Keeping Sight of the System
I have conceptualized gender as a system operating at three levels in order to provide a heuristic for examining how sexuality is constructed in mundane interaction, and how the interactional level functions in conjunction with social structural and individual aspects of gender. I hope that this approach will foster thinking across disciplinary boundaries. Gender at the social structural level has traditionally been the province of sociolinguistics, sociology, anthropology, and mass communication studies, whereas the interactional level has been encompassed by social psychology and interpersonal communication studies, and the individual level by clinical, developmental, and personality psychology. In studying any aspect of gender, including sexuality, each researcher must focus on one level, but it is best to keep sight of the system as a whole. Moreover, I hope that conceptualizing gender as a social system will help researchers who focus on gender and sexuality recognize that they share conceptual and methodological concerns with those attempting to understand other systems of social classification, such as age, race, and class.
Ordinary talk is a powerful resource that is brought to bear in influencing other people, enlisting their help, offering them companionship, protecting ourselves from their demands, saving face, justifying our behavior, establishing important relationships, and presenting ourselves as having the qualities that they (and we) admire. The study of everyday talk and its functions is an example of analysis at the interactional level. However, when examining talk at this level, it is especially important to keep sight of the gender system as a whole. Talk makes use of a pre-existing set of rules for interaction that can be analyzed at the structural level. Talk creates self-fulfilling prophecies that become internalized at the individual level. All the levels of the gender system interact. The reality constructed through language forms the basis of social organization (Crawford, 1995; Heritage, 1984; Potter & Wetherell, 1987).