As I was casually flipping through this month’s issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, my mind raced with questions regarding social theory. After recently reading Goffman’s chapter on performances, I began to think about how the performances we are taught by society can contribute to gender inequities. I then went to both cosmopolitan.com and gq.com and was intrigued with what I found. Cosmo’s main page is divided into broader topics such as “sex/love,” “hair/beauty,” “celebs/style,” “quizzes/games,” and “secrets/advice.” GQ, on the other hand, a publication meant to inform men, boasted categories such as “style,” “new+politics,” “entertainment,” “women,” “sports,” “food and travel,” and “cars and gear.” While these vast generalizations within gender roles are a conversation on their own, I was more focused on the disparities between the two.
Goffman writes that, “an idealized impression is offered by accentuating certain facts and concealing others” just as a women is instructed by the magazine to do things like cover her blemishes, pretend that she is enjoying oral sex, and act like “one of the guys” to impress her man. The problem then exists when this “idealized impression,” as suggested in magazines like Cosmo, accentuates physical characteristics and subservient behavior and conceals strong ideas and worldly knowledge. Magazines for men, on the other hand, appear to accentuate knowledge and power, while concealing weakness. Thus, if, as Goffman suggests, “everyone is always and everywhere, more or less consciously, playing a role…It is in these roles that we know each other; it is in these roles that we know ourselves” one could infer that these roles are defined by the cues we receive about how to play that role.
My concern comes when the cues we are listening to instruct us to hold in higher esteem the needs of men over our own, or cues that stress the importance of a woman’s physique and not her mind. If we not only know people by the roles they play but also are knowing ourselves by the roles we are playing, then it feels as though women are doomed by the messages we receive from each other, the media, our families etc. So, Cosmo, would it kill you to provide a news section? Or inform us about food and travel?
How can we use our knowledge of the performances we play to influence the feminist movement?
How can we begin to change the “idealized impression” of a woman to include a more holistic view?