How gender stereotypes are achieved Mad Men Maike Reutler

Maike Reutler
How gender stereotypes are achieved
linguistically in AMC’s Mad Men
n this paper, I analyze if and how gender
stereotypes are achieved linguistically in
the TV-series Mad Men.
Since Mad Men makes use of many stereotypical features, especially visually, I want to
investigate if these stereotypes also exist in
the language used by the characters.
The first part deals with the different feminist approaches to linguistics over the years,
covering the beginnings of feminist linguistic
theory as well as more recent approaches. In
the next chapter, I will talk about gender
stereotypes and also include the analysis
model with which my data will be analyzed.
Then, there will be a short discourse about
the current state of research regarding gender and TV-Series before moving on to the
main part of this paper, the actual analysis of
gender stereotypes in Mad Men. This chapter
starts with a brief introduction of the TVseries itself and then covers the single topics
from the analysis models and gives examples
for each of them.
Although my data is not naturally occurring
dialogue but scripted speech, according to
Norrick and Spitz (2010:84) “scripted humorous dialogue derives from and builds on
everyday conversational humor”. The same
is of course true for every kind of dialogue,
be it humorous or otherwise. Hence, they
argue that “scripted dialogue is comparable
to naturally-occurring talk in all relevant
aspects on the macro and micro-levels of
discourse” (Norrick et al. 2010:84).
For my analysis as well as for parts of my
composition, I will draw on Behm’s disserta-
tion about gender-specific conversational behavior in … ‘Sex and the City’.
1. Feminist Linguistic Theory
1.1 Research Approaches
According to many researchers, the second
wave of feminism marks the starting point of
feminist linguistic theory, as it brought attention and awareness of women’s rights and
place in society to a broad number of scholars.1 But even before the second wave, there
has been a notion of language and gender,
although not comparable to what it is today.
Jespersen investigated in this field, but his
research was not based on evidence but on
unjustified claims he made, based on the
opinions of others, such as authors, and on
his own prejudices, according to Talbot
(2010:468-9). Most, if not all of the early work
on language and gender is based on the
stereotypes and prejudices of a patriarchal
The first books on language and gender, resulting from the second wave, were not that
much different from what Jespersen has
written 50 years prior. There still was no evidence to the findings and assumptions were
made and turned into theories from what the
researchers had experienced or believed
themselves. Most notably here are Robin
Lakoff’s Language and Woman’s Place (1975)
and Dale Spender’s Man Made Language
Although both books received a lot of criticism following their release, they have been
crucially important as they paved the path
1 The second wave was the Women’s Liberation Movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, which was preceded by the first wave, the
suffragette movement of the early 20th century, and followed by the third wave in the 1990s (Sunderland 2006).
Journal of Serial Narration on Television, Number 2, Summer 2013
© 2013 Living Handbook of Serial Narration on Television, Saarland University
for the feminist linguistic theory to come
(Sunderland 2006:13-16). All the early work
on woman’s language characterizes it as
“lacking, weak, trivial, and hesitant — in
short, deficient when compared to men’s
language” (Litosseliti 2006:28).
1.1.1 Deficit Approach
The deficit approach resulted from Lakoff’s
findings and portrayed women as lacking in
power and assertiveness in comparison to
men (Behm 2009:17). This is due to the fact
that women are raised to ‘speak like a lady’,
which forces them “to be less dominant and
forceful in conversations” (Behm 2009:18).
As a result, women are portrayed as being
incompetent language users. At the same
time, Behm argues (2009:18), if women do
apply male conversational features, they are
being mocked and disrespected and regarded as unfeminine.
1.1.2 Dominance Approach
In the dominance approach, men are considered to be more powerful than women and
hence are seen to be the dominant gender
that controls the conversation and exerts
power over the women in mixed-sex conversations. According to Behm (2009:20), “females are expected and forced to speak in a
more subordinate way while males are privileged to dominate conversations”.
In this approach, women are once again presented as inferior to men, lacking the powerful skills of the superordinate gender, the
men. They are automatically viewed, as Alberts (1992:188) puts it, as “subordinate by
virtue of their femaleness”.
1.1.3 Difference Approach
This approach is based on the assumption
that boys and girls between the ages of five
and 15 grow up differently and that hence,
“men and women are essentially different”
(Behm 2009:22). Litosseliti (2006:37) argues
that they “learn to use language differently
through interacting primarily in single-sex
peer groups”.
This approach does not label women as insufficient or incapable, but regards men and
women as equal but different (Behm
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Maltz and Borker (in Behm 2009:21) claim
that “women and men employ different
speech styles”.
