School of Cultural Studies,
Abstract: This paper critically examines Third Wave feminist linguistics, a form of anti-essentialist analysis which challenges Second Wave feminist linguistics' analysis of the language of women and men as homogeneous groups. Rather than assuming that men and women necessarily speak in different ways, men being direct and forceful, women being hesitant, polite and apologetic, a Third Wave feminist linguistics analyses the complex negotiations undertaken by women and men with gendered domains (those sets of linguistic routines or contexts which appear to be gendered, for example public speaking, intimate conversation), and gendered stereotypes of what it is assumed that women and men should do (that is, women should be co-operative, men should be competitive). In this way, Third Wave feminist analysis makes it possible to analyse the language use of women and men, without assuming that all women are powerless, all males are powerful, or that gender always makes a difference. Thus Third Wave Feminist linguistics examines, for example, the language of women who adopt primarily masculine forms of speaking in the public sphere. However, rather than just focusing on the individual, this form of analysis also examines the role of context and social forces on the individual, in that these ways of speaking may be judged by others as incompetent, aggressive, unprofessional and unfeminine. Third Wave feminist linguistics is therefore concerned with moving the analysis of gender and language away from the individual alone towards an analysis of the individual in relation to social groups who judge their linguistic behaviour and also in relation to hypothesised gendered stereotypes. However, this article does not wholeheratedly advocate the adoption of a Third Wave feminist perspective. It seems that within this type of analysis sexism becomes difficult to analyse or challenge, and this I suggest that rather than seeing Second and Third Wave feminist linguistics as chronological, they need to be seen more as approaches which may be more or less appropriate depending on the context and social situation. In the case of sexism, for certain types of sedimented sexism a Second Wave feminist approach is more applicable, whereas in others a more locally-oriented and context-specific Third Wave approach is preferable. Thus Second Wave feminism needs to be integrated into Third Wave feminist linguistics, so that both local and global issues can be addressed.
Keywords: Third wave feminism; Second wave feminism; linguistics; sexism; stereotypes
In this article, I contrast Second and Third Wave feminist linguistics, broadly speaking, Second Wave feminism focusing on the language of women as a subordinated group and Third Wave feminism challenging the homogeneity of women as a group and focusing instead on localised studies.  I 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.  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 way the difficulties which each approach finds with the analysis of sexism.
term Third Wave feminism has developed relatively recently to describe a form
of analysis which is critical of Second
It 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 (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,
Third Wave feminist linguistics does not assume that women are a homogeneous grouping and in fact stresses the diversity of women's speech. For example, Penny Eckert 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' (Eckert, 2000). Mary Bucholtz and Nancy Henley analyse the way that Black American women's speech does not necessarily accord with the type of speech patterns described by Lakoff and Spender, since there are different linguistics resources available, signalling potentially different affiliations (Bucholtz, 1996; Henley, 1995) 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 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 ` 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 but rather focuses on a more punctual analysis, that is one which can analyse the way that one's gendered identity varies 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 Postmodern) 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 contextualised 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.
Third Wave feminist linguistics draws on the work of
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,1981). There was also a tendency to assume that certain words or ways of speaking were simply more powerful than others; thus, interrupting was seen as a powerful strategy, and hesitating was seen to be a powerless strategy. After Cameron et.al's work on the multifunctionality of tag-questions and Michael Toolan's 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 and, for example, talking time was made more problematic (Cameron et.al.1988; Toolan, 1996; 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, 1998) . 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 the derogatory terms used to describe women such as `bitch' or `slag', a Third Wave feminist analysis might focus on the way that within a particular context, a certain hesitation and ironic intonation might be considered to be sexist when articulating the word `chairperson' to describe a female chair. 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.
Rather than meanings being imposed on women, Third Wave feminists consider meanings to be co-constructed. Thus within particular contexts, women and men 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, Joanna Thornborrow, in her analysis of 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, 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 called interactive 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, forthcoming). 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 an 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 a Third Wave feminist analysis does not seem to be able to argue for a change in the way that 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.
