Doing Physics, Performing Gender?

A sociolinguistic approach towards understanding the persistent gender bias in Physics.


The persistent lack of women in the community of physics, from undergraduates through professionals, may reflect a systematic bias that preferentially favors males over females in physics. If this is true, such a bias may be traceable by the discourse of physics, starting with the way professional male and female physicists represent themselves at conferences. Portions of talks by eight prominent physicists, five female and three male, were analyzed for discourse markers that can be understood as orienting the speakers to stances of power or subordination, which have been associated with traditional cultural portrayals of heteronormal gender in western societies. In this sample, it was found that the male physicists preferentially orient to power through the traditional discourse markers described in the literature, however, new hybrid speech patterns are evident in the discourse of the younger women which seem to be contiguous with the discourse of "nerd" adolescents described by Bucholtz (1996, 1999).

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