Women are said to be more “collaborationoriented” in conversation, whereas men are
more “competition-oriented” (Borker et
Behm 2009:21).
1.1.4 Communities of Practice
The most recent approach to language and
gender is the communities of practice (CoP)
approach. Eckert et al. (in Mills et al. 2011:70)
define CoP as “an aggregate of people who
come together around mutual engagement in
an endeavor. Ways of doing things, ways of
talking, beliefs, values, power relations — in
short, practices — emerge in the course of
this mutual endeavor.“
They further note that “through participation
in a range of communities of practice …
people participate in society, and forge a
sense of their place and their possibilities in
society” (Eckert et al. 2003:57). Thus, this is a
highly different approach to language and
gender than the three earlier ones.
CoP does no longer concentrate on any assumed differences between men and women
or on the power relations between them, but
looks at language in a more isolated yet coherent way. In CoP “gender roles are acquired during socialization and conventionalized gender-specific manners are internalized more or less by each person” (Behm
But Behm (2009:25) further notes that “the
gender of a person is not the only social variable which constructs his or her identity. An
individualist approach to gender takes the
risk to reduce the perception of human beings in that people are only judged by their
gender.” This is of course not a way to approach language, mainly because one cannot
assume all women to behave in the same
way or all men.
Although the CoP approach is more reasonable than the difference approaches, there are
still many factors that need to be included
and considered in order to avoid the stereotypical views that are fixed in society’s
Maike Reutler: How gender stereotypes are achieved linguistically in AMC’s Mad Men
2. Gender Stereotypes
2.1 Gender vs. Sex
In accordance with language and gender, it is
important to also focus on gender itself. In
recent years, there has been a constant discussion on how sex and gender are not the
same thing.
Judith Butler put forth the theory that sex
and gender are, in fact, not synonymous but
two distinct concepts. According to her,
whereas sex is biologically given to humans
and puts them into the category of either a
man or a woman, gender is socially and culturally constructed (Butler in Eckert et al.
2003:10). As such, Butler (1999:173) describes
“the gendered body [as] performative” and it
can be attributed with either male or female
This can be easily summed up into the
statement that sex is what we are, while gender is what we do (West et al. in Eckert et al.
Eckert et al. (2003:11-13) argue that although
biology creates two prototypes, male and
female, it does not account for the “many
individuals who do not fit those prototypes
in a variety of ways.” Thus “even where
there are biological differences, these differences are exaggerated and extended in the
service of constructing gender” (Eckert et al.
Hence, Litosseliti (2006:11) states that everyone is in charge of their own “’gendering’ or
‘doing gender’” in order to be the person
society acknowledges them for.
But in order to have a homogenous society,
consisting of the prototypes male and female,
gender stereotypes come into being and
support the interest of the patriarchal society,
being ignorant to everything they consider
2.2 Stereotyping
Gender stereotypes are a universal phenomenon: every culture has them, but the
distinct features that they ascribe to them do
vary from one culture to the next.
According to Cameron (1988:8), “to stereotype someone is to interpret their behavior,
personality and so on in terms of a set of
common-sense attributions which are ap-
plied to whole groups.”
Gender stereotypes are oversimplifications,
exaggerations, generalizations and reductions of men and women (Basow 1992:2ff).
They put them into very different, distinct
categories and assign them with a fixed set of
characteristics, for example: women love to
gossip whereas men do not engage in this
It is important that the two stereotypes of
men and women are always two complete
opposites, as in the example above, where
one group does something that the other one
does not.
Talbot (2010:472) says that “gender stereotypes [are] linked to gender ideology [to]
reproduce naturalized gender differences. In
doing so, they function to sustain hegemonic
male dominance and female subordination.”
So it is not surprising that the characteristics
ascribed to men are always positive whereas
the ones ascribed to women tend to be neutral or negative. However, there are different
stereotypes for different social classes, countries, societies, races and so on. Most research
has been done on the US prototype of the
“White, middle-class, heterosexual, and
Christian” person, according to Basow
(1992:4). As I use some of Basow’s stereotype
features later on in my analysis model, this is
an important factor. Since the background of
the people in my data matches the prototype
described above, I can safely use her research.
Stereotypes are not fixed but change over
time. This is also an important factor concerning my data: since the series is set in
1960s New York, it is rather desirable not to
have the latest analysis model but to look for
a model from around that time. For this reason I will mix the rather new analysis model
by Behm with features from Basow’s work.
