'Public voices, private voices: an investigation of the discourses of age and gender and their impact on the self-identity of ageing women'

Anderson, Clare Helen (2016). 'Public voices, private voices: an investigation of the discourses of age and gender and their impact on the self-identity of ageing women'. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis investigates discourses of age and gender as realised in language used by and about ageing women, with a particular focus on the inseparable and reciprocal relationship between the private voices of individual lived experience of age(ing), and public discourses of ageing generated by the beauty and media industries. Research data collected and analysed for this thesis has three components: spoken data from 19 face-to-face qualitative interviews (the private voices), and a range of anti-ageing skincare and selected media texts (two forms of public discourse).

The primary focus for the research is mid-life women, (aged 42-56) transitioning between youth and old(er) age. Principal findings suggest that for them ageing is a complex, non-unitary process, influenced by powerful cultural discourses which idealise youthfulness and problematise ageing, delivering gendered aesthetic judgements which profoundly shape individual discourses and evaluations and can be tracked in specific language features. Appearance is the ‘dominant signifier of ageing’, its changes constantly monitored in daily “mirror moments” and negatively evaluated through comparative language of ‘pinnacle’ and ‘loss’ as pressure of the cultural lens on the personal gaze drives an obligation to conform to external expectations. Here, the intersection of ageing and gendered selves, mediated through the cultural/media mirror, is articulated through conflicting discourses of reluctant acceptance and anxious resistance, in a continuing process of self-evaluation made more complex by the external pressures of beauty discourses and ambivalent media. There are implications both for gender and linguistic studies, not least as age-related stereotypes are increasingly challenged by a growing community of baby-boomers transitioning through mid-life to old(er) age.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/6510


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