Chapter 10.doc

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University of Toronto Scarborough
Women's and Gender Studies
Anissa Talahite- Moodley

Chapter 10: The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity Reconstructing Feminist Discourse on the Body - the body – what we eat, how we dress, and the daily rituals to which we attend – is a medium of culture - the body, as anthropologist Mary Douglas has argued, is a powerful symbolic form, a surface on which the central rules, hierarchies, and even metaphysical commitments of a culture are inscribed and thus reinforced through the concrete language of the body - the body is not only a text of culture - it is also, as anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu and philosopher Michel Foucault have argued, a practical, direct locus of social control - through the exacting and normalizing disciplines of a diet, makeup, and dress – central organizing principles of time and space in the day of many women – we are rendered less socially oriented and more centripetally focused on self-modification - through these disciplines, we continue to memorize on our bodies, the feel and conviction of lack, of insufficiency, of never being good enough - in our own era, it is difficult to avoid the recognition that the contemporary preoccupation with appearance, which still affects women far more powerfully than men, even in our narcissistic and visually-oriented culture, may function as a backlash phenomenon, reasserting existing gender configurations against any attempts to shift or transform power relations The Body as a Text of Femininity - the continuum between female disorder and ‘normal’ feminine practice is sharply revealed through a close reading of those disorders to which women have been particularly vulnerable - these, of course, have varied historically: neurasthenia and hysteria in the second half of the nineteenth century; agoraphobia and, most dramatically, anorexia nervosa and bulimia in the second half of the twentieth century - the symptomatology of these disorders reveals itself as textuality - loss of mobility, loss of voice, inability to leave the home, feeding others while staving oneself, taking up space, and whittling down the space one’s body takes up – all have symbolic meaning, all have political meaning under the varying rules governing the historical construction of gender - the bodies of disorder women in this way offer themselves as an aggressively graphic text for the interpreter – a text that insists, actually demands, that it
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