In this video I portray Richington McMoneyBags, a candidate for US Senate. I chose to experiment with gender, social class, and political point of view.
When I saw the video assignment to “assume an inauthentic role that differs from [myself]” I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to create a satirical piece (think: Stephen Colbert) where I assumed a different gender (male), a different social status (upper class), and a different political philosophy (extreme conservative). In making these choices I was already engaging theories of identity both for myself and my fictional candidate. In analyzing my own process, I was interested in exploring the social construction of identity (SI) and gender as a performance, but I found myself wrestling with trait theory before I could even begin my video.
To assume an inauthentic role I had to first consider how I perceive my “authentic” role. This began as a “self-conversation,” as I communicated with myself on my positioning in the social constructs of gender, social status, and political affiliation. Without even thinking, I gave myself a version of the Twenty Statements Test (TST) and began listing indentifiers in response to the question “Who am I?” (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, p. 100). For this assignment, I identified female, middle class, liberal, and non-politician (if there is such an occupation) as aspects of my self-concept. However, almost immediately another identification appeared with a high “ordering variable” : “nice” (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, p. 100).
I wanted to make a funny video about a political concept, but I was nearly paralyzed by the idea of not being perceived as “nice.” “Nice” shifted me out of SI and sociocultural tradition over to the sociopsychological tradition of trait theory. Digman’s five factor model shed light on what I was experiencing. I value agreeableness in all my interactions, with “the tendency to like and be sympathetic toward others…and to avoid antagonism” (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, p.81). So while I had an imaginative, inner perspective on the assignment (high openness), little fear of potentially looking stupid on video (high extraversion), and a desire to do a good job with the assignment (high conscientious), I had anxiety (high neuroticism) about producing a video that might offend my classmates or others with a different political affiliation. (Littlejohn& Foss, 2011, pp. 80-81). This inner conflict was the most difficult part of the assignment for me. I resolved my cognitive dissonance by focusing on the satirical elements and the gender performance of the video.
Identity as Social Construct
Having explored my own identity, I set to creating that of my character. As with my own identity, I began creating the character of Richington (Rich) McMoneyBags from a sociocultural point of view. I gave Rich the TST. His top answers:
- Independent thinker
Much of Rich’s identity is relational with sociocultural groups. Being in the “right” schools, organizations, jobs, would have a strong impact on his self-concept. His desire to run for political office comes from a desire to add “elected official” to his identity. Rich is concerned with his “presentational self,” aware of the stage, his role, and the audience at all times (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, p.103). For his campaign, he has chosen to position himself and his message through “impression management” in such as way as to resonate with others who share similar values. He is very much concerned with the codes that identify communities and meanings (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, pp. 102-103). He uses symbols that read as “patriotic” to his audience – the US flag, patriotic music. He uses language steeped in code that has a shared meaning in the community he seeks to influence—liberal, tax-and-spend, liberty, big government, entitlements. He uses hand gestures and tone of voice to code himself as a political leader (more on this idea in my discussion response). Everything Rich does is a performance of identity.
Gender Identity as Performance
The identity performance that most intrigued me was that of gender. According to critical tradition, “regardless of the dimension or dimensions of identity—gender, class, race, sexuality—identity is also performed according to or against norms and expectations” (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, p. 112). In a very “meta” experience, I investigated gender as performed by performing gender myself.
Rich’s primary identity performance is that of straight male. He has gained a template for how this role should be performed from “orientational others”–his family, friends, mentors–and from American culture in general—how to dress, body language and positioning, tone of voice (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, p.100). . Not only is gender significant for Rich, but also sexuality. He is constantly using frame analysis to organize his behavior as “straight,” creating an even narrower “strip of activities” than those that read male in our culture (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, p.101).
I, on the other hand, identify as straight female, so to perform male, I had to examine many of my everyday behaviors and mannerisms. In my discussion post, I give a detailed analysis of how I used Burgoon’s nonverbal coding system to create the “body English” of my straight, male character. For this post, I’d like to explore my experience with gender as part of the examination from the point of view of standpoint theory.
For me to engage in an intentional gender performance, I had to examine my unintended performance of gender (mirroring my experience with identity). I gained my identity as female through “the constructions offered about [female] identity from the various social groups of which [I was] a part—family, community, cultural subgroups, and dominant ideologies.” I perform my gender identity “according to… norms and expectations” of my family and of American culture (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, p.112). In fact, I’m considered “girly” on the female spectrum, especially in matters of dress and grooming. Interestingly enough, my youngest sister, raised in the same family with same expectations and norms performs against dominant female gender traits. She considers herself gender neutral, with a preference for male-gender orientation. She purposely creates a gender performance that is ambiguous and that raises questions in the eyes of Western culture, with short-cropped hair, male attire, and chest binding to minimize physical identification as female. Thus, even with the same cultural influences, gender performance as identity is a personal experience.
Angela performing “girly” next to Hez performing Hez:
To perform as a male, I had to give consideration to my hair, my makeup, my clothes, my body language, my posture, my gestures, my voice, my smile, and more. I didn’t resort to binding, but I did wear a constrictive undergarment to minimize my breasts. I had never tied a necktie before, so I had to borrow one (already tied) from a male acquaintance. I felt very uncomfortable in the tie and button-up shirt, and felt extremely aware of every movement of my body. Even with a purposeful, concerted effort, I think I still “read” female.
As you can see from this blog post, I find this exploration of identity as social construct and gender as performed to be incredibly fascinating and compelling. In reading the text, I could have taken this experience and examined almost every theory presented in both chapters. For me, the biggest awareness in this exercise was the realization that any position I take, even that of imagining “the other” is influenced by my own self-concept. And even in my choice of inauthentic gender, social class, and political perspective, I am expressing my authentic self.
Littlejohn, S. & Foss, K. (2011) Theories of Human Communication (10th ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.