Third Wave feminists have been influenced by
Wave feminists assumed that all women were more deferent, polite, more concerned
with the welfare of others and more co-operative. Third wave feminist linguistics
suggests that this type of speech style is perhaps only available to a very
small number of white middle class women, and even then only within very specific
of the change in focus in relation to power, there has been a move away from
the analysis of subordinated women.
There are certain contexts, however, where women do seem to have brought changes into the predominantly masculine norms in institutions. Wendy Webster's analysis of Margaret Thatcher's speech styles demonstrates that rather than simply adopting the speech norms associated with the role of Prime Minister, Thatcher integrated more feminine elements into her overall style, incorporating elements of self-disclosure and informality with a more public authoritative discourse (Webster,1990) Thus, women's negotiations with the speech norms of the context within which they find themselves should not be seen as simple capitulation to dominant forms. However, generally as yet these feminine forms do not seem to have been adopted by male politicians.  Furthermore, we should see women's adoption of masculine dominant forms as strategic and perhaps argue that women's adoption of positions of institutional status may result in the use of language styles which are characterised by a different approach to `doing power'. Thus, as Diamond has argued in her analysis of group dynamics in a group of psychotherapists, in certain contexts, those in positions of institutional authority in fact do not use direct commands and assertiveness, preferring to use indirectness (Diamond, 1996).  Third Wave feminist linguistics forces us to reconsider the way that we think that power is exercised through language, but perhaps does not enable us to describe adequately the way that rank within an organisation may influence our localised interactions.
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, 1999; 1998). The 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. 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 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. Bourdieu's 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. Gino Eelen, 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: '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 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. 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. Mary Bucholtz characterises the concerns of Third Wave feminism within 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. I'd like now to move to a testing out of some of these ideas about Third and Second Wave feminism by analysing the way that they can be brought to bear on the analysis of sexism.
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 that sexism is imposed on women by those in positions of power, is ingrained in social structures and works to the benefit of all men. Sexism as a topic of analysis is distinctly unfashionable at the moment and has a slightly anachronistic feel to it. Sexist language was broadly defined within 2nd wave feminism as the use of statements which 'create, constitute, promote or exploit an unfair or irrelevant distinction between the sexes', (Vetterling-Braggin, 1981: 3). Thus, studies of sexism concerned themselves with the use of the so-called generic pronoun `he' to refer to both males and females, and the use of the form `lady' or `female' with generic nouns such as `doctor' when they are used to refer to females. This type of analysis showed that there was a systematic tendency within English and other languages to assume that males were the norm and to associate women with trivial, sexualised or non-serious topics (Cameron, 1998; Pauwels, 1998).  Many Feminist analysts of sexist language argued that this type of language use should be reformed to reflect the changes in women's position in society. However, some feminists questioned this determinist position and suggested that perhaps sexist language did not itself determine women's oppression; reform of the language alone would not alter the way that women were treated.  Feminists drawing on social constructionism argued that changes in women's position would lead to a change in the way language was used. Neither of these views is accurate, as it is clear there is a complex dialectic process going on in language, whereby language items both affirm and contest the status quo, and changes in social structures necessitate the development of new vocabulary and forms of expression. Language is 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.
I would like now to discuss the ways in which analysing sexism within Third Wave feminism has been made more complex, and to analyse the reasons that sexism has become difficult to discuss. One of the major factors in the current difficulty in discussing sexism is the result of very effective feminist campaigns over language: in the public sphere, sexism is often viewed by employers and employees to be incompatible with equal opportunities in the workplace. Publishing houses, trades unions, public corporations, public service providers, universities and so on, have issued guidelines on appropriate language.  Feminists have developed alternative terms, so that instead of `chairman; 'chair', can be used. Instead of referring to `air hostess' which some find demeaning, one can use 'flight attendant', and so on. Cameron has argued that in fact by challenging the use of sexist words, 'the radicals have effectively politicised all the terms, so that, in any interaction, the choice of certain words will announce your political stance in relation to women' (Cameron, 1994b: 31).  It is important that these feminist campaigns have led to language policies being adopted by institutions. Whilst many of the policies on sexism and racism seem to have largely fallen into disuse, the fact that there is institutional support changes the status of an individual's complaint about language use (Pauwels, 1998). But the very success of the campaigns to change the language used at work has meant that certain forms of sexism rather than being seen as neutral forms have become marked and associated with conservatism- sexism thus seems to have been driven underground. Therefore, rather than sexism being overt as in the past, sexism has become much more indirect. 
