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Gender & Body Language: Non Verbal Communication

“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.”
http://jezebel.com/gender-and-the-body-language-of-power-1292949003

I am not a big fan of “gendering” or “culturing” non verbal communication. I am sure you can start to guess by now why that is. This does not negate the fact that one can read a lot into how one represents, talks about, displays, and uses their body. I am sure you can all remember examples of when you read into non verbal communication and used schemas and heuristics to come to conclusions.

Lets take a look at this example and let me know what you think….

Firstly, read “Gender and the Body Language of Power”. Think about it. Really. Take the time to think about it. So? What do you think?

Read the comments under the article. One of my favorites is “Every time I hear a result like this, my initial reaction is that it’s absurd. People can’t possibly be that easily influenced”… :) :) :) :) :) I think we all know what to call this? Now that we know a little bit better? Oh and before you create your hypothesis, take a look at these photos. Rather, um, telling I think.

Secondly, take a look at the methods used within the research and how they attempted to prove that there was a high measure of external validity. What do you guys and gals think about how they went about it? Is this correlation or causation? What can we KNOW from this study? What can we NOT KNOW from this study?

Last but not least, lets focus on this section of the Jezebel article “Likewise, burping and farting, raising one’s voice in an argument, and even laughing loudly are considered distinctly unfeminine”…. Normal bodily functions are not allowed, you hear that ladies? Take a look at how this was made into a joke that almost the entire world actually believed was true. Not so far off from what most people think could actually happen! What does that tell you?!?!?

11 responses to “Gender & Body Language: Non Verbal Communication

  1. who sets those standars though ?who says how a gender is supposed to act? why do people care how i sit ,talk .walk or eat. I am against gendering and setting laws and regulations for genders .How to walk how to laugh ,who are you to judge me anyways ….. Maybe some cultural norms segregate genders and seperates their roles ,but this has to ch
    ange.

  2. ayaattwa

    I completely agree with Noha! Why should I take care of how I behave in front of people if I know I’m not doing anything wrong. I am able to differentiate between right and wrong by now especially that people today are hypocrites. Doing an act that they see is fine but when someone else does it, a girl for example, they criticize that person. It’s sad actually.

  3. I don’t believe that girls and boys have different body language. No one can put criteria for this or even group girls as different then girls. Some girls of course share certain ways of behaving but this does not set a must or must not to anyone. Each human being is free and should not be judged neither expected to behave in any specific way. Some boys share gestures with girls and some girls have a lot in common in their behavior with boys. It’s not a matter of gender it’s a matter of preference and what each person feels comfortable doing or acting.

  4. i never noticed that people in power have a layer back body language and the person who feels that he/she are “less” is tense. It is not necessarily only in the work place, but when we observe society… people who are considered “popular” have a more layed back posture that people that are considered “not popular”. I think it gives those people the feeling that they own the place or something, so they act that way.
    I guess, men in society have this sense, and think that they are “better” than women, so they have this kind of body language. But also we cannot generalize, not all men are like that and not every woman is like that. But it is true what has been said, the majority of people act like how they are supposed to act.

  5. nohaezz

    I really believe in body language and how it can have very powerful effects on one’s perception of any other person. The thing is, body language is so hard to control; specially face gestures, they occur in a very automatic way.. and that is one of the reasons why certain psychologists tend to study presidents’ body language and infer a great deal of information about them. It is really fascinating to watch how people in power act and even presidential candidates when they appear in talk shows; analyzing their body language is pretty interesting and says a lot about them.

    Relating to this, what I have in mind is that how women act through nonverbal communication is pretty learned that it becomes a second nature and occurs more automatically. They learn when they are young that their being “women” requires them to act in certain ways, wear certain colors and clothes, and talk in certain ways and so on. Who controls this or puts these rules in action is something that I really would like to know but what is more important is why are people conforming if they aren’t convinced; why do they conform if they think these rules are silly? Because girls conform, guys conform too and it becomes more like a gender role and is embedded in the society and acted upon. It is as silly as race; both are culturally constructed and have nothing to do with biological factors and people act upon them and use them very easily! We take things for granted; girls should sit this way, why? Because that is the way things are!

  6. nohaezz

    Concerning the study done, it doesn’t have very high external validity as it was done in a very specific community; Columbia University so it can’t be generalized to all the population!
    It can prove correlation but doesn’t necessarily prove causation as we aren’t sure there aren’t any external factors that might have controlled or affected the outcome/results!

