Quick! Picture a person walking. Imagine this march. The left leg is straight, now the right, very slight bending in the knees. The shoulders are back; the arms are away from the body. The chin is up; the eyes are focused on a decided point. The legs are far apart, pulling at the pavement. The feet press heavy, a clue into the level of assuredness the person possesses. Determination is coded into every minute movement of this gait. Now picture another. Still walking here, more of a teeter from side to side, right hip cocked than the left, arms limper than the first, a sort of sway in the space before any distance is covered. Its evident there’s somewhere to be but it’s subtle. It’s in the way the light pressing feet don’t stall. Still, it’s never a charge. What was the sex of the first imagined person? Did you imagine a male? What was the sex of the second? Did you picture a female? Why are the body movements gendered? Why would cultural anthropologists even care?

A Structuralist would see these distinct categorizations as essential. The binary opposites would be viewed as necessary in order to compartmentalize complex concepts of society (like sex difference). Structuralists believe that the human species “share the same psychological make-up.” Sex is segregated throughout numerous cultures (the degree varies) but the difference is always noted. So how is a man defined? You can answer what a man is by what he is not. What is a man? Not a woman. This difference is dictated down to kin-esthetics. So how should a man move? Not like a woman. This may seem far-fetched at the very least and completely conceived at the very most so let’s look at how we unconsciously enforce these differences to ensure the binary opposites retain their power. A slight sashay in a man’s hips is decidedly feminine. Anything other than a forceful thrust in stride is seen as a weak anomaly. How is this corrected? It’s often dealt with in terms of ridicule. Past the point where it’s acceptable to mock for sexual orientation ambiguity, a man with a swing in his saunter might just be jabbed with a common, “Dude, why you walkin’ like a girl?

Bringing practice theory into the mix will probably dismantle everything I’ve previously said, as it is directly contradictory to the last half of the prior paragraph. Practice theory “analyzes the relationship between established structures of culture and how the people in reality act within that structure.” Basically it is expected that people will rebel against the stated norms dictated by a higher institution. It is a consciousness in American culture that mannerisms –especially within the confines of body movement- will and should differ depending of sex. The want for men and women to be starkly opposite in all ways is a dated and high ideal to achieve. The Venus/Mars, thrust/sway gender opposite is a value that is voiced frequently but much less often carried through in action (if that action happens to take place in a ‘real-life,’ everyday setting). The changing power dynamic and acceptance of difference is carried out into the steps of the public (male and female). Women may walk with more determination, men with less aggressiveness. The national gait could be becoming more androgynous than what is desired by that ‘established structure.’

— Riley G.

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39 Responses to Walking

  1. Ashley Gates says:

    I think we can also look at this topic through the Post-Structuralism theory. Someone like Foucalt would point out that power is not just laws and politics but it’s also disciplinary. Through this discipline they normalize a state of being so that it’s believed it;s true (McGranahan). With this is mind we can connect it back to the idea that men should walk one way and a woman should walk another. These stereotypes seem natural and normal so we do not necessarily think about it deeply when noticing how a certain gender is walking. Foucalt would also argue the fact that there has been a change in the controlling of bodies, aka bio-politics. With bio-politics, there can be extreme conditions such as in China where they choose young children and train them their entire life for the Olympics. (McGranahan) but there is also conditions that are so subtle and between-the-lines that we do not notice them at first glance. This subtle example is the fact that the powered individuals are controlling our bodies by establishing a set way of how each gender should watch.

  2. Hunter Emmons says:

    In your structuralist view when you were talking about how a man can be defined by what he is not definitely made me feel like it would be viewed from a feminine anthropologist. This was a really cool essay and there have been so many times when I have been walking around campus and observe the way that people walk. I definitely think that this could be viewed from an interpretive and symbolic view as well because typically males and females will walk a specific way. It may be cultural and learned, but it is important to recognize that the way they walk symbolizes what gender they identify with and feel they must represent.

