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Feminist Theory: Performing and Altering Bodies Essay

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Updated: Jul 5th, 2021

Summary of the Readings

Author’s Main Point

The book explores different feminist perspectives and positions on the body by drawing on different articles. The introductory chapter points out that the body is a unifying subject that attracts intense inquiry to reveal different possibilities of corporeality that were masked by the intellectual traditions of modernism (Price & Shildrick, 1999). Different critical points are raised in the other readings. Social norms require black women academics to deny their experience to conform to the white heterosexual ideal. The stereotypes of the lesbian body, such as tribades, consider lesbianism as either evil or narcissistic. Additionally, feminine indifference towards conventional masculine power is an affirmation of ‘female masculinity’. Gender has developed and displaced sex through social norms. Femininity is temporal; however, this does not undermine feminism. Conventional gender can be seen as a construction sustained through repeated performance.

Citations from the Readings

The authors draw from diverse feminist writings on the female body, black feminism, postmodern philosophy (Foucault’s normative ideals), and trans-sexuality, cultural studies, and theatre to depict the different conceptualizations of corporeality. For example, Simmonds (1997) quotes from the works of earlier feminists like Fanon to illustrate the challenges black women encounter in developing a “bodily schema” in a white world (p. 51). The citations support the key arguments made by the authors.

Outline of Argument

Openings on the body

  • Enlightenment period’s pursuit of truth and knowledge led to the denial of corporeality
  • Body passions considered an impediment to intellectual growth
  • Sexual and racial differences fit gendered body categorizations, which form the core feminist agenda

My body, myself

  • Social imperatives of a white world stifle the expression of a black woman experience in academia
  • For black women, “certain private information is inscribed in literature and social theory” (Simmonds, 1997, p. 51).

Lesbian bodies

  • Historical actions against tribades: legal, medical, and lethal
  • One-sex model vs. two-sex archetype – a female as an inverted male body
  • Female homosexuality developed from ‘penis envy’
  • Lesbianism indicates feminine self-absorption with the body

The making of female masculinity

  • The lesbian body deconstructs gender and depicts it as a social invention
  • Lesbianism can be understood as female masculinity

Bodies that matter

  • ‘Sex’ categories are normative ideals of control
  • Gender (a social construct) is different from sex (biological)

Bodies, identities, and feminisms

  • Feminisms are indifferent to the male/female body particularities
  • Acknowledging unique temporalities of women is critical in seeing the female body as gendered

Bodily inscriptions

  • The gendered body results from repetitive performances
  • The identity expressed through gender is fabricated

Reflection/Understanding of the Material

The material articulates the logic behind corporeality and its expression. The readings give three dimensions of the body: the biological sex, gender identity, and gender performance. Social norms maintain these attributes through stereotypes. Thus, gender identities are meant to regulate sexuality in the context of heterosexuality.

Reactions, Opinions, and Thoughts on the Material

The difference between gender and sex has been demonstrated in this material. What stood out for me is the conceptualization of gender as repetitive performance. Gender identities involve fabricated corporeal signs meant to maintain certain meanings. The logic behind this social mechanism is that a gendered body expresses what makes up its reality. However, this corporeality is a fabricated product of historical and cultural discourses and societal regulation of the body.

Discussion Question

Does gender crossing by women through hairstyles or dress indicate gender transcendence or female masculinity?

References

Price, J., & Shildrick, M. (1999). Openings on the body: A critical introduction. In J. Price

& M. Shildrick (Eds.), Feminist theory and the body: A reader (pp. 1-14). New York, NY: Routledge.

Simmonds, F. N. (1997). My body myself: How does a black woman do sociology? In J.

Price & M. Shildrick (Eds.), Feminist theory and the body: A reader (pp. 50-63). New York, NY: Routledge.

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"Feminist Theory: Performing and Altering Bodies." IvyPanda, 5 July 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/feminist-theory-performing-and-altering-bodies/.

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References

IvyPanda. 2021. "Feminist Theory: Performing and Altering Bodies." July 5, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/feminist-theory-performing-and-altering-bodies/.

References

IvyPanda. (2021) 'Feminist Theory: Performing and Altering Bodies'. 5 July.

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