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Performance

Goffman argues that ‘femininity and masculinity are in a sense the prototypes of essential expression’ (1976: 7). He goes on to recognise the situational character of gender, noting that ‘one might just as well say there is no gender identity. There is only a schedule for the portrayal of gender’ (1976: 8), and, referring to earlier work, that there are two regions of the performance of one’s identity: the front region, ‘the place where the performance is given’ (1958 : 66), and the back region or backstage: ‘a place, relative to a given performance, where the impression fostered by the performance is knowingly contradicted as a matter of course’ (1958: 69). So, the performance of one’s identity is for the benefit of whichever audience inhabits the front stage area of an individual’s life—that area which requires a degree of ‘impression management’ (1958: 70), a process through which an individual hides their backstage regions of self in order to control the performed self being witnessed. Although Goffman does not make particular distinctions according to gender, it is easy to see how such impression management may be tailored according to the gender of those occupying the front stage area, and the importance of a particular audience in gendered terms.

The concept of the performance and construction of the gendered identity has been considered by numerous commentators since Goffman— Tolson contended that working class masculinity was:

a kind of ‘performance’. As a boy grows up, tied to his particular audience, he develops a repertoire of stories, jokes and routines. In his external personality, he learns to reproduce the expectations of his public — their inherited ways of speaking, their attitudes and values. Overwhelmingly, what characterizes his performance is a sense of ‘fatalism’ — of ‘taking the world as you find it’ — for inside the locally-constructed working-class world there is little room for individual deviation. (1977: 43)

Butler also speaks of gender as being performative, through acts and gestures which:

produce the effect of an internal core or substance, but produce this on the surface of the body, through the play of signifying absences that suggest, but never reveal, the organizing principle of identity as a cause. Such acts, gestures, enactments, generally construed, are performative in the sense that the essence or identity that they otherwise purport to express are fabrications manufactured and sustained through corporeal signs and other discursive means. (Butler 1990: 173)

Holmund (1993) even suggests (albeit with little academic detail) that masculinity is a form of masquerade, but is let down by the lack of academic interrogation of the question that if masculinity is a form of masquerade, what is the ‘truth’ of the issue, under the masquerade? This work retains Butler’s notion of gendered identities as performed, with this performance based upon the internal gendered ‘truth’ regarding the individual, with the performance being the ways in which this internal state is shown to others. As such, gendered identities are constructed and scripted (on, through, and by the body) for the benefit of others, and this audience will potentially shape the chosen manufactured gender identity that is sustained by an individual. Connell seems to share this approach, stating that

‘gender is not fixed in advance of social interaction, but is constructed in interaction’ (2005: 35). Kimmel’s contention that masculinity is both homosocial enactment and homophobia (1994) sustains this argument, contending that men act in certain ways towards other men (and women) for the purpose of proving their masculinities to other men who ‘watch’ and subsequently grant them their masculine status. In reality though, is it just for men? In this book, I contend that, through the lens of the female researcher, we can see things to be a little more complex.

 
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