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Review of  Gender Identity and Discourse Analysis

Reviewer: Niladri Sekhar Dash
Book Title: Gender Identity and Discourse Analysis
Book Author: Lia Litosseliti Jane Sunderland
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 14.80

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Date: Tue, 7 Jan 2003 17:35:09 +0530 (IST)
From: Niladri Sekhar Dash
Subject: Discourse Analysis: Review of Litosseliti and Sunderland (2002), Gender Identity ...

Litosseliti, Lia, and Jane Sunderland (2002) "Gender Identity and
Discourse Analysis". John Benjamins Publishing Company:
Amsterdam/Philadelphia. vii+326pp, hardback ISBN 1-58811-213-6, US $90.00,
Discourse Approaches to Politics, Society and Culture 2.

Reviewed by Dr. Niladri Sekhar Dash, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India

Purpose of the book
The volume entitled "Gender Identity and Discourse Analysis" is a
collection of papers based on some empirical researches undertaken in
various social contexts to explore how gender identities are represented,
constructed and contested through language that contributes in designing a
complex web of discourse and interaction. The focus of the volume is to
explore the "notion of continuous construction of a range of masculine and
feminine identities within and across individuals of the same biological
sex" (p.2). It also intends to reflect on the current theoretical
tendencies with due emphasis to new methodological approaches, analytical
frameworks, and epistemological data employed for the problem at hand. The
motive behind the publication of the volume is perhaps to reflect on
'media', 'sexuality', 'education' and 'parenthood' - the four major social
institutions where language and discourse are interwoven with hidden
fabrics of gender discrimination that plays crucial roles in determining
identity of an individual in the society.

Description of the book's contents
Besides, the introductory chapter by the editors, the volume contains 12
chapters divided in 5 sections. Section 1 [Theorising Gender and
Discourse] contains 3 chapters which are mostly concerned with exploring
the relationship among gender, language and discourse looking specifically
at different gendered texts obtained from various social contexts. Section
2 [Discourse and Gendered Identities in the Media] contains 3 chapters
that mostly focus on the treatment of gender in multimedia advertisements,
broadcast newspaper columns and recent men's magazines. Section 3
(Discourse, Sexuality and Gender Identities) contains 2 chapters that
discuss the constructions of both homosexuality and heterosexuality in two
socially bound situations - one deals with the situation of a lesbian
teacher in her professional environment while the other one deals with a
case study of a depressive powerless woman who lives in the world of
fantasy dominated by her dormant desires of eroticism. Section 4
(Discourse and Gender Identities in Education) contains 2 chapters that
study the discursive practices around the textbook texts used by the
language teachers in class, as well as the interactive discourses
represented in the data collected from boy's and girl's informal talks
from a school. Finally, section 5 (Gendered Discourses of Parenthood)
contains 2 chapters which analyze a literary text that satirizes the
patriarchal pro-natality discourse in communist Romania, and investigate
the dominance of maternal identity in the parentcraft texts that minimizes
the role of a father in upbringing of a child in 'western' societies
living under capitalism.

Critical evaluation
In the introductory chapter entitled "Gender Identity and discourse
analysis: Theoretical and empirical considerations" (pp. 1-39) Jane
Sunderland and Lia Litosseliti present an overview of the field employing
both diachronic and synchronic dimensions often used in almost all
empirical studies. In their study all the major aspects related with
gender and discourse are touched upon for the readers to cope up with the
following chapters rich with novel studies, observation and analysis. Our
attention is drawn to the earlier days of 'feminism' when both 'parole'
and 'langue' were critically used as 'an abstract system' for representing
our concept of gender difference. While describing the concept of identity
related with masculinity and femininity, they focus on the 'multiplicity
of identity' in various registers where both masculinity and femininity
play active roles in defining our social identities. Their analysis of
discourse as a pure linguistic field as well as its interface with text
shows its both representational and constitutive validity often registered
in gender analysis. Moreover, importance of context, a vital aspect of any
empirical linguistic analysis is duly appreciated here. In the course for
identification of gender with relation to discourse they rightly observe
that "context can include linguistic co-text; genre; social situation,
including specific (gender) relations between participants, and specific
physical considerations; and cultural assumptions and understandings"
(p.15). Finally, they turns our attention to the method of critical
discourse analysis (CDA) often used to explore the hidden interface among
discourse, identity and performativity. Reference to Fairclough's (1992)
three-dimensional conceptualization of discourse is useful for
understanding the studies presented in the following chapters.