seems as if there is now a certain instability within sexism itself, so that whilst Second Wave feminism saw sexism as
a clearly defined set of practices which reflected a particular set
of attitudes towards women, in fact now sexism has a range of meanings for
different people. This makes sexism much more difficult to context. Now it
seems that sexism in English is largely "indirect sexism", that is, sexism
which manifests itself at the level of presupposition, and also through innuendo,
irony and humour, or which is prefaced by disclaimers or hesitation (Mills,
1998) For example, in the British television
programme Men Behaving Badly, the two central male characters use the
term `top totty' to refer to women. This is such an exagerrated form of sexism
that within the terms of the programme it cannot be objected to as sexist
as it is intended to be humourous and tongue-in-cheek. Sexism at the level
of presupposition is also much more difficult to challenge as
to this instability within sexism which results in difficulties countering
sexism, there is also an instability within anti-sexism. Anti-sexist campaigns
have been destabilised in recent years because of the existence of
Many people feel that there is a confusion or overlap between anti-sexism and "political correctness".
To clarify, "political correctness" is often seen as an excessive
concern for the sensibilities of minority groups (women, the disabled, lesbians
and Black people) which is manifested in a set of media-invented absurd, terms, (such
as `vertically challenged' instead of `short' ; `follically challenged' for
`bald' ; `personhole cover' instead of `manhole/inspection
cover') which no anti-sexist or anti-racist campaigners have argued should
be adopted. These are often
listed alongside `Ms' and `chairperson' which feminists have campaigned to be adopted.
This overlap and confusion has led to an undermining of attempts to
reform language; some argue any intervention is impossible or politically
To sum up, linguistic practices can only be interpreted as sexist in particular contexts but these local meanings depend on a notion of an outdated and highly problematic form of overt sexism against which these indirect sexist meanings are negotiated. However, we must also differentiate between different types of sexist practice, so that some sorts of linguistic routines can be seen to be more sedimented than others, such as the use of the generic `he' pronoun to refer to men and women.  It is only through the use of a Second Wave feminist analysis which can describe global systematic uses of language that these uses of language can be combated and changed. In other contexts, where the sexism is a particularly local context-specific type, where for example, the sexism is ironic or difficult to generalise about, then a Third Wave feminist linguistic approach is more productive. However there has to be a close relation between these different forms of analysis. Whilst one demands a general campaigning and reform, the other demands a more local and immediate response. Anti-sexist practices are therefore necessarily complex and feminists differ on what they see as the most effective way of dealing with those elements or practices which they consider to be discriminatory. It is not possible to agree on what is sexist; in that sexism is an evaluation rather than an inherent quality there will be disagreement about what constitutes sexism. Vetterling-Braggin was one of the first to remark upon the fact that labelling someone's statements as sexist involves taking a moral position in relation to them and their beliefs, and may provoke a breakdown of relations with that person (Vetterling-Braggin, 1981). However, it is not quite as simple as this, since often sexism, anti-sexism and "political correctness" are hypothesised positions which we attribute to others and which then act on our own sense of what it is possible for us to do or say. Thus, in forming our own assessments of what is sexist, we try to map out the parameters of the beliefs of others which would allow our own beliefs to be acceptable (Volosinov, 1973). Rather than seeing sexism solely in terms of abstracted general sets of words where the sexism is considered to reside in the words themselves, we must be able to see that there are also local interpretations and strategic responses to what is evaluated by participants as sexist. Thus, rather than seeing Second and Third Wave feminist analysis as simply chronological, we might perhaps see them as each suited to particular types of sexism. Second Wave analysis can analyse those sedimented forms of sexism which seem to be embedded within the morphology of the language system itself, whereas Third Wave feminism is better able to analyse the ambivalences and uncertainties about and within sexism, within particular contexts.
