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Performing Gender.

Authors:

Abstract

Our previous research indicated that individuals construe gendered information from others’ body positions. This extension replicates that pattern using a non-college student sample and pictures of real people. In addition, we found that participants’ own sense of gender was influenced by their body positions. Gender is a daily performance.
Performing Gender
Margaret A. Thomas
Earlham College
Nicole E. Noll
Harvard University
INTRODUCTION
Feminist scholars have argued that gender is a performance. In
other words, according to these theorists, gender is something
we DO, not something we HAVE (e.g., West & Zimmerman,
1987; Butler, 1990).
Because gender is a constellation of traits, behaviors, and
appearance-related variables (see Spence, 1993), gender can be
performed in myriad ways. In our past and present research,
we have focused on performing gender via posture.
Specifically, we found that many bodily positions are perceived
as overtly masculine or feminine, whereas some are perceived
to be neutral in regard to gender (Thomas & Noll, 2012).
Ours is not the only research to investigate gender and posture.
Women and men hold their bodies in different positions in
public spaces (Vrugt & Luyerink, 2000, Study 1). These
specifically gendered bodily positions affect perceptions of the
individual engaged in the position. For example, people in
masculine body positions are rated more positively than those
in stereotypically feminine body positions (Fling, Prieto, &
Rosenwasser, 1986). Additionally, bodily positions lead the
perceiver to assume masculinity or femininity (Vrugt &
Luyerink, 2000, Study 2).
More provocatively, research indicates that holding the body in
a specific position can affect the performer as well, leading to
changes in hormone levels and risk-taking (Carney, Cuddy, &
Yap, 2010). Thus, it is possible that posture may affect other
aspects of the self, such as self-perceptions, behaviors, or other
aspects of physiology.
HYPOTHESES
Based on the theory of gender as a performance, as well as past
research on how body positions affect both the perceiver and the
perceived, we hypothesize the following:
Hypothesis 1: The bodily positions individuals perform will
influence how others see us as gendered beings. (Studies 1 & 2)
Masculine positions will push perceptions of performers
toward masculinity, feminine positions toward femininity,
and gender neutral positions will fall in the middle.
Hypothesis 2: The bodily positions individuals perform will
influence our own sense of our own gender. (Study 3)
Self-ratings of gender will follow the same pattern
articulated above.
STUDY 2
Method
206 participants (67 female) recruited from Amazon’s mTurk
rated a male or female in one of six positions on the same traits
used in Study 1.
Results
A factor analysis yielded the same
factors as Study 1: nurturing
= .87) and agentic (e.g., α = .85).
Next, we computed two ANOVAs, one for each factor. For both
factors, there was a significant interaction between the sex of the
power and the body position (Fs (2, 182) > 45.87, ps < .05).
DISCUSSION
Studies 1 and 2, as well as our previous research, indicated that
body positions provide information to perceivers about gendered
traits in the actor.
Study 1: highest levels of perceived nurturing traits when in a
feminine position, highest levels of perceived agentic traits
when in a neutral position.
Study 2: highest levels of perceived agentic traits when in a
masculine position, highest levels of perceived nurturing traits
for men when in feminine positions but for women when in
neutral positions.
More provocatively, Study 3 indicated that standing in a
masculine, feminine, or gender neutral position changes
immediate self-perceptions of agentic and nurturing traits.
Agentic traits were influenced as predicted in female
participants, but males expressed most agentic traits in gender
neutral positions.
Nurturing traits were influenced as predicted in female
participants, but males expressed nurturing traits equally in
masculine and feminine positions.
These studies provide evidence for the theory of gender
performance. Gender is an embodied practice that affects others’
perceptions of individuals and our own perceptions of the self.
1
1.5
2
2.5
3
3.5
4
4.5
5
5.5
Masculine Gender
Neutral
Feminine
1
1.5
2
2.5
3
3.5
4
4.5
5
5.5
Masculine Gender
Neutral
Feminine
= Male
Targets
= Female
Targets
Agentic Traits Nurturing Traits
STUDY 3
Method
119 participants (71 female) held their bodies in each of the six
positions from Study 1 for one minute. After each position, they
rated themselves on the same traits used in Study 2.
Results
Self-ratings for traits factored into nurturing and agentic factors
for all positions, so we combined self-ratings for both feminine,
masculine, and neutral positions. Next, we computed a mixed-
factors ANOVA for participant sex, body position, and trait self-
ratings, which revealed a significant three-way interaction (F(2,
234) = 10.56, p< .001).
STUDY 1
Method
92 participants (40 female) rated male and female figures depicted
in six gendered or neutral positions. Participants rated each figure
on 10 traits (e.g., tender, competitive, forceful, sensitive) on a 1
(not at all) to 7 (very much) scale.
Results
We computed a factor analysis
of the trait ratings, which yielded
two factors: nurturing (e.g., tender,
α = .91) and agentic (e.g., competitive, α = .85). Next, we
computed two ANOVAs, one for each factor. For both factors,
there were significant main effects for body position (Fs (2, 182) >
45.87, ps < .001) and for sex of poser (Fs (1, 91) > 119.79, ps < .001).
Feminine Position Masculine Position
1
1.5
2
2.5
3
3.5
4
4.5
5
5.5
Masculine Gender
Neutral
Feminine
1
1.5
2
2.5
3
3.5
4
4.5
5
5.5
Masculine Gender
Neutral
Feminine
= Male
Targets
= Female
Targets
Agentic Traits Nurturing Traits
Feminine Position Masculine Position
1
1.5
2
2.5
3
3.5
4
Masculine Gender
Neutral
Feminine
1
1.5
2
2.5
3
3.5
4
Masculine Gender
Neutral
Feminine
= Male
Participants
= Female
Participants
Agentic Traits Nurturing Traits
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