When arriving at the dating age, I remember asking friends and relatives how I should act while on this date and common responses were usually “don’t hold back,” and/or “just be yourself,” “act natural.” But I already knew better than to literally take them at their word—particularly when it came down to expressing vital bodily functions. In the top clip from Sex and the City, Carrie lets one accidentally slip while in bed with Big during the early stages of their relationship, and her embarrassment, much to his delight, is palpable and lasting. In the bottom clip, the young woman is at first put-off when her boyfriend shamelessly farts. However, following his suggestion, she then comes to “act natural,” and indeed, to repetitively embrace the act—much to his chagrin.
Taken together, the clips provide a springboard to discuss the fact that many social norms are clearly gendered in the sense of their unequal application to the sexes. In terms of public displays of flatulence, many males seem to think nothing of engaging in it—sometimes even making it a high-sport for masculine amusement. Females, on the other hand, are supposed to hide their need for release, holding it in for all their worth. At a deeper level, gendered norms about flatulence suggest differential power between the sexes, and perhaps even contempt among men for women. As Weinberg and Williams (2005) note: “...bodily grossness may be valued for its opposition to the manners that femininity is thought to imply. The delight taken in physical behaviors like burping can indicate men’s disdain for what they perceive as feminine. Some men may adopt this form of embodiment as an expression of their power over women as they deliberately breach the habitus.”
- Garfinkel, Harold. 1967. Studies in Ethnomethodology. Prentice-Hall, Inc.: New Jersey.
- Weinberg, Martin S. and Colin J. Williams. 2005. "Fecal Matters: Habitus, Embodiments, and Deviance." Social Problems, 52(3): 315-336
- Worsfold, Adrian. Harold Garfinkel (breaching experiment)
Kim Bryant is a graduate student at the University of Texas, San Antonio and is currently majoring in Sociology. Besides going to school full-time, she works as a teacher's assistant and in the United States Air Force Reserve Corps.