Third Wave feminist linguistics is an anti-essentialist
analysis of the way that gender relations are negotiated within particular
contexts, but it seems that there needs to be a concern with the way that
those local contexts are themselves structured by societal constraints. Some Second Wave feminist analysis perhaps overgeneralised
about the nature of systematic language patterns such as sexism, but unless
we consider the wider context, above the level of the community of practice,
we risk formulating a feminism without politics. We therefore need to consider
the possibility of, not necessarily a Fourth Wave feminism as
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Earlier versions of this article
were presented as papers at the International Gender and Language Association
 The term Third Wave feminism is not one which the theorists I discuss necessarily adopt themselves, but they seem to share certain similarities of focus and theoretical position which can be summed up as indicating a shared critique of certain aspects of Second Wave feminist work.
 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 recent conference at Exeter University (2002) on the subject of Third Wave feminism together with the work of Mary Bucholtz (1999) 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 postmodern feminism (which has difficulty formulating any notion of a political programme).
We need to question the homogeneity
of our current characterisation of Second Wave feminism. In a recent paper
 Tag questions are questions such as `It's very hot in here, isn't it?' or `You don't want to go yet, do you?' which were characterised by Lakoff as less assertive and potentially more manipulative than direct commands or requests. Back channel behaviour consists of the use of `mmm', `hmm', and `uhuh' by the hearer to signal support for the speaker during a turn at talk and to signal also that the hearer does not intend to take a turn. Lakoff and others claimed the women used more tag questions and more supportive back-channel behaviour.
 These can be seen to be analogous to Jennifer Coates' (1998) co-operative and competitive strategies.
This is rather curious because
many of the linguists who draw on
 For example, in talking to your grandmother, because of an assessment of her judgement of the meaning of swearing, you may decide to swear less than you would in the company of your female friends (this depends on the grandmother and the friends).
 This concern with process means that Third Wave feminist do not stress the elements within an individual's identity which do seem to be fairly consistent. Since each individual does seem to develop linguistic habits and verbal tics which give a certain predictability to individual linguistic behaviour, this overemphasis on the variability of the individual might be seen as a disadvantage. Again it is a question of emphasis, and there are ways of integrating a concern with process without entirely dispensing with the notion that certain elements are relatively stable.
However, in other contexts
of intimate conversation, research has shown that males may in fact engage
in combative displays of aggression and verbal play (see the essays in
 It could however be argued that Tony Blair's speech style is a mixture of assertive conventional masculinity and a more informal feminine style, and this may be part of the planned projection of Blair's persona by his media advisors (Fairclough, 2000)
 Those in positions of institutional power in Diamond's study can `afford' in a way to use indirectness because others interpret their indirectness in relation to their status; thus, their indirect suggestions may well be interpreted by others as having the function of commands, as Manke (1997) has shown to be the case when teachers use indirectness in their instructions to children in schools. Thus, if we are truly to analyse the local context, we cannot simply ignore the force of institutional status as Schegloff and other conversation analysts insist that we do, paying attention only to the way that participants orient to status within the interaction (Schegloff, 1997)
 For a fuller discussion of this issue see my (2003) article ` Caught between political correctness, sexism and anti-sexism: feminist negotiations with naming practices'.
 For an exemplary policy, see the Greater Manchester Police's equal opportunities language policy (2000; 2001)
 However, it should be noted that `chairperson' is unerringly used for female convenors and not for males.
 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 sedimented than it is in English; thus in French it is much more difficult to say `la Ministre' if you want to refer to a female minister, since the word for Minister is masculine. 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). However, as Pauwels argues (1998) changes are taking place in all Western European languages at a morphological level rather than just at the level of semantics. This type of sedimented sexism 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.
 These seemingly more sedimented forms of overt sexism are changing rapidly, so that although one does hear the use of the generic pronoun, terms such as `hostess', `spinster', `aviatrix', and so on seem anachronistic and many of my undergraduate students simply do not recognise these as examples of sexism which they might use or hear.