In my project to learn more about the way movement can be used to enable vulnerability and convey embodied knowledge, I knew it would be important to better understand how students move and carry themselves through a public space (and how that differs based on gender identity). To do so, I conducted a fly-on-the-wall observations for approximately 30 minutes (from 10:10-10:42pm) in the lobby of Building 10 last week.
Heading into the observation, I had a few questions: how do male and female-presenting people carry themselves— are there differences? How do they move through space? How much space do they tend to take up? How do they physically notice and react to things?
I was first aware of the time and space that I was conducting the observation. Lobby 10 is not a space that invites people to linger or convene. While it is far more open than the infinite corridor around it, it is often passed through without second thought by students. It is enough of a landmark that it could serve as a meeting point, but late at night, it is primarily a place that students tended to pass through on their way to Barker Library or to the Student Center before the restaurants and convenience store closed.
As I sat on a bench near one of the ends of Lobby 10, I observed two trends stuck out to me. One was where people looked as they walked through the space. Most people looked at their phone. But for those who weren’t, I noticed a slight divergence between men and women. Men were much more likely to make eye contact with me than women. Once our eyes met, the male pedestrians tended to have one of two reactions- to quickly look away (before potentially looking back) or to hold eye contact in a way that generally seemed menacing or confrontational. While these two trends repeated themselves again and again, one man looked above me, so as to keep me in his peripheral vision without directly looking at me. On the other hand, only one woman made eye contact with me; others did not look in my direction. They generally kept their focus to the path ahead of them.
Another phenomenon that I observed was the way people would physically lean towards or away from others when they were walking in a group. When a two or three people were walking together (and there were never more than groups of three during my period of observation), women were more likely than men to physically turn their bodies to slightly face the person they were speaking to. Pairs of men would often walk parallel to one another, looking straight ahead even as they held a conversation. On the other hand, women seemed to lean in or tilt their shoulders to connect with the person they were speaking to. There were a few men who did this with other men, but this was much less common. This seems like a sign of attentiveness and vulnerability.