    • Christopher McKeown says:

      This is an excellent paper by Riley, but I have to stop and comment here with Hunter’s striking points about observing and recognizing what Riley brings up in the Blog assignment. From Riley’s paper, I really enjoyed the statement about “Venus/Mars, thrust/sway gender opposite,” which is clearly evident in today’s media representation of the public as a whole. But when Hunter mentions, consciously observing other people walking around campus, it got me thinking about symbolic and interpretive views as well. Unconsciously, I think we infer a lot more about someone by the way the present themselves in a public setting, and walking, honestly more than we truly care to admit. We see depicted images of the symbolic male or female that unconsciously shapes us to walk the we do, and avoid the ‘dude, you’re walking like a girl.’

      • Cassidy Reeves says:

        I like your point about unperceived symbols that unconsciously shape our ideals of masculinity and femininity. We see symbols of expected body language all the time. A girl peeking out from behind her hair is seen as demure, but if a guy were to do the same it might come off as sorta creepy. On movie covers with a man and woman often times the man is holding the woman; portraying a symbol of security through his body language. I definitely agree that we are unconsciously subjected to ideals of body language!

      • Mateo Hajek says:

        As a general habit, I make a daily point of observing the movements and unspoken languages of those around me. I seek to understand why people do the things they do and how they express themselves in nonverbal forms. To that end I agree with Hunter in that the dichotomy of ‘defining a man by what he is not’ has a strong Feminist Anthropological ring to it; I most certainly agree with Christopher’s ‘media representation of the public’ in that media generally does hold sway over public opinion and thought. However, something that continually caught my attention within Riley’s essay is that I did not imagine gendered opposites based on walking alone. Though some phylogenetic traits for sexual selection do play a role in why men ‘swagger’ and women ‘sway,’ I imagined two different personalities who generally demonstrated self confident behavior. Perhaps linking the shoulders back and chin up to a more self aware or confident person versus a less confident posture within a Post-Structuralist or Feminist argument that media attention on body movement has worked to differentiate genders within western society (irrespective of the media’s indented outcome), would make a stronger argument out of the second paragraph. Which also gives a good transition into using Practice Theory in the third paragraph and lends material to show how people may act even in the face of a culturally gender opposite norm.

      • Matt Kiriazis says:

        This is a fantastic essay and Christopher has followed it up with interesting commentary. While reading the essay I too question the significance of the unconscious gendering of strides. A feminist anthropologist would especially be intrigued by the idea. When people are asked to describe others in public walking do they unconsciously gender the description of movements. I think they are likely too do so.

  3. Rachel Echsner says:

    I found this topic very interesting because it is very present in today’s society. A male who walks or portrays himself with actions usually associated with females is often recognized as peculiar and sometimes may be assumed gay. Although that is obviously not always the case, people to discriminate based on factors as basic as the way a person walks. I thought this essay did a good job of using Structuralism and Practice Theory to show the different perspectives on mannerisms like these. This topic could also by analyzed by other theories, for instance a Feminist Anthropologist might find this subject intriguing because of the discrimination between male and female expectations.

    • coltsedbrook says:

      I also found this blog topic to be interesting and extremely likely within the confines of the 21st century. I also thought your blog essay did a fantastic job of using the Structuralist POV as well as the Practice theorist POV. I would agree with Rachel and saying a feminist anthropologist would have much more intriguing evidence that would be discriminate against males and females. I would also like to bring up a topic that is considered a harsh reality for some. The idea of a heterosexual man walking versus a homosexual man walking. Are there differences? I would assume that there would be differences between the two. For instance, if a heterosexual man was in a parade, how does he wave to the crowd? Does he puff his chest and alleviate certain attributes to heterosexual men, or does one heterosexual man change the assumption if he is a bi-sexual man? This questions raised bring up topics that most are unwilling to discover. I believe that we all have certain attributes that are unique to our genetic composition, and how society views us in a particular category within society. Great job Riley!

  4. Lucy Johnson says:

    This author did a great job explaining why walking patterns are relevant to both structuralism and practice theory, although I personally would also have used the symbolist theory. When something as natural as one’s gate connotes so much about an identity that gender is in question, it becomes a important factor of life whose factors should be determined. The writer did a good job in the first paragraph breaking down how one moves and asking the audience their opinion as to whom was walking. This outlined just how relevant walking style is and how we subconsciously group styles to types of people. How we carry ourselves symbolizes ourself, therefore it’s one of our culture’s most powerful symbols.

