2.0 Third wave feminist linguistics

The term Third Wave feminism has developed relatively recently to describe a form of analysis which is critical of  Second Wave feminism. [3]  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, in  Western Europe and the US, in equal opportunities legislation, greater access to work within the public sphere, access to childcare,  access to contraception and abortion.  However, this campaigning was largely focused on the needs of straight white middle class women. [4] The linguistic work which stemmed from Second Wave feminism focused on the stereotypical speech of these same women and made generalisations about all women's language on the basis of anecdotal evidence (Spender, 1980; Lakoff, 1975).  Thus, women were assumed to be oppressed in similar ways by men and by a patriarchal social system; research drew attention to the way in which women's use of language exhibited powerlessness.  Lakoff and Spender characterised women's speech as hesitant, deferent and polite  and suggested that elements such as tag-questions and back-channel behaviour were more likely to be found in the speech of women than in men, and that men interrupted women more than vice versa. [5]   Deborah Tannen challenged this work by suggesting that women and men's speech was characterised by a difference in style rather than a difference in power and that misunderstandings occurred between men and women because women try to establish empathy with their interlocutors in speech through the use of what Tannen terms `rapport talk', whilst men try to establish a place for themselves within a hierarchy, through the use of information-laden talk, what Tannen terms `report-talk' (Tannen, 1991). [6]   Lakoff, Spender and Tannen's  Second Wave feminist research assumed that women's and men's language are necessarily different even though they often disagreed as to the cause of that difference.  This focus on global gender differences has been criticised by a number of  feminist linguists who have suggested that what is needed is a form of analysis which is less focused on the individual woman or man  and trends of speech in the  society as a whole, and more focused on  the way that context and individual mutually shape the way that interaction takes place (Troemel-Ploetz 1998; Bergvall et al. 1996; Bucholtz, 1999).  These critiques have led to a new form of feminist linguistics which  seems to share certain tendencies.  In the following section, I examine these shared characteristics.

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.

Much Third Wave feminist linguistics draws on the work of Judith Butler, particularly the notion of performativity (Butler, 1990;1993; 1997). [7]   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 what sort 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. [8]   Whilst Second Wave feminist linguistics assumed that gender pre-existed the  interaction and affected the way that the interaction developed, Third Wave feminists focus on the way that participants in conversation bring about their gendered identity, thus seeing gendering as a process. [9]   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, forthcoming)  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, forthcoming; Swann, 2002) I now discuss certain issues or shared concerns which seem to define a Third Wave feminist linguistics: meaning; power; questioning the notion of a women's language; the relation of the individual and the social.

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