Introduction:This essay explores the idea that female boxers, participating in a sport deemed more “masculine” by society, conform less to stereotypes surrounding the gendering of language.Boxing is arguably one of the most popular sports in the world. The 2017 McGregor vs Mayweather fight attracted an audience of approximately 53 million people (Google, 2017).
Many people interpret boxing to be a male activity, although with additional research it’s abundantly clear that this is not the case. Female boxers partake in the sport all over the world, and although the viewership is not as large it is still a popular sport. In the UK, the British Amateur Boxing Association sanctioned its first boxing competition for women in 1998. Whilst watching the coverage of the McGregor vs. Mayweather fight I found the press conferences and interviews more interesting than the actual fight.
The use of language by each competitor to provoke their opponent was something that interested me, and on watching Savannah Marshall and Sydney LeBlanc, two female boxers, in press conferences and interviews it intrigued me as to whether the language used is normal; whether it conforms to the stereotypes one might expect them to follow or whether the language used is different to that of the average person. ______________________________________________________________________Aim:The aim of my topic is to analyse the differences in the way that female boxers communicate, in comparison to other female celebrities. In her book, “Language and Women’s place”, Lakoff (1975), analyses the links between language, gender, and power. She argued there were certain features of women’s language which suggest women are weaker and less unequivocal than men. The research question that this study seeks to address examines whether the use of language by female boxers; athletes who participate in what is seen as a hyper-masculine sport, conforms to stereotypes associated with women, or whether language use is more closely aligned to that of their male counterparts.
My hypothesis is that female boxers will conform to stereotypes surrounding women less often than female celebrities; that the language used is not submissive and weak, but instead more comparable to the discourse associated with males in the sport. Fundamentally, society deems these women to be participating in a sport that is very physical, violent, and traditionally male-dominated. Therefore, it can be asserted that these women’s language will adapt to the situation and a need to be more aggressive and masculine in its nature in order to intimidate an opponent. Primarily, I am interested to investigate whether female boxers conform or diverge their idiolects from that which would seen from a female in modern society.
______________________________________________________________________A review of Lakoff’s research:Lakoff (1975) identified a number of features in the spoken language used by women that differ to that used by men. These include:Hedging – uncertainty and lack of authority e.g. ‘sort of’Super polite forms – ‘If you don’t mine please may you..’Hypercorrect grammar and pronunciation- e.
g. women avoid ‘ain’t’ or double negativesTag questions – show that women want approval from their utterances e.g. ‘I’m coming with you, all right?’Speaking in italics – women use exaggerated intonation or stress for emphasis, expresses uncertainty e.
g. ‘I am very frustrated with you’ Empty adjectives approval – Lakoff claims that if a man uses these terms he appears more feminine as it damages his masculine prestige e.g. ‘divine, lovely, adorable, delightful and sweetie’Use of implication – Lakoff claimed women use this because they do not feel the authority to give orders e.g. ‘it’s cold in here, isn’t it’ instead of ‘shut the window’A sense of humour lacking – Lakoff argued that women don’t joke as much or understand jokes.Avoid the coarse language of expletivesApologetic language – ‘I’m sorry, but I think that… ‘These are the characteristics that I aim to focus on identifying when analysing my data, and I want to compare whether the control group and variable group actually show any evidence of utilising these features in their spoken language.
______________________________________________________________________Methodology: To conduct this study, it was first necessary to identify from the literature the differences in the characteristics of spoken language used by men and women. The seminal work of Robin Lakoff is utilised to achieve this. A sample of 23 interviews has been selected consisting of 15 female actresses and 8 female boxers. These interviews, each lasting between 1-2 minutes have been transcribed, and through the use of a tally chart, the discourse is analysed to compare the characteristics of language identified by Lakoff as being different between genders.Through comparison of the characteristics of spoken language by the two groups, it will be possible to determine whether the use of language by female boxers conforms or diverges from the stereotypes surrounding women’s spoken language.
To mediate between the different population sizes, the study uses a greater percentage of transcripts from actresses. This will allow the study to more accurately represent the majority of women, who aren’t boxers. The transcripts used, represent over 6,500 words from the 23 interviews analysed.