    • Brianne Hart says:

      I really enjoyed this blog post! Walking is such an interesting thing to observe while people watching and like the author pointed out if you walk outside of your gender norm then society views it as being weird. I agree with Lucy’s post because I also would have used symbolic/interpretive theory instead of practice theory (even though the author’s use of practice theory was excellent). A Symbolic/ interpretive analysis would have offered a public/shared meaning of how an individual walks and how their pattern of walking relates to their gender. Majority of society can tell what a person’s gender is based on their walk so the symbolic meaning behind someones stature when they walk is a good indication of their gender. Further, a feminist anthropological outlook on walking would be interesting to identify how walking is gendered (second stage during 1980s) in U.S. society and how these ideas of gendered walking were constructed and how they are reproduced today.

  5. I found this interesting with the present day societies view. Men whom portray themselves with any sort of feminine characteristics are assumed to be gay . However that is an inaccurate premise to base sexuality off of. This essay did a very good job at using Structuralism and Practice Theory to show contrasting views on mannerisms. I think that if the topic were to be discussed deeper Feminist Theory would be a good theory to apply to this idea of identity with how we walk.

  6. Alexandra Sapien says:

    I enjoyed how you used the binary opposites and it used to be very clear cut something like 100 years ago gender was something that was very clear cut. You were a man therefore not a woman and vise versa. Then using the comparison of practice theory we observe that people do not fall into the category that they are supposed to. With gay marriage and transgender individuals we see the practice theory in full effect and its take the binary opposite theory and completely ignored it. Clearly illustrating the practice theory in that the difference between what you are supposed to be/do verses what humans actually do.

  7. lilykoral says:

    Although the author did a good job at describing how Structuralism and Practice theory can explain certain cultural aspects of walking, I was surprised they did not use Feminist Anthropology. This is because Feminist anthropology is most interested in gender and in this essay there is a large emphasis on men and women’s generic gaits. One thing that could be looked at from this perspective is how these gendered walking styles could influence a person’s role in society. For example, a woman who has a more masculine gait could be seen as more powerful and important. This would make people think that these women are political figures of CEOs. Whereas a man who has a more feminine walk would be taken less seriously and generally would be labeled as gay. A Feminist Anthropologist would look as these labeling differences and determine what these say about the roles of men and women in a society.

    • kristoferboguniewicz says:

      Once again I think your ideas might be dependent on the region. I remember one group did a study/documentary on body language and walking a few years ago and analyzed George W. Bush vs. Putin as they walked alongside each other. Both are powerful men, but Putin had a “sexy” European walk, whereas Bush had a more rigid and conservative walk to him. This walking phenomenon appears to be more complicated than we suspected as there is more than just feminine vs. masculine walking.

  8. Elliott Cairns says:

    To continue off on what you said about walking, sitting also does represent how men and women carry themselves as well. Men typically sit with their legs much more open and stretch out while women keep their legs crossed, and are not as splayed out like men are when they sit. I do agree with the comment above me suggesting that Feminist anthropology may have had a better fit but overall I definitely agree with your point regarding how men and women carry themselves and how it reflects how they see themselves regarding gender.

    • kristoferboguniewicz says:

      I would have liked the author to specify which culture in which particular parts of the world walk in these binary oppositions. Much like with your mentioning of sitting, does your interpretation of sitting and this author’s description of walking pertain to all cultures. Perhaps it is just in America that men sit with their legs open while women sit with them closed? It would be interesting to write the same paper or one about sitting but about a culture that we are not familiar with and where they walk and sit differently from the norm here in America.

  9. Stephen Fleming says:

    This is a great topic for the body essay. After having heard many times that I have a certain style to my gait made me think about how people walk and why they might walk this way. Whether its because they are listening to music, or where they are from. Its amazing that show much can be seen by just the way someone walks. I do like how the Author brought in practice theory with the idea that the cultural structures of walking should be different but in reality there aren’t. men still walk with a nonchalant sway and women walk with their hips.

  10. Allison Dudley says:

    This is a great blog essay. Walking is such a necessary feature to the makeup of humans. It is not as if babies are taught how to walk like a man or walk like a women though. I think that walking in terms of feminine vs masculine is therefore learned. Though I wonder how culturally relative walking is among cultures. Are the differences that Riley brings up the same across all cultures? This could further help the structuralist argument. Also, there is a physical aspect of walking which correlates to the differences in men and women. Generally speaking men are larger and more robust. Also, men and women have different pelvis shapes. Could this be an explanation for some differences as well?

