Monday, April 10, 2017

Body Language

 The Toast Masters' (I call them Toast Mavens') handbook, uses as the title for each speech the new skill to be learned. This is the speech I will be giving at the next Toast Mavens' meeting.

Bodies Talk

The title of this assignment in our Competent Communication handbook is,"Your Body Speaks" and they are not talking about bad gas or hunger rumblings. When I was teaching kindergarten I would ask the children if hands could talk. They would always assure me that hands can not talk. So I would put my finger to my lips and ask, "What is my hand saying?" They would respond, "Shh." I would hold my arm out with the palm of my hand facing them and ask, "What is my hand saying?" and they would respond, "Stop." Then I would close my hand except for my index finger and wag it from side to side and ask, "What is my hand saying now and they would answer, "No." At the end of this lesson we all agreed, hands can tell us many things. 

Facial expressions are as important as hand movements in communication. One of my kindergarten mommies teaches American Sign Language at College of the Desert. Her face is fascinating to watch as she signs. Her expressions are extreme. I suppose those facial expressions, fill in the communication blank that vocal variety would fill.

Hands talk, faces talk, bodies talk. Women are taught to stand small. We stand with our legs together, our arms at our side or clutching our hand bag. I was at a gas station the other day and a man was approaching every women who was either pumping gas, sitting in her car or going into the mini mart. He was asking them for money and he was very insistent because he had a dog that needed food. I did not want him to approach me so, I spread my feet apart, put one hand on my hip and the other hand on my car, making  sure I took up as much space as possible. When he looked over at me I looked right back. He did not approach me.

Women are taught to sit small with our legs together, crossed at the ankles, our hands in our laps, so as not to take up too much space. Have you ever sat in a plane, or a train, or a theater where you have to share the arm rest? Men are allowed, even encouraged to sit and stand big. Have you ever had to walk down the aisle in a plane or a bus or a theater, or a church and the men are sitting with their arms across the back of the seats beside them, both legs spread wide and sticking out as far as they will reach? Are men trained to take up as much space as possible?

Women are warned that when we are walking alone we should walk with confidence, our back straight and our head up as if we know where we are going. The irony is, we do know where we are going. This warning is usually given on the evening news in the context of another woman found dead, or disappeared, or raped. 

Patriarchy, especially religious patriarchy likes to control women's bodies which effectively controls their movement, their self expression and their reproductive freedom. When I was a lector at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, the lector coordinator asked me if it were appropriate for me to cross my legs when I was sitting behind the altar. I told him to find out and let me know. If the church has a problem with me closing my legs he could take me off the lector roster. I never heard another word about it. That was just his little way of trying to control my movement. 

The Taliban put sever restrictions on women's movement and self expression. Women can not laugh in public, their shoes can not make noise, they have to be accompanied by a male family member and they must be covered from head to toe by a burka. The burka has a tiny slit, covered by mesh, for them to see through. I often wonder what it must be like to breath inside a burka, in the summer, in Afghanistan. Have you ever pulled the sheets up over your head? How long did it take before you had to pop your head out because it was hard to breath?

Bodies Liberated

We all know I am a feminist and we feminist have a saying, "The personal is political." Body movement, body language, self expression and reproductive choices do not get much more personal and therefore not much more political than that. So sisters, don't stand small, don't sit small, cross your legs if you feel like it, laugh out loud, wear clacity shoes and take up space. After all, it is your space too.