  7. sabrinek

    Since we were young we were taught and showed to act and behave like a girl or a lady, that certain things were allowed and others were not considered feminine. When we see women that are not feminine we would usually say that ohh she’s a tomboy! Our society is and has always been very sexist, most women were always submissive to men whether it is their companion, brother or father and this led to the empowerment of the male gender. These codes or ways to behave for women’s embodiement were set by society at large, we usually tend to give importance to what is permissive and what is not, we are all influenced by the media and how others perceive us ( a girl should sit in this manner, wear pink, be graceful, do her nails …etc) that is the way girls are expected to be then that’s what we have to do. Most of us would say no we are girls but we are an exception to this rule, we don’t follow these standards but we actually do. I personally consider myself not very girly because I’m loud because I’m not delicate and so on, but I love shopping, I love going to the spa, the hairdress, I love other girly stuff and I enjoy it then in reality I’m girly and I follow these standards unconsciously! Now concerning the study how we use our bodies ina particular space and its relation to power and superiority, I would agree that one would think it’s absurd but because we are being critical and we are thinking about it but in fact I agree that usually when you feel relaxed and sit the way you want in some place or in some situation means you’re comfortable and this might seem like you’re confident which may be intimidating for those who aren’t and start acting upon it by being submissive taking less space etc…

  8. Mona

    I was brought up with this “gendering” all the time. “Girls do not raise their voices, girls should sit in a certain way, girls do not laugh loudly or walk around the streets talking and laughing” and so forth. I now think if our body language and voice tell much about us then it could be wrong as I am not this quiet person people see :D just a little bit shy may be and not easily talking with strangers. Therefore, I do not think this “gendering” about verbal or non-verbal communication could be an indicator to anything.

    Regarding how non verbal communication can show power, I have done a small research about this in a previous course but it was not in anyway related to gender; it was only claiming that expansive body language gives us more power and confidence and it was discussed here:

    P.S. I tried those expansive postures myself and thought may be it doesn’t work because I am already short :D

  9. I disagree with the fact that men should sit in a way different than women. From the pictures it is sad to see that the girl seems weak from the way she is seated and that the man is sitting with his legs wide open as if he is more powerful. I know that that doesn’t always happen. it is very sad to know that some people really believed that the “gas” issue is true because it makes no sense. I believe that what is inappropriate for one gender should be appropriate for the other gender too. Also what is considered acceptable for one gender should acceptable for the other gender too. I agree that the experiment doesn’t have high external validity because we can not generalise

  10. ftyebjee

    WOW. You think you have seen it all but it somehow that always fails…
    It is hard to believe that there are people our there that make outrageous laws, or TRY to make these laws. How can women be lashed for farting? Honestly all this is just too much to fathom sometimes. I read an article a few days or weeks ago about a women being lashed in Saudi for being raped. Not just for being raped but also because her lawyer decided to appeal to the courts and contacted the media because he did not agree with the first verdict. Not only did the VICTIM get lashed but this lawyer is no longer able to practice.
    As for the studies done on the way women/men sit, it is actually very interesting. If you think about it, we (women) are always taught to sit with our legs crossed and not open and so on. I honestly never really thought about it as a power struggle or anything else. It was just proper i suppose….
    As for men sitting with their legs open or taking more space, i just thought they kind of had to you know for certain reasons and also they were men so they did not really know how to sit in small spaces? I don’t know, but very interesting nonetheless.

  11. marabm712

    Although I see these things everyday, I have never thought of the issue in this way! Have never thought that taking up more space leads to a sense of “power and entitlement” as the Jezebel article pointed out. Also, I have never thought about how girls taking up less space in almost everything they do is a sign of their weakness and submissiveness… This is sad and at the same time annoying…. But, unfortunately, it is true….

    I’m just wondering, who said that girls, for example, shouldn’t raise their voice while talking? And the weird thing is that this is seen as feminine and otherwise is not! WHY?! And why it is ok for boys to raise their voice?! While reading the post and the articles I pictured “the voice” as taking some imaginary “physical” space in our real world, and since “nice” girls are not “allowed” to take so much real physical space in sitting, walking, etc., they are not allowed to take so much imaginary physical space, as well!

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