In chapter 2 entitled "Yes, but is it Gender?" (pp. 43-67) Joan Swann
addresses the issues related with language and gender in political and
social consequences of popular beliefs about gendered languages. Some
recent observations in language and gender research (e.g., diversity,
context, ambiguity, etc.) are also referred to with analysis. Next, some
aspects of written and spoken language with reference to gender are
discussed with the problem of language and gender. The warrants for gender
in language and gender research are duly emphasized with close reference
to the spoken interaction of the area the author is most familiar with.
Finally, the author evaluates the theoretical position of the analyst,
his/her intuition as well as the role of the participants in interaction.
We can probably agree with her argument that "language and gender may,
then, legitimately be viewed from different perspectives: a pragmatic
combination of methods and approaches, along with an acknowledgment of
their possibilities and limitations, might allow us to focus on different
aspects of the relationship between language gender, or have a wider range
of things to say about this" (p.62).

In chapter 3 entitled "Rethinking politeness, impoliteness and gender
identity " (pp. 69-89) Sara Mills tries to bring together new theoretical
work on gender from feminist linguistics with new theorizing of
linguistics politeness. To formulate her argument she first presents a
short show on feminist linguists and Communities of Practice (CofP)
developed by Wenger (1998) with reference to all its crucial dimensions.
Next, she delves into the age-old belief about 'interactional power' (IP)
relations (p. 74) existing between male and female members in the society.
After a short analysis on the Brown and Levinson's (1978) model of
politeness she explores the idea of impoliteness as the opposite of
politeness in relation to gender discrimination in social interactions.
Finally, she narrates an impolite incident where she personally was
involved which eventually inspires her to explore the interface of
politeness and impoliteness in relation to gender in CofP. She rightly
concludes that greater exposure in the analysis of gender politeness and
impoliteness can be achieved through turning from sentence level to the
level of discourse. "The notion of CofP can provide a framework for
analysing the complexity of judging an utterance as polite or impolite,
and it can also enable us to see that within different Communities of
Practice, individuals may perform their gendered identities in different
ways" (p.85).

In chapter 4 entitled "Stunning, shimmering, iridescent: Toys as the
representation of gendered social actors" (pp. 91-108) Carmen Rosa
Caldas-Coulthard and Theo van Leeuven present an interesting study how the
concept of gender is interlinked with the designing of toys for the kids.
They present here one of the results of their research on 'Toys as
Communication' initiated in the University of Stockholm, Sweden. First,
they justify their research with toys by identifying multi-purpose roles
played by the toys in the society. Here, toys are identified as semiotic
signs located in discourse of gender, age and social class. In the next
section, they explore how the idea of gender and male-female sexuality are
interwoven with the visual representation, design, movement and color of
the toys designed for specific target users (e.g., large muscles of The
Rock or the big breasts and almost naked body of Jaculine indicate their
adventurous nature, power and sexuality while the sober dress, polite pose
and soft looks of Ken and Barbie assert their modesty, sophistication and
social desirability. Finally they discuss how in advertising texts
inscribed on toy boxes, catalogues and web pages represent gender
distinction. With recurrent reference of the selection of specific words,
terms, epithets and idioms loaded in these advertisements they show how
ideational meanings make gender distinctions explicit in the discourse of

In chapter 5 entitled "Consuming personal relationships: The achievement
of feminine self-identity through other-centeredness" (pp. 111-128)
Michelle M. Lazar presents another interesting study on the achievement of
a distinctly feminine identity in the course of heterosexual relationships
that span courtship, marriage and motherhood. It is a part of the research
project on critical discourse analysis of the co-constructions of
heterosexuality and gender relations in a Singaporian national advertising
campaign. Observing a steady decline in the national birth rate, the
Government of Singapore launched a multi-media advertising campaign for
better-educated young and procreative nationals for pursuing them getting
married and staring a family. The campaign was systematically designed to
denounce singlehood, and to praise couplehood, marriage and parenthood.
The campaign in all possible ways tries to impress the target audience to
enter into courtship, marriage and motherhood which are more valuable in
life than pursuing one's own career and living a single life. However,
Lazar notes that although both men and women are subjected to this
campaign, their respective positions in the advertisement are markedly
dissimilar. Within the genre of advertisement, the subject position is
offered to the women projecting them as 'potential consumers' of love and
personal relationship, while within the type of discourse of gender
relations love and personal relationships are set up as the absolute,
'all-consuming' priority in women's lives (p. 112). The author argues that
the strategy for concentrating on young procreative women would
undoubtedly benefit the state, society, men and children, but would
curtail the range of life choices and priorities of women themselves (p.

