While there are numerous theories regarding gender identity, most view gender as a construction, a code of behaviors prescribed by society that individuals learn and become more adept at as they mature. The two theories regarding gender identity that this project draws upon, those by Erving Goffman and Judith Butler, both view gender as a kind of performance.
Goffman asserts that identity is established through interactions with others, but these interactions are dramatic in nature, between an actor and his/her audience. He argues that every individual is essentially an actor who constructs different performances of identity depending on who the audience is and what the actor’s goals are. Thus, for Goffman, life is a theater, and as actors we perform differently when we are “frontstage” and when we are “backstage.” Frontstage behavior is staged behavior: It is a public persona designed to convince the audience that the actor is credible. It is an idealized self, characterized by the adherence to social norms and moral codes (35). Backstage is where we prepare our frontstage behavior, where we manage the information about ourselves so that we appear to be acceptable when we step on stage (112). Any information about ourselves that runs counter to social expectations is concealed from the audience in a process of “mystification,” which involves placing emphasis on those aspects of our self that are socially sanctioned, thereby legitimizing both our public performance and our private selves (67). Because my project uses a public space as a site for analysis, I expect to find the bloggers primarily engaging in frontstage behavior; however, because of blogs association with diary writing, a private activity, I may be able to observe some of the bloggers’ backstage preparation.
Despite our careful construction of our identity performances, there are still some aspects of ourselves that are communicated involuntarily. Goffman draws a distinction between the information that is “given” (our carefully constructed performance) and that which is “given off” (the characteristics that leak through without intention) (51). This analysis primarily looks at the information that is “given,” at the public persona the blogger is attempting to construct for the reader. But it also explores the juxtaposition of elements within the blogs and the topics that do not get picked up for discussion. In other words, the analysis looks for the story behind the story being foregrounded, for the information “given off,” so that we might come to identify the elements of academics’ identities they are choosing to suppress and why they might be choosing to do so. Goffman tells us that individuals desire to minimize accidental communication, adhere to social norms, and maintain an acceptable self due to fear of embarrassment. He argues that when our performances fail, it is embarrassing and uncomfortable for both the actor and the audience. In this manner, the audience often acts in conspiracy with the actors to make everything appear pleasant and acceptable, even when that is not the case (231). It will be important to examine, then, the aspects of bloggers’ identities that the audience responds to as well as those they ignore.