Paper Type

Master's Thesis


College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. James Beasley

Second Advisor

Dr. Nick de Villiers

Department Chair

Dr. A. Samuel Kimball

College Dean

Dr. Barbara A. Hetrick


The term “feminist” is a widely used label that is often embraced by women who do not advocate feminism. The wide use of the feminist label in contrast to the declining presence of feminist activism indicates a problem with the development of a third wave of feminism in the United States. In this study, I evaluated trends in feminism in the United States through an analysis of public political discourse. A semantic discourse analysis of political discourse from 1870 to 2011 evaluated a shift in the use of inclusive and exclusive pronoun usage by female political speakers. Speeches compiled for this study were obtained from internet sources such as NPR, C-Span and CNN, and evaluated the oratory of Victoria Woodhull, Geraldine Ferraro, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann. The results of this study indicated that there was not a strong shift in the use of inclusive and exclusive pronouns overtime, but there was a large growth in both population and diversity of the targeted audience, and this growth was often not accommodated for in the discourse of contemporary female political candidates. The slow shift in inclusive discourse indicated a post-feminist line of thought that questioned the validity of an argument for a third wave of feminist activism in the United States. Political discourse cannot define a cause for post-feminism, but can indicate a downward trend in the influence of feminism as a contemporary cultural movement.