In chapter 6 entitled "'Head to head': Gendered repertoires in newspaper
arguments" (pp. 129-148) Lia Litosseliti explores the discourse practices
and strategies, as well as themes and ideologies, which speakers draw upon
in arguments that make moral claims and express, sustain, or challenge
particular moral positions. She looks examples of arguments in a broadcast
newspaper column focusing on the ways in which moral arguments are
articulated by both male and female arguers. She also focuses on the
symbolic significance of approaches of argument, particularly how
arguments are shaped by the participants' understandings of gender and
morality (129). She explores the argument-morality-gender relationships
through a discourse lens, investigates a discursive framework of analysis
of texts, and analyses the field of public argumentation with reference to
the construction of morality and gender identity in newspaper columns. She
finds heavy moralizing and strong language in men's arguments which are
supported by varying and often conflicting interpretations of the
relationships between the individual and society and of the moral state of
society, while female writers offer various personal narratives, and often
exaggerated allusions. Finally, she argues that "discourse analysis, by
viewing discourse as a social practice in itself, and by seeking to
demystify the workings of identity, ideology and power in discourse, is
particularly useful in exploring the implicit and assumed aspects of
gender and morality" (p. 146).

In chapter 7 entitled "Is there anything "new" about these lads?: The
textual and visual construction of masculinity in men's magazines" (pp.
149-174) Bethan Benwell defines and describes some of the discursive
strategies which are employed to characterize and define a particular
dimension of 'new lad' masculine identity. After a short discussion on the
evolution of masculinity in the men's lifestyle magazine, he attempts to
chart those evasive, ambiguous and arguably 'strategic' moves that define,
endorse and give voice to this particular manifestation of masculinity.
In-depth analysis of texts shows how these men's magazines are concerned
to establish their identity as a mainstream heterosexual genre which are
characteristically different from the gay magazines or similar other
texts. Next, the dialectic between male gaze and masculine image is
explored along with its attendant anxieties about the processes of
'looking' and 'being looked at'. Both humor and irony are used as shields
against the explicit markings of masculinity as well as against the sexual
or gender ambiguity. His analysis of instances of discourse available in
men's magazine demonstrates "how discourse reproduce and reinforce a
social order and how repeated and recognisable discursive strategies may
be employed in the pursuit of gendered identities and relations" (p.169).
His observations suggest that such manifestations of masculinity, as
revealed in these magazines, are intimately bound up with the survival and
adaptability of male power.

In chapter 8 entitled "The case of the indefinite pronoun: Discourse and
the concealment of lesbian identity in class" (pp. 177-192) Elizabeth
Morrish investigates the notions of discourse and performativity and the
extent to which a real performance of sexuality by a lesbian teacher can
emerge under the constraints of the dominant discourses of compulsory
heterosexuality. She also examines "classroom strategies of identity
revealation and concealment, and those particular professional pitfalls
that might ambush the lesbian linguist in her attempts to challenge the
erasure of her sexuality demanded by convention and dominant discourse"
(p.179). She discusses the deictic choices a lesbian teacher opts in the
classroom context to establish her identity in the world of
heterosexuality. In her examination of the discursive practice of a
lesbian teacher it is her contention that certain utterances will be
interpreted differently depending on how the lesbian teacher is judged
both in terms of gender and sexuality. Despite her effort for critical
estimation on the discourse and strategies used by a lesbian teacher, her
study probably lacks proper empirical analysis on large samples of corpus
for making any generalized observation.

