Carnal Acts Nancy Mairs Analysis

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Carnal Acts Nancy Mairs Analysis

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These negative descriptions are continued for sexual initiation, marriage, and motherhood. Her phenomenology of the maternal body has been especially controversial:. These accounts have been a source of criticism, particularly when later feminists sought to celebrate the female body as a source of pleasure, fertility, and empowerment, see below. However it is important to recognize that what she was offering was a descriptive phenomenology of female bodies as lived in specific situations.

She was describing a particular set of experiences at a specific social and historical point. As she explicitly says:. It is in a total situation which leaves her few outlets that her peculiarities take on their importance. The way in which the young girl and then the woman experiences her body is, for Beauvoir, a consequence of a process of internalizing the view of it under the gaze of others.

Through compliments and admonishments, through images and words, she discovers the meaning of the words pretty and ugly; she soon knows that to be pleased is to be pretty as a picture; she tries to resemble an image, she disguises herself, she looks at herself in the mirror, she compares herself to princesses and fairies from tales. The phenomenological writer Franz Fanon, Black Skins White Masks , [] describes how, on his arrival in France, he discovers his blackness:. I discovered myself as an object among other objects…the other fixes me, just like a dye is used to fix a chemical solution….

It is not a question of the Black being black anymore, but rather of his being Black opposite the White…we came to have to confront the white gaze …. I was all at once responsible for my body, responsible for my race, for my ancestors. Later theorists have, however, pointed out that in, offering her own account, Beauvoir herself failed to recognize the way in which both race and gender intersect in providing a phenomenology of lived corporeality Gines ; see the discussion of intersectionality in section 4 below. Engagement with female embodiment, the goal of which is to give positive accounts of it, are found in two different strands of feminist thought: Anglo-American radical feminism particularly in the late s and 80s and psychoanalytic feminism, drawing on the work of Freud and Lacan.

Sexual difference theorists, whether working from a radical feminist tradition or from a psychoanalytic feminist tradition, insist on the specificity of female embodiment, a horizon which becomes invisible when the male is taken as the norm of the human. For many of these theorists sexual difference is fundamental and immutable. There are some controversies over exactly what is to be termed radical feminism. As used here the term refers to feminists who stress essential or very deep rooted differences between men and women, and who celebrate the distinctive modes of embodiment and experiential capacities that women have. Female sexuality is celebrated for its power and its supposed capacity to escape from structures of dominance and submission, Rich Reproduction and their caring roles also sets them against the widespread violence of men.

However, such approaches also suffer from the dangers of homogenizing what are very variable experiences both of sexuality and maternity. Moreover woman themselves engage in military professions, and can themselves be violent in private and public space. In the work of Irigaray, , , , we find a sustained critique of both philosophy and psychoanalysis, for their masculinist presuppositions. Such a critique insists on the recognition of sexual difference and the difference that female corporeality can make to the shape which thought can take.

She makes here what may seem like a rather startling claim: namely that the morphology of the body is reflected in the morphology of certain thought processes. So, for example, western rationality is marked by principles of identity, non-contradiction, binarism, atomism and determinate individuation. This makes evident that the bodily features which she invokes in her writings are not brute materialities, but, as is perhaps made clearest in Whitford , bodies as they feature in the interconnected symbolic and imaginary of western culture.

When Irigaray refers to male and female bodily characteristics she is, according to Whitford, capturing the way she finds these features both represented and imagined, that is, affectively experienced, in the personal and social domain. She argues for the need to reconstruct an inter-connected imaginary and symbolic of the female body which is liveable and positive for women. It is a creative one in which the female body is lovingly re-imagined and rearticulated to enable women to both feel and think differently about their embodied form.

Irigaray herself considers how philosophical and psychoanalytic thinking would be different if we took a re-imagined female or maternal body as its starting point instead of the male body, imagined in phallic terms. Such work has been continued in the writings of, for example, Battersby , Cavarero and Alison Stone For Cavarero the lack of attention paid to the fact that we are born from woman has given western metaphysics a preoccupation with death rather than birth. Stone explores the maternal body to suggest models of subjectivity of a new kind, immersed in relations of intimacy and dependence.

Both the foundational status and the inevitability of sexual difference has become a key point of contention between sexual difference theorists and intersectional theorists whose work is anchored particularly in black feminist thought Crenshaw , Hill Collins and Bilge , but also in contributions from theorists of bodily abilities and trans theorists. Garland-Thomson , Bettcher and Garry , Koyama These theorists challenge the priority of sexual difference, in our accounts of embodied subjectivity, and the possibility of providing generic accounts of what such difference consists in.

