Monday, October 30, 2006

It's All In How You Do It

For some reason, body language has been a topic of discussion in several different places in my life this week. In the dojo, with my husband, with friends, on-line. It's weird how different people keep bringing up body-language in general, and my body-language in specific in response to different topics, and with different viewpoints. My husband tells me my body-language is authoritative, that I walk and act like someone who knows what she's doing. My sensei is perhaps the only person in my life who calls me "dainty" (I have to suppress a giggle every time he does, it's just such a weird adjective to use about me). He says that I move like someone trying very hard not to hurt the things around me. My college roommate says I have feminine body-language - she qualified it immediately as feminine-dominant.

I have no idea who in this little tableau of discriptives is describing me accurately. Perhaps they all are. The descriptives come up in response to different situations, so that's a possibility. My roommate is trying to explain why she has been mistaken for a guy on several occassions (from the back), despite being short and small, and having uncut, butt-length hair, while I never have, despite being tall, blocky, and frequently having short hair. Her explanation is that I move like a woman, while she doesn't. Which I can buy. Actually L moves like a heron. If you've ever seen a great blue heron stalking frogs in a small pond? - that's how L walks. I'm not sure how a heron walk overrides tiny with butt-length hair, but she doesn't move like most people, let alone most women.

My sensei, on the other hand, is describing how I move in the dojo, and particularly when performing kata. Why I limit my power so stringently in the dojo, I'm not sure, but I know I do. In kumite the unconscious throttling down works well for me. I pull my blows well without having to slow down to think about it. In kata, and working on the bags, though, it's not what I want to be doing. At my current rate of improvement, I have about another decade of being called "Ms. Dainty" in front of me. Interestingly, I had a similar problem learning to play piano. It took almost a decade of steady work for my piano teacher to get me to play a good forte, let alone a fortissimo. I simply seem to be afraid to make too much of an impression on the universe - or something. It's weird.

The first describer, my husband, on the other hand, was trying to explain a phenomenon that has puzzled me my entire life. I don't attract help. Ever. If I'm hauling furniture, wrangling children, or walking somewhere alone in the dark, I'm entirely on my own. In college it was really notable. As a women's college, Wellesley had a strict policy against students walking alone at night after dark. They had an escort service you were supposed to wait for. If the foot patrols (which were ubiquitous) found you walking alone, they would drop their route, and walk you to where you were going. If a patrol car spotted you, they were supposed to give you a lift - though they weren't as good about it as the foot patrols. Every friend I had got stopped and escorted at least a couple of times each year, even though they didn't try to walk alone much.

I never did. Not once in four years. And I walked everywhere after dark. I would walk from the dorms to the Science Center, to the Student Center, to other dorms, even completely around the lake at least once each year. I was seen by foot patrols, patrol cars, even the official escort service. They would give me a nod, and keep on their way - absolutely invariably. It was really weird - even a little spooky.

It's the same in airports. I once traversed the length of the Phoenix Airport, 7 1/2 months pregnant, carrying a 20-month old kid, with three large suitcases and a car seat. I carried the car seat about ten yards, went back, picked up the first suitcase and brought it up, went back, got the next suitcase, and so forth, carrying S the whole while. I went past the entire lineup of skycaps, and untold numbers of other people, (close to a good 1/4 mile) without a single offer of help. Not even to get me a cart. I'm not decrying the rude people of Phoenix, mind you. They simply provided the most extreme example of a lifelong phenomenon.

I don't do anything deliberate with how I move. I have good posture, the legacy of two stringent grandmothers, and I've worked hard on making my walk ergonomically sound because of a history of hip problems that I don't need to be exacerbating. So I'm deeply puzzled as to how I ended up moving so very differently as to provoke such striking behavior (or lack of behavior) in the people around me. I also wonder if the daintyness Sensei complains about isn't an effort to soften the effect of whatever it is - to make me seem less dominant, or threatening, or something.

Whatever it is, I don't necessarily think I want to change it. The same something that prevents people from offering help, also seems to prevent most kinds of casual harassment. But it would be nice to be able to control it, so that the next time I actually need help, I have some ability to turn it off, and possibly get some.

1 comment:

Miss Chris said...

I see a woman every day picking up her kids at my daughter's school and there was always something strange about her body language but I couldn't figure out what it was. Then I noticed it...when she walks she doesn't swing her arms. It's bizzare! I wonder what that body language means?