In the art of personifying the “opposite gender”, one can find a million subtle ways in which we are trained to perform a gender role.
In this post, I will focus on two of them, spitting and walking, because they illustrate two dimensions of gender differences:
- Walking is an activity which men and women have in common, but execute in different ways, although that difference is usually invisible in our daily lives.
- Spitting, instead, is an activity assigned to the masculine gender exclusively. Spitting isn’t “ladylike”.
We will therefore analyze these two actions from the perspective of gender social roles and my own experience as a Drag King.
The way we are, the way we walk
One of the most consistent examples of behavior which is learned, but generally deemed as “natural”, is the way we walk.
It’s something we do every day, hardly noticing we do it in a special way.
I also wrote in the past about an example proposed by Judith Butles, of a young man murdered for walking “in an effeminate way”, to illustrate the threat of violence which silently but constantly secures the enforcement of gender stereotypes.
And based on those stereotypes we learn, without being aware of it, the way in which we walk.
Women learn to walk taking short steps, placing one foot right in front of the other, moving the hips to balance the weight of our body. This movement is further emphasized when we wear high heels, which requires more concentration and equilibrium.
Walking “like a woman” is concentrated in a straight line, and the weight is balanced by the movement of the hips, highlighting the movement of the bottom, which is previously hipersexualized as a “female part”.
Woman walking style is “closed”, same as the sitting position, it’s a habit of constantly folding ourselves small: crossing our legs while sitting, or taking short, aligned stpes when we walk.
This reflects the woman stereotype who, being an object for men’s use, must occupy the minimum necessary space so as to not get in their way. The men’s way, of course.
For men, just like for women, walking is a way of exercising the role assigned to their identity. In the case of men, it’s an act of possession and self-assurance.
Men walk with their legs separated taking long steps and letting their arms fly around freely to keep the balance.
To start walking like a man from a woman’s standing point, the first thing I had to do was to relax.
I loosened up my shoulders, back and legs, and concentrated my body’s weight in my abdomen and thighs.
From a very rigid posture, more used to wearing high heels, it feels a little like “siting on the air”, placing the legs slightly (very slightly) ahead of the body, and letting the lower belly be the center of gravity.
To learn this posture, it helps to place a fake package in my pants, which focuses the attention in the “masculine center”, and also because waling like a man includes moving like your package weights one or two kilograms, at the least. Of course, they’ll deny this if you ask.
Legs should also move freely and flouncy, unlike the stiffness of walking with heels, lifting the thighs and letting the feet stomp on the ground, as far ahead as possible. Legs should be separated, usually at shoulder width.
Hips and butt should move as little as possible, serving only as a hinge for the legs.
Shoulders and arms should also flow with movement, keeping the balance of the body. This is important, because masculine walking causes the body to sway to the sides, which does not happen with female-walking.
The most comfortable way to do this is to let the shoulders follw the natural flow of the body, and let the arms fly freely, with the elbows away from the body,
But most important of all is: attitude.
This way of walking can be a bit uncomfortable when we’re not used to it.
However, with a little practice it’s possible to find the “beat” of the movement, which actually takes less energy and allows us to walk faster, not to mention it’s way more comfortable.
To sum up: attitude is everything. The trick is to walk in a reassured way, as if every step was a piece of land conquered by our presence, and occupying as much space as possible when moving arms and legs.
The language of spit
I won’t beat round the bush with this: I always thought of spitting as something disgusting. It grossed me out to watch it, and I didn’t even try it, except perhaps some isolated case out of extreme necessity.
When I began to explore my sexuality in daring, savage and dirty ways, I lost much of my disgust for spit and learned many handy uses for it.
Even then, I still found spitting gross to do and to watch.
But then, my experience as a Drag King forced me to take it one step further.
During a pretty bad flu, which provided me with abundant raw material, my compañero taught me the subtle art of spitting.
At first, I would only gather some spit in my moth and then let it fall to the ground.
After that, I tried thrusting it out of my mouth, like pronouncing a “t”, to give it some impulse.
There should be a third phase, in which I should be able to blow the spit without using my tongue or lips. I never actually got to that stage, and the few times I tried I would end up soaked in my own spit.
The point is, once I learnt how to spit, I almost couldn’t stop myself. Mainly in the streets, especially when I’m smoking, but generally everywhere. All the time.
Yes, I know it gets old very fast, and many will be grossed out and what’s the point anyway.
And yes, many times it turns out really wrong and I accidentally spit on myself, or others.
Please be patient with me: I’ve never been a fifteen-year-old boy. I need to catch up.
On a different note, this whole thing made me question the symbolic and social meanings of spitting.
In general, our culture considers spiting as something ugly, to the point that spitting on someone is a serious insult.
Well, unless that spit is being used as lube for sex or something.
Fiction can provide different interpretation of spit.
The Dune saga comes to my mind (I strongly recommend the movie for those who would enjoy watching young Sting in loincloth). Planet Dune is a huge desert, where water is both scarce and precious, and natives use special suits which allow them to reuse the moisture of their own bodies.
In this context, spit was a gift and a symbol of respect.
I like to add up these two meanings in my life.
When I spit, I’m not only rebelling against my role as a woman, or complying with the role of a man.
When I spit on the streets, I turn an insult back to Patriarchy.
I spit on its streets, on its walls, on its jail made of concrete.
I spit on its “progress” made of slavery and death.
I spit on its hateful stereotypes.
I spit right in front of guys in the street, which almost always discourages them of making the remark they were about to spit on me.
I also spit on the soil, I give my body’s water back to the Earth, a tiny comfort in a poisoned environment.
And thus I spend my days, spitting, walking and thinking of new meanings for it all.