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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: March 2013

10 - Fashioning selves


Up until now, we have talked separately about different aspects of linguistic practice, all of which can be thought of as constituting a conventional toolbox for constructing gendered personae. In this, the final chapter, we will consider how people assemble the various resources in this linguistic toolbox to fashion selves. Each person uses the toolbox in their own way, mixing and matching linguistic resources. Some of this may be automatic – the product of long-ingrained habit – and some may be quite consciously strategic. The outcome is a communicative style, which combines with other components of style such as dress, ways of walking, hairdo, and patterns of consumption to constitute the presentation of a persona. It is in this process of fashioning selves that we do gender, and that we bring about change.

What is style?

Style is sometimes thought of as the external wrapping inside which the meaningful substance is found. People think that how it is said is distinct from what is said. But style is a combination of what we do and how we do it. You hear of people with “pushy” or “passive,” “friendly” or “obsequious” styles. What doctors say in the course of treating patients contributes as much to making them seem like doctors as the white coat and casually draped stethoscope. A tough guy's talk about his exploits is as much of his style – as big a part of his threatening demeanor – as his studded leather jacket. Of course, it's easier to buy the jacket or put on the lab coat than it is to treat patients or beat people up, and one could make those sartorial moves in order to give the impression that the other actions follow. But the sartorial moves will only work to the extent that (1) the social types already exist so that people know how to make the connection between the clothing and the activity, and (2) the performer can convince the audience that the content matches the form. Styles do not stand alone but signal social distinctions – the tough guy's persona distinguishes him from a “sissy” and a doctor's style distinguishes her from a patient, a nurse, an orderly. And the debutante is not a doctor, a tough guy, or her maid.