In chapter 9 entitled "Erotic discourse strategies in powerless women:
Analysing psychiatric interviews" (pp. 193-219) Branca Telles Ribeiro
investigates discourse and involvement strategies used by women to
overcome a deep sense of isolation, deprivation and abandonment. He
presents here an enthralling estimation on the discourse strategies used
by a depressive woman with her interviewer, a male psychiatrist. The
patient's mental makeup as revealed by the detail analysis of the excerpts
directs our attention to the realm of identity of the participants, their
social relations, their knowledge of the world as well as various other
social and conversational attributes that predetermine what kind of
linguistic interactions will develop in course of gender-related
investigations. Particularly, in this case study the dominance of gender,
sex and their related nuances have been pivotal in defining both
individual and social identity of the female patient who suffers from the
lack of recognition, reciprocity and understanding from her former husband
as well as from the society she belongs. In the interviews, the
doctor/patient power relations are also modified by the patient's potent
metamessages. "Most of all, a type of connection (whether referred to as
sexual, erotic, or loving) signals a willful pursuit of relationships on
the part of the patient, with the likely therapeutic effect of overcoming
isolation" (p. 211). This study also helps us to understand that the
mental health of a person is deeply associated with his/her capacity to
establish and maintain relationships with others in the society.

In chapter 10 entitled "From representation towards discursive practices:
Gender in the foreign language textbooks revisited" (pp. 223-255) Jane
Sunderland, Marie Cowley, Fauziah Abdul Rahim, Christina Leontzakou and
Julie Shattuck draws our attention to the issue of the importance of
particular textual gender representations by moving our attention away
from the text itself. For their study they use texts in two different
senses: (b) a stretch of written language which shows unity of purpose,
and (b) 'whole' written documents which are physical entities in
themselves, but rather much shorter stretches of writing in the form of
exercises, tasks or activities, which are characteristically accompanied
by visuals, such as line drawings or photographs (p. 224). Following their
discussion on the teacher's talk around texts, they report on the findings
and limitations of three research projects executed in Portugal, Greece
and United Kingdom. Their studies show how teachers draw on a number of
gendered discourses including both feminist and traditional discourses. It
also "represents a theoretical and methodological contribution to the
understanding of how traditional gender identities can be discoursally
sustained, or new ones made available, and how stereotypical ways of
thinking can be challenged (or not) in classroom discourse" (p. 251).

In chapter 11 entitled "'What's the hottest part of the sun? Page 3!':
Children's exploration of adolescent gender identities through informal
talk" (pp. 257-273) Jenet Maybin takes us for a nice journey in the world
of children's informal talks, which is rich with hidden sexual
implications related with gender and identity. The investigator wants to
find out how the children explore and take on various kinds of gendered
identities within their informal talks as well as how they use their
informal talks (and literacy) to explore and negotiate new knowledge and
identities, as they move from childhood into adolescence. She observes
that children's talk tend to return time and again to a number of central
themes - their changing relationships with their parents and other
authority figures, the imperatives and boundaries of their friendship,
their family relationships, and moral issues of justice, care and cruelty.
>From the analysis of her data and excerpts she finds that "the boys wanted
to talk about things, activities and accomplishments, while the girls
talked about people, relationships and feelings" (p. 266). Here, her
observation falls in the same line of observation made by Holmes (1997).
However, the most striking point to note here is that children often gain
sense of their own identities by differentiating themselves from others.
Young boys and girls seem to establish their position and gendered
identity in relation to culturally available discourse of masculinity and
femininity. Their "negotiation and exploration of gendered relationships
and behaviour involves the complex manipulation of different
interpretative frames and the invoking and reproduction of voices from
written texts, songs, adults and other children" (p. 271). Quite often
they fall back on the 'safer and more familiar discourse of childhood' to
try out new ways of inhabiting their gender, 'drawing on the culturally
available resources around them and their own experience and imagination'.

In chapter 12 entitled "Pregnant self and lost identity in Ana Blandiana's
'Children's Crusade': An ironical echo of the patriarchal pro-natality
discourse in communist Romania" (pp. 277-292) Daniela Sorea presents us
telling description of 'Children's Crusade' - an elegy which is actually a
mock eulogy that vehemently satirizes 'The Decree' of the Ceausescu regime
in Romania that created a terror among the procreative mothers with the
law of forbidding any birth control procedures. Her regular reference to
the traumatic plights of procreative mothers as well as to the events and
facts of the communist Romania as recorded as in Kligman (1998), hang
before us an image of horror and disbelief when we try to visualize that
'individual women were denied the right to refuse public assessment of
their bodies in terms of their birth-giving potential' (p. 278). The poem
of Blandiana is a voice of protest against such totalitarian pro-natality
discourse of Ceausescu's regime to raise "a cry for re-humanisation, for
re-investment of mothers with their long-lost personhood, for
reinstatement of maternal agency" (p. 289). By analysis of form,
narration, content as well as the words and terms used in the poem, Sorea
is able to show how the use of "negative prefix in all adjectival
modifiers of 'foetus' congeals the unborn child into non-identity, while
encoding and perpetuating the trauma it undergoes as well as the trauma it
simultaneously inflicts upon the mother" (p.285).