Within gender stereotypes, there have been
several subtypes. However, the subtypes for
female stereotypes are more precise than the
ones for male stereotypes. Basow (1992:6)
lists three female subtypes: “the housewife
(the traditional woman), the
professional woman (independent, ambitious, self-confident) and the Playboy bunny
(sex object).“ All these three types of
Journal of Serial Narration on Television II/2013
women are also represented in my data.
Male subtypes are less clear and less defined
than female ones, but the “traditional man
stereotype” consists of the following features: “status (the need to achieve success
and others’ respect), toughness (strength and
self-reliance) and antifemininity (avoidance
of stereotypically feminine activities)” (Basow 1992:6).
Of course some people respond more to a
stereotype or subtype than others. These
people share more features of a stereotype,
but overall there is no one who fully corresponds to one fixed stereotype (Basow 1992:9).
2.3 Analysis Model
My analysis model is comprised of characteristics from various researchers, as I find this
to be a better way to approach my data than
using one fixed model. The problem with my
data is, since it is not naturally occurring but
scripted speech that some features, such as
interruptions or minimal responses, are
likely not to be found in order to make the
conversation more fluid on TV.
Therefore I compiled a list from several researchers and, from this list, chose six points,
which I will apply to my data. The several
features are taken from Basow (1992), Behm
(2009), Fishman (1978), Monedas (1992) and
Talbot (2010). I will only give a brief overview here in form of a chart, since I will look
at each of the features in more detail in the
analysis later on.
talk more and longer
make more statements
lesser use of tag
use of neutral
listen more
ask more questions
frequent use of tag
use of empty
use of weaker
frequent use of
use of swear words
lesser use of qualifiers
As mentioned in 3.2, men and women are
expected to behave and talk contrarily: if
men talk more, automatically, women listen
more. Naturally thus, this analysis model
consists of opposites.
The several points will be further discussed
and applied to the data in chapter 5.
3. TV-series and Gender
Recent years have seen a sudden ‘explosion’
in the research on gender in TV-series, especially in dissertations and papers. One such
dissertation is oft quoted in this work, the
work by Behm about gender-specific conversational behavior in … ‘Sex and the City’.
There are many other works that also focus
on Sex and the City, but also on other series,
such as Angel, Buffy or Gilmore Girls.
A lot of works do not only focus on one TVseries, but look at gender in a broader context, such as Milestone and Meyer’s work
Gender and popular culture (2012). It gives a
great historical overview of gender in relation to popular culture and then goes on to
discuss the representation of men and
women and how gender is consumed.
Although websites and blogs may not be as
scientific as the research works mentioned
before, nevertheless they proved to be very
good sources. The internet offers many articles on gender in (specific) TV-series that it is
hard not to be overwhelmed.
Although some articles are not as reliable
and informative, there are many one can
draw on for scientific research. Especially on
Mad Men, there are countless articles, even
blogs. Of course, many topics are repeated
and theories copied, there have nonetheless
been a few helpful links.
Surprisingly, a great number of popular science books have been written on Mad Men
since it has made its debut in 2007. In every
book there is at least one chapter on gender
or the way women are represented in the
series. A selection of works on Mad Men are
Mad Men: Dream come true TV by Edgerton
(2011), Mad Men and Philosophy by Carveth et
al. (2010), The Real Mad Men by Cracknell
(2011), Analyzing Mad Men by Stoddart (2011)
and the practical episode guide Kings of
Madison Avenue by McLean (2009).
These books have given me a very good
background knowledge of the situation of
women in the 1960s, however I will not be
able to use much of it, since they did not
cover linguistic topics.
Maike Reutler: How gender stereotypes are achieved linguistically in AMC’s Mad Men
4. Gender stereotypification in Mad Men
4.1 Mad Men
Mad Men is an American dramatic television
series that is set in 1960s New York. It concentrates on the lives of the men and women
who work at the Sterling Cooper advertising
agency on Madison Avenue, first and foremost Donald Draper, the creative executive
of the company, who is married to Betty
(“the housewife”, see 2.2) and lives with her
and his two children in a house in the suburbs.
The series starts with the first day of Don’s
new secretary, Peggy Olson (“the professional woman”, see 2.2), who will quickly
rise from secretary to copywriter, a path only
few women were able to take back then.
Most women stayed secretaries until they
were lucky enough to marry a man who
could provide for them, or if not, they kept
working in the lower ranking jobs. If they
proved to be extraordinary good at their
jobs, they could become office manager, such
as Joan Holloway (the “Playboy bunny”, see
According to Cicco (2008), “this is an era in
which men are cigarette-smoking, whiskydrinking, bring-home-the-bacon men and the
women are showpieces. The housewives are
expected to (a) look good (b) perform sexually and (c) keep the home and the children
Meanwhile the women in the workplace —
mostly those in the secretarial pool — are
expected to (a) look good (b) perform sexually and (c) professionally cover for the men
when they screw up. “
These are very stereotype descriptions of
men and women and that is the reason why
this series also serves to be analyzed linguistically in terms of gender stereotypes.