A comparison of the way in which power is constructed within language is examined and the interviews compared to identify the similarities or differences in the language used by female boxers and actresses.The tally chart used records the frequency of each of the characteristics identified by Lakoff, and these are divided by the number of interviews to derive an average score. For example, there were 46 instances in which hedging was used within the transcripts of the actresses, which divided by the number of interviews (15) equates to 3.07 per interview. ______________________________________________________________________Analysis:The table below shows the criteria analysed, and compares the two groups. CharacteristicActressesBoxersActresses (avg)Boxers (avg)”Um”41.
531.00Empty adjectives of approval4.000.
000.070.00Use of Non-Standard Form3.001.
000.200.13Filled pauses:The first characteristics compared were the use of filled pauses (“um” and “uh”) by each group. Based on Lakoff’s work it was expected that differences in frequency of each would be seen. The analysis confirmed this, with the term “um” used on average just 1.75 times per interview for the boxers, compared to 2.73 times for the actresses.
In comparison, “uh” was used on average 2.5 times by the female boxers compared to 1.73 times for the actresses.This indicates a difference between the language used by female boxers when compared to that of the actresses and is more closely associated with male speech. I believe that the reason for this is due to fact that female boxers are trying to portray themselves as more masculine, and by emulating the spoken language that typically would be expected of a male, the female boxers display themselves as being more masculine, and so convey themselves as more aggressive to potential opponents. Actresses do not need to do this – female stereotypes are often promoted vigorously by the media, and as actresses working in media they would be expected to conform to these stereotypes, explaining why they use “um” more than “uh” in their spoken language. Hedging:Hedging is described as displaying uncertainty, a lack of authority, and are also used when attempting to lessen the impact of what a person is about to say. Examples of hedging in speech include phrases such as “sort of”, “just” and “you know”.
It can be expected therefore that if differences in the language of female boxers and actresses exist, hedging will be more prevalent in the interviews with actresses. The results, however, do not support this hypothesis, as hedging was found to be used on average 3.07 times per interview by the actresses and 4.38 times by the female boxers.
The results suggest that female boxers were less certain about what they wanted to say and that the actresses were more assertive and dominant with their speech, however, it is important to take into account the context of the interviews. The actresses were often asked to comment on a film or something they had been working on, whereas female boxers were being asked about their personal life, the fight they had just been in, or other matters where answers were more spontaneous.This may provide an explanation as to why the actresses were more assertive with their speech, whereas the boxers used hedging more frequently, as a lot of the questions asked revolved around opinions. For example, in the interview with Savannah Marshall, the interviewer asked the question, “Do you feel that you can pave the way for women’s boxing?”.
This question is inherently not something that can be answered factually, and so relies on the boxer giving their opinion. Fillers:The use of fillers in language was the third characteristic examined. It was expected that female actresses would use this feature of speech more than boxers due to the fact that it is an aspect of speech that is used when hesitating; most prominently occurring with the use of “like”. Interviews with actresses are often used as a way to promote films or documentaries; incentivising the actress to come across as warm and friendly, speaking in a more casual manner opposed to a formal or a rehearsed manner. It was hypothesised that the psychological distance between interviewer and interviewee would be greater for the boxers who would want to come across as a professional athlete and a fighter – not someone trying to make friends.
The language used was expected to be more decisive, and hence fillers would be used infrequently. This was borne out by the analysis that showed that actresses used fillers almost twice as much per interview compared the boxers, with a frequency of 2.8 times against 1.5 times. These results support the hypothesis indicating that more decisive language was used by the boxers, and hence fewer fillers are needed. Opinionated language:Another way in which a lack of confidence; a trait which Lakoff suggests is more prevalent in women’s discourse; is seen is through the use of phrases such as “I think” opposed to an assertion of fact.
