She walks and sits in tightly packaged ways


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!

Comments

  1. MyaR says

    Both men and women use their bodies in more feminine ways when their interacting with a superior

    This is an interesting example of (most likely) unconscious framing — why are men and women acting more “feminine” when interacting with a superior rather than women acting more submissive in more contexts? It’s assuming that to be more submissive is more “naturally” feminine.

    I like “expansive body postures”, too. But not on the train. Also, this is funny.

  2. rq says

    I make sure I take up space, except when I don’t want to be bothered. I refuse to walk slowly on the sidewalk, even while pushing a stroller. Anyone who cuts me off, expecting a leisurely and stately and motherly saunter, does so at their own peril. I will not hide who and what I am. No apologies.
    Caveat: I often travel with one or more small children, and there’s no way I can’t take up space, really.
    (I may retract my appendages and/or children on polite request and within reason, and I will do so when there is the possibility of seriously infringing on other people’s space and/or safety while passing.)

  3. AnotherAnonymouse says

    A decade ago, when I was starting yoga, the teacher would always tell us to take up space in this pose or that pose. “Show your Buddha belly! Take up the whole mat!” We were (mostly) women, and many of us realized we spent so much of our lives *not* taking up room. It was really eye-opening.

  4. forestdragon says

    Makes me think of Hothead Paisan’s solution to some dude taking up too much room and intruding into her personal space – let’s just say it involves an axe…

  5. Stacy says

    Good catch there, MyaR.

    Both men and women use their bodies in more feminine ways when their interacting with a superior

    No, both men and women use their bodies in more submissive ways when interacting with a superior. And women tend to use their bodies in more submissive ways generally. Because most of us, women and men alike, have internalized the message that, all other factors being equal, men are socially superior to women.

    (But remember, kids, Patriarchy is a myth! Alls we need is equal opportunity! /snark)

  6. Dunc says

    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.

    Seems reasonable. And yet, a lot of guys don’t stop sprawling on the bus when somebody sits down next to them. I frequently find myself perched on half a bus seat because the guy next to me is apparently convinced he’s got balls the size of cantaloupes. This is usually after I’ve had to ask him to move his bag so that I can sit down in the first place, often on a bus that’s so crowded that people are standing. It seems that, like maths and computing, being rude and inconsiderate on public transport is “more of a guy thing”.

    This is despite the fact that I too am obviously male, am the best part of 6′ tall, am usually carrying a bag, and often an umbrella.

    @3: That tumblr is classic. I’m sharing that…

  7. says

    I know. That’s why I made a point of the fact that I do. It never ceases to amaze me that so many people don’t. (Not 100% a guy thing – I’ve seen women, or usually girls, stick their feet in the aisle and leave them there in people’s way. But more of a guy thing? Yes.)

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