What counts as being a man or a woman, what life opportunities result from gendered positionality, and how these factors are internalized to form our lived experience of being gendered, is mediated by the other categories which intersect with gendered ones. The normative ideals attached to the concepts are different, though also overlapping. These positionalities have consequences for our life opportunities both economically and in the wider social realm, which the structural data make evident. And all of this has consequences for our lived subjectivity, how we experience our bodies, our sense of ourselves as male or female, amongst other identifiers. Black feminist critiques challenge the racism of mainstream white feminist thought for theorizing womanhood from the perspective of white women thereby rendering the particular experiences of black and other groups of marginalized women invisible.

Audre Lorde writes:. As a Black lesbian feminist comfortable with the many ingredients of my identity, and a woman committed to racial and sexual freedom of expression, I find I am constantly being encouraged to pluck out some aspect of myself and present this as a meaningful whole, eclipsing or denying the other parts of self. But this is a destructive and fragmenting way to live. Lorde The coining of the term intersectionality is often accredited to African-American civil rights advocate and feminist and critical race scholar, Kimberle Crenshaw As black women we do not experience racism AND sexism as separate discrete strands of oppression, Crenshaw argues, but instead racism and sexism intersect and combine to shape the lives, including the experiences of embodiment, of black women, in very specific ways.

This is not a matter of adding on experiences of being raced to a foundational sexed identity. What constitutes being a woman is inter-articulated with being black, in ways that challenge the universalism of sexual difference theory. Disability theorists from the s onwards explored how disability affected the gendering process and gender the experiences and outcomes of differing bodily abilities Mairs , Thomas Feminist theory, as Garland-Thomson argues:. And the relative privileges of normative femininity are often denied to these women. Such work by intersectional feminists challenge any foundational role, or universal articulation of, sexed difference itself.

Feminist writers from Wollstonecraft onwards have drawn attention to the way in which society prescribes norms in relation to which subjects regulate their own bodies and those of others. By regimes of dieting, makeup, exercise, dress, and cosmetic surgery, women, and increasingly men, try to sculpt their bodies into shapes which reflect the dominant societal norms. Such disciplinary practices attach not only to the production of appropriately gendered bodies, but to other aspects of bodily identity subject to social normalization. Hair straightening, blue tinted contact lenses, surgical reconstruction of noses and lips, are practices in which the material shapes of our bodies are disciplined to correspond to a social ideal, reflecting the privileged position which certain kinds of, usually, white, always able, always young, bodies occupy.

From the s, feminist attention to the power relations working through such disciplinary practices has made extensive use of the work of Foucault Foucault , Bartky , Bordo Foucauldian insights regarding disciplinary practices of the body are applied to the disciplining of the gendered, and most insistently the female, body. Such accounts stress the way in which women actively discipline their own bodies not only to avoid social punishments, but also to derive certain kinds of pleasure. There are two key features of such accounts. One stresses the way in which the material shape of bodies is modified by such practices. The second that such modifications are a consequence of bodies carrying social meanings, signalling within specific contexts, sexual desirability, or availability, or respectability, or participation in social groupings.

With attention to the work of Foucault and other poststructuralist writers, also came the recognition that practices of bodily modification could have multiple meanings, with disagreements over responses to cosmetics, fashion and cosmetic surgery Davis , Alsop and Lennon It was against this background that Bordo developed her complex and influential reading of the anorexic body:. In the work of Butler , , , the subjection of our bodies to such normalizing practices become viewed, not only a way in which already sexed bodies seek to approximate an ideal, but as the process whereby sexed subjects come into existence at all. Since with the appearance of Gender Trouble , her performative account of gendered subjectivity has dominated feminist theory.

Butler rejects the view that gender differences, with their accompanying presumptions of heterosexuality, have their origin in biological or natural differences. Butler, like Foucault, views discourses as productive of the identities they appear to be describing. The effect of repetition of acts of this kind is to make it appear that there are two distinct natures, male and female. These gendered performances are ones which we act out ourselves and which others act out in relation to us. They are acted out in accordance with social scripts prescribing ideals which are unrealizable, but which none the less provide the framework for our activities.

These dominant ideals reinforce the power of certain groups; e. The performances by means of which our bodies become gendered vary in different contexts, and can change over time. Constituting myself as a caring mother, my performance would differ from that of a sexy pop star. Moreover these practices are not independent of those which produce other aspects of our identity. Butler has stressed the way in which gendered performances incorporate a presumptive heterosexuality; but, as intersectional theorists have made clear, they also are co-constituted with class, race and national and cultural positioning, as well as age and a variety of forms of abilities and disabilities. In bodily acts manifesting gendered positionality, other social positions are carried along, in such a way that it is not possible to disentangle a strand of gender which is universally present.

