Academic journal article Women and Language

Warning: Welcome to Your World Baby, Gender Message Enclosed. an Analysis of Gender Messages in Birth Congratulation Cards

Academic journal article Women and Language

Warning: Welcome to Your World Baby, Gender Message Enclosed. an Analysis of Gender Messages in Birth Congratulation Cards

Article excerpt

Abstract: This paper presents the results of a content analysis of "welcome baby" greeting cards. Three hundred greeting cards from the major greeting card companies were examined for gender specification (baby boy, baby girl, no-gender specified), and within those categories for the verbal characteristics of each card (number of words, message style, message quality and word usage of physical and nonphysical descriptors and expressions of emotions and experiences). Additionally, the nonverbal characteristics of each card were examined for picture representation (toys, animals, objects, scenes) and color utilization. Gender differences were identified in each of these categories. As a result, the paper illustrates the construction of gender created by the messages of these cards.

Introduction

"Congratulations on your new bundle of joy." "Welcome to the bouncing baby boy." "Welcome to the sweet angelic baby girl." A friend has just had a baby and you want to send a greeting card acknowledging the event. As you examine card after card at the local greeting card store, you realize you need to negotiate the greeting card industry's social construction of gender. Amid pinks and blues, sugar & spice and snakes & snails, and angelic behavior and roughhousing, a definite message of what having a girl baby means and what having a boy baby means is being delivered (whether you want to or support that message or not). A question can be raised concerning the impact of these greeting card messages on the fostering and perpetuating of sex role identities.

The Greeting Card Industry and Greeting Cards as Message Communicators

The greeting card industry is an industry worth more than seven billion dollars a year (Stodgill, R., 1999). Additionally, over 90% of the consumers of greeting cards are women (Eckardt, 1981; Engstrom, 1986). As a result, greeting cards have great communication potential, particularly for women and about issues related to gender. As a form of mass communication, greeting cards are used [primarily by women] to "maintain, reinforce and re-establish social, particularly familial, relationships" (Papson, 1986, p. 103). Researchers have examined greeting cards to identify the meaning being conveyed about various issues such as aging through birthday cards (Demos & Jache, 1981; Dillon & Jones, 1981, Schrift, 1994), death through sympathy cards (McGee, 1980), and gender-specific issues such as diet, relationships, humor and self-concept through non-occasion or special occasion cards (Mooney & Brabant, 1988, Ortega Murphy, 1994, Schrift, 1994). Further, as Schrift (1994), suggests greeting cards can be identified as a "form of popular culture communicating images of women" (p. 111).

An earlier Women and Language article examined gender differences and children's holiday greeting cards (Ortega Murphy, 1994). She found that children's holiday greeting cards were a part of a "social discourse that constructs everyday gender patterns and perceptions" (p. 28). This paper continues to examine greeting cards as commonplace discourse. With a "welcome-baby" card, the sender is delivering that discourse not only to the baby but also to the parent(s) of that child. As Papson (1986) argues, a sender of a greeting card identifies with the images and the words contained in the cards to be sent. Such identification from a sender then has the potential to impact the receiver(s) of the message that is sent. As Ortega Murphy (1994) suggests that there is importance in such commonplace discourse [as greeting cards] and our increased awareness about possible components of gender construction can help make us more conscious of the messages we send (p. 28). And yet, even if we try not to send a message that r eflects a stereotype of sex-role identity, because of what cards are available for purchasing, we cannot avoid it. Thus, with greeting cards directed toward children or infants, the process of receiving "gendered" messages starts at a very early age. …

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