“Praised for its exquisite period detail and
subtle, yet powerful allusions to the bubbling
undercurrents in terms of the women’s
movement …, Mad Men skillfully presents us
with a vehicle through which to gain a
deeper insight into men’s and women’s roles
at work and at home in this most radically
changing decade”(Milestone et al. 2012:44).
McDonald (2011:124), McLean (2009:42ff),
Murugan (2011:174), Haralovich (2011:161),
Benezri (2010) and others mention the influence of Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the
Single Girl (1962) on the female characters of
the series, especially Joan and Peggy and the
rest of the secretarial pool.
In the same way, Betty Friedan’s theory of
“the problem that has no name” in The Feminine Mystique (1963) serves as inspiration for
the housewives, such as Betty and her
neighbor Francine, according to Haralovich
(2011:161), Murugan (2011:174), McLean
(2009:94ff), Davidson (2011:137), Cracknell
(2011:195) and others.
Although both books have been published in
1962 and 1963 respectively, and the first season is set in 1960 they can very well serve as
a source of influence since the show was
written 50 years later.
In my analysis, I will concentrate only on the
first season, due to the limited number of
pages available.
4.2 Talking vs. Listening
In their research, Monedas (1992:199), Talbot
(2010:475) and Basow (1992:58) all found out
that men talk more than women and for
longer periods than women and that women
thus listen more. Although modern society,
and Basow (1992:58) as well, is more familiar
with the “talkative female stereotype”, the
above research suggests otherwise.
For my research I looked at every conversation between equal numbers of males of females involved (e.g. one man and one
women) and counted the words they uttered
in mixed-sex conversations. I then created a
chart consisting of the number of words said
by men and the number of words said by
women. Additionally, I created a chart on the
gender dominance of the conversations, indicated by the amounts of words uttered
(e.g. if a woman used more words, then she
dominated the conversation).
Since the data consists of private as well as
business conversations, it was necessary to
distinguish if the conversation was private or
business. According to the characters involved in the conversation it was easy to
decide if it was business or private, since
Don and Peggy only talked at work and had
no private contact, the same goes for Pete
and his wife Trudy, who only talk in a private and not in a business environment. But
there was one case where the conversation
shifted from business to private over the
course of the season: Don and Rachel who
first met as business partners and who later
became lovers.
Overall women dominated 50 out of 91 conversations and men only dominated 41. This
is not that big a gap so that it would be fair to
say that there is an equal dominance of conversations between men and women.
37 private conversations were dominated by
women and 28 by men, whereas business
conversations have seen equal distribution
with 13 been dominated by men and also 13
by women. Hence, women dominate private
conversations slightly more often than men,
which contradicts the findings of Basow,
Talbot and Monedas.
At a closer look, especially Betty changes her
conversational behavior when talking to her
husband or when talking to another man on
a business basis. She dominates the private
conversations with her husband 19 times
more often and the amount of words she
uses is also much higher.
Contrarily, when she talks with men on a
business basis, these men always talk much
more than she does. This might suggest that
she behaves as expected of her feminine
stereotype in public or in matters of business
and does not obey to the stereotype in a private environment.
Betty’s husband Don does indeed not talk
more than women in private conversations.
This is also visible in the conversations with
his lover Midge, which she always dominates. But there is a change with his later
lover Rachel. Both equally dominate the private conversations, which somehow proves
what he tells her, that she is indeed the only
one who really knows him. In their business
conversations, Rachel was the one to dominate.
Don’s and Peggy’s business conversations
are equally dominated by both of them, although numbers suggest that Peggy dominates, the differences in words are so little
that it is safe to say that there is equal domi-
Journal of Serial Narration on Television II/2013
Pete’s and Peggy’s business conversations
are clearly dominated by Pete, just as
Peggy’s and Paul’s business conversations
are dominated by Paul. This might be a bit
strange since the conversations between
Peggy and her boss Don are equally dominated whereas her conversations with the
junior executives who are higher in rank
than her but lower in rank than her boss are
dominated by the men.
Pete’s private conversations with his wife
Trudy are equally dominated by both of
The one male person who fulfills the stereotype expectation is Roger. He dominates all
mixed-sex conversations, except for one, and
talks much more than his conversation partners, indicated by the very high number of
words he uses.
