Gender Matters - Sara Mills

Gender Matters - Sara Mills

11. Class, gender and politeness

Gender Matters - Sara Mills

Sara Mills [+-]
Sheffield Hallam University
Sara Mills is a Research Professor in Linguistics at Sheffield Hallam University. Her most recent publications include Gender and Colonial Space (2005, Manchester University Press), Michel Foucault (Critical Thinkers Series, 2003, Routledge), Feminist Post-Colonial Theory: An Anthology (edited with Reina Lewis, 2003, Edinburgh University Press) and Gender and Politeness (2003, Cambridge University Press).


This essay challenges the assumption that politeness is the same for all groups within society. Politeness is associated with the linguistic and non-linguistic behaviour of certain class and gender groups in Britain at a stereotypical level, so that middle-class white women are considered to be more polite than men (even though this only refers to negative politeness behaviour, such as deference and apologising). However, rather than assuming that negative politeness is somehow better than any other forms of politeness, as some linguists have, we need to question the perspective from which linguists analyse politeness, which is often a firmly middle-class one. Working-class people often find these negative politeness norms distancing and do not value them. This is not to suggest that each class only uses one type of politeness (negative for middle classes, positive for working classes) but rather to suggest that there might be different associations and different evaluations of certain politeness forms and that these depend on how one locates oneself in relation to class, gender and race. Furthermore, politeness should be seen as playing a crucial role in the maintenance of class and other distinctions. 

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Mills, Sara. 11. Class, gender and politeness. Gender Matters. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 214 -228 Feb 2012. ISBN 9781845534967. Date accessed: 18 May 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.19774. Feb 2012

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