    • Greyden H says:

      I agree 100% with your idea about walking in terms of feminine vs. masculine being a learned practice. Looking at kids in elementary school and even middle school, both the girls and boys walk alike. As young girls and young men start to become more influence by social media and interactions among classmates, their physical and behavioral characteristics change. Kids with older siblings seem to learn these constructions sooner than others. Young men tend to start to walk in a more “solid” manner in order to look bigger, tougher, or anything else that will make them seem like more of a man. Young girls will also start to walk more gracefully, as well as more sexually. As girls grow older, they learn the institutionalized practices that women use to look sexier.

  11. Lana Porter says:

    I like your use of the codes of gender that have become so normalized to us. I feel that this analysis of masculine walking vs. feminine walking applies to many other cultural forms. Different ways of talking are coded as masculine and feminine, as are ways of dress, sitting, posture, and even facial expressions. I feel that a feminist anthropologist would be interesting in studying how these codes effect power relations between genders. If femininity is associated with a weaker and less determined walk, what does that say about how women are inherently viewed? What does our coding of self assuredness as masculine” say about men’s power positions?

  12. Kait Bashford says:

    I really enjoyed the first paragraph of your essay! Your descriptions kept me very intrigued as I read. The Structuralist Theory was smart of you to choose because the world is organized by binary oppositions. Our human need to classify and organize the world often blinds us to possibilities beyond social or gender norms. You really supported this idea by pointing out the readers’ assumptions that the first person walking was a male and the second person walking was a female. I wonder if there is another analogy for describing typically male habits in comparison to typically female habits that would illustrate your point? Perhaps how a person relates to children? Or walking through a department store and evaluating the items for sale? Gender roles are everywhere and it is always fun to discover that you’re making assumptions without even realizing it.

  13. Saskia Newkirk says:

    What an intriguing topic! I may have, however, approached this from a feminist perspective. As feminist anthropologists are interested in issues regarding gender and hierarchy, a feminist approach may lend insight into why these “gendered” body movements are perceived the way they are. For example, why is having a “womanly” gait considered unfavorable? How does this relate to issues of gender and hierarchy? These are some points a feminist approach may have explored.

  14. Molly gordon says:

    I never thought in depth about how certain strides and differences in the way of walking are categorized as masculine or feminine. This was an extremely well written piece with a great topic. Although the Structuralist Theory is on point, I did notice that the term “sex” was used instead of “gender”. Sex is biological but gender is culturally defined. In the essay, it is written that “Sex is segregated throughout numerous cultures (the degree varies) but the difference is always noted.” I would have used ideas about different genders and their stride other than “sex”. Other than that, this was an interesting and well thought out essay. Great job!

  15. Scott MacDonald says:

    It’s interesting how you can relate the simple, trivial task of walking to its subsequent cultural implications. Kudos! I especially agree with the fact that body language and movement is very important for how we has humans and a society categorize each gender. As it’s been brought up in this discussion, men who don’t walk like “other men” are presumed to be “gay” and are resultantly judged for this. This correlates with the idea that cultures like things a certain way. People can be judged simply for the way they walk. Interesting read and analysis.

  16. Jon Mastman says:

    This author brought up the valid point that since birth, personality as well as physical traits or mechanics are analyzed by our culture to try to determine who we are. aside from the way people walk, the way people talk can also lead to ridicule and comparisons to the opposed sex. It could possibly be argued that with the culture and personality anthropological view, that since our culture rewards those who separates themselves from others in our very competitive market based system, this mean trait could have been taught to us.