Since men and women equally dominated
the business conversations and women only
slightly dominated the private conversations,
this stereotype of men talking and women
listening proves wrong. It will be interesting
to see if the following investigations show a
similar result or if they will prove the stereotype right.
4.3 Statements vs. Questions
In order to keep the conversation going,
Fishman (1978:94) and Behm (2009:33) both
find women to ask more questions than men.
Men, on the other hand, are said to be making more statements.
So, according to Fishman (1978:94), women
ask questions in order to ensure the conversation, but they also work hard at keeping
the conversation going. So when a man just
utters a statement, the woman will give an
answer, in order to make the conversation
Whereas when a woman makes a statement,
the conversation mostly fails since men do
not participate in the same way women do.
This aspect from Fishman’s (1978:97) observation about topic initiation does also apply
to questions and statements.
In my analysis on this topic I proceeded the
same way as with the analysis on talking vs.
listening. I looked at all mixed-sex conversations that had equal amounts of participants
Maike Reutler: How gender stereotypes are achieved linguistically in AMC’s Mad Men
from each sex and counted how many questions were uttered by each sex in comparison
to the statements. Again, I then distinguished
between business and private conversations
and compiled all the results in a chart.
Overall, there were 1224 utterances by men
and 1222 by women, which serves as a good
basis since it is basically the same amount.
247 of the questions were asked by men and
202 by women, whereas 977 of the statements were made by men and 1020 by
women. This again contradicts the stereotypical expectation of women asking more
questions than men and men making more
statements than women. The result is basically again equally distributed, with men
asking more questions (approximately 20%)
and women making slightly more statements
(approximately 5%).
Next, I investigated in the distribution of
statements and questions in private and
business conversations. In 36 private conversation men asked more questions than
women, and women did so in 26 private
conversations (approximately 28% difference). In 24 private conversations men made
more statements, and women did so in 35
private conversations (approximately 32%
difference). In 19 business conversations then
men asked more questions than women, and
women only did so in seven business conversations (approximately 64% difference).
In 18 business conversations men made more
statements than women, and women did so
in 13 conversations (approximately 17% difference).
Thus, especially in business conversations
the stereotype is reversed to men asking
more questions than women and women
making slightly more statements than men.
In private conversations the stereotype is
also reversed, but not as strongly as in the
business conversations. Thus, it seems as if
men are working harder at keeping the conversation going than women.
While the analysis on talking vs. listening
proved the stereotype to be wrong and
which resulted in equal dominance, this
analysis on questions vs. statements proves
the stereotype not only to be wrong but also
to be the other way around.
These results make it even more interesting
to see what the following analysis will bring.
4.4 Tag Questions
Although questions have been analyzed in
the previous chapter, tag questions are
slightly different. According to Yule
(2006:251), tag questions consist “of an auxiliary (e.g. don’t) and a pronoun (e.g. you) [and
are] added to the end of a statement”. Behm
(2009:60f) also counts the adverb right at the
end of a sentence as a tag questions, since it
serves the same purpose as a tag question,
namely to seek affirmation from the conversational partner. Women are expected to ask
more tag questions than men, because it is
believed that they seek affirmation from their
male conversational partners more often
than vice versa. This again underlines
women’s alleged “insecurity and lack of selfconfidence” (Behm 2009:34).
Thus, in my analysis I counted the tag questions as defined by Yule and also included
the adverb right as a form of tag question.
Again, I concentrated on mixed-sex conversations with equal amounts of participants
from each sex. I counted and wrote down the
tag questions they used and then compiled a
list of the number of tag questions used by
men and women, distinguishing again between business and private conversations.
Tag questions are not used a lot by the participants, but overall men use twice as many
tag questions as women. In private conversations men made use of ten tag questions
whereas women only used half as many. In
business conversations it is even less: men
used five tag questions and women only
If I did not count the adverb right or other
similar forms, which seek affirmation from
the conversational partner, such as huh, or
you know, the result would be different. Then
men and women would use an equal amount
of tag questions, both in private and in business conversations. But overall, they only
used nine proper tag questions, as defined
by Yule. Below are examples as to why the
adverb right and other forms can be used as
tag questions as well.
“Ladies Room” (S1.02)
Paul: I mean, you can always tell when a
woman’s writing copy, but sometimes
she just might be the right man for the
job, you know?
Paul wants Peggy to understand what he is
saying, which is underlined by his expression you know. But he also wants her to participate in this conversation, thus seeking
“Ladies Room” (S1.02)
Paul: But there is someone else, right?
Paul seeks affirmation from Peggy that his
assumptionis indeed right.
“Long Weekend” (S1.10)
Roger: So you saw it, huh?
