On International Women's Day, it seems appropriate to think about what it means to be a woman in our society. And for all the ways that women's status has changed, it's interesting that you can still, often, recognise a woman by the way that she moves. If I asked you to show me what 'throwing like a girl' looks like, you could probably give me a rough demonstration without having to think too hard about it.
In Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment, Motility and Spatiality, Iris Marion Young argues that looking at the different ways that men and women move can tell us a lot about the different status of men and women in society. She says that when men move, they tend to use their whole bodies, to move expansively, and to adopt open postures; women tend to use less of their bodies (they throw from the hand and the wrist rather from their shoulders), to move as if they're in a restricted space, and to adopt defensive postures. Men swing their books by their sides; women carry them in front of their chests, like a shield.
But the difference doesn't come from some mysterious feminine or masculine essence. Not all women throw like girls. It's a generally true phenomenon because of the way that women are generally socialised into seeing and being in our bodies. There's a fundamental contradiction in women's existence in patriarchal Western societies: on the one hand, as human beings we are autonomous and creative; but as women we are treated as objects rather than subjects, passive rather than active. And, Young argues, you can see this tension in the way that women move: our bodies are constantly stuck in the tension between transcendence and immanence.
We move as if the space available to us is restricted. In ball sports, we wait for the ball to come towards us and react to it; our movements are timid, uncertain, hesitant, we don't fully trust our bodies, and we focus on what our bodies are doing, rather than what we are trying to do with our bodies. We are taught to see our bodies as things, whereas men are taught to treat their bodies as capacities. Our bodies are burdens, which must be dragged along, protected and prettified. We move as though we are always being watched, wondering how we look to other people. We are encouraged to play quietly, and discouraged from risky physical activity, from sport, and from lifting heavy things, and so we underestimate our bodies' capacities. We are taught to see ourselves as fragile and delicate, and to treat our bodies not as extensions of ourselves and as ourr own power but as objects. It is more difficult to concentrate on the task at hand because we're constantly looking back on our bodies which we've been taught to see as things which are looked at and acted on rather than that which enables us to look and act. As a result, we're never fully in our bodies. We walk like girls, we throw like girls, we run like girls.
Photo credit: Macomb Paynes