Friday Feminist – Sandra Lee Bartky (4)

In an extraordinary series of over two thousand photographs, many candid shots taken in the street, the German photographer Marianne Wex has documents differences in typical masculine and feminine body posture. Women sit waiting for trains with arms close to the body, hands folded together in their laps, toes pointing straight ahead or turned inward, and legs pressed together. The women in these photographs make themselves small and narrow, harmless; they seem tense; they take up little space. Men, on the other hand, expand into the available space; they sit with legs far apart and arms flung out at some distance from the body. Most common in these sitting male figures is what Wex calls the “proferring position”: the men sit with legs thrown wide apart, crotch visible, feet pointing outward, often with an arm and casually dangling hand resting comfortably on open, spread thigh.

In proportion to total body size, a man’s stride is longer than a woman’s. The man has more spring and rhythm to his step; he walks with toes pointed outward, holds his arms at a greater distance from his body, and swings them further; he tends to point the whole hand in the direction he is moving. The woman holds her arms closer to her body, palms against her sides; her walk is circumspect. If she has subjected herself to the additional constraint of high-heeled shoes, her body is thrown forward and off-balance: The struggle to walk under these conditions shortens her stride still more.

Sandra Lee Bartky, “Foucault, Femininity and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power,” in Irene Diamond and Lee Quimby (eds), Feminism and Foucault: Reflections on Resistance, 1988


One response to “Friday Feminist – Sandra Lee Bartky (4)

  1. This is something that I think about every time I’m on public transport. Often women take up space in such a different way to men (less of it).

    And our clothing can be so restrictive that we certainly can’t be doing any striding.

    And our main obsession seems to be with being thin, so we can occupy even less space.

    (Obviously much generalising here).

    I know there’s been a lot of stuff written about this kind of thing, I just can’t remember who by.

    There’s still a lot of pressure not to be too much anything as a woman – not too loud or too opinionated, not too eccentric, too demanding. I get the feeling sometimes that my job is to melt into the background.