Movies and Shows

Sex Education’s Superman Pose Explained: Real Life Theory & TED Talk

A scene in season 3 of Sex Education shows Hope Haddon in what she calls a “Superman pose,” but what does this position mean in real life? The new season of the Netflix original dropped in mid-September and is currently one of the top 10 most streamed pieces of content on the platform. Sex Education season 3 stars new and returning cast members including Asa Butterfield, Ncuti Gatwa, Emma Mackey, Gillian Anderson, and Dua Saleh. 

Hope Haddon (Jemima Kirke) replaces Mr. Groff (Alastair Petrie) in season 3 as the new headteacher of Moordale Secondary School. She despises Moordale’s reputation, including the nickname “sex school,” and plans to make some big changes to restore its reputation. As her new rules become increasingly severe, she clashes with Moordale’s students in her attempts to rebrand the school. The new headmistress promises to listen to students, but she shuts down conversations on gender and sexuality and makes the school adhere to a strict, judgmental sex education curriculum that pushes abstinence and homophobia. Thus, Hope also replaces Headmaster Groff as the main villain in Sex Education.

In episode 7 of Sex Education‘s new season, Moordale’s students and staff prepare for an open day. Hope plans to unveil a “rebrand” for Moordale, including changing its name to Sparkside Academy, in order to secure the necessary funding for the school. Before the event, a staff member walks in on Hope standing tall and erect with her hands on her hips as she mutters encouragement to herself. “It’s Superman pose,” Hope explains. “It helps with nerves. There’s a TED Talk on it.” This is indeed true. Superman posing, otherwise known as power posing, originates from a 2012 TED Talk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy (via Ted.com). In her talk, Cuddy focuses on the role of body language in human interaction and points out that our physicality also influences the way we perceive ourselves. She explains that “nonverbal expressions of power and dominance” are “about expanding” and “opening up.” Cuddy describes a lab study in which she found people felt more powerful after adopting an open stance for just two minutes, and advises her audience to “try power posing” as a way to gain confidence in themselves.

The context of Cuddy’s TED talk betrays Hope’s lack of confidence underneath her no-nonsense, put-together exterior. Despite the authoritarian style she has demonstrated by instating new rules and a grey uniform policy at Moordale, it’s clear that she’s not always as certain of herself and as confident in what she’s doing as she appears on the surface. While she’s gone too far and her new policies are problematic, women not being taken as seriously in positions of authority as men is a widespread real-world phenomenon. Due to social conditioning and other factors, women also don’t always present themselves as assertively or authoritatively as their professional male counterparts. Whether Hope is aware of this or not, she’s clearly either been told in the past or worries that she doesn’t come across as confidently and securely as she would like, so she’s turned to TED Talks and picking up advice to use in her own life. 

Hope’s Superman pose in Sex Education humanizes her. The scene shows that she is nervous about the open day at Moordale and cares a lot, not only about it going well, but also about how she is perceived. Hope is shown under stress in several other instances throughout Sex Education season 3, including when she is threatened by the superintendent and when she doubts her ability to conceive a child after multiple rounds of IVF. Vulnerable moments like this contribute to a complex characterization of the new villain in Sex Education who will, hopefully, become one of the most interesting characters on the show in future seasons.

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