‘I am not an Honourable Lady’
Gender and language in the National Assembly for Wales
Keywords: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.
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