What’s The Correct Way For Women To Sit? Certainly Not The Way They Want To

correct way to sit, work from home, coping with lockdown
The public information office of the Karnataka High Court has clarified that there are no rules stopping citizens from sitting cross-legged while attending court proceedings. It was responding to a right to information query filed by Bengaluru-based activist T Narasimha Murthy. He filed the information request on May 27 and received an answer on June 9.

On asked why he filed this RTI he said his friend was asked by a constable to not to sit cross-legged in front of an officer’s chamber in a Bengaluru police station, and that he could not understand the logic of such rules, so he had decided to file an RTI and the Karnataka High Court has given a definitive answer.

When this reply became public, netizens had a lot to say, especially women. One Twitter user wrote, “I have been called off for doing the same during my internship at the Karnataka High Court! Surprised know that there was no such regulation in place!” While another added, “Regardless, women lawyers get told off for this in courts across Karnataka, on grounds of ‘respect’, while male lawyers never get the same remark. Our respect does not reside in our legs”.

Correct way to sit for women: Why must society decide?

Society has a lot to say where women are concerned. How they should behave, speak, wear or talk. Sandra Lee Bartky, a philosopher, once observed that being feminine often means she should use her body to portray powerlessness. She elaborated that a woman keeps her body small and contained like she’ll make sure that she doesn’t take up too much space so as to impose herself.  She will walk and sit in tightly packaged ways. For example she will try not to cover the breadth of the sidewalk or expand herself beyond the chair she sits on. Burping and passing wind, raising one’s voice in an argument, and even laughing loudly are considered distinctly unwomanly, Bartky further added. According to her, a woman doesn’t use her body to forcefully interact with the world, she will let others do it for her when possible. In this regard, crossing legs is considered an authoritative posture and so women shouldn’t sit cross-legged or with hands on their hips, a subordinate cannot sit like in front of a senior, you get the drift I hope.

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The Internet seems to somewhat agree, as in the same thread one man wrote, “This is certainly a male-female issue in our society. Men can sit in whichever pose they want to, but women are not, especially when it comes to cross-legged. Though everyone may get a mouthful in govt offices, a woman sitting like that would attract more abuse, even from public.” Another woman shared her experience, writing, “This brought back memories when I took DL as a school going teenager many years ago. I had one hand on my hip and the other in my pocket when aapeeser gave me advise to stand properly.”

The way we sit, stand or converse does send signals to those we are interacting with. Andy Yap, a psychologist tested whether “expansive body postures” like the ones associated with masculinity increase people’s sense of powerfulness and entitlement.  They did. According to laboratory experiments it was noticed that people who were prompted to take up more space were more likely to steal, cheat, and violate traffic laws. Hence according to this research, expansive body postures that take up room instill a psychological sense of power and entitlement.

Why does society want to diminish the personal space of women? Because it wants to control how women must behave in public places and in front of men. It wants women to know that their bodies are mere vessels in which patriarchy stores notions like reputation and sows the seed of next generation. Since women’s bodies are important for sustenance of a way of life- that is the way of patriarchy, it feels obsessed with the idea of controlling them in every possible way.

We hope this RTI episode will put to rest the uselessness of curtailing a person’s right to sit however she/he may wish to sit. It is these little wins that keep us motivated to fight the bigger battle- the one to claim our agency and bodies back.

Views expressed are the author’s own.