‘I am not an Honourable Lady’

Gender and language in the National Assembly for Wales


  • Sylvia Shaw Middlesex University




language, gender, politics, political debates, ethnography, National Assembly for Wales


Women have been historically underrepresented in political institutions and it has been claimed that it is difficult for women to succeed in the masculinist cultures that exist in political contexts. The ‘new’ devolved institutions of the UK offer opportunities to investigate gender inequality in political contexts which have a greater proportion of women members; that have included women from their inception; and that have been designed with egalitarian issues to the fore. Here, ethnographic and discourse analytic data is used to assess a senior woman’s performance in the National Assembly for Wales; to explore politicians’ appraisal of this performance; and to analyse the breakdown of the debate floor in terms of ‘rule-breaking’ activities such as barracking. In this Community of Practice (CoP), the individual’s performance draws upon communicative styles that are both stereotypically masculine (adversarial) and feminine (consensual), which can be viewed as an indication of the speaker’s competence. However, this is undermined by the speaker’s failure to adopt the correct linguistic practices for this CoP which leads to the breakdown of the formal debate discourse. Assembly Members appraise this failure negatively while also drawing upon stereotypical notions of gendered communicative norms and wider discourses of gender differentiation.

Author Biography

Sylvia Shaw, Middlesex University

Sylvia Shaw received her PhD from the Institute of Education, University of London and is currently a Senior Lecturer in English Language at Middlesex University, London, UK. Her primary research interests focus on gender and language in parliamentary institutions. She has published research on women’s linguistic participation in the House of Commons, and has recently completed an ESRC funded project ‘Gender and Linguistic Participation in the Devolved Parliaments of the UK’.


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How to Cite

Shaw, S. (2013). ‘I am not an Honourable Lady’: Gender and language in the National Assembly for Wales. Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice, 8(3), 275–294. https://doi.org/10.1558/japl.v8i3.275