Communicating Gender Diversity: A Critical Approach . VICTORIA PRUIN DEFRANCISCO & CATHERINE HELEN PALCZEWSKI . Newbury Park , CA : Sage , 2007 . 344 pp., $63.95 (paperback) ISBN: 9781412925594 .

In Communicating Gender Diversity: A Critical Approach, Victoria Pruin DeFrancisco and Catherine Helen Palczewski offer a critical alternative to textbooks exploring issues of gender and communication. For those teaching courses in communication and gender, women's studies, and the psychology of gender, this is a book you should have in your library.

DeFrancisco and Palczewski's goals for systematically examining the literature on communication and gender are twofold. First, they seek to help readers develop a reflexive framework that enables a critical gendered/sexed lens. Specifically, their goal is to provide readers with the tools to identify those gendered performances and expectations that constrain and those that liberate one's intersectional identities. Second, they seek to advance an interdisciplinary intersectional approach that critiques essentialist assumptions and binary constructions of sex/gender. In doing so, they adopt what Celeste Condit coined as a “gender diversity perspective.”Condit (1997) argues that this perspective “emphasizes the active construction of multiple, transient gender categories” with a goal “to dismantle traditional gender dimorphism without leaving persons identity-less” (p. 14). In adopting this perspective, DeFrancisco and Palczewski attempt to engage readers in reinterpreting a diverse interdisciplinary literature, thus dismantling common cultural and scholarly understandings of communication, sex, and gender. In the dismantling process, little about binary constructions of social scientific approaches to sex/gender is left unturned. Yet in the rebuilding of an alternative perspective, the authors’ sometimes mortar unlikely epistemological pairings that undermine the strength of their arguments.

The book is presented in two parts. The first part outlines foundational materials, first setting up a critical vocabulary in the opening chapter, followed by chapters that utilize that vocabulary to deconstruct theory and research practices that have sought to explain gendered development, identities, and verbal and nonverbal behaviors. For example, Chapter 2 (“Alternative Approaches to Understanding Gender/Sex”) critically discusses biological, psychological, descriptive cultural, and critical cultural approaches to understanding gender/sex and interrogates the historical and contemporary rhetorical implications of adopting such perspectives. Their critical, rather than synthesizing, approach is consistent with the authors’ goal to instruct readers on “how” knowledge about gender/sex has come to be. However, for students new to the topic, the little more than cursory discussion of bodies of theories such as psychoanalytic, cognitive development and symbolic interactionism is likely to lead to more confusion than illumination.

Although some of the foundation chapters may cause students confusion, others present complex ideas in a clear and concrete manner. For example, the chapter “Gender/Sexed Language” offers one of the most compelling approaches to this topic when compared to similar textbooks. The authors provide a well-developed and thorough examination of how language not only has been used to constrain and oppress, but also can be both a liberating and an empowering avenue for social change. The authors’ inclusion of rhetorical perspectives in this chapter, rather than overreliance on socio-linguistic and anthropological studies of language, invites readers to see social change at both the macro and micro levels. DeFrancisco and Palczewski thus provide a cogent framework for understanding the intersections of the institutionalized constraints on everyday gendered performances and the manner in which resistance can occur.

The second section of the book explores the social institutions that provide the contextual constraints that limit gendered performances, introducing students to the interlocking and hegemonic character of institutions. True to the authors’ primary goals, each of the chapters on institutions situates the interlocking character of institutions, exploring how family, education, work, religion, and media intertwine to create and sustain cultural hegemonies that privilege some and constrain other identities. Whereas chapters exploring family, work, education, and media are quite common among textbooks on this topic, the authors’ inclusion of the institution of religion is unique and laudable. Religion, as an important social institution constructive of cultural ideals and gendered performances, is often sequestered to the sidelines in communication studies textbooks. Thus, DeFrancisco and Palczewski offer readers an appreciation of the role of religious discourses on intersectional identities and gendered performances, on constructions of gender in the public and private sphere, and on individual agency and constraint.

Communicating Gender Diversity provides a valuable resource for classroom conversations on gender and communication for advanced undergraduates and graduate students. Because this book seeks to systematically interrogate major theoretical perspectives and substantial bodies of scholarship from multiple disciplines, students reading primary sources alongside this book will be better prepared for the kind of critical engagement necessary to develop the reflexive standpoint called upon by DeFrancisco and Palczewski.


  1. Top of page
  • Condit, C. M. (1997). In praise of eloquent diversity: Gender and rhetoric as public persuasion. Women's Studies in Communication, 20, 91116.

Melissa Wood Alemán, Ph.D., is an associate professor of communication studies and an affiliate faculty of Women's Studies at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA.