Language & Gender: Manipulation & Representation

How is gender reproduced in everyday texts 

Activity 1


In class we analysed five advertisements from a ‘Heartsearch’  column. Below I have inserted my analysis of the five descriptions.


______  Words the reveal the sex of the author 

Bold      All uses of generic nouns (e.g. nouns like ‘scientist’ which seems to refer to all scientists, regardless of sex)

Blue      What I thought of each description

CAMBRIDGE GRADUATE: vaguely academiclikes films; opera, Europe, old things. Lithefit, 6’, sporty. Still attractive despite thinning hair.

I think this is a female writer because the use of specialised lexis such as ‘thinning hair’ seems to be more common amongst women and the adjective ‘lithe’ also seems to have a female connotation – not many men would describe themselves as graceful.

INCURABLE ROMANTICcharming, uncomplicated, attractive women, not slim, not young, wide interests, seeks personable caring male for commitment.

This is clearly a women because it states ‘attractive women’. Obviously, phrases such as ‘incurable romantic’ and ‘personal caring male’ can technically be stated by a male of female but being aware of typical stereotypes one would have definitely guessed this to be a women. It is rare that a man would state that, not impossible.

GOOD-LOOKING German writer, early thirties, seeks sensitive Adonis for meaningful relationship.

Obviously, once again this statement could have been written by male especially as the sex is not stated. However, just on he basis of stereotypes its probably a women because it says ‘seeks sensitive Adonis’

Rich 1974 Claret with firm body sensuous flavour and adventurous bouquethandsomely bottled, seeks younger crisp and frisky Chablis, equally well-packaged, for mulled fun, including weekends and holidays abroad for durable casting.

This is quite a difficult description to estimate the gender because there is a running metaphor of wines, champagnes etc. (not an alcohol expert – so if anyone can explain this better please let me know). However, the fact that s/he describes themselves as ‘handsomely bottle’ gives a hint that this is a male. They also say ‘younger crisp and frisky’ gives us a hint that this is a male as men usually search women younger than them, yet there are many relationships were males seek the older women so once again nothing can be said in stone.

SENSITIVE HIPPY, 24, seeks sincere and caring female for loving relationship.

This could again technically be written by a male or female and the generic noun ‘hippy’ tells us nothing. The only thing which hints this is more likely to be a man is the fact that they are seeking a ‘caring female’.

In Conclusion

What I learnt was that technically a text does not tell us much about the gender that is behind it except if gender specific lexis was utilised e.g. ‘spinster’. Assumptions and stereotypes were key to dissecting the text and working out the gender. The problem with assumptions and stereotypes is that they are not absolute, nothing is black and white, it is grey.


Read the extract below it is taken from chapter 1 -The Bittersweet Bride

Arlington Street, London January 1763. 

Merrick Vernon Templestowe St. John, ninth Baron Trevelyan, eighth Viscount Lacey and fifth Earl of Wroth, strode into the drawing room on the butler’s announcement and immediately filled the space with his presence. The papered walls and ornate plastered ceiling shrunk inwards, or so it seemed to Saria who had grown accustomed to the Allans, who were all short and narrow-shouldered. The Earl was neither. He was dressed in what Saria presumed to be the height of London elegance: A velvet frockcoat of Venetian blue with elaborate chinoserie embroidery on tight cuffs and short skirts; an oyster silk waistcoat that cut away to a pair of thigh-tight black silk breeches rolled over the knees and secured with diamond knee buckles; white clocked stockings encased muscular calves and on his large feet were a pair of low heeled black leather shoes with enormous diamond encrusted buckles. Lace at wrists and throat completed this magnificent toilette. Yet, neither ruffled lace nor expertly cut cloth could hide the well-exercised muscle in the strong legs or the decided width in the broad chest and wide shoulders. But he did not dominate by size alone. There was purpose in his stride, and when he took a quick commanding glance about the room the intensity in his brown eyes demanded that those who fell under his gaze pay attention or suffer the consequences of his displeasure.

Lady Despard, standing near the fireplace, brought him up short. She dropped into a low curtsey, giving his lordship a spectacular view of her deep cleavage. When the Earl finally tore his gaze from Lady Despard’s over-ripe bosom, it was to give Saria a disdainful glare. Saria, awed by the sheer physicality of the man, stood frozen, unable to bend her stiff knees into the desired respectful curtsey. A look, hard to read, passed across the nobleman’s square face and then it was if he suddenly realized he was being less than polite. He bowed slightly as Lady Despard rose up and with her son crossed the carpet to greet him.


Formal introductions gave Saria time to compose herself. She appeared calm enough but inwardly she felt sick to her stomach and relieved at the same time. He showed no signs of ever knowing her. In truth, he barely looked at her. His brown eyes were all for her stepmother, lingering longer than was polite on her large breasts in its shockingly low-cut bodice. Typical of a rake to spot at first glance the most voluptuous woman in the room, thought Saria with a wry smile. And when he looked her way, as if to make certain she was paying attention, it was with tacit disapproval. This expression stayed with him when he spoke a few words with Tom. Saria saw it in the clench of his strong jaw and the way in which his lips pressed together in a thin line, giving his classical features a hard, uncompromising edge. Yet, no amount of cold disdain could diminish the fact he was a ruggedly handsome man.


Tom managed only a few words with the Earl before his mother interrupted. She looked up expectantly at the nobleman from under her dark lashes and endeavoured to engage his interest with a run of small talk; her inanities about the inclement weather, particularly the unusual severity of the frosts for the start to the new year, receiving polite but monosyllabic replies. Saria frowned and was embarrassed by her stepmother’s blatant flirting with this jaded nobleman, who was obviously accustomed and thoroughly bored by the wiles of women who constantly threw themselves at his broad chest.

Now lets analyse it!


Representation of gender through lexical choice

The women are represented by the name ‘Saria’ or if lucky then ‘Lady Despard’ but the male is described and represented with a lot of respect, status and all his titles are given e.g. ‘Merrick Vernon Templestowe…’ .It is also interested that the Earl is described as a royal and important and their is emphases on his status whereas Saria is not described. Lady Despard was lucky enough to be described as well although it describes more of her status – particularly in a sexual way ‘large breasts’.

Representation of gender through semantic fields 

For the Earl there is a semantic field of prestige, power, wealth and status which is very respectful to the gender. On the other hand, for females like Lady Despard it is not an exactly nice semantic field of flirtatious, sex and disrespect e.g. ‘over-ripe’. If women are not being described as seductresses then they are being described as hesitant as the semantic field around Saria describes.

Representation of gender through verb constructions – subject/object; passive constructions


For the male character, there are active verb constructions i.e. the person performing that action is being emphasised. For example ‘Earl finally tore his gaze…’ rather than ‘the gaze was finally torn by the Earl’. This represents his important and really exaggerates his significance and makes the females look inferior as many of their description are passive verb constructions. 

Representation of gender through attitudes and values

The attitude and values that come across in this extract is that women are inferior, they are expected to bow and pay attention to the men. Also, what the man says is more significant then what women talk about e.g. ‘small talk’

Representation of gender through the significance of the extract’s structure 

The man is described before the women and is described with better qualities. There is long orientation which centres around the man. The women on the other hand has a shorter paragraph and that centres on her offering courtesy to the Earl. Saria is then introduced in the complicating action showing that she isn’t as important as the Earl as she is not given a description in the orientation. 

Representation of gender through authorial intention 

The main focus is on the man’s presence and his dominance over everybody whereas for the women it like an after thought – it is just their response to his presence. Saria becomes a bit scared and lady Despard becomes flirty.



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