This text integrates concepts from the field of Sociolinguistics; focusing on the interplay between language and gender, but with some mention of the interaction of other related social variables such as class. The writer consults the sub-discipline ‘Feminist Stylistics’ Mills 1995: 1 to investigate sexist discourse as ‘hate speech’, with examples from Canadian author ‘William Gairdner’. Lillian analyses the various stylistic techniques he employs to oppress women. Whilst the sexist discourse of the male gender is of primary focus in this text, Lillian also evaluates Gairdner’s idea of women’s language contributing to their own devaluation, with examples such as the supposed ambiguity in their use of the word ‘no’ in the context of rape; which Seidel, 1988 p.164 argues marks a ‘semantic reversal’. The overall argument of the text is that sexist attitudes in society; established due to longstanding social relations within political structures, have necessitated gender-based language reform which Feminists continue to work towards.
The primary claim is that sexist discourse has been overlooked as a form of ‘hate speech’ in the work of critical discourse. This is because sexism has been made ‘invisible’ by patriarchy and Post-feminism. This links to the third claim, as it confirms that Post-feminism has impeded the success of Feminism. Lillian explains the disregard of sexist discourse as a type of hate speech by giving revelation to the idea that increased regulation of sexist discourse is viewed as opposing freedom of expression, and hence it is rarely addressed. This idea is revisited in the conclusion p.738, where Lillian discusses the ambivalence of lawmakers in deciding ‘whether hate speech laws infringe people’s right to the freedom of speech’ as the US First amendment entitles. The author aims to emphasise the difference between voicing our opinions through free speech and using inflammatory language through hate speech.
Lillian draws on Lakoff, 1996’s ‘strict father’ metaphor p.726, which alleges that men have moral authority over women. This downplays the seriousness of sexist discourse, and so it is rarely viewed as hate speech, but as something that has become normalised.
Further evidence includes the shortage of ‘published discourse research focusing on Canadian data…’ p.723. Lillian’s focus on Canadian neoconservative ‘Gairdner’ thus represents an attempt to compensate for this. Lillian also highlights that ‘other scholars marginalise women from hate speech’p.731, showing that many repudiate the idea that women are victims of hate speech.
The second important claim is that Gairdner’s brazenly sexist discourse qualifies as hate speech. Lillian establishes that Gairdner’s discourse meets the requirements of sexist hate speech, according to Whillock 1995; to inflame the emotions of followers, to denigrate the designated out-class, to inflict permanent or irreparable harm and to ‘conquer’ women. Nonetheless, Lillian recognises that Gairdner only attacks perceived ‘Feminists’. This marks an interlinked claim; that Gairdner’s discourse is unrepresentative of ‘mainstream sexist discourse’ which targets all women. The author’s aim is to epitomise the work of Gairdner to raise awareness of the forms and impacts of sexist discourse, and to encourage people to challenge it.
The author explores Gairdner’s use of ‘negative other presentation’ Dijk 1997 p.727 as evidence. Lillian investigates the stylistic techniques he uses to disparage women, for example the metaphor of Feminists as ‘intellectual cancers’ p.724, which has connotations of rampancy, implying that women are a threat to the traditional patriarchal society that Gairdner supports. Other examples include his use of language comparing women to animals, as in the quote ‘snoot’ p.725, which has the effect of deeming women inferior.
Lillian evidences Gairdner’s clarification of his (Feminist) victims as ‘women who deviate from their domestic and maternal roles, and who advocate access to abortion, contraception and other equal rights’ p.724. This corroborates the claim that Gairdner does not target all women, merely women that resist the established hierarchy.
The final important claim is that Feminists strive towards gender-based language reform, whilst Postfeminists sabotage the progress they have made. This reflects a conflict in interests between the two approaches. The author aims to show how ideology can cause language reform in an unjust social context.
Lillian exemplifies the success of Feminism through the innovation of new empowering lexical items for female experiences which were previously unnamed, such as ‘date rape’ King 1991. Lillian indicates that this draws attention to the issue of female subordination and brings hope for social change. The second part of this claim is supported by the conflicting views on ‘gender binarism’. Whilst Feminists favour the distinct category of ‘women’ as it gives them legitimate status, Postfeminists resent it as they believe it isolates females which explains why they dispute the ideas of second-wave Feminism.
Lillian appraises secondary sources, including ‘The trouble with Canada (1990)’ p.722, 734 and other works by Gairdner. She also refers to various models and criteria to produce a comparative analysis. This is true of the inspection of Gairdner’s discourse under Whillock’s 1995 hate speech criteria. Lillian also compiles a retrospective case study on the work of Feminists in contesting the inequality rooted in language.
Conclusion ; further research:
This paper provides a debate on the status of sexist discourse. Lillian bases her evaluation on various works by Gairdner, which allows her not only to provide an informed conclusion that he uses hate speech, but also to relate the forms and impacts of his discourse to the wider context in which sexual discourse is used. For the most part, Lillian’s findings match her claims, however there was one exception which was her initial claim that Gairdner’s work epitomises ‘mainstream sexual discourse’, which she later decides against. Lillian also provides a contextual Feminist backdrop, which enables her to denote the roles of Feminism and Post-feminism in gender-based language change.
Her evaluation of the success of Feminism in instigating gender-based language change can be consolidated by a range of further research. As Miller ; Swift 1976 note, terms of address such as ‘Ms’, popularised by Feminists in the 1960s, allow women to be ‘seen as people in their own right’. The 1990 University of Alberta policy, launched to rid educational materials of sexist language, is also indicative of the success of Feminists. However, the success of Feminists in language reform is dependent on the wider social context. For example, research shows that for their attempt at language reform to be successful, it must be part of a wider socio-political initiative. In addition, as Labov 1972:179 shows, it also depends on the status of the group. For example, if the change is lead by a group of lower social status (such as women), the change may be stigmatised and rejected.
(Erlich, S., King, R 1992 p.152-164, ‘Gender-Based Language Reform and the Social Construction of Meaning’ 3(2)