Roberta Sassatelli

Erving Goffman, The Ritualization of Femininity

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In this classic essay, still photographs taken from commercials around the world in the mid seventies are analysed to explore the deployment of genderisms that sustain the display of femininity. Posed pictures give privileged access to non-verbal ceremonial language as they are organized through hyper-ritualizations of gender relations. A selection of advertising visual images of females, and of females and males interacting, are analysed to provide a catalogue of the main ways in which different, hierarchically organized and complementary views of masculinity and femininity are performed: relative size, the feminine touch, function ranking are only some of the ritual displays which are identified and illustrated in the visual material. They illustrate the workings of a gendered dichotomy whereby passivity and activity are traced back to a "parent-child complex" which, as the introduction to the essay points out, Goffman recognized as ritualizing women's subordination to men.


  • gender
  • femininity
  • genderisms
  • visual analysis
  • photography


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