West, C. and D. Zimmerman. 1987. “Doing Gender.”

West, Candace and Don H. Zimmerman. 1987. “Doing Gender.” Gender and Society 1 (2): 125-151.

“Gender as a routine accomplishment embedded in everyday interaction” (125). Pre-mid 70s, sociological discernment between sex and gender – biological versus psychological, cultural, social. Use of anthropological and hermaphroditic cases to demonstrate difference. Perception of students that gender was less social in how roles, power, resources were distributed. Gender socialization as something “achieved” in childhood development, read as “static”. Involvement of structural arrangements in skills or roles that were often assumed to be innate. Informed by ethnomethodology – a point of “routine, methodical, and recurring accomplishment… an achieved property of situated conduct” (126). Focus off of individual’s internal traits and behaviors to those that are interactional, and thus, institutional. “It is a situated doing, carried out in the virtual or real presence of others who are presumed to be oriented to its production… as an emergent feature of social situations: both as an outcome of and a rational for various social arrangements and as a means of legitimating one of the most fundamental divisions of society” (126). Differentiation of sex (“a determination made through the application of socially agreed upon biological criteria for classifying persons as females or males” – often genitalia at birth, chromosomal typing before birth 127), sex category (“achieved through application of the sex criteria… established and sustained by the socially required identificatory displays that proclaim one’s membership in one or the other category” 127 – presumption of sex, exists as proxy for this – BUT sex and sex category can vary independently. Gender as “the activity of managing situated conduct in the light of normative conceptions of attitudes and activities appropriate for one’s sex category” 127 – emerges and helps assert membership in a sex category. Perception of gender by uncritical viewers is normalized – power relations, skill sets divided and differentiated through attitudes, behaviors, biologies, psychologies – with sociocultural consequences. Gender cannot be reduced to traits, roles, variable.
Goffman’s interpretation of interaction as displays contributes to conventionalization of behavior, ritualization of task and/or discourse (Goffman 1976), but are considered optional – conveyance of sexual natures using understood gestures – a scripted enactment of idealization of gender. However, gender displays are not isolated, they are continual and embedded in everyday interaction. Agnes as an example – “learning” and practicing deliberate feminized practices that are often taken for granted. Sex categorization as given through social cues. If people are seen in a way, then they are categorized in such a way. Confusion or frustration by others when gender displays cannot result in sex categorization. Masculinity and femininity as something that is “done.” Socializing agents such as magazines aid in creating sets of behavior, codes to mimic.
“Doing gender consists of managing such occasions so that, whatever the particulars, the outcome is seen and seeable in context as gender-appropriate or, as the case may be, gender-inappropriate, that is, accountable” (135).

Accountability sourcing from cultural and social critique of individuals – “design their actions in relation to their circumstances so as to permit others, by methodically taking account of their circumstances, to recognize the action for what it is” (Heritage 1984, 179). “To ‘do’ gender is not always to live up to normative conceptions of femininity or masculinity; it is to engage in behavior at the risk of gender assessment” (136). Social occasions and institutions act as socializers to young children, to normalize. The work of femininity – the fact that femininity and “doing” it is work – not seen for what it is, but what women are. Contradictions to accountable behaviors oftentimes work to reinforce the “essential” nature of gender. Practicing of self-regulating processes to aid in conforming to offered feedback.

Allocation – division of labor, resources, action, power, assumptions. “How such issues are resolved conditions the exhibition, dramatization, or celebration of one’s ‘essential nature’ as a woman or a man” (143). This (re)produces systems of power associated with statuses of sex categories. Relation to “obligatory heterosexuality” (Rubin 1975, Rich 1980) – use of gender display normativity to “read” at heterosexual. Ambiguity lends confusion, presumption of non-heterosexuality. However, to be recognized as lesbian, for example, one must establish categorical status as female.

Sex categories have social consequences – domestic, economic, political, interpersonal. Power established through “doing dominance, doing deference” – (Goffman 1967) –

“For efficient subordination, what’s wanted is that the structure not appear to be a cultural artifact kept in place by human decision or custom, but that it appear natural-that it appear to be quite a direct consequence of facts about the beast which are beyond the scope of human manipulation. . . . That we are trained to behave so differently as women and men, and to behave so differently toward women and men, itself contributes mightily to the appearance of extreme dimorphism, but also, the ways we act as women and men, and the ways we act toward women and men, mold our bodies and our minds to the shape of subordination and dominance. We do become what we practice being” (Frye 1983, p. 34) — provides “interactional scaffolding of social structure” (147), focusing on and naturalizing gendered distinction. Social change pursued at interactional and institutional levels.

Frye, Marilyn. 1983. ThePoliticsof Reality:Essays in Feminist Theory. Trumansburg, NY: The Gossing Press.
Goffman, Erving. 1967 (1956). “The Natureof Deference and Demeanor.” Pp. 47-95 in Interaction Ritual. New York Anchor/Doubleday.
Goffman, Erving. 1976. “Gender Display.” Studies in the Anthropology of Visual Communication 3:69-77.
Heritage, John. 1984. Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology. Cambridge, England: Polity Press.
Rich, Adrienne. 1980. “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 5531-60.
Rubin, Cayle. 1975. “TheTraffic in Women: Noteson the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex.” Pp. 157-210 in Towardan Anthropology of Women, edited by R. Reiter. New York: Monthly Review Press.


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