Review of Gender in Interaction
Date: Sun, 3 Nov 2002 11:56:31 -0800 (PST)
From: Lauren Hall-Lew
Subject: Baron and Kotthoff (2001) Gender in Interaction
Baron, Bettina and Helga Kotthoff, eds. (2001) Gender in Interaction.
John Benjamins Publishing Company, xxiv+352pp, hardback ISBN
90 272 5112 6, Pragmatics and Beyond New Series 93.
Lauren Hall-Lew and Malcah Yaeger-Dror, University of Arizona
This text is one of the many edited texts published in the last few
years which focus on gender and interaction [see references]. In fact,
'Interaction' here is construed not in the narrow sense of
conversational interaction, but in a broader sense which includes non-
discursive forms of interaction and presentation of self. The book
begins with a comprehensive preface by the editors (ix-xxiv), which
informs us that 'with this title we want to allude not only to the
interaction between the sexes, but also to gender as an interactional
Part 1 consists of a review by a senior researcher in this field,
Barrie Thorne (pp.3-18), intending to prepare the reader for "widening
the conceptual scope" of current approaches to gender. Thorne reviews
the difference/dominance discussion, discussing and attempting to
broaden the theory (p.11). She also opens a discussion on formulation
of sex as a display of physical 'aggressivity,' which can influence
interactive presentation of self. Her paper serves as a general
Part 2 "Perspectives on gender in childhood and adolescence," includes
four papers which focus on the acquisition of interactive gender
displays. These articles follow the ground-breaking work of Goodwin
(e.g., 1980) in the 1970's and 1980's, which showed the importance of
societal input on the developing child's understanding of gender. Note
that three of the four papers in this section focus on the acquisition
of female-gendered interactive strategies.
Cook-Gumperz (21-49), "Girls' oppositional stances: the interactional
accomplishment of gender in nursery school and family life," discusses
the use of gendered self-presentation among a group of nursery school
girls. It appears from her transcripts that it is the boys who actually
initiate oppositional stance vis-a-vis other members of the group, but
her data appear to demonstrate that nursery school girls can display
verbal violence [boiling babies, killing baby kitties] without feeling
constrained by its 'inappropriateness' for 'little girls.' She presents
helpful background information, and draws some nice conclusions for how
the child's social world mirrors the adult society.
Kyratzis (51-74), "Constituting the emotions: a longitudinal study of
emotion talk in a preschool friendship group of boys" analyzes
interactions in nursery school, tracking the increase in - and apparent
learning of - gender-appropriate presentation of self by a group of
nursery school boys during one school year, finding that an increase in
gender specific behavior may be correlated with an undocumented
learning taking place outside the school. She does not appear to find
evidence for gendered self-presentation imposed by the teachers
themselves, nor does she appear to support a theory that the increase
in aggression is merely a developmental pattern. She shows the boys
arriving at the social consensus about what is 'girlish' and should be
viewed as unacceptable. Kyratzis is the first author thus far to
mention cross-cultural data, which is imperative to other articles in
Cahill (75-97), "Notably gendered relations: relationship work in early
adolescents' notes" analyzes 164 notes collected in middle and junior
high schools (grades 6-9) in unidentified communities in the US in the
mid-1980's. A (primarily) written discourse medium, mostly used by
girls, the notes are analyzed ethnographically for the importance given
to romantic relations and how the writers' understanding of these
relations is negotiated verbally within the group. Cahill concludes
that girl to girl discourse about heterosexual relationships is more
significant for intra-sex bonding than for cross-sex relationship
building. The assumption is that middle class communities across the
country have basically the same rules for such notes, with the same, or
similar, underlying cultural expectations of appropriateness.
Bloustien (99-136), "Far from sugar and spice: teenage girls,
embodiment and representation," closes this section. Bloustien analyzes
video data collected by 10 working class adolescents in Adelaide,
Australia, to demonstrate ways in which these girls develop, enact, and
discuss their 'sense of self' in their everyday lives. She shows that
the gendered presentation of self is mediated by the girls' developing
shared understanding of gender-appropriate appearance and actions. This
article has a wide scope and a strong conclusion.
Part 3, "Perspectives on masculinity," is comprised of three articles.
Connell, "Masculinities and men's health" (138-152), demonstrates ways
in which male role models in German society cause double binds and
conflicts; the article provides a focus for research projects tying
gender ideologies of 'risk' and gendered division of labor to men's
high risk behavior. The article introduces the concept of the
characterization of masculinity within a specific community.
Behnke and Meuser's "Gender and habitus: fundamental securities and
crisis tendencies among men" (153-174), presents a theoretical
discussion of Bourdieu and the extension of his concept of 'habitus' to
gender presentation. The authors' claim that all masculinities and
femininities should be subsumed under one 'habitus' of gender (p. 174),
reminds one of the theory that there is a panlectal grammar which all
speakers of a language share. Their insistence on this point is
particularly surprising given that the preceding paper discussed German
men's 'habitus' as primarily bound up with earning power and risk,
their own paper points out class differences in habitus, and the
following paper's German Turkish 'habitus' is primarily concerned with
the need to display control over the sexuality of women in the family.
The last paper in this section, "Male honor: towards an understanding
of the construction of gender relations among youths of Turkish origin"
(175-207), by Bohnsack, Loos and Przyborski, follows a group of Turkish
men in Germany. The men's behavior controlling the presentation of
'sexuality' used by the female members of their families is contrasted
with the women's wishes to adapt themselves to self-identificatory
rituals more appropriate to the new culture.
