Feminism and the Female Body: Liberating the Amazon Within 9781685854010

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FEMINISM and the


Gender and Political Theory: New Contexts Series Editor Judith Grant University of Southern California Editorial Board Darius Rejali Reed College Mary Hawkesworth University of Louisville Nancy Love Pennsylvania State University

Wendy Sarvasy California State University, Hayward Mary Shanley Vassar College Joan Tronto Hunter College

FEMINISM and the

FEMALE BODY Liberating the Amazon Within

Shirley Castelnuovo & Sharon R. Guthrie

b o u l d e r l o n d o n

Published in the United States of America in 1998 by Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. 1800 30th Street, Boulder, Colorado 80301 www.rienner.com

and in the United Kingdom by Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. Gray’s Inn House, 127 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1 5DB www.eurospanbookstore.com/rienner

© 1998 by Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Castelnuovo, Shirley, 1930– Feminism and the female body : liberating the Amazon within / by Shirley Castelnuovo and Sharon R. Guthrie. p. cm. — (Gender and political theory.) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 1-55587-439-8 (hc : alk. paper) 1. Feminist theory—United States. 2. Body, Human—Social aspects—United States. 3. Body, Human—Political aspects—United States. 4. Amazons. 5. Women bodybuilders—United States. 6. Women martial artists—United States. 7. Women athletes—United States. I. Guthrie, Sharon Ruth, 1950– . II. Series. HQ1190.C385 1998 305.42—dc21 97-49323 CIP

British Cataloguing in Publication Data A Cataloguing in Publication record for this book is available from the British Library.

Printed and bound in the United States of America

The paper used in this publication meets the requirements of the American National Standard for Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials Z39.48-1984. 5 4 3 2 1

To my mother and father, Ruth and Keith, for whom I hold the highest respect and from whom I learned the importance of maintaining mind-body balance in life’s pursuits; To my brother, Bob, and my cousin, Ronnie, for providing support during some times when I needed it the most; and To Shirley, who keeps me centered on my path. S. R. G.

To John, who supported my years in graduate school in the early 1960s, when feminism was even less popular than it is today; To my daughter, Lia, and my son, Richard, with whom I have shared many significant transitions; To Ian, my grandson; and To Sharon, my comrade, who continues to remind me that the life of the mind is an embodied experience. S. C.

Contents Acknowledgments








The Feminist Wars

Where Did We Come From? The Fall from Grace, 14 The Politics of Pornography, 19 Identity Politics, 22 Identity Politics and Race, 23 Politics and Postmodernism During the 1990s, 26

The Problem of Dualism and the Physically Powerful Female Body


Elite Female Bodybuilders: Models of Resistance or Compliance?


Will the Real Nondualist Please Stand Up? 32 The Amazon as an Icon of Resistance, 36 The Female Bodybuilder: A Model of Feminist Embodiment? 39 Female Bodybuilding: An Interpretational Conundrum for Feminists, 41 Women’s Bodybuilding: Overcoming the Problem of Dualistic Analysis, 45

Developing a Nondualistic Feminist Perspective of Female Embodiment, 49 Elite Female Bodybuilders: The Experiential Base, 54 vii







The Thousand Waves Experience: Intersecting Feminism and the Martial Arts


Female Sporting Bodies


Developing a Feminist Mind-Body Analytical Framework, 67 Thousand Waves: A Case Study, 71 Results, 74 Women in Sport and Physical Education and Anxious Masculinity, 95 Race and Sporting Female Bodies, 98 Gender Equity and Women’s Sport: The Case of Title IX, 101 The Invisibility of Female Sporting Bodies in Mainstream Feminist Theory, 105 The Female Athlete as Transgressive Amazon? 110

Women with Disabilities: Transgressive Challenges to the Normative Body


Identity Politics and Coalition Building


Critical Perspectives on Disability, 117 Constructing and Deconstructing Disabilism, 126 Some Final Thoughts on Disability, 129

The Search for Feminist Liberatory Symbols, 135 The Amazon: A Contemporary Version of Mind-Body Empowerment, 137 Identity, 142 The Production of Identity, 144 Identity Politics and Coalition Building: Insular Enemies or Cooperative Partners? 147

Appendix A: Research Methods for the Bodybuilding Study Appendix B: Examples of Questions from the Nutritional Perceptions and Practices of Bodybuilders Appendix C: Examples of Bodybuilding Interview Questions Appendix D: Research Methods for the Martial Artist Study Appendix E: Examples of Martial Artist Interview Questions


