the way that Black American women's speech does not necessarily accord with the type of speech patterns described by earlier feminist linguists, Lakoff and Spender, since there are different linguistic resources available, signalling potentially different affiliations. The essays in the collections edited by Bergvall et al (1996) and Coates and Cameron (1988) all stress the way in which women's language differs according to context and factors such as class, ethnic and regional affiliation. Even the notion of the status of the variable `gender’ itself has been questioned; for example, Mary Bucholtz has argued that in Second Wave feminism `locally defined groupings based on ongoing activities and concerns were rarely given scholarly attention; if they were, members were assigned to large scale categories of gender, race and ethnicity and class' (Bucholtz, 1999:8). In contrast, in Third Wave feminism, these large scale categories are now questioned, so that rather than gender being seen as a stable unified variable, to be considered in addition to race or class, gender is now considered as a variable constrained and constituted by them and in turn defining them in the context of local conditions. Indeed, feminist linguistics now seems to have turned away from these more established identity categories to an analysis which focuses on, as Swann puts it, ` a whole set of identity features (being a manager, someone's mother, a sensible person)' which might be potentially relevant (Swann, 2002:49) Furthermore, identities are now seen as plural and potentially conflicting, even within a specific individual in a particular interaction. Third Wave feminist linguistics does not make global statements about women's language or the language used about women but rather focuses on a more punctual analysis, that is one which can analyse the way that one's interpretation of statements about women can vary from context to context. However, Swann has argued that this contextual focus in relation to variables has almost invalidated the notion of the variable; she argues
`if gender identity is something that is done in context, this begs the question of how an analyst is able to interpret any utterance in terms of masculinity (or working class, white, heterosexual masculinity). How does an analyst assess whether a speaker is doing gender, or another aspect of identity?' (Swann, 2002:48)
What Swann goes on to argue is that rather than seeing Third Wave (or as she terms it Post-modern) feminism as a simple reaction to Second Wave feminist linguistics, we need instead to see the way in which Third Wave feminism depends on early feminism; the contextualized studies are interesting `partly because they qualify, or complexify, or introduce counter-examples' (Swann, 2002:60). Thus, the localised studies should be seen against the background of the earlier global (and problematised) claims of Second Wave feminism, which they can perhaps help to modify and temper.
Much Third Wave feminist linguistics draws on the work of Judith Butler, particularly the notion of performativity (Butler, 1990;1993; 1997).13 Gender within this type of analysis is viewed as a verb, something which you do in interaction, rather than something which you possess (Crawford, 1995). Gender is constructed through the repetition of gendered acts and varies according to the context. In many readings of Butler's work, gender is seen almost like a set of clothes that one puts on - the individual chooses the type of identity they would like to have and simply performs that role. However, it is clear that institutional and contextual constraints determine the type and form of identity and linguistic routines which an individual considers possible within an interaction and which others feel are available. Second Wave feminist linguistics assumed that gender pre-existed the interaction and affected the way that the interaction developed, and gender was seen as something which pre-existed texts and was drawn on by producer and reader in their interpretation of the text. In contrast, Third Wave feminists focus on the way that participants in conversation bring about their gendered identity, thus seeing gendering as a process; in the process of construction and interpretation of texts, gender is one of the elements which is forged from ideological knowledge which it is assumed is accepted or challenged . This focus on the orienting of participants to gender is clearly influenced by heated debates between Conversation Analysis and Critical Discourse Analysis about whether extra-textual factors such as gender and race can be considered if they are not specifically addressed by participants (Schegloff, 1997; Wodak and Meyer, 2001; Mills, 2003a) However, it could be argued this more process-oriented feminism still has a very clear notion of what gender is, bringing that pre-constructed notion to their analyses of the way that participants orient to gender within interactions (Mills, 2003; Swann, 2002) . This is of crucial import for the analysis of sexism, since, as Holmes and Meyerhoff argue:` No matter what we say about the inadequacy or invidiousness of essentialised, dichotomous conceptions of gender, no matter how justifiable such comments may be, in everyday life, it really is often the case, that gender is `essential’ (Holmes and Meyerhoff, 2003: 9). They go on to argue that `gender as a social category matters’ (ibid.). Sexism is a particular case where in interaction or in texts gender is drawn attention to and where it makes a difference for participants.
It is difficult for Third wave feminism, focusing as it does on the local, to make its feminist agenda explicit. Cameron comments on this :
`I would not define research as `feminist” primarily on the grounds that it adopts a constructionist view of gender in which the categories “men” and “women” are treated as unstable, variable and thus non-natural. I do not disagree with this view of gender but proclaiming it … is neither a defining feature of a feminist approach nor the most important task for feminist scholarship. For me what defines feminism is not its theory of gender but its critique of gender relations’ (Cameron, 2006:2)
Thus, at the same time as working out a model of sexism, it is necessary to formulate a model of feminism which can function at the local and the more global level.
