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Language Use and Its Effects on Gender Identity

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Adrianna Caton

on 7 September 2015

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Transcript of Language Use and Its Effects on Gender Identity

Gender Identity in Adolescent Literature
Though readers are clearly embracing strong female protagonists in novels such as T
he Hunger Games
Harry Potter
, and
The Scorpio Races
, these storylines seem to suggest that young girls can only be strong leads when they lose their dresses and take on stereotypical male traits such as being able to race, hunt, fight, shoot, etc. Even more disturbing is that these "strong" female leads always have a male sidekick to help them when the pressure of portraying male characteristics becomes too heavy or when the female lead cannot control her "feminine emotions". It is also interesting that novels with female protagonists tend to be a part of the science fiction, fantasy, and dystopian genres. This seems to suggest that a female leader or merely a strong female cannot exist within reality or today's society.
More likely to have a room at home (den, office, workshop, study) that is off limits to others
More likely to interrupt women in conversation
Maintain greater distance from other men in conversation
Use less eye contact than women
Tend to sit with legs apart or with legs stretched out in front of them and ankles crossed
Often interpret a woman's touch as a sexual invitation
Language Use and Its Effects on Gender Identity

By: Adrianna Caton
Literacy Practices in Everyday Sociocultural Settings
Sex and Gender
Sex and gender are often set up as dichotomous variables, however, they are much more complex than that.
Gender: Traits socioculturally considered appropriate for males and females (Crawford, 2012).
Sex and its "corresponding" gender are almost immediately assigned.
"...gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original"- Judith Butler
Affects how the world sees a person and how a person sees the world
Shapes relationships between women and men
Influences access to power and resources
Three levels:
- Societal
- Interpersonal
- Individual (Crawford, 2012).
Three Levels of Gender
Dominant gender in each society holds more power and status
Most societies are patriarchal
Institutions allocate more power and status to men (religious, political, workforce)

"Am I talking to a male or a female?"
What behaviors are consistent with these labels?

Individual- There are consequences to how people present themselves.

Self-Presentation: Acting a certain way in response to implied or explicit expectations.
People are assigned a gender and are socialized to act according to their assigned gender.
"Doing Gender"
Double Binds: Acting outside of gender expectations leads to negative consequences. For example, a woman must be assertive to get ahead in the corporate world but is then seen as bossy and less likeable (Crawford, 2012).
Women and men are encouraged to present different characteristics, however, women's performances are typically more elaborate.


Power, success, prestige
"I think I was thirteen or so, and so I wrote to NASA to ask how I could become an astronaut. And I got a response back which was, 'We're not interested in women astronauts."
Sex: Biological differences in reproductive
anatomy and function
Constructing Gender Identity Through Language Use: The Media
Gender Identity
Identity is the
stable or fixed aspects of selfhood, such as: race or ethnicity, class, gender, and age. Though some aspects of one's identity stay the same through life such as one's race or nationality, there are parts of one's identity that change over time and within different contexts. Language and discourse therefore play various roles and functions in a person's identity formation, maintenance, and performance (Lewis, 2014).
Depictions in content analysis of 1600 commercials:
Men: Aggressive and active
Women: Emotional and passive
Depictions in content analysis of 8,000 print ads:
Men: Wok/ occupational roles
Women: At home

