Tag Archives: symbolic interactionism

Shakespeare: Covert Sociologist? [edited to add a response to Tough Guise]

[The bit of this post in brackets was added after I realized it didn’t quite fill a class requirement. This post was apparently meant to be a response to the film Tough Guise, a movie about the ways men are gendered in Western society, and the negative products of that gendering.

A big part of the movie is that men are taught to “perform” their gender a certain way (thus the long post on dramaturgical analysis. Though we didn’t watch the whole movie in class, the bits that we did watched seemed decent in terms of basic facts and figures. Nothing we watched really surprised me much (I was already relatively familiar with gender statistics on crime, and many of the other subjects he mentioned), but one point seemed quite interesting: when crime committed by a male is reported in the media, his gender is rarely brought up as a topic of conversation. However, if a crime is committed by a female, it is seen as less common because of her gender, and this piece of information is often brought up.

Overall, I’m sure the movie has done a lot of good by opening up the eyes of students unfamiliar with the topic. A downside to the movie, though, was the speaking style of the man who lectured through it (Jackson Katz). His speech was full of pauses and abrupt stops that made it difficult to focus on what he was saying, because how he was saying it was distracting. I fear that this could affect how receptive students are to his message, because it makes him sound like he’s not confident about his subject matter.

Now, onto the performance of gender!]


In my Intro to Sociology class, taken at a community college near my high school (dual counting credits, yay!), we were taught the concept of “dramaturgical analysis, the study of social interaction in terms of theatrical performance” (Macionis 2011:101).
It is the idea that people interact with one another through social scripts they have been taught. Macionis says that we use different costumes, props, and demeanor to carry out these roles, and that we change these things depending on our set.

Basically, it’s a sociological theory for what Shakespeare meant when he said “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”

This idea may seem silly to people that have just heard of it, but with examples, it becomes more tangible.
If your friend raised their hands to be called on while you were hanging out, it would be out of place. Why is this? What if a stranger started telling you about their love life? Would this be different than listing to the same information from a close friend? If your Chemistry teacher suddenly decided that, today they will lecture on religion, would that seem odd?
Have you ever seen a girl wearing “party” clothes during the day, and judged her for her seemingly out of place clothing? What if your professor came to class in academic regalia, or the student serving your lunch today was wearing a ball gown? What if your doctor wore jeans and a t-shirt instead of scrubs or lab coats?
What if that same doctor was carrying around a boombox? Would it be weird to see someone chillin’ in the club wearing a fully packed backpack? If someone in your lecture hall held up a sign cheering on the teacher, would that be strange?

Creative Commons Attribution: Sarah G, flicker http://www.flickr.com/photos/dm-set/

Creative Commons Attribution: Sarah G, flicker
If your doctor has this in his office, he’s using the wrong script altogether.

Do you change your voice when you talk to babies and animals? If you ever “mouth off” to your parents, would you use that tone with your teachers? When you’re walking with a group of friends do you pay as much attention to your surroundings and walk as quickly as you would if you were walking home at night?
Hopefully you see what I’m getting at. There are specific “scripts,” “costumes,” “props,” and “demeanors,” for specific social situations.

Hopefully you can also see why this applies to a Women’s & Gender studies class. Our social performances are often very related to our genders, in fact, gender itself is regarded as a performance (as a disclaimer, my discussion of this is very Western-centric).

Our costumes are obviously different—any trip through a department store (especially the children’s section) can show you that. Women may wear jeans these days, but most of our clothing is thinner, tighter, and shows more skin than “men’s wear”. Even plain t-shirts are different in the men’s in women’s sections, with men’s t-shirts usually reaching the very base of the neck, and women’s t-shirts sitting along the collarbone. Detailing such as lace, scallops, ruffles, bows and ruching are virtually nonexistent on men’s clothes these days. Colors are often softer in women’s clothing, and pinks and purples are definitely harder to find in the men’s section. If you want to read more from me about gendered costuming, head over to my article on skirts and printed-ts!

Women carry purses, but it was a huge cultural push just to make men carrying messenger bags seem normal (you know, the “man purse”). If a woman grabbed out a compact mirror on the bus, she would definitely not get as much attention for it as a man doing the same. Many men carry folding wallets, but a large trend these days for women is long billfolds that need a purse to transport, or function as a small clutch. In a wedding, women carry a bouquet (why?), and her bridesmaids may also carry one, but the groom and his groomsmen don’t carry such a “prop.”

Women are taught to carry themselves differently—their role’s demeanor is different. Women are told to cross their legs when they sit, but men may be ridiculed for this. A highly prized trait in a woman is grace of movement, while boys are taught the ideal is to be gruff, ruff&tumble sorts. Women are taught to take up less space, and men are taught to take up more (though I personally think we should all be taught to take up less space because it’s polite >.>). “Feminine” voices are supposed to be soft, lower pitched, and pleasant, but “shrill” and “loud” girls are annoying. “Masculine” voices are deep and powerful. A man with a lower pitched voice may be accused of being gay because our culture associates certain vocal qualities as traits of gay men.

An important and incredibly gendered social script is the marriage proposal. The man gets the ring. The man gets on one knee. The man asks the woman to marry him. The woman excitedly cries yes. This is a western idea fed to us from childhood.

These ideas about gendered performance limit both men and women. When there is a set list of ideas about the character of men and women, it makes any variations jarring and seemingly out of place. We humans don’t like to be made uncomfortable, and we’re also very good at separating people that are different from the “normal” and dominant group. If these set lists and expectations for male and female social performances were loosened, if we were taught not to expect them so much, we would lessen a source of discomfort, intolerance, and hatred.

I try to make a conscious effort to understand what I am thinking, and to recognize when I am acting based on my expected gender role. I heard somewhere I can’t quite place (and would cite if I could remember), that even if you continue to do something you know is gendered (like shaving your legs if you’re a girl), it’s better (maybe even okay) if you at least question yourself and try to understand the reason you’re doing it. I think this helps break down “the rules” of social performance, because if you can understand why you perform the way you do, you can try to understand another person’s reasons for doing things differently.

So go forth and question your performance!

(Macionis, John J. 2011. Society: the basics. 11th ed. Boston: Prentice Hall.)