The use of “I think” suggests that speaker lacks the confidence to assert something as fact, and they try to disguise it as their own opinion in case someone tries to shut them down. It was hypothesised that this characteristic of speech would be more prominent with the female actresses, as they would be more stereotypically feminine compared to the actors trying to portray themselves as masculine. The analysis of the transcripts, however, indicated that this was not the case as the boxers used this characteristic almost twice as often as the actresses did. This suggests that in this aspect they more closely resemble what would be considered the female stereotype, and may even be over-emphasising this trait within their speech, as though to say ‘I am still a feminine woman despite being involved in a typically masculine sport’.Empty adjectives of approval and apologetic language:The next two characteristics evaluated (the use of empty adjectives of approval, and apologetic language) were rare in both cases, and were not found within any of the interviews with boxers. This follows what might be expected, and taking into context what each interviewee was being questioned on, it makes sense that the actresses would be more likely to use these characteristics in their language as they are trying to sell themselves and the films they were promoting. Expletives:The use of expletives within language is something which is seen by many as being more acceptable for men than women, and hence the study hypothesised that this would be more prevalent within the language of the boxers opposed to the actresses.
It was notable that only expletives are only present in one interview; that of Mila Kunis for the film Ted. The cursing was also first introduced by the interviewer, at which point Mila Kunis adopted swearing into the rest of the interview. This emphasises that the context of the speech is important to consider, and the fact that the transcripts were taken from formal interviews would suggest that the language being used was more likely to be friendly and inoffensive. It was however expected that harsher language would be used in the case of post-fight interviews with female boxers, where they would be more hyped up and angry and likely to let slip a swear word because they had just been fighting, but this wasn’t the case.
Non-standard forms:Lastly, the use of non-standard form was examined. This relates to the use of slang influenced pronunciations, such as “gunna” for “going to” or “wanna” for “want to”. It was expected that this would be less common in interviews of female actresses than female boxers, but in general, there were very few incidences of the informal speech being used, perhaps suggesting that women in general often speak more formally and in standard form. The mediating effect of context may again be present here as boxers wouldn’t want to come across as sloppy in their speech as it might convey how they are in fights, and so they would speak more formally and accurately to perhaps highlighting that they are just as focused and precise with their fighting as they are with their speech. In contrast, the actresses wanted to form a connection with the interviewer and the audience listening, so are more relaxed and less formal with their language to convey that they are more open and haven’t got their guard up.ContextLooking at the context of the interviews more closely, it was apparent from the transcripts that the demeanour and manner in which female actresses spoke was very polite, with the actress and the interview having a connection, as though they were like two friends talking, opposed to the formality of an interview setting. In contrast, the interviews with the female boxers had a much more distant relationship with the interviewers, and the power relationship between interviewer and interviewee was very different.
When exploring the type of language used within the interviews, it was notable that the female boxers used declarative sentences more often than the female boxers did. For example, in the interview of Kavita Channe, she uses the phrase “had to do what I had to do” when answering one of the questions. Channe presents a representation of herself that is confident and self-assured, and characteristics like this were much more common in the boxer’s interviews than the actresses. This type of language has been shown by authors such as Lakoff to be more typical of males than females. ______________________________________________________________________Evaluation:It was found that in general, the characteristics identified by Lakoff as being connected to female language are more closely linked to the actresses, where these women aren’t necessarily trying to be seen as aggressive or antagonistic – characteristics that are considered to be masculine.
The female boxers used language that is more comparable to male speech, and as would be expected from people who take part in what is deemed a masculine sport – fighting. The strengths of the investigation were the sample size used. Through the generation of over 700 lines of data, it was possible to create a representation of female spoken language within the context selected.
For a small study such as this one, this amount of data provides sufficient evidence to be able to draw some broad conclusions. Through analysis of the language characteristics using a tally chart, it was possible to compare one group to another. By weighting the number of interviews more heavily in favour of the actresses, it is asserted that a more reasonable and accurate representation of the use of language by women can be obtained, as in reality a very small percentage of the population are actually boxers, and actresses were the closest comparison available to capture free text speech responses.Some ways in which the investigation could be improved would be through the identification of more characteristics used in the interviews by both groups, and testing to see if these show indications of more masculine or feminine stereotypes. Additionally, a similar comparison between male boxers and actors would provide a comparison between the language used by the groups selected to provide additional data.______________________________________________________________________Conclusion:In conclusion, the investigation supports the general hypothesis that the language used by female boxers is more comparable to stereotypical masculine speech than women’s speech. The investigation showed that Lakoff’s findings are supported in a number of areas, however, the analysis indicates that despite being involved in a hyper-masculine sport, the participants retain their feminine characteristics in a number of areas of speech.