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Methods

A series of 10-15 sample images were drawn from three google searches of 2021 Fashion Campaigns by the following designer brands: Dior, Versace, and Prada. Images were assessed through a qualitative approach by examining the gender displays represented by models based on their gestures and appearances as non-verbal cues of gender (Hoggart in Goffman, 1985: vii). Erving Goffman's (1985) model for decoding gender behaviour was used to guide this analysis, including consideration of relative size, feminine touch, function ranking, the ritualization of subordination, and licensed withdrawal (p.28-83). As an extension of this, two additional categories were considered based on the work of Mee-Eun Kang (1997), those being body display and independence (p. 984). First and foremost, it is important to give a definition to each category of Goffman's model as well as Kang's extended model. The definitions are as follows:

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Relative Size 

Relative size entails the physical differences in the size of individuals portrayed (e.g., within coupled images). Goffman (1985) made special references to the physical differences in height or weight of individual actors or models, men often portrayed as large or taller than women, laying reference to physical superiority (p.28). Likewise, relative size can also refer to social weight, that being the power, authority, or rank, portrayed in the story or concepts of the images and even in its symbolism (Goffman, 1985: 28). That is, female forms are often represented as smaller than that of their male counterparts, giving direct comparison based on size hierarchy.

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Feminine Touch

 

Feminine touch refers to the use of hands and fingers as key elements in images. For Goffman (1985), this was often through the tracing of objects or bodies and giving the sensation of cradling or caressing softly (p. 29). He references the idea of "just barely touching" (Goffman, 1985: 29) which brings forward tension between objects and bodies or bodies and others bodies. We have often seen women exhibiting this type of touch as compared to men who portray a stronger grasping, holding tight, encompassing, manipulating and protecting (Goffman, 1985: 29). 

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Function Ranking

 

Function ranking can be defined in terms of face-to-face interaction and direct comparability. This often entails behaviours or expressive features that result in certain actions and or occupations (Goffman, 1985: 35). This is most evident in exchanges between male and female figures as it represents certain positions and dynamics between positions that give a sense of each individual's rank amongst each other. For example, in the expression of authority between men and women, demonstrated by dominant and subordinate acts (e.g., breadwinner and homemaker dynamics).  Likewise, we see similar dynamics between adults and children. 

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Ritualization of Subordination

 

The ritualization of subordination gives visual cues to subordination by physically lowering oneself in the image (Goffman, 1985: 40). This can be through head or body position, being seated, standing, or laying down, or overall represented in image composition. Physical positioning within images can also be of importance here. For example, placing individuals higher in the frame can symbolize higher positioning socially (Goffman, 1985: 43). Similarly, contortion or balance can also indicate this hierarchy in position between actors within the images. Goffman (1985) brings forward the notion of the "bashful knee bend" as one such pose or display, placing figures off-centre and gesturing to that of being ungrounded and unassuming of harm (p. 45). Positions of other body parts can also give reference to ritualized subordination (e.g., lowering the head, contorting the body, or shifting away from one's centre in any way). These displays can also be perceived as submissive in contrast to the grounded and powerful stance of one that is grounded and ready, giving a sense of activation and preparedness in the image. These dynamics in position can all too often show differences in the roles of each gender, especially when in direct relation to one another.

 

One final note by Goffman (1985) was that in cases of cross-sex encounters, women were more likely to be found smiling than men, displaying their inferiority to men within the dynamic (p. 48). This level of seriousness is also emulated in motifs of childishness and an eagerness to dress up and try on various guises (Goffman, 1985: 51). Here Goffman (1985) found that men were often portrayed in formal attire whereas women were all too often displayed in various costumes and appearances; this amplifies the unseriousness of identification and the transient nature of women's cloth trends and appearance styles (p. 51). 

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Licensed Withdrawal

 

Licensed withdrawal involves the psychological removal of attention or engagement with the audience or scene by female figures (Goffman, 1985: 57). It also entails disorientation from the present environment. This is exemplified through the imagery of daydreaming, not paying attention, and helplessness or vulnerability. Goffman (1985) conveys that covering the mouth, or finger to mouth interactions, acts as another form of inattentiveness or withdrawal from the present, giving reference to disassociation (p. 61). And again, turning the gaze away gives direct representation to this type of withdrawal, leaving actors vulnerable and inattentive to potential dangers. Conversely, male figures are often represented as actively engaging, aware of the world, and in control of their actions and surroundings.

The next two categories are defined by Mee-Eun Kang (1997) as an extension of Goffman's model.

The two categories are defined as follows:

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Body Display

 

Body Display can be defined as the degree of nudity in an image (Kang, 1997: 985). These are through things such as revealing clothing or partial if not full nudity. The degree of nudity exemplifies certain stereotyping, often portraying women with higher levels of nudity through mini-skirts, skin-tight clothing, see-through clothing, or unclothed altogether (Kang, 1997: 985). Other bodily displays give reference to the nature of the "reveal", often using gestures towards certain body parts, such as exposure to the neck, shoulders, stomach, or even undergarments.

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Independence

Independence gives reference to a slightly different perspective. Kang (1997) suggests that one should consider the bigger picture of images to glean the overall messages being portrayed, that is in its independence and assertiveness (p. 986). Overall concept and story becomes important here as images function as symbols and hold multiple meaning to be decoded and interpreted by the viewer (Kang, 1997: 980)

As Goffman's model was introduced at an earlier date in the 20th century, it was valuable to apply it here in the present day of the 21st century. The intent of this analysis was to see how relevant these applications are now, and how much they hold true for present-day campaigns being created. The question is, how much do 2021 fashion campaigns demonstrate these gendered scripts? And, how do they now assimilate into or deviate from these set frameworks that have been previously grounded within the gender binary system?

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