Saint Ashley

gendered discourses in the commodification of New Zealand’s Director General of Health during Covid-19


  • Julia de Bres Massey University/Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa
  • Shelley Dawson Victoria University of Wellington/Te Herenga Waka



gender ideologies, discourse analysis, critical multimodality, commodification, Covid-19


During Covid-19 lockdown in New Zealand from March to June 2020, gendered discourses appeared in artistic and commercial products featuring Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand’s Director General of Health and ‘hero of quarantine’. Using an analytical framework combining Foucauldian discourse analysis with critical multimodality, we explore how Ashley is shaped into existence through discourses portraying him as a superhero, love interest/sex symbol, national treasure, saviour, saint and authority figure. These emergent discourses ride on the wave of longstanding dominant discourses relating to gender and sexuality, alongside nation, class and ethnicity. While dominant discourses may provide reassurance when established realities are under threat, they simultaneously cause harm by reproducing unequal power relations between social groups. We contend that, even in periods of crisis, we should consider what broader messages we are sending when we latch onto the latest discursive trend.

Author Biographies

Julia de Bres, Massey University/Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa

Julia de Bres is a critical sociolinguist specialising in how language is used to reproduce and challenge social inequalities. Previously at the University of Luxembourg, she is currently Senior Lecturer in Linguistics at Massey University in New Zealand. She researches language in relation to minority groups, including attitudes to minority languages, social variation in accent and gender-diverse language.

Shelley Dawson, Victoria University of Wellington/Te Herenga Waka

Shelley Dawson is Research and Teaching Fellow at Victoria University of Wellington. Her work makes use of interdisciplinary critical approaches, focusing on the influence of ideological structures. Shelley’s doctoral research examined exchange students’ identity negotiations around nationality, gender and sexuality in study abroad contexts.


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How to Cite

de Bres, J., & Dawson, S. (2021). Saint Ashley: gendered discourses in the commodification of New Zealand’s Director General of Health during Covid-19. Gender and Language, 15(2), 129–157.




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