My main purpose in this chapter is to mine Goffman’s analysis of public places and of gender for certain relevances to the gender-based public harassment reported by women, speculating about ways in which Goffman’s work could be utilized more extensively in analyses of public places that include and pointedly consider women along with men.1 I examine how Goffman’s concern with explaining how even public behaviour-often discounted or not considered by social scientists-helps reflexively to maintain, reproduce, and perpetuate beliefs about the character of each gender. Goffman’s constant concern throughout his intellectual life with the crucial importance of social context in both determining and creating meaning was maintained in his later work on gender-based ‘institutional reflexivity’ in ‘The arrangement between the sexes’ (1977). Through this concept Goffman acknowledges the necessity of understanding native beliefs and social practices while retaining a sociological view that does not cede authority to their content. Specifically, Goffman opposes the argument that the differential treatment of women and men can be legitimated by a vernacular essentialism which presumes real, underlying biological differences that are determinative of gendered human nature. Such reductive biological notions simply cannot explain the variety of gender-differentiated beliefs and practices. Instead, Goffman suggests that many social beliefs and practices, usually presented as ‘natural’ consequences of the presumed underlying differences between the sexes, are actually produced
through their enactment and subsequent institutionalization. The student of gender difference thus need look no further than the socially-organized character of these ordinary beliefs and practices to appreciate something essential about relations between the sexes.