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E. Goffman, Gender Advertisements

E. Goffman, Gender Advertisements

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Published by: Bogdana Maria on Feb 09, 2012
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Universitatea din București, Facultatea de Sociologie și Asistență Socială

Gender Advertisements
Erving Goffman

Gușuleac Bogdana-Maria


Sociologie, Anul 1, Seria1, Grupa 3

Goffman is a representative figure of Sociology, especially for introducing the dramaturgical perspective in interpreting the symbolic interactions, best repesented in 1959 book, "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life". In modern industrialized society, advertising is an important mean of socialising and it’s kept as an instrument to mentain certain social structures. It is believed that advertising transposes reality, exagerating the most important features and characteristics of society. Women and men are differentely described in attitudes, which are read through the body language of the participants. Men and women are ilustrated in advertisements the way they behave in their daily life. They make us understand what can be considered to be feminine or masculin. Through his work, "Gender Advertisements," first appeared in 1979, Erving Goffman manages to highlight the gender stereotypes that society has created through the issue of what we are in advertising displays. The book selects some of the times being advertising images and analises the positions in which both women and men are posing, their mimics and gestures. Opinions are divided on Goffmans interpretation, some say it can’t reflect the true views of society and its taking into account that these pictures and spots are made according to a set script. But in his defense, as Goffman says, that scenario is brought up as a result of the observation of society. Indeed, it is possible to be inspired by reality, but some interpretations may be slightly exaggerated. Goffman insists on advertising images considering the viewer a spectator who approaches those images in hope of finding a reflection of everyday life. We can say that the definition of a person, based on the sex only, became an obsession. And as a result, each behavior was given a certain type of features. Thus, there is the idea according to which women are free to cry and hide their faces showing vulnerability, while men are judged if doing so, becoming constrained by the society. The majority of advertising displays illustrates the man in leading positions. This is proved either by gestures made towards the woman or just by phisical features: he is taller or wider than the woman. Otherwise, if the man is shorter than the woman, this is a sign of submission for the man. For a woman, height is directly proportional to social class. For women, gestures such as "bashful knee bend" may suggest submission. In combination with certain gestures of the face, lips and eyes, the image could lead to sexual submission, too.

Women are often presented covering their faces as a sign of shame or absence, which puts them at odds with the man always presented as being in control and active with what happens around him. In case both women and men were presented together in the same advertising spot, the male had the leading role, while the female was doing her task alone, somewhere in the shadow of her „husband”. If the woman was supposed to have a usual feminine task, like cooking, no man was by her side in the spot. Meaning that usually, along this side too, the male can’t be captured doing something only a female would do. What Goffman called "The feminine touch", presents the idea according to which women are lacking identity in advertisements because of how they are presented in relationship with the promoted product. Their hands become a way of highlighting. They are always outlining certain objects, or simply caressing their skin. This act creates in the viewer's mind the idea of desirable and necessary. Following Goffman, if it were to interpret his conclusions, we would come to the idea that a woman is presented in all cases of advertising as an object, usually associated with other pleasures involving men, such as cigarettes or alcohol. Womens performances are presented as a lack of personality and they are always subordinated to men, while he is shown as an Apollo. On the one hand, this kind of thinking may not necessarily come in the help of men considering that for a long time, these stereotypes have constrained men and raised complexes. Women were affected in some ways, too. Some effects are experienced in the present, although it is assumed that the emancipation of women has gained more forms than Goffman’s impressions from three decades ago. Furthermore, independent women may be considered workaholic and because of rejecting marriage in favor of cohabitation they are judged. Studies and cultural variety offered by

antropologists, for example, illustrate that although evolved from all points of view, technological, political,etc., religious and cultural influences are present and its effects are felt throughout daily life. Indeed, the media sustains the perceptions created, it’s no doubt. Therefore, size 0 is blamed of endangering the health of young women because of the ideal sizes that are presented by the media everywhere. Healthy lifestyle does not have the same audience and then weighed, the opposite comes to prevail. All of Goffmans conclusions are based on advertising marketing, which means it can lead us to an uncertain result. Depending on who the product is adressed to, you know how to deal with the consumer. How would a simple beer ad look like if it presents an average man, relaxing at home, after a hard work day, opening a beer while sitting in his chair watching T.V.? Although it's a very common gesture, and probably a truthful scenario, presenting the beer this way will never draw the publics attention. Now, imagine a woman serving the beer to the man while very little dressed up. The consumers imagination is already jumping around. It’s hard to judge the behavior of men and women in society and the constraints that might bring only according to advertisements. The purpose of advertising is to promote and sell and this will happen regardless of means. It's true, unfortunately, it finally reached to affect and blame the womens identity, but only by reference to fictional scenarios with promotional purposes. If what Goffman considers to be the female role in society, according to the adevertising images is true, then that would mean a huge step back for the representation of the female in society. Goffman reached his conclusions only by analising the body language established by people whos interest was to sell.

