Friday, October 27, 2006

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Sharpen Your Observational Skills

A person exploring a different gender role gives up certain ways of behaving and replaces those old forms of action with new behavior. Learning to blend with other women or men requires that you learn to BECOME A GOOD OBSERVER of the various ways people appear and behave in different situations. Hence, SHARPENING YOUR OBSERVATIONAL SKILLS, especially seeing and listening, may prove very helpful as you modify your gender role. Observing the appearance and behavior of others will provide you with a variety of looks and behaviors from which you can construct and practice the person you wish to be. What you see and hear, in combination with your own creative talents, will enable you to put together a nearly endless variety of possibilities that you'll be able to test until you find something that feels comfortable and works for you. As you make progress your awareness of who you are and what you can do will deepen. You'll learn to creatively copy parts of what you see or hear and then put those parts together to compose something new.

In the beginning, keep things simple and uncomplicated, work on matching or approximating the basics. Go slow. For example, you might focus on blending with others who have your same general characteristics, for example, age, hair and eye color, height and weight, and so on. As you become more comfortable and confident in your chosen role you may wish to become more adventurous and experimental. Don't rush things, change a step at a time. You'll gradually develop a style that fits and feels comfortable. Remember the foundation for this change process is developing good OBSERVATIONAL SKILLS. This will include learning to observe others and learning to observe yourself. Become a good observer of differences in verbal and facial expressions, hand and arm movements, body posture and walk. Observe people as you go through your daily activities, while watching television and films, and listening to the radio. Try observing the nonverbal behavior of television personalities with the audio off or look away and turn the video off and listen to the audio portion alone. Observe the behavior of people in airports and shopping malls. What differences in the behavior of women and men do you see or hear? How do the two genders handle similar situations?

A second part of learning to blend and feel comfortable in your environment is learning to sift and sort the information obtained from observing. You'll want to separate your observations into those things that will work for you, and those things that won't work, or, may even, alas, make your life more difficult. This sifting and sorting is not an easy task but rather something that only comes with practice and a willingness to experiment, evaluate, and make use of feedback from others.

In addition, you may want to consult various books for specific information or even image specialists or coaches who work with color, style, cosmetics, walk and posture, and voice. However, after you learn what you can from observing people and their behavior you'll still need to regularly PRACTICE WHAT YOU'VE LEARNED EVERY DAY. Approach change actively. In the early stages of transition this will mean FOCUSING ON BEING AWARE OF YOUR BEHAVIOR and what is needed to blend comfortably, and then practicing it, and doing it again and again. If something you do doesn't work, don't do it again. Do something different.

In contrast, PROMPTLY SAY GOOD THINGS TO YOURSELF AS YOU HAVE POSITIVE EXPERIENCES. Learn to regularly GIVE YOURSELF COMPLIMENTS as you make progress. This immediate personal recognition of your progress is very important and cannot be under emphasized. KEEP THE CRITICAL REMARKS YOU MAKE ON YOUR BEHAVIOR TO A MINIMUM. The variety of social situations you encounter will each require something somewhat different. Be flexible and DO NEW THINGS. Let go of any actions, thoughts, and feelings that block your progress.

This is the time to be playful, to pretend, to relax and experiment. Summon your acting skills and recall the playful, creative times of childhood. You'll find yourself becoming more flexible, innovative, and varied as time and experience builds. Just as learning to ride a bicycle was once a very conscious, planned, step-by-step activity that eventually became fluid and automatic, so will the expression of your preferred gender role become. Practice your observational skills. Change, and discover what works for you.

Some Questions You May Answer By Observing Others:

1) What are the differences that distinguish the way men and woman walk? Do men and women of the same approximate size tend to walk about the same speed?

2) Do two women walking together tend to walk differently than a man and a woman walking together? If so, in what ways?

3) Is a woman's posture, body position, orientation, etc. different from that of a man while sitting at a table having coffee or a meal? When with a man? When with another woman? When alone?

4) Do men generally make more or less eye contact with the person they are talking to? Are there differences in eye contact when speaking as compared to listening? How about women?

5) Do women and men tend to smile equally frequently during casual conversation? While conducting business?

6) What are the differences in the ways women and men position their arms when sitting? How about their hands? And their legs?

7) How do men and women differ in the ways they tend to position their bodies in chairs or on sofas?

8) If pitch alone is not as important as some people might believe in differentiating a woman's from a man's voice then what speech characteristics are especially important?

9) Do women or men drivers tend to look around more while waiting at a stoplight in a car? Are there age, social class, or ethnic differences?

10) Are there differences between the ways men and women move their eyes and mouths during conversation?

11) Do women and men differ in the ways they stand and leave from a seated position? How about initiating a seated position?

12) If a woman touches her nose when with another person or during a conversation in what ways is she likely to do so? How does a man touch his nose?

13) What are some ways in which men and women use their hands to express themselves during conversations?

14) Are men or women more likely to touch their hair when in the presence of another? How does their touching differ?

15) Do women and men differ in the way they clap? Sneeze? Laugh? Cough?

16) How is a women likely to hold a phone? Is it the same as a man?

17) Are there any differences in the way a woman walks when wearing slacks as compared to a skirt or dress?

18) Do women and men stand at a curb differently while waiting to cross the street?

19) When listening during a conversation are men as likely to nod their heads as women? When does a women nod her head? A man? How do head nods differ for the two genders?

20) How does a man wave good-bye? A woman? How do women and men say hello?

21) Are there differences in the ways men and women terminate phone conversations? Casual conversations? Business conversations? How about opening telephone conversations?

