Metaphor and gender in business media discourse:
A critical cognitive study.
Hampshire, England: Palgrave Macmillan. 2004. pp. 256.
Reviewed by Charlotte White
Metaphor and Gender in Business Media Discourse: A critical cognitive study
addresses the metaphors that dominate business media discourse and argues
that they create an aggressive and gender-biased working climate. Koller organizes
the book into six chapters that demonstrate, respectively, how metaphors
carry a gender bias, the cognitive effects of metaphors, her research methods,
the prevalence of metaphors on war and evolutionary struggle (or ‘fighting’),
and her conclusion, which analyzes the negative effects of these metaphors and
suggests more positive alternatives. Throughout the book Koller investigates
how metaphors create and perpetuate gender bias by exploiting aggressive
language in business media texts. Another strong aspect of the book is the
author’s analysis of socio-cultural and ideological functions of metaphors.
Koller claims that by achieving a better understanding of aggressive metaphors
we can improve or eliminate the hostile working climate they create as well as
promote equality and partnership.
Throughout the book Koller argues that metaphors are used in the media
as a way to make indirect reference to topics that are not openly discussed.
Metaphors are effectively used to gain consumers’ attention because they use
imagery to provide explanations and thus a clearer understanding of complex
ideas. In addition to using metaphors as explanatory devices, journalists
use them to distance themselves from controversial statements and to avoid
criticism. In short, metaphors allow journalists to avoid direct responsibility
for their words. Koller draws examples from popular print media, such
as The Economist, Business Week, The Financial Times, and Fortune. These
sources allow the author to identify patterns in metaphor use, including the
prevalence of war metaphors in business marketing texts and metaphors of
evolutionary struggle in mergers and acquisitions texts. Koller claims that
these sorts of aggressive metaphors provide a conceptual frame to the reader
and therefore a particular understanding of issues.
In Chapter 1, Koller establishes the concept of ‘masculinized metaphors’ and
briefly explains their use and what they accomplish. The reader is introduced
to the ideational function of metaphor in media and, jointly, learns how this
function shapes the aggressive and competitive mindset inherent to a free
market society. Koller’s hypothesis is that ‘business media discourse is characterized
by coherent metaphor clusters centering around the war metaphor,
and this metaphor helps to ‘masculinize’ both that discourse and related social
practices’ (5). In addition to introducing the reader to the ‘business is war’
metaphor, Koller demonstrates the aggression and male bias that accompany
it. She explains that because both war and business have historically been maledominated,
business media tends to link the two through the use of imagery in
metaphors, and in turn perpetuates the notion that business is predominantly
a male or masculine affair.
Next, Koller provides a detailed outline of contemporary theories of metaphor,
beginning with classical cognitive metaphor theory. This theory asserts,
‘metaphor is a conceptual phenomenon that is realized at the surface level of
language’ (9). Koller explains the importance of blending theory and neural
theory, which the author integrates within a critical approach to language.
Koller then describes the use of primary and complex metaphors to illustrate
how ‘cognition informs ideology in the form of (metaphoric) mental models
which are drawn on in discourse production’ (42). This cyclical process allows
metaphors to continue to produce ideologies that are socially accepted, as is
illustrated by the use of metaphoric expressions in the media, and specifically,
in business publishing.
In Chapter 3, Koller introduces the reader to the methods she used to collect
and analyze metaphoric data in business media texts. Koller refrains from
analyzing culture-specific phenomena, textual genres, and journalists’ gender
identities because a more narrow approach allows her to focus solely on the
frequency of metaphors and metaphoric clusters in business texts. Koller’s
methods include locating metaphors in the texts and compiling words into
lexical fields by categories based upon word classes. Koller focuses specifically
on the linguistic concepts of transitivity and nominalization, in other words, she
explores how aspects of words, such as tense, help to carry ideologies and how,
in turn, words and ideologies serve to conceptualize metaphors. She argues
that tense is ‘important as it promises to provide insights into how dynamic or
static the model in fact is that is assumed to underlie the attested metaphoric
In Chapters 4 and 5, Koller presents the results of her analysis. Chapter 4
investigates metaphors of war, sport, game, and romance used in marketing
texts. Chapter 5 analyzes metaphors of evolutionary struggle (fighting) and
dancing employed in print media relating to mergers and acquisitions.
Chapter 4 illustrates that the socio-economic framework of capitalism in
marketing is paralleled by a war and military framework in the ‘fight’ for
consumers. As Koller states, ‘the mind of the consumer forms the territory on
which the battle is waged’ by the marketer (109). Koller also handily shows the
reader that sports metaphors are linked to aggressive competition and war.
Boxing and football are presented as examples of sports that not only exhibit
war-like behavior, but are also described in military terms, illustrated by the
use of ‘battlefield’ to describe the playing field. Koller argues that metaphoric
expressions of war and sports used in marketing continue to create a gender
bias. What the author leaves unclear, however, is why only male aggression
is linked to fighting, and specifically the supposed exclusion of women from
non-military fighting is never addressed. Finally, Koller argues that the lack
of romantic metaphors in marketing publications shows that they target male
Evolutionary struggle metaphors, such as hostile takeovers, are addressed in
Chapter 5 in an analysis of texts dealing with mergers and acquisitions. Koller
defines ‘evolutionary struggle’ as primarily encompassing fighting, feeding,
and mating. The author suggests that expressions of fighting are dominant
in evolutionary struggle metaphors and that females are deemed powerless
objects of male aggression. This pattern is exemplified by language that casts
the buyer in an acquisition as a dominant male figure and the bought entity
as a powerless female figure. Similarly, ‘feeding’ metaphors used to describe
mergers and acquisitions usually depict the ‘feeder’ as male and the ‘food’ as
female. Violent mating metaphors serve to camouflage sexual violence against
women and ‘sustain a patriarchal order’ (169), Koller argues.
Koller concludes by arguing for our need to find gender-neutral metaphors
that are less aggressive. She claims that the ‘media plays a pivotal role in shaping
the expectations about people’s behaviors’ and places a large portion of the
responsibility on journalists, stating that they ‘should rise to the challenge of at
least proposing non-violent metaphors’ (178). Solutions include reducing the
use of aggressive metaphors and the reinvention of old metaphors. The Internet
is presented as the new ‘driving force behind changing metaphoric concepts
of marketing’ (112). Furthermore, Koller notes that alternative metaphors do
130 Gender and Language
not have to be completely new to be revolutionary, as old metaphors can be
formulated to have positive influences.
Koller believes that these changes could lead to a more humane understanding
of business leadership and competition, and potentially decrease the
unnecessary stress that exists in the corporate world. The author explains that
although capitalism is based upon competition, it does not need to spur metaphors
of ‘excessive aggression’. Competition can instead be illustrated through
non-violent metaphoric forms, such as a racing, which valorizes a competitive
edge, but illustrates it in a positive light. Koller offers hope that the hostility and
gender bias that have been learned through the use of business metaphors can
essentially be ‘unlearned’ by changing aggressive, male-dominated metaphors.
The ‘market economy and its inherent competition need not be conceptualized
in terms of excessive aggression and antagonism’ as there are alternative
metaphoric expressions that offer a strong sense of competition in a non-violent
way (175). Unfortunately, such a cognitive shift may be more difficult to achieve
than Koller describes. In the current political climate it becomes apparent that
not only is business war in metaphoric terms, but war itself has become an
actual business, and it is perhaps therein that our most pressing struggle lies.