¡§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 recognizes 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 of a transformation/duality of meaning, Bordo intends to exemplify that various contemporary critical discourses can be joined and generate an understanding of the unwitting role which our bodies play in the symbolization and reproduction of gender.

I.        Reconstructing Feminist Discourse on the Body

II.     The Body as a Text of Femininity

III.  Protest and Retreat in the Same Gesture

IV.  Collusion, Resistance, and the Body

IV.  Collusion, Resistance, and the Body

Work Cited


I.        Reconstructing Feminist Discourse on the Body

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

The body is more than a text of culture. According to Bourdieu and Foucault, it is 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.       The second half of 19th Century ¡V Neurasthenia and hysteria (Victorian era)

b.       The second half of 20th Century ¡V Agoraphobia, anorexia nervosa, bulimia (1980s¡Xeating disorders)

2.       Symptoms could be regarded as a text and analyse as a textulaity.

a.       Symptoms of disorders (such as Bulimia or Aneroxia Nervosa), contain symbolic or political meanings that 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.       An ideological construction of femininity

i           Femininity is constructed and the definition of femininity is homogenized and normalized disregard of race, class and other differences. à a coercive and standardized ideal of all women

ii         Disordered female bodies that exalted femininity to an extreme degree = aggressive texts/ graphics for interpreters: body as a text wanted to ¡§be read as a cultural statement¡¨ (2365).

3.       Historical ¡§normal¡¨ feminine practice

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¡¨ becomes:

i           interchangeable with the term ¡§feminine¡¨.

ii         Formalized and scientized in male theorists¡¦ works (2366)

c.       Femininity constructed through standardized visual images ¡V

i           Femininity is a matter of constructing

ii         Femininity is the appropriate surface presentation of self

iii       1950s-1960s -- agoraphobia

B.      Disordered Body as a Text ¡V reading the slender body

1.       1950s-1960s, agoraphobia began at a period of reaffirmation of domesticity and dependency as the feminine ideal.¡@ à e.g. ¡§career women¡¨ = dirty word; movie and screen images

2.       The emaciated body of the anorectic ¡V ¡§a caricature of the contemporary ideal of hyperslenderness for women¡¨, an ideal bodily form for women even nowadays.

C.      A Double Bind

1.       Women ¡V emotional and physical nurturer

a.       ¡§The rules for this construction of femininity require that women learn to feed others, not the self¡¨ (2367).¡@

b.       Self-feeding is greedy and excessive for women who are expected to develop an other-oriented emotional economy.

2.       Women are continually taught ¡§feminine¡¨ virtues and are also expected to learn the ¡§masculine¡¨ language and value simultaneously. ¡V a feminine slim body that contain well-control and self-mastery (viewed as ¡§male virtue¡¨

3.       Popular images of femininity and masculinity ¡V

a.       androgynous ideal then tears the subject into two

b.       ¡§the ¡¥androgynous¡¦ ideal ultimately exposes its internal contradiction and becomes a war that tears the subject in two ¡V a war explicitly thematized, by many anorectics, as a battle between male and female sides of the self¡¨ (2369).

III.  Protest and Retreat in the Same Gesture

A.      Muteness as a way to protest

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

a.       Dianne Hunter and other Lacanian feminists ¡V the hysteric¡¦s ¡§return to the semiotic level¡¨ is both regressive and expressive (addressing to patriarchal thought).

b.       Catherine Clément ¡V the hysterics accuse and points

c.       Helen Cixous ¡V Dora¡¦s case

2.       Literary protest ¡V

a.       Robert Seidenberg and Karen DeCrow as examples

b.       Carroll Smith Rosenberg

c.       Susie Orbach ¡V the anorectic uses ¡§hunger strike¡¨ to express a ¡§political discourse¡¨

B.      Retreat

1.       Kim Chernin ¡V by debilitating personal development, the anorexic might assuage the guilt and separation anxiety

a.       of being surpassed their mothers (in terms of ?)

b.       of living freer lives (Is it possible that the anorexic could live a freer live through undermining her ability?)

2.       Agoraphobia

a.       Usually happen shortly after marriage

b.       A way to secure dependency and attachment (to a fixed life? To the husband? to the patriarchal orders?)

C.      The self-destructing nature of the protest

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

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

3.       For he hysterics

a.       They use their bodies to express

b.       Their muteness can b regarded as a gesture of

i           rejecting the symbolic order of the patriarch, and

ii         recovering a lost world of semiotic, maternal value.

c.       Muteness turns them into silent and uncomplaining woman just as the patriarchal value disciplines them to be

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 which 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 emerged as a conventional feminine practice, often undertaken by patriarchal remarks.¡@ (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.       Female finds the idea that self-mastery and self-transcendence, expertise and power over the body are regarded as superior will and control is appealing, and thus grows it into a habit.

4.       Anorectics enjoy their slender bodies admired and viewed as a project of well-controlled, self-mastery.

5.       The anorectic realizes that a female body is vulnerable, and at times is treated as a child¡¦s body.

6.       The anorexic¡¦s experience of power is illusory.

a.       Reshaping the body ¡Ú gaining male power or priviledge

b.       ¡§To feel autonomous and free while harnessing body and soul to an obsessive body-practice is to serve, not transform, a social order that limits female possibilities¡¨ (2373).

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 -- scientific, philosophic, and aesthetic representations of the body.

2.       the useful body -- The one that is shaped and trained by practical rules and regulations in the presentation of cultural conceptions of the body

3.       Coordination of these 2 bodies ¡V

a.       19th Century the ideal female body of ¡§hourglass¡¨ figure:

i           intelligible symbolic form that represents a domestic and sexualized ideal of femininity

ii          became a useful body through feminine praxis

b.       17th Century concept of the body as a machine

4.       Contradiction 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¡¦[ÿ] the practical body¡¨ (2375).

--Images and presentation of pop culture

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.


French Feminist

U.S. Feminist


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

Flourishes in the study of cultural representations of female body


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

Fail to consider the relation between this cultural representations of the female body and the practical lives of these bodies

3.       Helena Michie¡¦s The Flesh Made Word

a.       Makes metaphorical connections between female eating and female sexuality

b.       Discusses female hunger as ¡§unspeakable desires for sexuality and power¡¨

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

ii          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,¡¨ where we must work 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¡¨ (2376).


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.