22) How do the ways a woman uses a tissue or handkerchief while in the presence of another person differ from that of a man?

23) Does a woman position her hands on the steering wheel the same as a man while driving a car? While at a stoplight?

24) Are woman as inclined as men to place their hands in their pockets? Under what circumstances?

25) Estimate the percentage of women between the ages of 20 and 30 who wear mini skirts. Between 30 and 40? Between 40 and 50? Over 50? Answer the same question for people wearing shorts.

26) Is the behavior of a woman more like a man's in a formal business setting? How about a casual social situation with business associates, or at a party?

27) Are men or women more likely to lean forward while engaged in conversation?

28) What are some conversational strategies or devices by which women seek to build cooperation and community? Do men generally have similar styles?

29) How do women and men differ in being verbally competitive? Are both genders likely to behave the same when competing, expressing differences in opinion, asking questions, etc.?

30) Are there differences in the frequency of statements of affirmation or denial as compared to the frequency of asking questions in the daily conversations of men and women?

31) Do women generally dress differently in various parts of the Bay Area, e.g., San Francisco vs Palo Alto, Berkeley vs Concord, etc.? How about men? What are the differences for different communities in your geographical area?

32) What are some age, social class, and ethnic differences in the ways women use cosmetics, style their hair, wear jewelry, etc.? Answer the same question for men.

33) What do the two genders do with their hands while standing and talking to another person? While just standing and looking or waiting?

34) Do women and men look differently when riding bicycles? How do women and men athletes look while riding bicycles? On the street? In competition?

35) Do the two genders differ in the ways they talk to children? Play with children? Discipline children? Teach children?

36) What can you learn about hair styles, makeup, grooming, jewelry, various types of clothing, etc. from observing women and men models in newspaper, magazine, and television ads and catalogs for clothing? How do these various features of a person combine to produce an effect, generate feelings, etc.?

37) Notice the many different approaches women have in wearing jewelry and using makeup. How do you decide if a woman is wearing too much makeup or jewelry? Are there times when a certain amount of jewelry is actually needed?

38) What are the differences between men and women in holding and drinking from a cup or glass? Are women as likely as men to drink directly from a soda or beer bottle in a restaurant? What kind of restaurant? What time of the day?

39) Do women and men differ in the way they eat popcorn, a hamburger, an apple, etc.?

40) Do hair styles and the length of hair for men and women tend to change over a person's life span?

41) What are some topics one is likely to find women discussing with each other in casual conversation? In a business conversation? When with men? Answer the same question for men, when together and when with women.

42) Are there differences between women and men in their tendency to look at other people who are walking toward them from the opposite direction while, for example, walking down a sidewalk or shopping mall?

43) How do women and men express disagreement? Anger? Happiness? Sadness? Joy?

44) Do men or women swing their arms more while walking?

45) Are there differences in pacing, speed, and rhythm in the ways women and men move through their daily activities?

46) What are some differences between the two genders in various forms of touching another person of: a) the same gender, and b) the opposite gender?

47) Are there differences between men and women in teasing others? Who teases whom? Are there differences in arguing? Who argues with whom?

48) Is it true that women speak one way when with other women, another way when engaged in business or professional activities, a third way when with men socially, and still a fourth way when with children? Are there differences for men under similar conditions?

49) Do women tell jokes as often as men? When the two genders tell jokes, in general, do they tell different kinds of jokes, jokes with different themes, etc.?

50) Observe the expressions communicated in the eyes of men and women in various advertisements for clothes, sports equipment, cars, cosmetics, and foods. Notice both expressions depicted in magazine and newspaper ads and television commercials. What differences do you see in warmth, power, softness, aggressiveness, attractiveness, intensity, and various other emotions as suggested by the appearance of peoples' eyes? Also, notice how the expression in a person's eyes and mouth combine to produce a certain look. In those cases involving action notice how the eyes, the brows, and the mouth work together to communicate different emotions and feelings. What other attributes of a person contribute to differences in facial expressions in the two genders?


Gender role behavior, like music, is a form of language and hence communication. As you sharpen your observational skills you'll learn some of the formal differences in gender roles that exist in this time and place. All women do not behave alike in the same or similar situations. The same, of course, is true for men. This raises an interesting question: What are the appearance and behavior characteristics that define a particular gender role?

Expect your observations to elicit a variety of emotions and feelings. If you're not comfortable with what seems to be rather traditional gender roles you can formulate your own personal, androgynous mix of feminine and masculine behaviors that more comfortably defines who you are. The various possibilities are considerable. Eventually you'll decide what fits for you. You are your personal architect!

Practice your observational skills: Observe others and observe yourself. Be aware of how you walk, talk, and in general behave in different situations. Compare what you say and do to the behavior of other women and men in your area. Everyday pick a couple of the preceding questions to answer and see what you find. What other differences in gender role behavior, not suggested here, do you see as you observe the behavior of various men and women?

Sharpening your observational skills will provide you with information to construct a gender role that feels comfortable and works for you. Hence, you define your gender by the way you appear and behave. Your goal is to develop a presentation that helps rather than hurts you as you change.

Some Interesting Readings:

Brownmiller, Susan. (1984). Femininity. New York: Linden / Simon & Schuster.

Devor, Holly. (1989). Gender Blending: Confronting The Limits of Duality. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Kessler, Suzanne & McKenna, Wendy. (1978). Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Lakoff, Robin (1975). Language and Woman's Place. New York: Harper and Row.

Tannen, Deborah (1986). That's Not What I Meant! How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships. New York: Ballantine Books.

Tannen, Deborah (1990). You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. New York: Ballantine Books.