157 159 161 165

Bibliography Index About the Book

167 173 181

Acknowledgments We are greatly indebted to the bodybuilders and women of Thousand Waves, who so graciously and freely shared their stories of mind-body empowerment with us and whose words we have used in this book. We also thank Judith Grant for her early and ongoing support of this book, as well as her thoughtful comments regarding the manuscript, and our many students whose challenging remarks have deepened our appreciation of practical theorizing. Sharon also wishes to acknowledge those individuals who have served as close friends, mentors, or supportive colleagues during her years in graduate school and academia. In particular: Marge Adams, Betty Brooks, Margaret Costa, Jim Davis, Dorothy Deatherage, Betty Edmondson, Dixie Grimmett, Sally Kidd, Sy Kleinman, Barry Lavay, Mary McClellan, Merry Richards, Barbara Nelson, Peter Pereira, Crystal Sahner, Donna Sheridan, and Lynette Wood. Shirley wishes to acknowledge Sheri Castelnuovo, Eva Enderlein, Nancy Green, John and Brenda Murphy, Val Simms, Emile Snyder, and Karl Stark, all of whom have provided support and encouragement over the years.


Introduction This book is the vision and blending of two women from two seemingly disparate disciplines—political science and sport studies—and dissimilar backgrounds: one of us (Sharon) grew up with an emphasis on the physical dimension of living (i.e., participation in sport), the other (Shirley), on the mental. What seemed like a difficult task at first—merging our academic interests and talents—was made easier by the fact that we are both feminists and are empowered by resistant activity. It was also facilitated by Shirley’s experience of weight training during the past eight years, which has allowed her to understand self-efficacy as an embodied experience in which the mind and body are intimately connected. The book is the expression of our desire for a culture in which women are free to actualize and express their powers—both physical and mental—in directions of their own choosing and, more important, a culture in which they feel safe enough to do so. We envision this culture as one in which equality between women and men is a reality instead of just a well-intentioned plan and one in which women have respect for each other as women, regardless of the life journey each has selected. Although some of our friends, colleagues, and students are convinced that we live in such a culture today, at least in the so-called advanced Western societies, we do not believe this is the case. This book is about cultivating and celebrating an Amazonian presence among women. But first, a question needs to be answered: What do we mean by the word Amazon? An Amazon is a woman who is not afraid to empower herself mentally or physically. She is a woman who, while identified with Western culture, has been present throughout history, often being feared, hated, and desired simultaneously: feared and hated because she is a reminder that women are more powerful than many men and women would like them to be; desired because there are others who love, respect, and are fascinated by all that women can be. The Amazon is a woman who we believe can successfully challenge, and thus help transform, domination related to gender, race, class, age, disability, 1


Feminism and the Female Body

and sexual orientation. She knows that as long as women are oppressed, they will never actualize their full potential. Although she understands that oppression is a complex, interlocking web of factors, making analysis and collaborative resistance among diverse women difficult, she perceives the possibility of coalition building among them. An Amazon is a warrior, but not necessarily a warrior with a blade or gun in hand. Her warriorlike qualities stem from the fact that she has developed her bodily and mental skills to their fullest capacity, and she directs her energies toward achieving equality for women. Consequently, she has the power and commitment to equalize the fields on which hierarchical gender relations are played out. Moreover, because she is aware of the need to protect herself physically, she has the potential to minimize, if not eliminate, the physical power imbalances between herself and the men with whom she interacts; and she knows that, when necessary, she has the right to defend herself. She is a woman who represents a significant challenge to patriarchal domination. It is important to note, however, that although the Amazon reflects mind-body excellence, we do not perceive her as a symbol of normative physical beauty and strength or mental development. That is, she does not encourage women to model themselves in accordance with one “superior” mold. Rather, she symbolizes the unleashing of each woman’s potential, taking into account her individual circumstances (e.g., age, disability, and financial resources). No book about liberating Amazonian potential would be whole without a serious discussion of feminism because feminism has been responsible for changing the ways society perceives women and, more significantly, how women perceive themselves. The work of feminists is not yet over, however, nor are all of the battles to achieve women’s rights. In fact, we believe that a feminist movement should continue for as long as necessary, well into the twenty-first century and perhaps beyond, to positively affect the lives and status of women from diverse backgrounds. Because we view criticism as a needed impetus to improvement, we identify problems that we perceive in contemporary feminist theory and praxis, problems that we believe weaken feminism’s ability to flourish into the future. One of these problems is dualistic thinking, which privileges the mind over the body and mental activities over those that are physical. Such ideology makes it difficult to sustain praxis that facilitates an integrated mind-body approach to women’s liberation and thus embodied Amazonian transformations. During the 1980s and 1990s, we grew weary as we attended conference after conference and read manuscript after manuscript that called for dualistic strategies in preparing women for the twenty-first century. The general theme has been and continues to be empowerment through cognition,