Instead of saying huh?, Roger could also have
said didn’t you?. Nevertheless, this is an assumption that Joan saw the movie and he
seeks her affirmation.
Hence, even without taking into account the
proper tag questions, the stereotypical expectation does not apply here either. At best,
men and women make equal use of tag question. But when taking into account other
forms that function as tag question, it is clear
that men ask twice as many tag question as
women. Hence, they are apparently seeking
more affirmation by their conversational
partner, which in turn makes them seem insecure and lacking self-confidence.
This is now the third analysis that has
proven the stereotypical expectations of men
and women to be false.
4.5 Adjectives
Women are said to use “empty adjectives …
in order to show [their] admiration or support”, according to Behm (2009:27f). Lakoff
(in Behm 2009:27f) first characterized certain
adjectives as being “empty” or “typically
female”, such as adorable, charming, sweet,
lovely, cute or fabulous. On the other hand are
the neutral adjectives, such as great, good or
nice, which are used by both men and
As before, I looked at mixed-sex conversations with equal amounts of participants
from every sex. I then compiled a list of the
adjectives used and divided them up into the
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categories men and women and the subcategories private and business.
I then picked out all the adjectives that stroke
me as being empty adjectives, the ones that
have a somehow exaggerated meaning of the
regular adjective good.
Those empty adjectives were: gorgeous, super,
amazing, magnificent, lovely, splendid, wonderful, exciting, cute, fetching, sweet, terrific, fascinating and delightful.
Overall, women used these empty adjectives
twice as often as men. The same goes for the
business and private conversations; the adjectives have been used twice as often by
women in private conversations and three
times more often in business conversations.
The overall use of empty adjectives is not
very high in comparison to the overall use of
all adjectives.
Below are examples of specific situations in
which such empty adjectives have been used.
“Marriage of Figaro” (S1.03)
I can see the charm, but … the room is
too dark, too old-fashioned. The products look old.
Rachel: But the people look wonderful.
Rachel uses this adjective to underline her
point of view of how much she likes this
room and its effect. It is an exaggerated version of the word great or good, which is exactly what she wants it to be. The adjective
itself has no deeper meaning, it is indeed
“New Amsterdam” (S1.04)
Tom: You have it made: martini lunches, gor
geous women parading through — in my
next life, I’m coming back as an ad man.
The adjective is used here to describe
women. Apparently it is then ok for a man to
use an empty adjective if it is used for describing women.
“Babylon” (S1.06)
Roger: Did you like the pearl necklace I gave
Joan: It’s gorgeous.
In this case, gorgeous is used by a woman to
describe jewelry she just got. She intends to
tell Roger how much she likes the necklace
he gave her, so she uses an exaggerated and
empty adjective.
Maike Reutler: How gender stereotypes are achieved linguistically in AMC’s Mad Men
“The Hobo Code” (S1.08)
Trudy: We could even walk.
It’s thirty blocks.
Trudy: It’s lovely weather.
Trudy wants to underline how great the
weather is and makes use of an exaggerated
“Shoot” (S1.09)
Ronnie: The good news is your have two
wonderful sets of pictures to start
your book again.
Ronnie just told Betty that they will not keep
her as the model for the Coca Cola campaign
and in order to console her, he exaggerates in
telling her how great the pictures of her are,
using the adjective wonderful.
The analysis shows that this stereotype expectation has indeed proven right. Although
men do make use of empty adjectives, they
use them only half as often as women. And if
they do, it was mostly to console a woman or
to describe a woman. It would thus indeed
be interesting to see if men would even use
any empty adjectives when they were in a
conversation with only males.
4.6 Vulgar Language
Lakoff (in Behm 2009:28) and Basow (1992:
58) investigated in the different use of swear
words, vulgar language and profanity by
men and women. Whereas it is okay for men
to use vulgar expressions, if they are not in
the company of women, according to Basow
(1992:58), it is never okay for a woman to use
such expressions. Lakoff (in Behm 2009:28)
claims that women use “’weaker’ expletives
like Oh dear! or Oh, my goodness!” in order to
express their anger or other strong feelings.
As in the analyses before, I again looked at
mixed-sex conversations and compiled a list
of the vulgar expressions used. I distinguished between men and women and business and private conversations.
The expressions used by men and women
were the following: My God, Jesus, a hell of,
bullshit, damn, bastard, town pump, shit, damn
it, dammit, Oh Jesus, Oh my God, Thank God,
Oh my Lord, My God, Oh my, gosh and oh
shoot. This list makes it clear that most ex-
pressions are vulgar expressions and that
only a few are weak expletives, namely the
last three.
Overall men used 17 vulgar expressions,
none of them were weaker expletives.