If gender becomes a matter of bodily style and performance, as this model suggests, then there is no necessary link between gender and any particular bodily shape. The alignment between anatomical shape and gendered performance is itself just a norm. Furthermore this norm, along with others governing gendered performance, is open to destabilization and change. For Butler same sex practices are one way of destabilizing the normative links of gender and heterosexuality. Various trans performances, in a parallel way, challenge the link of anatomical shape and gender. The trans community, problematised by sexual difference theory, therefore comes to occupy a central position for Butler.

So, for example, the television documentary, Pregnant Man by McDonald , featuring a pregnant man who is referred to as a man and presented as a regular guy, works to undermine our binaries. What remains problematic about this, however, is that the effect of performance is unpredictable. Drag, for example, can support or dislodge gendered stereotypes and we cannot always sort out which any instance will produce. This make possibilities for reflective agency difficult to negotiate McNay For some commentators such a performative account of the formation of sexed bodies, fails to capture how the materiality of the body enters into our sense of self. In the preface to Bodies that Matter Butler reports a common response to her work:.

What about the materiality of the body, Judy? Butler answers such questions by giving an account of the materiality of the body in terms of a process of materialisation. Instead she offers us a picture in which what we count as the material, as nature, as the given, is not something to which we have unmediated access. It is itself a product of particular modes of conceptualizing, modes which do not escape the workings of power. She concurs with the position of Spivak:. If one thinks of the body as such, there is no possible outline of the body as such. There are thinkings of the systematicity of the body, there are value codings of the body. The body, as such, cannot be thought, and I certainly cannot approach it.

Spivak We cannot, then, ask questions about what limits are set by something outside of what we conceptualize. We can, however, explore the possibilities of conceptualizing otherwise. This does not mean that there is nothing outside of discourse. Butler makes clear that the body exceeds any attempt to capture it in discourse. It is just such excessiveness which allows the possibility of alternative formations of it, for the body outruns any of the ways we might have of thinking about it. But we cannot approach the extra-discursive except by exploring discursive possibilities.

The insight of the new materialist discussions has been to ensure that matter, the material, is accorded an active role in this relation. Mattering becomes more important than matter! Here the body is not simply a materiality which outruns any attempt to conceptualize it; it is actively involved in processes of change and transformation. Nonetheless she draws some problematic conclusions which are not endorsed by current feminist biologists Fausto-Sterling ; Fine , In embracing natural selection she appears to give it a foundational explanatory role so that.

Grosz [ 44]. And this sexual differentiation and the sexual selection with which, for her, it is interwoven, is then invoked to ground racial and other forms of bodily differences. The history of sex difference research show that the biological theories, which give an account of sex differences, are the products of particular historical and culturally specific moments of production.

But we cannot approach the extra-discursive except by exploring discursive possibilities. The insight of the new materialist discussions has been to ensure that matter, the material, is accorded an active role in this relation. Mattering becomes more important than matter! Here the body is not simply a materiality which outruns any attempt to conceptualize it; it is actively involved in processes of change and transformation.

Nonetheless she draws some problematic conclusions which are not endorsed by current feminist biologists Fausto-Sterling ; Fine , In embracing natural selection she appears to give it a foundational explanatory role so that. Grosz [ 44]. And this sexual differentiation and the sexual selection with which, for her, it is interwoven, is then invoked to ground racial and other forms of bodily differences. The history of sex difference research show that the biological theories, which give an account of sex differences, are the products of particular historical and culturally specific moments of production.

Such a recognition has allowed biological accounts of sex differences to be revisited with an eye as to where cultural assumptions about gender have influenced them. Of key importance in this regard has been the assumption that there are simply two sexes , male and female, a model which has come increasingly under challenge. Fausto-Sterling points out the range of inter-sex bodies that are forced into a binary classificatory system , Oudshoorn , in a genealogy of the emergence of the theory of sex hormones, shows how a model of binary sex differences prevailed, in a context in which dualistic notions of male and female could have been abandoned see entry feminist philosophies of biology and also Fausto-Sterling , ; Fine , Lane argues that.

This is not to deny that there is something independent of our conceptualizations which sets constraints on what can be said about it. What we cannot do is disentangle the bit which is given from our ways of thinking about it. Barad explores this entanglement with particular reference to the work of physicist Niels Bohr. Importantly, however, although the empirical world of matter takes an active part this does not involve according it some sort of immediate givenness, or a straight-forwardly determining role.

