In Deborah Cameron’s 1997 chapter on “Performing Gender Identity: Young Men’s Talk and the Construction of Heterosexual Masculinity” she focuses on analyzing the interactions between five men who are white, middle class Americans, aged 21, went to the same university and belonged to the same social network.
Cameron observes that there are many stereotypes and generalizations that one of her students, “Danny’s” research paper that are worth mentioning. While Cameron states that her student’s data was not inaccurate nor was her student’s conclusions unwarranted there was the fact that there was a certain amount of subjectivity in his analysis.
Cameron goes on to point out certain stereotypical features and non-stereotypical features in the data as well as noting the significance of “latching” in conversation. She concludes that linguists continued to use these rather outdated observation methods and one-sided stereotypical observations on gendered speech, as well as noting that some analyses seek implicit meanings rather than the substance of what has been said.
Firstly, Cameron notes that Danny has titled his paper ‘Wine, women, and sports”, which is what Danny thought was the stereotype of an all-male interaction. Cameron observes that men do speak on these topics of alcohol, women and sports but there is still more topics that men expand on.
The title was only accurate that those subjects were spoken about for some length of time. There is also the matter of gossip and homosexuals that were discussed and in particular criticizing the appearance of certain individuals perhaps not currently known nor present at the time. While speaking of sports the topic of homosexuality came up as they were discussing the college’s gay society ball. Cameron notes that the men were using the topic to seemingly reinforce their own masculinity and heterosexuality.
Secondly, Cameron states that generally the analyses of men’s talk, and women’s talk is organized in such a way where it was a series of global oppositions. For example, men’s talk would be considered competitive while women’s talk would be considered cooperative. Cameron indicates that various scholars have written at length about cooperation and competition. For cooperation, some linguistic features were more prominent for women such as hedging and usage of epistemic models, latching and various other features.
In particular, Cameron noted that latching was not seen as a violation of turn-taking but rather as a sign of joint production. She also notes that Danny and his friends while speaking about homosexuals have a rather cooperative conversation. Then Cameron points out in terms of competition that the conversation was in no way egalitarian exactly, but only show two other speakers to be more dominant, and the others contribute less. The main point Cameron is trying to make is that it is difficult to discern whether or not it is a collaborative or competitive conversation.
Thirdly, Cameron asserts that the method of using direct oppositions is inherently problematic as conversation will include a certain degree of both competition and cooperation. Cameron emphasizes that the usage of direct oppositions is just a way for scholars to lump their evidence under one topic or heading.
There are always more factors like body language and status within one’s own group to examine, and there is not one definite category that may be more gendered than the other. Cameron clarifies that it is not that Danny and his friends were having a feminine conversation style, but that there are concerns about making such claims. The scholars should consider more about the substance rather than leaning into stereotypes.
In conclusion, Cameron does not think it is effective that linguists continue to use certain models of gendered speech that imply that masculinity and femininity are monolithic constructs. The continued usage of these models only makes predictable and different patterns of speech which are not an accurate representation of what is actually occurring in conversation. On that note, although Cameron makes these statements, she also inevitably falls into the same arguments that she is trying to avoid, about making stereotypes, but Cameron is also aware of that.
- Cameron, D. (1997). Performing Gender Identity: Young Men’s Talk and the Construction of Heterosexual Masculinity.
- S. Johnson & U. H. Meinhof (Eds.), Language and Masculinity (pp. 47–64). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.