Women used a total of 14 vulgar expressions,
three of them would be considered weaker
expletives. This result already makes it clear
that vulgar language is used by both men
and women in mixed-sex conversation,
whereas the research suggested that it would
not be used at all in mixed-sex conversations.
In private conversations, men used a total of
ten vulgar expressions and women a total of
eleven vulgar expressions, one of them being
a weaker expletive. Thus in private conversations men and women seem to make equal
use of vulgar language.
In business conversations, men used overall
six vulgar expressions and women only
three, two of them being weaker expletives.
Hence, there is a visible difference in the use
of vulgar expressions by men and women in
the business context as opposed to their use
of it in their private life.
Especially women barely use vulgar expressions in business conversations. This might
be because most business relations between
men and women in my data consist of the
man being in a higher position than the
woman, except for Don and Rachel, who are
in equal positions.
Below are examples of the use of vulgar expressions in business conversations, since
these are the ones that display more differences.
“Smoke gets in your eyes” (S1.01)
Dr. Emerson: I’m going to write you a prescription for Enovid. They’re
eleven dollars a month. But
don’t think you have to go out
and become the town pump to
get your money’s worth. Excuse my French.
This is a doctor-patient conversation in
which the doctor uses the vulgar expression
town pump to underline what he has said
before. He wants the woman to refrain from
the misuse of the pill and thereby warns her
about promiscuity in a somewhat funny
way. In order to weaken his expression a bit,
he says Excuse my French, indicating that he is
well aware of the vulgar expression he used.
“Babylon” (S1.06)
Rachel: Am I the only Jew you know in New
York City?
You’re my favorite.
Rachel: Jesus, Don, crack a book once in a
This is the only business conversation in
which a woman uses profanity. Rachel used
it here, because she is annoyed and simultaneously shocked about Don’s lack of knowledge. It is okay for Rachel to use this expression, because she is in an equal position
business-wise as Don. However, Jesus does
not seem that harsh an expression since it is
used a lot by the characters (overall six
times), but it nevertheless is profanity.
“The Hobo Code” (S1.08)
I mean marriage is a lot different than
I pictured it.
Peggy: Well, gosh, Pete, give it a chance.
Peggy uses a weak expletive here, in order to
come off like a woman. This was shortly after
Pete’s and Peggy’s affair, and she certainly
would not like him to think of her as a man.
Additionally, Peggy is lower in rank than
Pete, business-wise. She could have said Jesus here, as Rachel did above, but her position in the company does not allow it.
“The Hobo Code” (S1.08)
Sal: Good for her. She deserves it.
Lois: Yeah. If you’re free you could come join
us. We’re going to, um, oh shoot, it’s
Sal: PJ Clark’s?
Lois tries to charm Sal here, which is obvious
from the storyline. She has a crush on him
and tries to convince him to come to the bar
with her to celebrate. Obviously she wants to
seem feminine and behaves according to
stereotype expectations. If she had used a
stronger vulgar expression, Sal could have
been put off by her manly behavior, which in
turn would have been contra productive to
her goal to woo him.
The result shows that men use slightly more
vulgar expressions than women, but that
both sexes make equal use of it overall, especially in private conversations. This again
contradicts the stereotypical expectations of
Journal of Serial Narration on Television II/2013
no use of vulgar language in mixed-sex conversations. However, in business conversations, women use only one vulgar expression
and otherwise only weaker expletives. Men
do indeed use vulgar expressions, although
in the company of women. One possibility
might be to show off their higher rank in the
As this analysis proved to be partly true,
there are now three analyses that contradicted the stereotypical expectations and one
and a half which proved it true.
4.7 Qualifiers
According to Basow (1992:58), women use
more qualifiers than men. In her definition a
qualifier (e.g. I guess, maybe) demonstrates “a
lack of assertiveness and more politeness on
the part of the female” (Basow 1992:58). Since
she does not give any clearer examples of
what exactly qualifiers are, in my analysis
qualifiers are parts of speech that indicate
uncertainty, such as the following:
I suppose, I’m pretty sure, what if, I think, I
don’t think I can, I’m just not sure, it might
have, maybe, I guess, it seems, they probably,
they say and really?.
Overall, women used twice as many qualifiers in their speech as men (28-15). In private
conversations men used nine qualifiers and
women fourteen, and in business conversations men used six qualifiers and women
fourteen. Again, it is best to give examples of
the conversation situations in which qualifiers were used.
“Smoke gets in your eyes” (S1.01)
Rachel: Is that right?
I’m pretty sure about it.
