Facial Expression, Eye Contact, and Touching
Deference behavior is important in regard to facial expression eye contact. and touching. This type of nonverbal communication is symbolic of our relationships with others. Who smiles? Who stares? Who makes and sustains eye contact? Who touches whom? All these questions relate to demeanor and deference; the key issue is the status of the person who is doing the smiling. staring. or touching relative to the status of the recipient (Goffman. 1967).
Facial expressions. especially smiles. also reflect gender-based patterns of dominance and subordination in society. Typically. white women have been socialized to smile and frequently do so even when they are not actually happy (Halberstadt and Saitta, 1987). Jobs held predominantly by women (including flight attendant, secretary. elementary schoolteacher. and nurse) are more closely associated with being pleasant and smiling than are "mens jobs." In addition to smiling more frequently. many women tend to lilt their heads in deferential positions when they are talking or listening to others. By contrast. men tend to display less emotion through smiles or other facial expressions and instead seek to show that they are reserved and in control (Wood, 1999).
Women are more likely to sustain eye contact during conversations (but not otherwise) as a means of showing their interest [n and involvement with others. By contrast. men are less likely to maintain prolonged eye contact during conversatiohs but are more likelyto stare
at other people (especially men) in order to challenge them and assert their own status (Pearson. 1985). Eye contact can be a sign of domination or deference. For example, in a participant observation study of domestic (household) workers and their employers. the sociologist [udith Rollins (1985) found that the domestics were supposed to show deference by averting their eyes when they talked to their employers. Deference also required that they present an "exaggeratedly subservient demeanor- by standing less erect and walking tentatively. Touching is another form of nonverbal behavior that has many different shades of meaning. Gender and power differences are evident in tactile communication from birth. Studies have shown that touching has variable meanings to parents: Boys are touched more roughly and playfully, whereas girls are handled more gently and protectively (Condry. Condry. and Pogatshnik, 1983). This pattern continues into adulthood, with women touched more frequently than men.
Sociologist Nancy Henley (1977) attributed this pattern to power differentials between men and women and to the nature of women's roles as mothers, nurses, teachers, and secretaries. Clearly, touching has a different meaning to women than to men. Women may hug and touch others to indicate affection and emotional support, but men are more likely to touch others to give directions, assert power. and express sexual interest (Wood, 1999). The "meaning" we give to touching is related to its "duration, intensity frequency, and the body parts touching and being touched" (Wood. 1994 162),