Unfortunately, the authors' not having read each others' papers
prevents us from understanding how the Turkish men visualize the local
men's identity, or how the authors relate to the theories of the
preceding paper which would assume that the habitus of both groups of
men can be subsumed under one 'male' identity, while the naïve reader
of these ethnographies sees much greater similarity between the
'habitus' of the American preschool males (Karatzis' paper), Adelaide
teenaged girls (Bloustien's) and the German men, than between the
German-Turkish men and the German men.
"Perspectives on femininity" is the title of Part 4; the papers
anecdotally document a contrast between a male self-presentation which
is assumed to be unmarked and a female pattern which is assumed to be
marked. The first two papers further limit themselves to a discussion
of gendered discourse strategies in specific academic discourse
Baron (247-281), "Arguing among scholars: Female scientists and their
shaping of expertise," is based on the assumption that any discussion
in an academic setting should be unmarkedly considered an 'argument.'
Baron examines ways in which women academics do not conform to the
confrontational 'rules' that she postulates, and how this might be
damaging to the advancement of female academics' careers.
Gunnarsson, "Academic women in the male university field" (247-280),
compares men's and women's discourse strategies during classroom
seminars. In both of these papers, age and gender appear to be
confounded in a way which would preclude an accurate analysis (i.e.,
younger women vs. older men). Both papers document the fact that even
in the late 90's, women still limit their critical interventions to
less direct strategies and are more likely to use self-deprecation. It
appears that gender is a key determinant of prestige and of dominant
behavior in an academic setting, and that women's advancement in the
professional 'marketplace' is limited by the double bind of balancing a
supportive gendered 'habitus' against academic-behavior that requires
power-based strategies. Gunnarsson also documents that the field with
more women in it (Social Sciences) permits greater use of a solidarity
responses than the field dominated by men (Humanities).
In "Gender, emotion and poeticity in Georgian mourning rituals,"
Kotthoff (283-327) documents a Georgian women's poetic genre, the
mourning lamentation, or motiralebi. She found that the women are those
permitted and even expected to express these lamentations, which
include not only sad memories of the departed, but happy memories in
which the departed took part. The article has a more literary approach
then the others, discussing details of poetic strategy and narrative
Giora, (329-347) "Theorizing Gender: Feminist awareness and language
change," presents a more extensive review of the literature than most
of the papers, but the primary focus of the paper is a review of
previous work on women's writers' use of politeness strategies. The
author's thesis is that, in the late twentieth century, feminist
politicized playwrights should favor in-group members [women] over the
dominant out-group members. She found that while 100% of the men made
their male characters dominant, 'only' 50% of the feminist authors did
so. She relays that a majority of international late 20th century women
script writers scripted dominant female characters. She shows that not
only is there a change in ideology of interaction, with female
characters showing less 'politeness' in more recent plays, but that the
change can be traced to the rise in feminism in the late 20th century.
The editors of the present volume should be credited with bringing a
diverse group of papers to the public. The papers present both cross-
disciplinary and cross-cultural perspectives, and are organized
according to age differences as well as gender differences. However,
given the plethora of articles on the theme of "Gender in Interaction,"
and the many edited volumes which have been devoted to it [see the
References below, as well as the Berkeley Women and Language
Proceedings, IGALA proceedings, and the Lavender Languages and
Linguistics Proceedings], one would expect a tightly constrained group
of coherent papers to be found in one edited volume. Unfortunately,
this expectation is disappointed. Not only do these authors appear not
to have read each others' papers, but it is also frustrating to find
that some of these authors are still bound by cultural expectations
that much of the literature on women and language has been at great
pains to dispel. Furthermore, while some of the articles claim to be
backed by quantitative as well as qualitative evidence, readily
accessible quantitative results are neither referred to nor included in
Most editors who turn to Benjamins realize that copy editing must be
done before the articles get to the publication house; unfortunately,
the present editors have vetted neither authors' English nor egregious
typos. Nevertheless, individual articles in this collection will be of
interest to scholars whose work intersects theirs.
REFERENCES (a partial bibliography on gender in interaction)
Bergvall, Victoria, Janet Bing & Alice Freed, eds. (1996) Rethinking
Language and Gender Research. London: Longman.
Campbell-Kibbler, Kathryn, et al. (eds.) (2002) Language and Sexuality:
Contesting Meaning in Theory and Practice (selected papers from IGALA-
1). University of Chicago: CSLI.
Coates, J., ed. (1998) Language and Gender. Oxford: Blackwell.
Coates, J. and D. Cameron, eds. (1988) Women in their Speech
Communities. New York: Longman.
Eckert, Penny & McConnell-Ginet, Sally (2002) Language and Gender..
Goodwin, M. (1980). "Directive-Response Speech Sequences in Girls' and
Boys' Task Activities." In McConnell-Ginet, Borker, and Furman (1980),
Kotthoff, Helga and Ruth Wodak, eds. (1997) Communicating Gender in
Context. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
McConnell-Ginet, Sally, Ruth Borker and Nelly Furman, eds. (1980) Women
and Language in Literature and Society. New York: Praeger.
Phillips, Susan, Sue Steele and Chris Tanz, eds. (1980) Language Gender
and Sex in Comparative Perspective. Cambridge: CUP.
Sheldon, Amy (1996), ed. Constituting Gender through Talk in Early
Childhood. RoLSI 29(1), Special Issue.
Tannen, Deborah, ed. (1993) Gender and Conversational Interaction.
Thorne, Barrie and Nancy Henley, eds. (1975) Language and Sex. Rowley,
MA: Newbury House.
Wodak, Ruth, ed. (1997) Gender and Discourse. London: Sage.
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWERS Lauren Hall-Lew received her B.A. in Linguistics from the University of Arizona in August, 2002. Her interests include gender studies, sociolinguistics, phonetics and phonology. She currently works with Malcah Yaeger-Dror, Research Scientist in the Cognitive Science Program, University of Arizona.