Don’s use of the word pretty indicates that he
is not completely sure about his statement. If
he were, he would leave the qualifier out.
“Ladies Room” (S1.02)
Have you seen it? The Twilight Zone?
Peggy: I don’t think so.
Paul asks Peggy if she has seen the series
‘The Twilight Zone’, and apparently Peggy
cannot remember if she has seen it or not, so
she answers using the qualifier so in ‘I don’t
think so’, indicating her uncertainty.
“Babylon” (1.06)
So you think you’d be lonely?
Maike Reutler: How gender stereotypes are achieved linguistically in AMC’s Mad Men
I think it’d be half as much fun alone.
The utterance I think could also be replaced
by I suppose, both signaling uncertainty about
the following or previous comment. Joan
thinks it might not be as much fun if she
would be living by herself, but she is not
completely sure of it, hence the use of the
With women using twice as many qualifiers
in their speech as men, this stereotypical expectation has proven right, especially in
business conversations where qualifiers are
used three times more often by women.
The overall result will be discussed in the
next and final chapter.
5. Conclusion
The analyses in the previous chapter have
lead to the final result that the stereotypical
expectations are only partly true in my data.
The first three analyses on talking vs. listening, statements vs. questions and tag questions all provided results that contradicted or
even reversed the expectations of the analysis model. While the amount of talk that men
and women produce is equal, instead of men
dominating conversations, men ask more
questions and more tag questions than
women, while it should actually be the other
way around, according to the analysis
But the analyses on adjectives and qualifiers
resulted to be in accordance with the expectations of the analysis model. Women do use
more empty adjectives than men do and they
do use more qualifiers than men, the latter
especially in business conversations. The
outcome of the analyses on vulgar language
was split: in private conversations men and
women used the same amount of vulgar expressions, instead of none at all. The stereotypical expectation seemed to be true only in
the business conversations, where men did
use vulgar expressions but in a small number, and where women mostly used weaker
expletives, as expected of them.
Thus, if the stereotypical expectations have
partly been proven wrong, this can imply
that the characteristics ascribed to men and
women due to the stereotypification are not
true. According to research, men use the prescribed features in order to dominate and
exert power over the inferior sex of the
women. If now half the analyses turned out
to be wrong, does this entail that men and
women are actually equals or that there has
been a shift to women being the superior and
men being the inferior sex, at least in the depiction of them in my data. The differences
between private and business conversations
should of course not be neglected.
Hence, in the TV-series Mad Men, men and
women are linguistically portrayed as equals
in their private lives, but still as different in
the business world, also due to the institutional hierarchy. It could even be argued that
there is a shift towards women becoming the
superior sex in the private life, since the results from the analyses show mostly the opposite of the expectations, especially in the
context of the private conversations. Of
course this only applies to the analyzed data
and not to the general public.
One should also keep in mind, as the series
and consequently the data is set to take place
in 1960, it is rather uncommon to have the
women becoming superior to the men in the
private life. Most women had to get approval
from their husbands for almost everything
bureaucratic, for example they were not allowed to open a bank account without the
permission of their husband. For most
women, especially housewives of the time it
would have indeed been strange to even
have their own opinion. They voted Republican because their husband or father voted
Republican. They drove a Cadillac because
their husband found this to be a suitable car
and they would have never been allowed to
contradict this. It mostly was oppression by
men in these days and the fact that women
did not know anything else, because it has
always been that way in the patriarchal society they grew up in. Of course the second
wave brought with it changes and made
women aware of their position and how to
improve it, but it had not had such a big impact in 1960, the time the data is set in.
So the results of the analyses could also imply that the writers of the show were not that
accurate in their linguistic research as
they were with other research, since the
show reflects so many other aspects of that
era flawlessly, especially in fashion, lifestyle
and interior design.
It would be worth investigating if the show
does indeed reflect the other areas correctly,
or if the visual picture created is convincing
enough to achieve this impression. A lot of
research has been done in the field of historic
accuracy as well as accuracy of the fashions
of the time, and the show has won many
prices due to its accurate depiction.
Since my analysis only covered the first season of the show, it would be interesting to
Journal of Serial Narration on Television II/2013
see if there will be a linguistic change over
the course of the, by now, six seasons, as the
show moves more into the 1960s and therefore more into the several movements of the
time, the women’s movement amongst other
Maike Reutler
The author studied ‘English: Literatures, Linguistics
and Cultures’, as well as ‘Comparative Linguistics and
Literature’ and works as a research assistant at the
International Office at Saarland University for EU’s
Erasmus programme. Her thesis, which is released
here in a revised version, was awarded the “Studienpreis Media Studies” by the Studienstiftung Saar.
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