Second Wave feminist linguistics was concerned with analysing the inherent meanings of words and often made statements about the abstract meanings of words, constructing dictionaries of sexist language and advising on the avoidance of certain words (Kramarae & Treichler, 1985; Miller and Swift,1982/89). After Cameron et.al's (1988) work on the multifunctionality of tag-questions and Michael Toolan's (1996) work on the difficulty of assigning clear functions to specific formal features, the notion that there was a clear link to be made between power, gender and language items was made more problematic (see for a discussion Thornborrow, 2002). Third Wave feminist linguistics focuses on the way that words are made to mean in specific ways and function to achieve certain purposes in particular contexts (Christie, 2001). Thus, rather than discussing oppressive global social structures such as patriarchy, Third Wave feminists analyse the way that gender and conflict are managed by women at a local level (Cameron, 1998c) . It is still possible to refer to structural inequality and to highlight instances of discrimination, but Third Wave feminist linguistics is more concerned with variability and resistance than on making global statements about the condition of women in relation to language use. Thus, whilst a Second Wave analysis might focus on the use of the generic pronoun `he' to refer to both men and women, or derogatory terms used to describe women such as `bitch' or `slag', a Third Wave feminist analysis might focus on the variable ways in which terms such as `bitch’ might be used and the way that hearers may draw on certain inferences in order to disambiguate meaning: for example, knowledge of someone’s beliefs about women, or someone’s verbal dexterity . Rather than assuming that `bitch’ is by its very nature always sexist, a Third Wave feminist analysis might focus on the factors which lead to a hearer or reader considering the term to be offensive to women, or personally offensive to you as a woman, and those contextual factors which lead to it being considered ironic or funny. For example, as I show in Chapter 2, `bitch’ used in gangsta rap songs has a very different function to the way it is used if I jokingly call a friend a `bitch’ who has said something playfully sarcastic about me. Similarly `bitch’ functions differently when it is used in contexts where the speaker is angry. However, whilst this local focus helps women to describe practices which discriminate against them, Third Wave feminists find it difficult to refer to global, structural and systematic forms of discrimination (Eckert and McConnell-Ginet, 2006).
Rather than meanings being imposed on women, Third Wave feminists consider meanings to be co-constructed, that is, within particular contexts, women and men jointly engage in the contestation and affirmation of particular types of practices and interpretations. What something means in a particular context is the result of the actions of all of the individuals concerned, negotiating with the institutional constraints of status and institutionalised linguistic routines. For example, Thornborrow (2002), analyses an interview between a woman and two police officers, where the woman claims that she has been raped and the police try to throw doubt on the veracity of her claim, by suggesting that she is mentally ill. Thornborrow draws attention to the way that the woman plays an active role in contesting their assertions (Thornborrow, 2002). A Second Wave feminist analysis would analyse this interaction as the police oppressing and silencing the woman; however, this woman seems to have accrued to herself a certain amount of what I have termed `interactional power’, that is, she has drawn on linguistic resources which were available within that particular context, using questions and rebuttals to challenge her characterisation by the police as an untrustworthy person (Mills, 2003). Ultimately, however, the police officers' version of events seems to be the one which holds sway, even though the woman's interventions are important in defining the way that the interview takes shape - the institutional status of the police officers plays a crucial role in their version being seen as the `truth' (see also, Potter, 1996). We cannot see this woman as simply powerless as a Second Wave feminist analysis might have done. However, what perhaps Third Wave feminism needs to draw from Second Wave feminist analysis is a campaigning edge whereby we would argue for a change in the way police interviews are carried out, or call for training for police officers in the type of language which it is appropriate to use with rape victims. What is necessary is to integrate the campaigning zeal of Second Wave feminism which would bring about material changes in women’s lives, with Third Wave feminism’s theoretical sophistication and contextualized focus.
Most Third Wave feminists have been influenced by Michael Foucault's theorisation of power (Foucault, 1978; 1981). Power is seen as a net or web of relations not as a possession; thus power is enacted and contested in every interaction (Thornborrow, 2002). Power becomes a much more mundane, material and everyday element rather than something abstract and intangible which is imposed from above. Thus, there is now a concern with the local management of power relations, the way that individuals negotiate with the status which they and others have been allotted or which they have managed to achieve. They can contest or affirm this local status within particular contexts, through their use of language and through their behaviour. Many feminist theorists draw a distinction between institutional status (that is the status that you are allocated through your position within an institution) and local or interactional status (that is, the position that you manage to negotiate because of your verbal skill, confidence, concern for others, `niceness' and so on ) and whilst these two positions are clearly interconnected, it is now often the local status which is focused on by Third wave feminist theorists (Manke, 1997; Diamond, 1996, Thornborrow, 2002) . This is important in the analysis of sexism, since very often it was assumed, by Second Wave feminists, that those in power were able to make derogatory comments about women, simply because of their institutional status. However, in a Third Wave feminist analysis, we can see that sexism may be deployed to address a perception of local status – to try in a particular environment to foreground someone’s status as a woman where femininity is not valued, rather than to foreground her status as, say, a manager. Because of this local focus, it is also clear that such attempts to foreground gender can equally be contested locally.
