‘I went to debutante school’

using Southern femininity as a resource to negotiate authority in a Texan workplace interaction


  • Natasha Shrikant University of Colorado, Boulder
  • Dana Marshall University of Colorado, Boulder




institutional talk, double bind, authority, southern femininity, gender referencing


This paper analyses how one United States Southern female professional, Suellen, navigates the ‘double bind’ of being a culturally appropriate woman and culturally appropriate leader. Data analysed include a two-hour audiorecorded meeting from eight months of fieldwork with a Texas organisation. Analysis illustrates how Suellen enacts a Southern feminine identity when implicitly claiming authority on business matters and overtly claims her identity as a woman when explicitly claiming authority on women-related matters. These findings address debates among language and gender scholars about determining the relevance of gender to interaction. We show how gender is a culturally specific identity that participants simultaneously implicitly perform and explicitly construct in ways that meet institutional goals. Multiple approaches to language and gender are not in contention but rather complement one another to highlight the variety of resources participants can use when making gender relevant in interaction to meet institutional goals.

Author Biographies

  • Natasha Shrikant, University of Colorado, Boulder

    Natasha Shrikant PhD is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She uses ethnography and discourse analysis to study the interactional accomplishment of racial, gender and political identities in institutional contexts.

  • Dana Marshall, University of Colorado, Boulder

    Dana Marshall is a doctoral candidate of communication at the University of Colorado, Boulder with an emphasis in organisational communication. She uses ethnography and discourse analysis to study the communicative constitution of organising; focusing on how everyday talk constitutes organisational contexts. She also explores how authority is communicatively constituted and negotiated in organisational settings. Her published work includes a book chapter on the communicative constitution of entrepreneurship.


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How to Cite

Shrikant, N., & Marshall, D. (2019). ‘I went to debutante school’: using Southern femininity as a resource to negotiate authority in a Texan workplace interaction. Gender and Language, 13(3), 396–417. https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.36393