Today I want to talk to you about bodies, movement and social hierarchies.
Say wha? Well, specifically I want to talk about how the presentation and movement of our bodies signify who we are in an individual sense, but also how our bodies signify something that is bigger than us. We are the product of our environment and our culture, and this will always be written on to our bodies in some way. Through the way we talk, the way we act, the way we walk, even the way we eat, we are constantly communicating messages about ourselves and our social roles- even if these behaviours seem unconscious! We are constantly adhering to a very rigid set of rules, that become so internalized that we don't even realize that we are doing so.
But our bodies are doing more than we think they are. They are the medium for meaning that if we were able to distance ourselves from, even briefly, has the potential to seem absolutely absurd and arbitrary. Why are we acting in these ways? Why do we attribute value to some bodily behaviours and stigmatize others?
And WHAT is so good about acting like a lady???
Let's consider some stereotypes here. This is by no means a kind of value judgement, I just want to give a very clear example of how bodies become different things in different social spaces- and also how perhaps these bodies could be responsible for creating or compromising various social spaces. So, that being said, let's think about what we consider to be the 'correct' way of using our bodies.
Speaking generally, we attribute value to a specific set of behaviours which present themselves in both unconscious and very obvious physical ways. And there is a very obvious class divide here. Consider two different restaurants: one in a 'fancy' neighbourhood, a 'classy' restaurant with a certain reputation, and one in a different area, perhaps with a lower socio-economic demographic- say a diner, or an all-you-can-eat, or the local pub.
Would you say that you are expected to use your body in different ways in different venues? How would you expect people would be acting in the fancy restaurant, compared to the diner? What body movements are different- eating, walking, talking, standing- all of the above?
What about the notion of acting "like a lady"? There is a lot of value placed on the idea of being and acting "lady-like", and it is generally regarded as being the "proper" way to exist as a woman. What effect does this have on how you are able to move your body? Can you move freely? How much space can you take up? Do you sit with your legs together? Do you stretch? Do you put your elbows on the table?
The institution of "lady-like-ness" has a wholle lotta baggage that it brings with it. If you have recognised that to act like a lady changes your body behaviour, lets extend that further and clarify what these bodily expressions mean. What are the expections of being a lady? Words that spring to mind are: refinement, eloquence, 'properness', education, restraint, control.
You have to wonder: are we we doing everything we possibly can with our bodies? Think back to my post Throwing Like a Girl. Are women actually inhabiting the extent to which their bodies can extend?
Do you think our world would change if we all decided to change the way our bodies act? What would happen?
Being a lady is about more than being a woman, it has a very clear class-based meaning. Aspiring to be a lady (generally considered the "correct" way to be) is aspiring to imitate the behaviours of a social elite. What does this do? Do "ladies" receive more oppurtunity? Are we more likely to get that job or get into that party? WHY? Isn't this stuff just... completely arbitrary? Who made the rules here?
Now I'm gonna name-drop another theorist on you, so I hope you have your socks on. Todays feat. guest= Pierre Bordieu.
Bordieu means to make it clear that the seemingly arbitrary structuring of society manifests itself in distinctive ways on the body. He talks of us “playing the game”, meaning that we are participating in an established social structure while believing illusions of subjectivity and individual autonomy within this game. Meanwhile, we do things that align with a clear social hegenomy; things that appear to us to be “reasonable”.
We believe that we individual agents on this field, choosing to move our bodies and act in these “common-sense” ways, while our places in the game are actually the manifestation of practical social forces (like rules, expectations, class) existing externally, and governing our next play on the field. It's like a manuscript, or a blueprint that we follow, while thinking that these movements our determined by our individual thoughts and decisions.
It is a simple enough process to detach ourselves from "the game", if we choose to “suspend our commitment” at least momentarily, and render its entire existence as arbitrary and little more than absurd- but this is rarely the experience of the players of the game, and they and we will continue to create meaning through practical action and social repetition, and this meaning will be written onto the bodies of all involved. The body remembers these social processes and acts in ways (performing tasks, rituals, 'symbolic' physical actions) that will affirm these processes and continuously reproduce them.
Basically- we keep doing the same things over and over, and we think it's because we choose to, because there is a "right" and a "wrong" way to do things. But if you jump back for a second, doesn't it all seem a little silly? Who actually made this shit up? What is so "right" about being a lady?
Dress- Vintage/ Second Hand
Earrings- Handmade from a market
If we recognise that the things we do are actually really very silly, I think that this opens us up to being able to play with our appearance, behaviours and body movements. To have fun with it. Do something unexpected. Wear a dress and burp in someone's face. Go to a classy party in overalls and gumboots. You may as well!
What are some things that you do that you consider "normal" that on further inspection seem totally made up? For me, the biggest realisation was that I didn't need to shave. Note that I said that I didn't need to shave. Now that I know that, I can if I want. I don't, because I don't want to, because I like having hair on my body, and because ultimately I like to just stand in the shower and sing and not have to focus on practising the yoga-esque positions required to shave the back of your legs (seriously though, props to people who do this all the time, it is seriously hard work). But if I decided I wanted baby-smooth legs, I could go right ahead and shave/wax/burn off all my hairs, safe in the knowledge that I'm not doing it because I think that it is a necessary part of my hygiene, but that I'm just having fun and experimenting with my body.
Hope you are all having a great week! Feel free to comment below; I read every one and try to reply as often as I can.
All my love,
ps. click here to read a wiki about Bordieu and "the field"!