This move away from the analysis of institutional rank to that of local status, whilst important in challenging the characterisation of women as the simple recipients of discriminatory language, means that feminists no longer concern themselves so much with the way that institutional rank and gender relate, and the way that the basis on which local rank is negotiated may be heavily determined by stereotypes of gender and gendered practices. Thus, the analysis of sexism is generally conducted only at the local level and analysts do not consider the way that particular styles are authorised with reference to factors outside the local context. In that the institutional rank is that with which it is most difficult to negotiate, and since institutional status also has a major impact on the parameters of negotiation within your local rank, it seems important to analyse both the more stable institutional factors together with the negotiation of what is deemed appropriate at the local level. Thus, in this book, I examine sexism at the institutional and the local level.
2.1.3. The Relation between the Individual and the Social
For many Third Wave feminist linguists, the notion of the community of practice has been important in terms of trying to describe the way that group values affect the individual and their notion of what is linguistically appropriate (Eckert and McConnell-Ginet, 2006; 1999; 1998;). A community of practice is a group of people who are brought together in a joint engagement on a task and who therefore jointly construct a range of values and appropriate behaviours. For example, a community of practice might be a group of people who meet to plan an event, or a group of people who go out drinking together. In the process of focusing on a group task, they develop a set of speech styles, ways of interacting, shared meanings. These more or less shared linguistic repertoires serve to consolidate them as a group. Thus, rather than focusing on the role of an oppressive social system, ideology or patriarchy in relation to individual linguistic production and reception, Third Wave feminists often focus on the interaction at the level of the community of practice. Individuals hypothesise what is appropriate within the community of practice and, in speaking, affirm or contest the community's sense of appropriate behaviour. In this sense, one's choice of words and one's speech style, can be seen as defining one's position within a group or community of practice, and can contribute to the ongoing development of notions of appropriateness for the community of practice as a whole.
Bourdieu's (1991) notion of `habitus' has also been extensively drawn on by Third Wave feminist linguists: 'habitus' is the set of dispositions which one draws upon and engages with in order to perform one's identity through discourse (Bourdieu, 1999). This set of attitudes or practices which are seen as constituting a norm by individuals are then discursively negotiated by individuals in terms of their own perception of what is acceptable for their own behaviour within a particular community of practice. Eelen (2000), drawing on Bourdieu's work, argues that we assume that there is a common world, that is, a set of beliefs which exist somewhere in the social world and which are accepted by everyone, which we as individuals need to agree with or contest. He states:
'On the one hand, collective history creates a "common" world in which each individual is embedded. On the other hand, each individual also has a unique individual history and experiences the "common" world from this unique position. The common world is thus never identical for everyone. It is essentially fragmented, distributed over a constellation of unique positions and unique perspectives' (Eelen, 2000: 223).
Thus, this view of the relation between individuals and others moves us significantly away from notions of society as a whole influencing the linguistic behaviour of individuals to an analysis of the way that at a local level, individuals decide on what type of language and speech style is appropriate. This local focus of Third Wave feminism is one of its benefits, but it does make it extremely difficult, as I mentioned earlier, to discuss the impact of the values and pressures of the wider society. Talking about society above the level of the community of practice is almost impossible, and it is clear that the wider society as a whole needs to be discussed in terms of the impact it has on practices within communities of practice. Eckert and McConnell-Ginet (2006) attempt to address this issue by arguing that we need to analyse the relations between different communities of practice, but this still does not address the notion of wider social and institutional norms.
Third wave feminist linguistics tries to maintain a balance between a focus on the local and an awareness of the negotiations at the local level with structures which are largely imposed. Bucholtz (1999) characterises Third Wave feminism as concerned with the following themes:
`that language users' identities are not essential to their natures but are produced through contingent social interactions; that those identities are inflected by ideologies of gender and other social constructs; that speakers, writers and signers respond to these ideologies through practices that sometimes challenge and sometimes reproduce dominant beliefs; and that as new social resources become available, language users enact and produce new identities, themselves temporary and historical, that assign new meanings to gender' (Bucholtz, 1999: 20).
