Talk in feminised occupations

exploring male nurses’ linguistic behaviour


  • Joanne Mcdowell University of Hertfordshire



Gendered occupations, workplace discourse, nurses, masculinity, femininity, community of practice


It is widely accepted amongst scholars that gender is socially constructed. Gender identity is not something one has but does, and language is one resource that is crucial when constructing, maintaining and performing one’s identity. Recent sociolinguistic research has illustrated that a speaker’s linguistic behaviour can be shaped by their surrounding context, and one such ever-growing area of study is that of workplace discourse, especially within jobs which could be classified as gendered. Scholars have focused mainly on women’s linguistic behaviour in non-traditional employment (i.e. police, engineers, Information Technology). To date, there has been relatively little research into the linguistic behaviour of men working in occupations seen as ‘women’s’ work (i.e. nursing, primary school teaching). To address this gap, this article focuses on men’s discursive behaviour in the occupation of nursing to investigate whether they utilise language to perform a masculine identity in line with hegemonic characteristics, or whether they use the language indexical of the feminised environment in which they work. Empirical data, collected by three male nurse participants specifically within nurse-nurse interactions whilst at work in a Northern Ireland hospital, is explored using discourse analysis and the Community of Practice paradigm. Results indicate that the male nurses’ discursive behaviour does not differ from that which sociolinguistic literature has repeatedly classed as ‘feminine’. It is then argued that the nurses’ language fulfils discourse tasks essential to the work role. In short, the men are doing being a nurse.

Author Biography

Joanne Mcdowell, University of Hertfordshire

Dr Joanne McDowell is a senior lecturer in English Language and Communication at the University of Hertfordshire. Her specialist areas include gender identity in workplace discourse, sociolinguistics, discourse analysis and educational language. Dr McDowell has recently published a paper on the topic of workplace discourse and community of practice in the journal of Gender Work and Organisation, and a collaborative book chapter on the trajectories of European students aged 14–16 years old. She is currently working on a book chapter for the Handbook of Workplace Discourse, and leading two projects that examine the language of male and female primary school teachers.


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How to Cite

Mcdowell, J. (2015). Talk in feminised occupations: exploring male nurses’ linguistic behaviour. Gender and Language, 9(3), 365–390.