TV shows rarely show men doing housework. When men
do household work in the media, they are usually portrayed as incompetent.
60-70% of actors on prime-time are male
70-90% of voice-overs are male
Women's sports constitutes about 6% of coverage
Women are seldom featured in video games and when they are they are highly sexualized.
Media Language and Body Image
Body Image: Mental pictures and associated feelings one has about his/her body.
Media representations of gender are
and attractiveness is sold as central to femininity. Young girls and boys therefore learn that their appearance is a crucial part of their gender identity.
"These pictures are not pictures of me, They are constructions...and [the industry] builds this. That's not me. (Russell, 2013).
"The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn"- Gloria Steinem
Faceism: The depiction of women (or men) as mere bodies/ body parts
Gender Identity: "One's innermost concept of self as male or female, or both, or neither- how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves"
One's gender identity can be the same or different than the sex assigned at birth.
Individuals are conscious of their gender identity between 18 months and 3 years.
Some choose to socially, hormonally and/or surgically change their sex to more fully match their gender identity (Gender Spectrum, 2014).
Gender Role: Set of roles, activities, expectations and behaviors assigned to females and males by society (Gender Spectrum, 2014).
As advances in technology continually increase, people are more easily able to communicate and share information with groups outside of their typical social and cultural contexts, changing the nature of groups, social formations, and power dynamics. In turn, the creation and sharing of media and pop culture has become easier than ever before (Lewis, 2014).
"Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy" (The National Council of Teachers of English).
The way people talk, dress, or behave are types of social codes and important ways of displaying one's identity. Each person has multiple identities- some wanted, others unwanted- and each speaker must determine which identity is best suited for certain situations. This changing of identities may be achieved through dialogue. Individuals use language to construct an identity (or a set of identities) for themselves, while communities use language as a means of identifying their membership or establishing boundaries (Huffaker & Calvert, 2006).
As advances in technology are made, a new dimension of identities is created. Individuals can create identities that only exist within the discourse of various technological mediums. In a virtual world, where flexibility and anonymity are possible, individuals may feel more comfortable expressing themselves and exploring their identities beyond social prescriptions.(Huffaker & Calvert, 2006)
Presenting One's Gender Identity Through Language Use
The Impact of Technology on the Creation of Identities
Face-to-face communication provides contextual cues as to when it is socially appropriate to express certain emotions. These emotions are expressed both linguistically, through what is said, and paralinguistically, through features such as intonation, high pitch, pause, nonverbal signs, gestures, facial expressions, etc. However online, these paralinguistic ques cannot be expressed or noted (Huffaker & Calvert, 2006).

In a study of 3,000 online messages, it was found that females used more graphical accents, including emoticons, to express emotion in their discourse than males. It was also found that males rarely use emoticons in conversations with other males but do use them with females, while females use an equal amount of emoticons in both male and female conversations. Communication patterns of males and females also differed, with males using a direct and forceful style, while females used a more indirect and intimate style of interaction, "Such linguistic styles parallel the masculine principle of agency and the feminine principle of communion" (Huffaker & Calvert, 2006).
However, contrary to prediction, in a study of adolescent blogs it was found that there were no overall gender differences in how often emoticons were used. Surprisingly, of those who used emoticons in their blogs, there was a trend for males to use more emoticons than females. This suggests a possibility that both male and female adolescents may feel more comfortable expressing (and/or exploring) their true gender identity in a virtual world where there is a form of anonymity (Huffaker & Calvert, 2006).
Our society regards women as more emotional than men. However, it appears that the expression of emotion, as well as the interpretation of emotions are learned behaviors. From early childhood, members of our society are taught what emotions are socially acceptable to display in regard to their gender. Emotions of happiness, sadness, and fear are believed to be more characteristic of the female gender, whereas anger is believed to be more characteristically male. Young males are therefore taught that it is not okay to express a variety of emotions (as one who does risks appearing feminine and therefore weak). In turn, society does not recognize a spectrum of emotions in males; rather signs of sadness and depression are often interpreted as anger.
(Crawford, 2012)
Crawford, 2012
Crawford, M. (2012). Transformations: Women, Gender and Psychology (2nd edition). New York, NY:


Gender Spectrum (2014). Understanding Gender. Retrieved from https://www.genderspectrum.org/


Huffaker, A. D., Calvert, L. S. (2006). Gender, Identity, and Language Use in Teenage Blogs. Journal of

Computer Mediated Communication, 10 (2).

Russell, Cameron. (2013). Looks aren't everything. Believe me, I'm a model. TED Talks. Retrieved from

https:/ /www.youtube.com/watch?v=KM4Xe6DIp0Y

The Representation Project (2013). How the Media Failed Women in 2013. Retrieved from https://


The Representation Project (2014). Rewrite the Story. Retrieved from https: //www.youtube.com/


The Representation Project (2013). The Mask You Live In- Trailer. Retrieved from https://

Gender and Non-Verbal Communication
Claim less spatial territory as their own
Stand closer to other females in conversion
Use more eye contact than men
More likely to return a smile when smiled at
Stand further away from people who speak loudly
Tend to cross legs at knees or cross ankles with knees slightly apart
Play with hair or clothing, and place hands in lap
Do not necessarily interpret a man's touch as a sexual invitation

(Crawford, 2012)
Working Towards Equality
Within culture, language is a shared participation in literacy rituals and patterns (Lewis, 2014). Teachers must therefore value and affirm each individual student's identity and design a curriculum that meets his/her needs. In order to highlight the importance of diverse identities, teachers must incorporate the use of diverse texts and media in the classroom. As teachers, it is our job to enable and encourage our students to explore and express
of their identities in the classroom. Regardless of the practice used, each student should feel welcomed, safe, and valued as an individual in the classroom.
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