  17. wesley gordon says:

    this is a great essay and i loved the two theories you picked to use for this essay. I loved how you took something simple like walking and tied it in with cultural. I think you were spot on when you said body language and movement is how society categorizes each gender. great work

  18. Erica Blais says:

    This was such an interesting and intriguing essay to read! I really have never thought about analyzing the idea of walking in such depth. The connections you made between this common physical movement and these anthropological theories was quite thought provoking. I believe that your explanation using practice theory could be taken more in-depth and possibly lead into other theories. Rather than looking at just male vs. female, or masculine vs. feminine, it would be interesting to look at the practiced behavior of homosexuals, transgendered individuals and people of other sexual orientations. This could lead to an analysis using feminine anthropology through examining how people may be gendered based on body movement. There most likely are cultural differences involving these perspectives on a perceived gender since according to feminism gender is a social construction. Even symbolic anthropology could be used to look at what the body movement symbolizes in regards to sexuality and gender identification. There are a multitude of theories that could be tied to this topic; walking is much more complex than I thought. Great job! You really got me thinking.

  19. Ashley Sanks says:

    On a more abstract level, it would be interesting to apply this principal of how you walk and what it says about you to Marxist Anthropology. What does ones socio-economic status say about their strut? I would argue that largely, those who are the dominant group would tend to walk with the more confidence (head up, large struts, relaxed) because of their knowledge of that they have a higher position on the economic hierarchy than most. People who work on Wall Street at the NYSE, or the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in my opinion would demonstrate this sort of walk because of their status in society. Conversely, on Wall Street, those walking with Occupy Wall Street, or workers striking against their lost jobs would have a slightly less confident walk. To someone interpreting this around them, they may be more inclined to ignore, or more possibly overlook the walker who may be sulking, looking down, and not having a commanding presence.

    These traits as you have pointed out can largely be gendered due to an American-ized reading of power and how it looks. I enjoyed your essay a lot!

  20. Adriana Petersen says:

    This essay is great! I especially enjoyed the first paragraph’s descriptive elements. I think it would also be interesting to analyze the way in which people walk through symbolic theory. As many comments above stated, the way someone walks can easily represent what gender they identify with. But as Ashley commented above, it can also symbolize other aspects of a person such as their socio-economic status. I love to people watch but never really realized how much you can try and learn about a person or even culture through their walk. I think a walk can represent much more than masculinity and femininity. Through symbolic theory I think one would see that a walk can represent many aspects of someone such as personality, age, career, health, and culture. For example, someone who works in an office at a computer all day might walk with a slightly hunched back while, say, a dancer might walk with a spring in each step. After reading this essay I will probably think a lot more about a person’s walk and try and interperate it through the various theories presented in both the essay and comments above.

  21. Christopher Sol says:

    The topic the author wrote about was very interesting. He focused on something that we do so much we don’t think about it. The theories give good examples and explanations to show how just walking down the street has “rules” about it. As said in the essay, these male and female binary opposites affect almost everything we do and is a big part of our daily decisions. Thinking into this subject you realize that men and women have many different expectations that seem odd out of context. These expectations are even taught to a certain degree. In school you are always taught to act like your paying attention and there are different expectations expected by males or females. The male and female binary opposite idea can be seen in everyday life around the world.

  22. Neil Tobiasen says:

    Very enjoyable paper, and very attention grabbing in the first paragraph. I liked your choice of topic on how different sexes have a certain way to their walk. It is very apparent to me now to see how differently women and men actually do walk on campus after I had read this. Now not only is the reason our walks differ biological, because women have bigger hips than men and a lower center of gravity, but it must be something in our personality. If you analyze the relationship between walking a people you can see a great gap, especially when you begin maturing into a young adult. When I think of a guy walking I think hands in pockets, strutting trying to look cool, and for a girl I see pretty much the same thing, except maybe her hips moving more elaborately than the guy. This would make a great case study to do observational research around campus. good job

  23. Sophia Grenier says:

    I think this is a really interesting topic, and I particularly enjoyed the discussion of the physical differences between gaits according to sex. Your discussion of what a Structuralist would say–that psychologically, we’re all the same–is really interesting. I can remember helping both of my younger siblings learn to walk, and I’ve watched it change as they’ve gotten older. As young children, they both walked in exactly the same way. As they’ve gotten older, though, I’ve watched it change, particularly in my little sister. Your mention of “established structure” resonates here, especially because my sister is now more aware of the roles and behaviors she is culturally expected to present. This got me thinking and I’m going to watch the way my entire family walks for the next couple of days. Good job!

