Doing Gender on Stage: Karaoke and Gender Presentation


  • Andrew Bisenius Portland State University



This article investigates how karaoke participants “do gender”. An ethnographic analysis of a karaoke bar in the Northwestern U.S. demonstrates how individuals routinely accomplish gender presentation. Previous research has indicated that karaoke‘s simulated character can provide a conduit for personal growth and interpersonal empathy. Each karaoke performance allows for several dimensions of gender presentation/identification (e.g. song choice, performance attitude, and clothing). In addition, audience participation and their reaction to the performer is observed to gauge the accountability of each performance. My findings indicate that men are more likely than are women to perform ironically, establishing that masculinity is reinforced by the efficaciousness of affecting the social environment through their use of humor. Additionally, the ironic male performance allows for the individual to avoid the risk of incompetence, a compromising component of masculinity that demands aptitude. In contrast, women are more likely than are men to perform mimetically, where an individual experiences a type of transcendence through the act of singing. Also, women performers tend to demonstrate the passive value of appearance in order to strengthen bonds with friends. Finally, I find that female performers tend to generate empathy from female audience members, reinforcing the traditional conception of femininity as nurturing.