The under-representation of women in public discourse and public life—in politics, in the corporate world, in the academy and in many parts of the media—is a significant real-world problem, which has persisted in spite of the removal of formal barriers to equality in many societies around the world. While many factors contribute to it, one factor that is widely held to play an important role is language; but there is a division between the mainstream, common sense view that the problem lies in women’s own linguistic behaviour (their socialised tendency to speak in a way that ‘lacks authority’), and the alternative view that the real problem is the public silencing of women, which results from a combination of overt and implicit sexist bias. In this lecture I’ll consider what light research evidence can shed on this debate. How should we understand the problem, and is there a way to solve it?
Deborah Cameron is a sociolinguist who currently holds the Murdoch Chair of Language and Communication in the Faculty of Linguistics at Oxford University. Since she began her career in the 1980s she has also worked at the universities of London and Strathclyde in the UK, and held visiting positions in the US, Australia and Sweden. She is the author of numerous books, including Verbal Hygiene(1995), Good To Talk (2000), The Myth of Mars and Venus (2007), and most recently, with Sylvia Shaw, Gender, Power and Political Speech (2016). She regularly comments on linguistic topics on BBC radio, and presents research on language and gender for a general audience through her blog Language: a feminist guide.