  24. Hayley Dardick says:

    Interestingly enough, the images in my head did not match the gender of the people you stated in your paper. When I pictured the heavy, more confident walker, I imagined a female. When you described the more relaxed gait, I saw a male (trying to walk with a sort of “swag”). I think it would be fascinating to examine how the reader’s age and gender affects this exercise. I suppose it really just adds another layer to the whole discussion of gendering everything.

    This next anecdote may seem unrelated, but it connects to your point that humans are psychologically the same, social constructions just dictate what is considered masculine versus feminine. A family I know has 3 year old boy, girl twins. When the little boy decided he wanted to be spiderman for Halloween, his twin sister chose the same. Their mother thus bought two identical children’s spiderman costumes. She dressed the little boy in just that. For her daughter, however, she crafted a blue and red tutu to accompany the body suit. Was she worried people would scoff at a little girl dressed up as a traditional spiderman? What made her “feminize” this superhero that a little girl innocently wanted to portray for Halloween? I don’t claim to have the answer. Just food for thought…

  25. Anastasia M. says:

    Before this paper, I had honestly never even considered the fact that something as simple as walking could be gendered. I very much enjoyed the descriptive language used in describing the walking at the beginning, although I would have appreciated a deeper description as to make the differentiation and genderization more apparent, but I know you had to keep the words to a minimum.

    The more I think about it, the more I notice the “established structure.” I have two younger brothers, one of which is significantly more effeminate than the other, and the way they walk and move their bodies are significantly different.

    Very interesting article, you’ve got me analyzing everyone I see strutting by!

  26. Brianna Larkin says:

    This is an awesome paper, I would have never thought of writing my body essay about simply the way we walk. It is so true that we put a label on things that we dont consider normal in the way we act or move. I think Riley did a great job in putting the thoughts into the perfect words. This essay did a great job in explaining the details of different struts as people walk by, and incorporating the mind to interact with what we are reading. As i was reading I wanted it to go farther into the description and go into the female side of things (although i do see it might be a little more difficult).

    As for Hayley’s comment I do kind of agree with her. I believe now that we have put more power into the definition of a woman in our society today, it has been more likely for us to think that women now carry themselves with more confidence, especially in the business world. It’s interesting to think how much has changed in the way we carry ourselves based on the switch in power.

  27. This was really interesting because I did picture a male and female in those situations. I do look at the way people walk but I don’t tend to base it on gender. I usually look at what they are wearing or how tall they are or their body type. I can see how a male would walk with more assertiveness and a women with less of a goal.

  28. Colton Erickson says:

    I think that the topic of specific body movements based on gender is an interesting subject that, while being a prevalent and ever-present part of our daily lives, I have never heard discussed very much outside of a classroom. I find it intriguing because typically, like the previous comment stated, I don’t usually think about how the way a person walks is gendered. Usually, I can glean an understanding of a person’s personality by their movements and the way they walk. I can gage their confidence, their determination, and even their mood by the way they take each step. However, I think adding in the idea of binary oppositions based on gender is an important piece in understanding why someone walks the way they do. I also agree with the idea that in America, our long-engrained ideals of gender differences are changing, and a certain level of ambiguity is surely to come.

  29. Amanda B says:

    I liked the analysis of the mannerisms between different genders while walking because it is one of the most sub-conscientious actions we do everyday. When you mentioned women walking with more aggressiveness, however, I began to think of feminist anthropology rather than practice theory. Both seem applicable, but since the different styles of walking are now being less criticized (like they would have been about 50 years ago), I feel feminist anthropology would make a very good argument for how these mannerisms are changing between both males and females. The practice theory is still accurate since it is still usually noticeable when a male begins to walk a bit more gracefully rather than the usual semi-aggressive strides males are assumed to take and vice versa with females.

  30. Rachael Sheehy says:

    The intangible associations with the different gaits lends light to the ideal types of men and women, at least in western culture. Its not an uncommon observance that if a woman were to display as much determination and aggression, especially in the work world, as a man in a similar position, she would likely be written off as, for lack of a more discreet term, a bitch. There is a comparable double standard in which a man who exhibits the same amount of “whimsy” as a woman, he would be dubbed flighty, unreliable, and even not masculine. The way men and women are encouraged to walk or not walk is a symbol that points to the underlying hegemony that dictates that something as mundane as walking can dictate the much broader perception of an individual.

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