¡§The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity¡¨ by Susan Bordo

¡@¡@¡@¡@¡@ This essay will focus on the analysis of one particular arena that the interplays of several dynamics is striking and exemplary.¡@ Through the phenomena of hysteria, agoraphobia and anorexia nervosa, Bordo relates these disorders with various biases (such as class and race bias) that mostly take place in the group of white middle and upper-middle class women.¡@ Disorders may be resistance that undercuts and is utilized as a reproduction of power relations.¡@ With her central mechanism involving a transformation of meaning, Bordo intends to exemplify that various contemporary critical discourses can be joined and generate an ¡§unwitting role¡¨ which our bodies play in the symbolization and reproduction of gender.

I.        Reconstructing Feminist Discourse on the Body

A.      The concept of ¡§body¡¨ ¡V a medium of culture

Bourdieu and Foucault both consider the body as not only a text of culture but a practical, direct locus of social control.

1.       Bourdieu: culture ¡V a made body, can be converted into automatic, habitual activity.

2.       Foucault:¡@ the primacy of practice over belief is not chiefly through ideology, but through the organization and regulation of the time, space and movements of our daily lives.¡@ These means make our bodies trained, shaped, and impressed with prevailing historical forms of selfhood, desire, masculinity, femininity.

3.       docile bodies ¡V

a.       Bordo esp. thinks that female bodies forces and energies are habituated, to external regulation, subjection, transformation, ¡¥improvement¡¦.

b.       ¡§Through the exacting and normalizing disciplines of diet, makeup, and dress, women are rendered less socially oriented and more centripetally focused on self-modification.¡¨

c.       ¡§The discipline and normalization of the female body [ÿ] has to be acknowledged as an amazingly durable and flexible strategy of social control.¡¨

B.      An effective political discourse expected¡V

1.       In the era that appearance is the contemporary preoccupation, when applying Foucault¡¦s idea, it is important that we think of the network of practices, institutions, and technologies that sustain positions of dominance and subordination in a particular domain.

2.       An analytics to describe a power, not repressive but constitutive

3.       A discourse to ¡§account for the subversion of potential rebellion¡¨; a discourse that not merely insists on objectively analysis on power relations, social hierarchy, political backlashes, but also confronts the difficulty and entrapment that ¡¥the subject¡¦ at times is trapped in sustaining ¡§her own oppression.¡¨

II.     The Body as a Text of Femininity

A.      History of female disorder and ¡§normal¡¨ feminine practice

1.       Symptoms of disorder ¡V among most close reading or analysis of disorder, women appear to be apparently much more vulnerable than men.

a.       19th Century ¡V Neurasthenia and hysteria

b.       20th Century ¡V agoraphobia, anorexia nervosa, bulimia

2.       Female disorder ¡V symptoms that could be regarded as a text and analyse as a textulaity.

a.       All symptoms of whether disorder such as Bulimia or Aneroxia Nervosa, contain symbolic or political meanings, (which can be taken as) reflections upon the constructed and existed gender roles.

b.       Examples: women are expected to fee, to serve, to sacrifice ¡V women starve themselves, whittling down the space they/their body take up.

c.       Effect:

i           Femininity is hence constructed, the definition of femininity is homogenized and normalized disregard of race, class and other differences à almost coercive to all women

ii         Female bodies = aggressive texts/ graphics for interpreters

3.       Disorder ¡V endorsed upon women

a.       19th Century: the definition of ¡¥lady¡¦ and the traits of a ¡§lady¡¨ ¡V delicacy, dreaminess, sexually passive, charmingly labile and capriciously emotional

b.       in various literary texts and scientific reports, the term ¡§hysteria¡¨ itself becomes interchangeable with the term ¡§feminine¡¨.

B.      Disordered body as a text

1.       disorders suggests symbolic meaning and political meaning under the varying rules governing the historical construction of gender

2.       The bodies of disordered women offer themselves as an aggressively graphic text of the interpreter, whose diagnosis and analysis is mostly statement related to gender.

3.       The term ¡§hysterical¡¨ becomes interchangeable with the term ¡§feminine¡¨

4.       1950s-1960s, agoraphobia began at a period of reaffirmation of domesticity and dependency as the feminine ideal.¡@ à e.g. ¡§career women¡¨ = dirty word

C.      Developing idea of slenderness

1.       emaciated body of the anorectic ¡V caricature of the contemporary ideal of hyperslenderness for women, an ideal

2.       The rules for this construction of femininity require that women learn to feed others, not the self.¡@ Self-feeding is greedy and excessive for women who are expected to develop an other-oriented emotional economy.