Simultaneously people run multiple campaigns designed to cancel these concepts and stereotypes about gender roles. Don’t they reflect reality? The population is divided into two types, the supporters of these concepts and the ones who fight them. After analyzing our society it is sad to conclude that although we evolve and develop more and more every day, misconceptions persist because they are induced by the media. And the media is just the result of the concepts and beliefs of the majority. When asked to see most of these shows, the majority decides. Everything, including those commercials started from somewhere and they were not born in this form. Once this type of prejudice has been approved, it has become a tool. „The Ritualization of Subordination Beds and floors provide places in social situations where incumbent persons will be lower thananyone sitting on a chair or standing. Floors also are associated with the less clean, less pure, lessexalted parts of a room - for example, the place to keep dogs, baskets of soiled clothes, streetfootwear and the like. And a recumbent position is one from which physical defense of oneself can least well be initiated and therefore one which renders one very dependent on the benignessof the surround. (Of course, lying on the floor or on a sofa or bed seems also to be aconventionalized expression of sexual availability.) The point here is that it appears that childrenand women are pictured on floors and beds more than are men. Women frequently, men very infrequently, are posed in a display of the "bashful knee bend". Whatever else, the knee bend can be read as a foregoing of full effort to be prepared and on theready in the current social situation, for the position adds a moment to any effort to fight or flee. Once again one finds a posture that seems to presuppose the goodwill of anyone in the surround who could offer harm.

Having somewhat the same distribution in ads as the knee bend are canting postures. Although adistinction can be made between body cant and head cant, the consequences seem to be much thesame. The level of the head is lowered relative to others, including indirectly, the viewer of the picture. The resulting configurations can be read as an acceptance of subordination, an expression of ingratiation, submissiveness and appeasement.” (Goffman, Erving, Gender and Advertisement, 2) Erving Goffman about his work, „Gender Advertisements”: "both shadow and substance: they show not only what we wish or pretend to be, but what we are." (Blackwood Diane, Erving Goffman) Tom Burns, sociologist, author and founder of the Sociology department at the Edinburgh University, about Goffman’s work: „The eleven books form a singularly compact body of writing. All his published work was devoted to topics and themes which were closely connected, and the methodology, angles of approach, and, of course, style of writing remained characteristically his own throughout.” (Blackwood Diane qtd. Tom Burns from Erving Goffman, 1992, by Tom Burns) New York Times, Anatole Broyard explains: "Like children, . . . women are allowed to cop out of reality because the men beside them take responsibility for it. Like children, they `are saved from seriousness, ' allowed to look and behave childishly, assuming physically inefficient and clowning postures." (http://people.brandeis.edu/~teuber/goffmanbio.html#FurtherReadingsAbouttheAuthor) Anne Hollander in the New York Times Book Review, "it is women who are permitted to burst into tears, to stare absently into space while men speak earnestly to them, or to hide their mouths with their hands when startled. . . . And because of the general understanding that gender displays are natural to human behavior, portrayals along such lines in the social interplay of the sexes must be taken as `both shadow and substance': They show not only what we wish or pretend to be, but what we are." (http://people.brandeis.edu/~teuber/goffmanbio.html#FurtherReadingsAbouttheAuthor) Goffman also examines the families in advertising exposure in balance with the way they are perceived in everyday life. He notices how women are much closer to their daughters than

their sons in these ads and how they are showing infantile behavior to support the idea of this approach. On the other hand, the relationship between father and son, in commercials, is colder and apparently more mature. This highlights the idea of growing up and obtaining control and being independent. Therefore, even in family relationships, analyzed by Goffman, there is a subordinate base between the two genders. „The Family Although in commercial scenes a unity is symbolized between fathers and sons and betweenmothers and daughters, there is a suggestion that different types of unity might be involved. In aword, there is a tendency for women to be pictured as more akin to their daughters (and tothemselves in younger years) than is the case with men. Boys, as it were, have to push their wayinto manhood, and problematic effort is involved. Girls merely have to unfold.” ( Goffman, Erving, Gender and Advertisements, 2) After she’s done a few researches, as well, Marianne Wex has reached some ideas that are the same with Goffmans, although she worked separately. She also reached, mostly, the same conclusion: „Unlike Goffman who described advertisements as hyper-ritualizations of gender proxemics in everyday life, Wex found hardly any differences between the ‘unconsciously assumed postures’ she observed in naturalistic settings and the ‘consciously assumed poses’ of advertising (p. 6). Although Wex worked independently of Goffman, she arrived at one fundamentally similar conclusion: women seem to rehearse subordinating poses and also to be represented as subordinate to men.” (Bell Philip, and Milic Marko 206 ) In conclusion, women and men will always experience differences in roles by their gender and it comes naturally. Our religion, norms, culture to summarize, influences our life and it’s true, this image which captures women and men is based on the influence of culture. We don’t know yet, for certain, whether this kind of presentation and conclusion, as Goffman ilustrates, are dared to be believed literally or not because of the nature of adevertising. It needs to sell and in order to do that it must give whatever the consumer needs to see or have.

Diane Blackwood, Diane, Erving Goffman (Article "made for hire" for Magill's Guide to 20th Century Authors (1997) Salem Press, Pasadena, CA.) http://www.blackwood.org/Erving.htm

Erving Goffman http://people.brandeis.edu/~teuber/goffmanbio.html#FurtherReadingsAbouttheAuthor ERVING GOFFMAN & GENDER ADVERTISEMENTS http://www.scribd.com/doc/17244012/Erving-Goffman-and-Gender-Advertisements Bell Philip, and Milic Marko, Goffman’s Gender Advertisements revisited: combining content analysis with semiotic analysis. London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi, 2002

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