In her approach Barad is following in the footsteps of Haraway. She was also concerned to draw attention to the complex factors which go into constituting what is to count as nature for us. Most crucially she was concerned to undermine the supposed naturalness of certain binaries; insisting on a breaching of boundaries between human and animal and between animal and machine. There is no clear boundary between what is natural and what is constructed. In this and her later work Haraway , , her account of the quirkiness and agency which, in Butler, is primarily discussed as a feature of discursive practices, is as much a feature of nature.

What is so notable about her work is the careful respect shown to the concreteness of bodily existence and to the biological narratives, alongside narratives of historical and cultural kinds. A return to an interest in feminist phenomenology, in the footsteps of Beauvoir, started with the work of Bartky and Young in the late s, but became widespread only in the s. At the center of phenomenological accounts of embodiment is the lived experience of the body. For such writers embodiment is our mode of being-in-the-world Young 9. The notion of experience is treated with great suspicion in the poststructuralist framework within which Butler is primarily positioned. The experiences to which phenomenological writers draw attention are not, however, of such a pure kind.

For as Merleau-Ponty points out,. But the phenomenological accounts foreground lived experience of the body in a way that is often absent from, what are now termed, the new materialist writings, although it is foregrounded in the writings of some trans theorists, see Salamon They put such resources to work to make visible the variable experiences of gendered, raced, classed, differently abled and differently aged bodies, to reflect on the way such experiences, mediate social positionality, and constitute our sense of self. Here she is echoing the descriptions offered by Beauvoir. For Young, as for Beauvoir, such experiences of embodiment are not a consequence of anatomy, but rather of the situation of women in contemporary society, but they point to significant ways in which female lived embodiment can be an obstacle to intentional engagement with the world.

Here the stress is not only on inhibited intentionality. There is also recognition that such experiences can offer alternative possibilities for embodied engagement that can be positive as well as negative. Moi suggests that the category of the lived body can capture the way material features of our bodies play a role in our subjective sense of self, without giving a reductionist, biological account of such embodiment. In her work a phenomenological account is employed to give an account of those identity categories which are anchored in material bodily features, what she terms visible identities.

Focusing primarily on raced and gendered identities, she makes clear the way in which bodily features, color, hair, nose, breasts, genitals are invested with a significance which becomes a part of our immediate perceptual experience of them:. Both race and sex … are most definitely physical, marked on and through the body, lived as a material experience, visible as surface phenomena and determinant of economic and political status.

Because of the material reality of the features and the immediacy of our perceptual response, the meanings attached to such features become naturalized. The fact that they are the product of learned modes of perception is not evident to us, for such perceptual practices have become habitual and are resistant to change. The significance, therefore, of certain bodily shapes, informs our sense of our own body and of the bodies of others.

The sense of our own body reflects, as was articulated by Sartre, Fanon, and Beauvoir, the way it is perceived by others. The very shape of the body carries its position in patterns of social interaction. I used to stare at the Indian in the mirror. The wide nostrils … the thick lips …. Such a long face—such a long nose—sculpted by indifferent, blunt thumbs, and of such common clay. No one in my family had a face as dark or as Indian as mine. My face could not portray the ambition I brought to it. Alcoff ; my emphasis. Ambition is something expressible in a body of a different kind, and the face he looks at points to a positioning at odds with what he desires. Although Alcoff restricts her analysis to race and sex, it is clear that it also has relevance to other bodily identities.

Lennon and Alsop , Ch. For experiences of material features of the body are foundational to our sense of our sexed identity and used by others to position us in patterns of social interaction. Despite the polarising and often damaging consequences of the perceptual practices which Alcoff draws our attention to, she remains optimistic about the possibilities for change, though stressing the difficulties of even bringing these practices into view. Alcoff is drawing attention to the salience which particular bodily features have in our experiencing of our own bodies and the bodies of others. Weiss begins her exploration of body images with the work of Merleau-Ponty [] and Schilder [] , though castigating both for ignoring the difference that sexed and raced positionality make.

Such an awareness is not as of an objective anatomical body, but the body in the face of its tasks, a body in which some aspects stand out and others are invisible. It is by means of such body schemas that we are able to act intentionally in the world, and, although they most commonly operate at a pre-reflective level, they constitute our sense of ourselves as corporeal beings. In the work of Schilder the multiple nature of such body images and their dynamic nature is stressed. For him the phenomenological account is interwoven with a psychoanalytic one. This, ensures that our body image is formed by the way the body is experienced and emotionally invested rather than cognitively represented.