3.       Popular images of femininity and masculinity ¡V androgynous ideal then tears the subject into two

III.  Protest and Retreat in the Same Gesture

A.      Protest vs. Muteness

1.       American and French feminists -- interpretation of the hysteric speaking as a protest through their muteness

2.       Literary protest ¡V Robert Seidenberg and Karen DeCrow as examples

B.      Retreat

1.       The symptoms of disorders actually isolate and weaken the sufferer.

2.       The life of the body becomes the anoretic¡¦s fetish.

3.       The muteness of hysterics is a gesture of rejecting the symbolic order of the patriarch and recovering a lost world of semiotic, maternal value.

IV.  Collusion, Resistance, and the Body

A.      A Social Formation

1.       During historical periods of cultural backlash; which challenges reorganization and redefining male and female roles, hysteria and anorexia come across to their peaks.¡@

2.       Female pathology that is a form of social formation later presses potential resistance and rebellion to maintain the existed gendered order.

3.       No matter what sort of objective social condition/ formation create the female pathology, the subject is the one that always produces the symptoms.

4.       Hence, the body is invested with various meanings by the individual/subject.

5.       By embodying the body with meanings, we may perceive how the subject¡¦s dreams and desire are weaved into the matrix of the power relations.

B.      Anorectic¡¦s body ¡V anorexia is a feminine practice

1.       Anorexia started as a conventional feminine practice, often undertaken by patriarchal power.¡@ (It begins as moderate diet regime.)

2.       Female finds the way to control the need and the want, a sense of triumph is thus formed.

3.       Unlike the western culture which is built on patriarchal power/control, female finds this self-mastery and self-transcendence, expertise and power over the body that is usually controlled by the self.

4.       Anorectics enjoy their slender bodies admired.¡@ ¡V a project of well-controlled

5.       The anorectic is, in a way, abused sexually as if the body is a child¡¦s body because socially and sexually speaking, it appears to be vulnerable with that female body.

6.       Reshape the body is to feel autonomous and free, and the intake of minimal food makes the anorectic experience power and the power of well-control.

V.     Textuality, Praxis, and the Body

A.      A tension between the meaning and the practical life of the disordered body

B.      2 different bodies under the same discourse

1.       the intelligible body -- the intelligible body includes our scientific, philosophic, and aesthetic representations of the body.

2.       the useful body -- Practical rules and regulations trains and shapes the ¡§useful body¡¨ in some presentation.

3.       conflicts of these 2 bodies -- ¡§Exposure and productive cultural analysis of such contradictory and mystifying relations between image and practice are possible only if the analysis includes attention to and interpretation of the ¡¥useful.¡¦¡¨ -- namely the practical body.

a.       Images and presentation of pop culture

b.       The practical body

C.      A possible suggestion to the further development of feminism

1.       French Feminist¡¦s Praxis

a.       Provide a powerful understanding on the phallocentric and dualistic culture on gendered body

b.       Fail to offer concrete analysis of the female body as a ¡§locus of practical cultural control¡¨

2.       U. S. Feminist¡¦s praxis

a.       Flourishes in the study of cultural representations of female body;

b.       Fail to lead on study of the consideration of the relation between this representations of female body and the practical lives of these bodies.

3.       Helena Michie¡¦s The Flesh Made Word

a.       Victorian age: female hunger ¡V a taboo in representation

b.       Contemporary feminist: (an inversion of Victorian values)

Celebrate female sexuality and power through female¡¦s eating images

c.       A lack: eating disorder that has inchoated from 19th Century is not mentioned

D.     Conclusion

Bordo views bodies as ¡§site of struggle,¡¨ that must be worked on so as to carry on daily practices that resist gender domination, docility and gender.¡@ She suggests that we ought to be more aware of the existing contradictions ¡§between image and practice, rhetoric and reality¡¨ (105).



Work Cited

Bordo, Susan.¡@ ¡§The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity.¡¨¡@ Writing on the Body: Female Embodiment and Feminist Theory.¡@ Eds. Katie Conboy, Nadia Medina, and Sarah Stanbury.¡@ New York: Columbia UP, 1997.¡@ 90-110.