Citation Details: Mills, S., (preprint), "Third Wave Feminist Linguistics and the Analysis of Sexism", Discourse Analysis Online, []

Published/Moderated by: Kathy Doherty []

D3E version published: Received January 2003

Discussants/Stakeholders: Karen Grainger []; Linda Coates []

Third Wave Feminist Linguistics and the Analysis of Sexism

Sara Mills

School of Cultural Studies, Sheffield Hallam University, Collegiate Crescent, Sheffield S10 2BP

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

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