Foreign Correspondent does interesting work exploring gender performance and challenging social conceptions/constructs regarding gender. Through the character Johnnie, the reader is exposed to spaces designated as strictly masculine and strictly feminine from the vantage point of a woman who does and does not fit in these spaces.
As a woman reporter, it seems that Johnnie’s assignments often focus on topics that can be categorized as feminine (décor, fashion, etc.). Johnnie further makes repeated reference to her use of her “training” in decidedly feminine (or “ladylike”) behaviors as a means of achieving success and respect in her career. It therefore seems that Johnnie’s professional life is constructed as a feminine space. While at times Johnnie accepts this space as her own, at other times it seems that she does not feel comfortable in it or is unable to perform her gender as she feels society would like her to. On page 28 during an interview Johnnie is conducting with Alphonso, she writes “despite my training, I can’t quite pass myself off as a sophisticated lady.” She expresses her disconnect with the feminine space of her job again in a letter to Scooter where she writes “I prefer corresponding with you over doing my real correspondence work as a gal reporter, which today is an article about recycled glass napkin rings. Everyone keeps asking me why I take so long with my assignments. It is very embarrassing,” (45).
Later in the novel, as a result of her obsession with the martial arts fighter Scooter, Johnnie enters the distinctly masculine space of a sparring gym (“in a part of town I associated with loading docks and heavy machinery… In a class made almost entirely of large men, in air which seemed to hang with a mixed paste of sweat and testosterone…” (59)). Johnnie is aware of the fact that she is perceived as an outsider in this space, but nonetheless persists and gains both something like respect from the men in her gym and also a sense of personal satisfaction. By penetrating a masculine space and exposing her dual embrace of and discontent with a feminine space, Johnnie challenges notions of normative gender roles and begins to explore the forces that demand binary gendered performances.