However, perhaps this quotation draws our attention to the difficulties encountered by Third Wave feminist linguistics, since it does not seem possible to maintain both a focus on contingent social interactions and wider societal notions such as ideologies of gender, without some fundamental rethinking of our models of language and gender. Eckert and McConnell-Ginet (2006) have argued that in fact it is very important not to focus on communities of practice in isolation, since the norms which are negotiated within these communities derive from perceptions of wider social norms, as well as the rules perceived to be in force in other communities of practice. Thus, we need to hold on to the local level in order to be able to analyse the pragmatic force of utterances and texts, but we also need to be aware of the institutional and wider social norms which influence that local context.
Because of this move away from the top-down model of Second Wave feminism, Third Wave feminism finds it difficult to discuss sexism, since sexism as a concept is based on the idea that discrimination against women is systematic and sexism is imposed on women by those in positions of power, it is ingrained in social structures and works to the benefit of all men. However, as I have argued in this introduction, it is not necessary to focus on the global nature of women’s oppression and on the homogenous nature of sexism; instead we can analyse the local context where sexism is interpreted and still retain a sense of the wider social and institutional norms which inform local usage. It is possible to see language as a site where challenges to the status quo through challenges to sexism can take place and these changes at the local level may lead to changes in the overall meanings of words and also wider changes at a societal level.
We might consider the case of languages where gender is much more sedimented grammatically than it is in English and examine how Third wave feminism might deal with this social and cultural problems. For those languages with a gender system, where gender is a morphological feature of the language, such as in French, German and Arabic, sexism is much more embedded than it is in English; thus in French it is much more difficult to refer to a female minister, since the word for Minister is masculine `le Ministre’. Furthermore, the rule in these languages that you use a masculine pronoun and noun ending for plural nouns if there is a masculine and a feminine referent together is one which causes great difficulty for feminist speakers. There are similar problems with highly gender-inflected languages such as Arabic and Berber, as Sadiqi has shown (Sadiqi, 2003). The masculine is used for general commands to males and females; for example road traffic signs signalling `STOP’ in Arabic use the singular masculine form `qaf’(**add Arabic here *** qaf) but are taken by convention to apply to women as well (Laamrani, pers.com. 2005).
Hellinger and Bussmann (2001) also draw attention to the way that gender languages such as Arabic deal with gender on a grammatical level. A gender language is one where there is not only natural gender (i.e. women are referred to with a different form of the pronoun to men) but also objects are categorised as masculine and feminine, (and sometimes neuter) and the pronouns used to refer to them differ accordingly.
Hellinger and Bussman point to the way that agreement between nouns and adjectives can demonstrate the embedding of sexism. They give the example from Arabic of:
Lab u bnat- u ?yyan-in
Father MASC –SG daughter.FEM.PL-his tired-MASC-PL
The father and his daughters are tired.
In Arabic the general rule is that there is agreement at a lexical level between adjective and nouns, so if you use a masculine noun you will need to use a masculine ending for the adjective, and a feminine ending for the adjective if you have used a feminine noun. If there are males and females referred to, the adjective will need to be masculine, as in the above example, where there is a father and his daughters, but the adjective `tired’ needs to take the masculine form, (-in) despite the fact that there are more females than males. Similarly, Hachimi (2001) demonstrates that in Arabic, whilst there are often separate terms for male and female occupations, for example, male and female lawyers : ` muhamiy-in’ (MASC.PL) and muhamiy-at (FEM-PL), when there are male and female lawyers referred to together, `muhamiy-in’ the masculine form will always be used and not the feminine form. One could argue that this is simply a grammatical convention and does not have any impact in relation to the representation of males and females, but Hellinger and Bussmann argue that :
`Underlying such syntactic conventions may be a gender hierarchy which defines the masculine as the `most worthy gender’. As a result, masculine nouns are highly visible in gender languages and carry considerably more weight and emphasis than feminine nouns’ (Hellinger and Bussmann, 2001:15)
However, as Pauwels argues (1998) changes are taking place in all Western European languages at a morphological level, (that is, in the way that the form of the words changes), rather than just at the level of semantics (that is, at the level of meaning or reference). This type of sedimented sexism in gender languages can only be contested using a Second Wave feminist analysis, and contrary to some Third Wave feminist assertions that reform of sexism is impossible, although change is difficult and slow, it is possible. In languages such as English where gender is not marked in the same way, a combination of Second and Third Wave analysis is necessary.
Thus, feminists analysis and activity have changed in relation to sexism, from a concern with trying to ban or reform terms which seemed to be intrinsically sexist, as much work in the 1970s and 1980s seemed to do, towards a type of research which examines the way that a variety of terms may function within particular circumstances to operate as sexist. This more pragmatic concern with sexism operating within particular contexts, rather than being intrinsic to particular words, has changed the role of the feminist linguist working on sexism.