|EDITOR: Baxter, Judith
TITLE: Speaking Out
SUBTITLE: The Female Voice in Public Context
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
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,
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
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
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
''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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Hymes, Dell. 1962. The Ethnography of Speaking. In: Anthropology and
Human Behavior, T. Gladwin and W. Sturtevant, eds., Washington:
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.