This is what for many writers is captured by the notion of the bodily imaginary. Gatens , Lennon Feminists employing the concept of the bodily imaginary, influenced by the work of Irigaray discussed above , therefore, stress that the way we have of experiencing our bodies invests particular contours with emotional and affective salience. Gatens , in exploring the notion of bodily imaginaries, also draws on the work of Spinoza. For her the imaginary body is. Many of the emotional saliencies which are attached, socially or only individually, to specific bodily features are damaging and destructive. The matter becomes complex once we recognize that the affective salience which our bodies bear may not be available to reflective scrutiny, but nonetheless reveals itself in the habitual perceptual practices to which Alcoff drew our attention.

To effect change we need to offer alternative pictures which make emotional imaginative and not only cognitive sense. This is a crucial issue for all writers who want to provide an account of corporeal identities in terms of affectively laden body images, or bodily imaginaries. Feminist theorists of the body, working with the notion of the bodily imaginary, therefore see creative acts directed at alterations in our mode of perceiving bodies, as central to the process of political and social transformation.

Lennon The work on bodily imaginaries from within the phenomenological framework, makes explicit the extent to which our embodied identities are dependent on the responses of others. They are negotiated intersubjectively, linked to the possible pattern of social interactions within which we can recognizably be placed. It is also clear that the imaginaries which are normatively attached to certain bodily morphologies can be restricting and damaging. Both Beauvoir and Fanon described the damaging consequences of encountering the myths and images carried by female and black bodies, which become internalized to mediate our embodied sense of self. The work of many theorists of bodily abilities point to the norms surrounding bodily shape and form in relation to which non normative bodies are seen as freaks and monsters.

Garland-Thomson Mairs admits experiencing shame of her body:. Thus it is doubly other, not merely by the … standards of patriarchal culture but by the standards of physical desirability erected for everybody in our world…. My belly sags from loss of muscle tone, which also creates all kind of intestinal disruptions, hopelessly humiliating in a society in which excretory functions remain strictly unspeakable.

Mairs [ , ]. The blossoming of the aesthetic surgery industry amongst women, and increasingly men, is a consequence of an increasingly narrow set of bodily morphologies being accepted as attractive and desirable, Moreover these morphologies are usually of young bodies. This fuels the demand for body modification of aging bodies. As a consequence of these insights, there is increasing work amongst feminist philosophers concerning the ethics of embodiment. Weiss points to. There are two special issues of the feminist journal Hypatia Bergoffen and Weiss , devoted to the ethics of embodiment, dealing with the implications of situating bodies at the center of ethical theory.

This requires looking at the operation of bodily norms, and which bodies and modes of comportment are valued and which not. It also requires engaging with bodily vulnerability in relation to the normative human and ethical ideals of autonomy and subjecthood. When we fit harmoniously and properly into the world, we forget the contingency of this, because the world sustains us. When we experience misfitting and recognize that disjuncture for its political potential, we expose the relational component and the fragility of fitting.

Any of us can fit here today and misfit there tomorrow. Our bodily vulnerability, and consequently our vulnerability to others, is also central to the later work of Butler. The vulnerability to social punishments and the threats of violence attach particularly to those who fail to conform to social norms. We are affected by the outside, the social and familial bonds, which enable us to assume subjectivity and agency, but are also injurious to us in closing down possibilities for our ways of being. I am affected not just by this one other or set of others, but by a world in which humans, institutions and organic and inorganic processes all impress themselves upon this me, who is, at the onset, susceptible in ways that are radically involuntary.

Such susceptibility is for her, the mode of being of embodied sensibility. See Gonzalez-Arnal, Jagger and Lennon eds. Also see Widdows for a discussion of Beauty as an Ethical Ideal and the entry on feminist perspectives on disability. Feminist theorists of embodiment have made a central contribution to philosophy of embodiment and ensured, along with critical race theorists and theorists of dis ability, that attention to the body plays a central role in metaphysical, ethical, social and political thought. The theories which emerge are not simply of gendered embodiment. They provide a general account of the relations between bodies and selves.

What is stressed within the feminist literature is the range of philosophical theories which are required to make sense of the embodied self. Naturalising frameworks need supplementing with phenomenological, poststructuralist and psychoanalytic ones, in just way the feminist theorists have exemplified, if embodied subjectivity is to become intelligible. Beauvoir, Simone de feminist philosophy, interventions: bioethics feminist philosophy, topics: perspectives on disability feminist philosophy, topics: perspectives on science feminist philosophy, topics: perspectives on sex and gender feminist philosophy, topics: perspectives on trans issues identity politics.

Lennon hull. Historical Background 2. The Second Sex 2. Sexual Difference 3. Intersectionality 5. Bodily Practices 5. Biology and the New Materialisms 7.

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