In chapter 13 entitled "Baby entertainer, bumbling assistant and line
manager: Discourses of paternal identity in parentcraft texts" (pp.
293-324) Jane Sunderland illustrates several discourses of parental
identity which can be observed in parentcraft texts (i.e., texts on
childcare written by professionals, such as doctors or midwives, for
parents - mothers, fathers or both). For her investigation she uses data
collected from 11 texts written with specific aim for advising new parents
regarding taking care of the new-born babies as well as new mothers. After
thorough investigation of the literature she identifies four types of
discourse: (a) 'Part-time father/Mother as main parent' discourse where
mother is given privileges over father in regard to primary care-giver to
the baby, (b) 'Father as baby entertainer' discourse where the father is
expected to spend time with his child showing him new things, helping him
in his hobbies, taking him with himself when he enjoys his own,
participating in reading stories, playing games and singing songs before
bedtime (p. 309), (c) 'Father as mother's bumbling assistant' discourse
where the father is asked to act as a helping hand to the new mother, try
to adjust with the new routine, and experience a new dimension of life by
taking some of the strains while the mother recovers, and (d) 'Father as a
line manager' discourse where the father is asked to limit the number of
visitors into the house, stop others disturbing the baby when he is
asleep, ensure protection of family routine, plan for the future, get a
stairgate for himself, put locks on all the low cupboards, protect
electric wires and sockets, go out together with his wife for a treat, let
her know that he still loves her, etc. (p. 311). The investigator argues
that like wider masculinity and femininity, the paternal and maternal
identities in these texts are not only relational but also
'mutually'-constructing - even when one is not mentioned. She concludes
that "in parentcraft texts we can see a dialectical 'bundle' of
heterosexual and relational femininities and masculinities, most
discourses here being 'companion', mutually supporting ones, others
potentially conflictual and destabilising" (p. 314).

Despite many insightful reflections on various aspects of gendered
discourse in various linguistic interactions and negotiations, the volume
lacks a general introduction to discourse and gender which could have been
useful for the readers of this book. However, volumes by Spender (1980),
Wodak (1997), Talbot (1998), Goddard and Patterson (2000) can be explored
by the interested people as necessary ground works for delving into this
new valley of linguistics and discourse.

6. Bibliography

Brown, Penelope and Levinson, Stephen (1978) "Universals in language
usage: politeness phenomena". In Goody, E. (ed.) (1978) Questions and
Politeness: Strategies in Social Interactions. Pp. 56-111. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Fairclough, Norman (1992) "Discourse and Social Change". London: Polity

Goddard, Angela and Patterson, Lyndsay Mean (2000) "Language and Gender".
London: Routledge.

Holmes, Jenet (1997) "Storytelling in New Zealand women's and men's talk".
In Wodak, Ruth (ed.) (1997) "Gender and Discourse". Pp. 263-293. London:
Sage Publications.

Kligman, Gail (1998) "The Politics of Duplicity: Controlling Reproduction
and Everyday Life in Ceausescu's Romania". University of California Press.

Spender, Dale (1980) "Man Made Language". London: Routledge.

Talbot, Mary (1998) "Language and Gender". London: Polity Press.

Wenger, Etienne (1998) "Communties of Practice". Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Wodak, Ruth (ed.) (1997) "Gender and Discourse". London: Sage
Niladri Sekhar Dash works as a Linguist for the Technology Development
in Indian Languages at Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition Unit of the
Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India. His research interest
includes corpus design and development, corpus linguistics, discourse and
pragmatics, lexical semantics, lexicography, etc. Presently he is working
on speech corpus generation, corpus based lexicography and lexical
polysemy in Bangla.