What about women and body language and power? Lisa Wade did a post about that awhile ago at Sociological Images.
Philosopher Sandra Lee Bartky once observed that being feminine often means using one’s body to portray powerlessness. Consider: A feminine person keeps her body small and contained; she makes sure that it doesn’t take up to much space or impose itself. She walks and sits in tightly packaged ways. She doesn’t cover the breadth of the sidewalk or expand herself beyond the chair she occupies.
Well I’m not feminine then, but I knew that. Although there’s an exception: I do try to keep my body (and especially my feet) small and contained where space is limited and other people are sharing it. Like on the bus. I sprawl a bit if I’m in one of the facing seats and there’s room, but then when people get on or off I pull my feet in under me to get them out of people’s way.
But just walking or standing or sitting around in free space? I take up plenty of it. Some of that probably does have to do with resisting looking powerless.
Acting feminine, then, overlaps with performances of submissiveness. Both men and women use their bodies in more feminine ways when their interacting with a superior, whether it be their boss, their commander, a police officer, or their professor.
New evidence suggests that this is not pure theory. Psychologist Andy Yap and his colleagues tested whether “expansive body postures” like the ones associated with masculinity increase people’s sense of powerfulness and entitlement. They did.
So! If you’re a woman, be sure to take up “expansive body postures” whenever there’s room to do so politely.
Take up space!