I decided to observe gendered behavior, body language and mannerisms. The place of my observation was a street bench on the campus territory. There were 3 people, all students. Initially, there was a young man with a laptop sitting on the bench and studying. Then, two girls saw an empty place to sit and joined him without asking for permission. They did not mean to get acquainted, they just wanted to chat with each other, and could not find a free place for that. The young man was rather stressed because of their appearance. He did not want to get distracted from his studies. However, the two girls did not even notice his unhappy look.
It was the afternoon, and many students had their classes already finished. It seemed that the girls wanted to gossip about their personal life and boyfriends, and the guy on the bench just wanted to have some privacy and personal space. Watching this scene for 15 minutes, I understood that gender-related behavior varies depending on the situation. Observing a small number of people helps to watch everybody’s behavior from a closer distance. One of the girls seemed shy to me from the beginning. Another girl was too loud and talkative, and that irritated the young man sitting next to them. In addition, the three people had a different cultural background. The guy was white and dark haired. One girl was Caucasian, presumably from Europe, and another girl was Asian. The young man left after a while, and the girls were happy to have the bench to themselves. However, after some time, a college professor joined them on the bench, and their behavior changed for the third time.
Talking about gendered behavior, I should also mention the nationality factor. Observing social behavior and gender differences, it is always important to take into account differences in upbringing and traditional roles of men and women in different cultures. European culture, for example, presupposes gender equality in all spheres of life, while Asian culture puts a huge emphasis on a woman as a keeper of family hearth.
It was not surprising but interesting to watch how different the behavior of young girls can be. When the young man was still sitting on the bench with them, the girls behaved more feminine, and their gestures and language were womanly and gentle. Both of the girls were sitting compactly and did not occupy much space. They tried to behave unassumingly and sit close to each other, without straddling and taking overly relaxed positions. The girl who was talking loudly did not notice that another girl felt uncomfortable. Her arms were crossed on her chest. Her lips were shut and she was more listening than talking. The young man did not expect any company. He was relaxed and calm when he was alone. He was working with his computer without noticing what was going on in the outside world. However, when the two girls joined him, he decided to leave after 15 minutes of sitting near them. The girls were not offensive or rude, but they were talking loudly and laughing.
Another pattern I noticed was their positions. Both of the girls were sitting with their legs crossed. The young man was sitting with his legs and elbows wide apart. However, when the young man left, the girls started to feel more relaxed and put their legs apart too, more in a masculine way. However, the Asian girl still held her arms crossed on her chest. Besides, both of the girls had the bags, which they were keeping on their shoulders while the young man was still near them. When he left, the girls put their bags on the space he occupied before. Then, the girls started to gesticulate more and express their emotions freely.
I was sitting quite far from them, so I could not hear exactly what they were talking about, but I believe the topic of their conversation is not relevant for the current observation. As I mentioned before, the girls seemed to talk about simple things, and the young man who left did not say anything to them. After some time when the girls were alone, a professor approached them. He asked them if he could use the bench for a couple of minutes. I watched how the girls changed in their facial expression. The professor was a man of about 50 years old, and the girls did not seem to know him. It was surprising to see how their behavior changed when a professor joined them on the bench. He was busy with some of his papers, and was typing something on his cell phone. He paid no attention to the girls and their conversation, but I noticed that the talkative girl lowered her voice and the shy girl took her bag from the bench, making the space free for a professor to sit. The girls started to gesticulate less than before.
Some of the patterns I observed were surprising to me. It was interesting to see how different the girls’ behavior was near a young man and a respected professor. Even though they were not acquainted with either of them, they behaved differently. The subconscious reaction to an older person, a college professor, was striking. When the girls saw the young man on the bench, they did not ask him if the place was free. They did not show enough respect to the young man’s private space and intruded into it. However, their body language still expressed their feminine nature and the wish to seem smaller and less noticeable.
Comparing the moments when the girls were sitting alone to their behavior and gestures while being near another person, I saw radical changes in their faces and body language. When they were near a young man, they behaved feminine. They were keeping the legs crossed and the arms still. When the young man left, they felt relief and freedom. They sat in comfortable poses with their shoulders wide straightened. However, when the professor approached, the girls felt obliged to restrain and behave respectfully. The girl who was speaking loudly lowered her voice. It means she also felt uncomfortable being near an older man who possesses a higher social status than herself.
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According to Kimmel (2005), gender is “invisible” to men. A white middle class man will never see how privileged he is. The problem of gender inequality is mainly discussed by women because they are the ones who notice this problem. Both the young man and older professor did not feel any discomfort sitting near two girls. They did not pay any attention to their attempts to take compact poses and cross their legs, trying to occupy a smaller space. Both men behaved in a natural masculine manner. It was clearer with the professor than with the young man. The young man was very unhappy about girls distracting him from his work, and that is why he also felt discomfort to a certain extent.
I believe that the patterns of women’s behavior that I observed are caused by previous gender inequalities. Even though today representatives of both genders tend to be equal in terms of education, work and family, women subconsciously admit the power of men. I found it especially significant that women express their feminine traits mainly in the presence of men. During my observation, I did not see a vivid gender inequality. I saw a difference of behavior of men and women, and how they use their body language and gestures in different situations. It is interesting for me to study the subject further and understand the causes and historical preconditions for gendered behavior and identities.