One of the things on my list of pet hates (just after caravans and the phrase ‘no sugar ta, I’m sweet enough) is the notion of the so-called ‘body language experts’. Firstly, because the term ‘expert’ is somewhat oxymoronic- as human beings, we all interact with one another all the time, and, unless we have something which inhibits the picking up of social cues, like autism, we are able to unconsciously understand many social signals. If someone is giving me a death stare, I don’t need to consult someone with a bullshit PHD to work out that they hate me because I just told them that voting Tory makes you a bad person. I mean, duh. I already know that’s going to go down like a shit sandwich.
From examining the media, there seem to be three different schools of ‘body language expertise’ doing the rounds, so I will deal with each of them in turn:
1.) Using body language in order to try and work out what a guy thinks.
This article for US Cosmopolitan is a prime example. ‘Guy Beach Body Language- What His Actions Mean at the Beach’. The reason I hate this stuff is twofold- firstly, it encourages women to stay passive, and be all ‘oh, his toes are pointing towards me, that must mean he likes me,’ rather than going ‘I can see you want in my pants. Let’s grab a beer and talk about it.’ BORING. Secondly, it implies that we should be expending our vital and precious energy trying to work out how men think. This is especially dangerous if you’re being fucked over by someone who isn’t treating you well, or if you’re in a relationship that’s on its last legs, because it preys on your already existing insecurities. So you’ll read in Cosmo that him sleeping in a starfish position means that he doesn’t love you, and you’ll think, ‘oh, well that’s it then. No point going to Relate after all.’
Of course, the ‘what men think’ article is the bread and butter of many women’s magazines. I especially hate it because it doesn’t encourage you to actually talk to your partner about your relationship. Instead, you spent hours trying to analyse his hand signals to work if he’s really into you. I used to do this as a teenage girl all the time, and, while I don’t now, I bet there are women out there who do. The magazine is essentially jumping on the anxiety you feel about your relationships to other people and using it as a way to sell their crappy agenda. It’s bullshit.
P.S. How to tell a guy likes you on the beach: does he have a boner? If so, he likes you.
2.) Using body language to analyse the relationships of couples that I don’t even give a fuck about
Oh, what’s that? It’s Dr Glass again?
‘Dr. Glass reveals that when comparing photos of Brad and Jen when they were married to Brad and Angelina’s most recent red carpet appearance at The Tourist premiere in NYC, Brad is clearly devoted and “adores” Angelina. Unfortunately for you Jen fans, Dr. Glass says that there is “tension” in the photos of Jen and Brad, and most telling, Brad’s feet aren’t pointed in Jen’s direction, which is a sign of not being in love.’
This was written in 2010. So long after Brad and Jen had already split up, but I’m using it as an example of how body language experts will use their ‘skill’ to tell you SHIT THAT YOU KNOW ALREADY. Expect umpteen pictures of Robert Pattison and Kristen Stewart together prior to the event accompanied by dickwads saying things like ‘you can tell from her nose that she’s being unfaithful.’
Also, how telling can body language actually be? A few weeks ago I went to a party with my boyfriend and some friends. There were loads of people there who I hadn’t seen for ages, so I spent most of the evening talking to them, getting high with them, and not seeing much of my boyfriend, who was busy nailing a bottle of Grey Goose and talking to other people. One of his friends assumed we were in a fight. We weren’t. Well, we were, but that was later, when he tried to make me walk for a taxi in the rain.
3.) Using body language as a way of policing women’s behaviour
This. Fucking this. Note how the article is called ‘Body language mistakes women make’, thus putting the onus on us not to go in for ‘excessive smiling’ (‘women should be aware that, when excessive or inappropriate, smiling can also be confusing and a credibility robber’) rather than the onus on the dickhead who’s judging you.
‘When a man nods, it means he agrees. When a woman nods, it means she agrees–or is listening to, empathizing with or encouraging the speaker to continue. This excessive head nodding can make females look like a bobble-head doll.’
When this woman tells you to fuck off, it means that she wants you to fuck off.
I once saw a piece of performance art in which this article (or one that was very similar) was presented as though it were being taught at a business conference. I thought it was a joke. At the end, it was revealed to be a real article, and I actually felt like crying. Sometimes, when you see something written down, you don’t realise how utterly damaging it is, but when it’s presented to you physically by someone as gospel, that shit really hits home (I don’t know, maybe we should develop an off-Broadway show in which we just parrot quotes from women’s magazines.) Stuff like this:
‘Being overly expressive:
While a certain amount of movement and animation adds passion and meaning to a message, women who express the entire spectrum of emotions often overwhelm their audience (especially if the audience is comprised primarily of males).’
I mean, fuck? Now I’m worrying if I’m overly expressive. Should I be careful to speak in a monotone next time I have a job interview? Do I come across as too emotional? Am I smiling too much? All this stuff does is make you self-examine your behaviour all the time, and police it, which is horrible. I don’t want to be an emotional corporate drone- I’m a human being!
All this, strangely enough, brings me back to autism. There are theories that have been doing the rounds now (popularised by stuff like Simon Baron-Cohen’s ‘The Essential Difference’) that men and women’s behaviours and tendencies are dictated by one’s brain – biological determinism. So women are more empathic, expressive etc, men are better at systematising. Whether you believe this or not (and I pretty much don’t), surely adopting what many believe to be ‘traditionally male characteristics’ to get ahead in the workplace is never going to be tantamount to true equality. Do I have to ‘be like a man’ in order to succeed in the corporate business world? And what if you happen to be an especially smily man? Does that mean you’re fucked too? Should magazines like Forbes be encouraging this school of thought?
I realise what started out as a pretty jokey article has suddenly become all serious. But this really, really pisses me off. Women are never going to succeed in the corporate world (assuming that that’s what you want to do, again – I don’t, but this isn’t about me) if they’re constantly having to examine and reassess their own behaviour, which is why this body language stuff is so damaging. Not only does it have the potential to mess with your head as far as your relationship’s concerned, but it can also seriously impact on your career.
What a downer.
P.S. All you NLP bullshit peddlers can fuck off too. Saying my name over and over again is not going to get you in my pants. Do one.