Goffman on Gender and Sexism

In the case of gender inequality, Goffman’s studies focuses on 3 main aspects that could be applied in understanding how women are portrayed in the workforce and could potentially develop different social roles that changes according to their environment or situation through interactions. These approach are his studies on symbolic interactionism, dramaturgical analysis, and social stigma.

Goffman’s studies revolves around a micro-level analysis and his approach to symbolic interactionism focuses very much on human interactions within society in everyday social settings. Unlike Marxism, who sees things from a structuralist point of view and argues that women are objectively alienated from their everyday experiences by the way society is structured. Goffman emphasizes the importance of human interactions through the lens of a dramaturgical analysis, where he sees everyday interactions as a theatrical performance and recognises individuals as actors playing different roles. Such roles may change according to their environment and are shaped through social interactions (performance). This leads to the development of “front” and “back” stage roles, that can be controlled by an individual in the way that they want to be presented. There is no hierarchy or structural way in which the situation is placed. Therefore, Unlike other sociologist (eg. Marx, Durkheim) who both explained the concept of “social role” but did not pursue it beyond the general notion. Goffman takes the analogy of the “theatre” and “real life” more seriously and examines the detailed analysis of face-to-face encounters between persons.

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Another theory that we found applicable in the case of gender inequality was Goffman’s theory on social stigma where he describes the idea of being stigmatized as those that do not have full social acceptance and are constantly striving to adjust their social identities. Goffman’s theory on the stigma of character traits can be applied where gender discrimination happens when a woman is perceived as a certain characteristic just because of her role as a woman. (eg : weak, feminine, unassertive). Stigma could also reproduce a social structure based on hierarchy and power that discriminate against others and limit access towards resources, rights and privileges. By applying Goffman’s theory, Women in the workforce could be discriminated against their male bosses and are unable to climb up the corporate ladder due to reasons like being bounded by marriage, having children, fertility that do not allow them to commit to the same number of hours as compared to a male. Hence, this leads to women concealing social information in attempts to reduce stigmatisation.

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