GENDER ADVERTISEMENTS by Erving Goffman
Kirkus Star

GENDER ADVERTISEMENTS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Long awaited and densely argued, Goffman's monograph/album, reprinted from a professional journal, uses photographs--selected from random periodicals and ""arranged with malice""--to illuminate how we recognize ourselves: what photographed gestures and postures signify about relationships and, more centrally, how they reflect learned gander expectations. Goffman has, of course, successfully scrutinized small behaviors for some time (Relations in Public, 1971). Although, as Vivian Gornick notes in a well-disposed Introduction, his body language observations here are not original (we don't need him to tell us ""in cross-sexed encounters, women smile more, and more expansively, than men""), nonetheless ""the quality of [his] insight"" into human relationships, expressed in formal social-science terminology, gives the work additional weight. Distinguishing between private and public photographs, Goffman concentrates on advertising images in which the viewer (like a theater audience) knowingly approaches the artificial expecting a mirror of some reality. Such photographs show ""categories of persons"" caught in recognizable poses: knee bends or canting postures show subordination, families appear in ritualized formations, relative heights indicate relative authority. Women, like children, appear most frequently in subordinate positions, men tend to assume positions of dominance, and--significantly--we know how to read the situations pictured: they seem neither peculiar nor unnatural. Advertisers, then, ""conventionalize our conventions""--Goffman calls it ""hyper-ritualization."" This is not aimed at the Julius Fast crowd. The photographs supply unequivocal evidence of learned and patterned gender behaviors, and Goffman astutely surveys the intricate network of assumptions that support them.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1979
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press