becoming aware, and raising one’s consciousness. As children of the Enlightenment, this sounds entirely reasonable. If we can just become mentally aware and rational enough, somehow we can free ourselves. Isn’t it true, though, that oppression is also embodied, for example, in physical postures and gestures? Further, consider how the ideals of Western feminine body beauty are deeply associated with vulnerability, in both appearance and reality, as well as condensed, constricted movements, particularly in public spaces. Empowering the mind, although vastly important as a liberatory strategy, seemed to us, therefore, only a partial solution. We have also attended conferences and read works in which it is not uncommon to hear the contrary: Empowering the physical dimension of women (e.g., through sport) is a surefire solution to achieving a strong identity. Intuitively and from experience, we knew that somatic empowerment by itself was not the answer either. Although sport is a feminist experience in many ways, the experience does not automatically cultivate a feminist consciousness. In fact, because of the depressingly long history of culturally imbedded heterosexism and homophobia in women’s sport, it may in fact do the reverse: minimize feminist thought. So again, we were challenged with the question: how do we dismantle the negative impact of patriarchy in our lives? Following the lead of feminist theorists who have been intent on unveiling the patriarchal construction of women’s bodies, we turned to the works of Michel Foucault. His notion of power-knowledge was an enormously powerful analytical tool in terms of understanding the shaping of bodies. We discovered, however, as have other feminists, that relying on Foucaultian analysis and its inherent assumptions results in an inquiry that emphasizes the deterministic and oppressive role of social structures and groups and the relativistic nature of values. This in turn leads to individually, personally achieved liberatory strategies as opposed to those that are collective in nature. Our research on female bodybuilders and martial artists did not fit neatly into this Foucaultian paradigm. Most notably, the women in our research studies exhibited a far more instrumental response to social institutions and practices than the Foucaultian perspective allows. Our examination of the martial artists further revealed that when women seek solutions to commonly experienced social problems in a cohesive group setting, they often assess social norms and institutions collectively. That is, they make collective judgments. They also seek collective, as opposed to individual, liberatory strategies to end what they evaluate as oppressive practices. Lastly, their understanding of their interactions in and with the world are complex, far more complex than the Foucaultian zero-sum power game predicts. Thus, although Foucaultian logic is helpful in delineating the structural components of the patriarchal constructions of women’s bodies,


Feminism and the Female Body

it has discouraged collective feminist political actions. Integrating a feminist version of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology with Foucault’s structuralism thus became critical in our efforts to develop an analytic bridge from individual to collective resistance. Ultimately, this book is about our hopes for the future of women and feminism, based on our examination of the ways in which feminism has affected the lives of women. Our analytical framework, a work in progress, represents an effort to develop feminist social and political theory in ways that illuminate our empirical work examining women’s experiential accounts of their bodies and themselves. In Chapter 1, we discuss current trends in feminist theory; in particular, how the dominance of postmodern feminism during the 1990s has undercut the development of large-scale feminist goals. Postmodern feminism’s emphasis on the differences among women has led to the dissolution of “women as a group” and the reinforcement of identity politics. This makes a real-world feminist politics—that is, coalitions of differently identified women working together on liberatory projects—difficult to achieve because perceptions of differences and separation, rather than commonalities and unity, are encouraged. The potential power of women in terms of their large numbers is thus divided, and often their energies are directed against each other. In Chapter 2, we note another ongoing problem associated with feminism: the philosophical perspective of dualism. Feminists have meticulously noted the negative impact of dualism on women’s socioeconomic and political status and have made grand efforts to overcome such thinking in theory. In contrast, their liberatory strategies are almost always mentalistic in nature, that is, they call for women to think their way to emancipation. As a result, the importance of the body and bodily experience in becoming free of oppression is often overlooked or disregarded. We suggest that this omission may be explained in part by an unexamined homophobic fear among feminists of physically powerful women. Whether or not this is true, we see dualism as a serious shortcoming that we have done our best to overcome in our own work. We also examine the feminist fascination with the female bodybuilder, who is seen by some as an icon of resistance and by others as a reflection of patriarchal dominance. We examine the reasons for these contradictory theoretical interpretations, one of which we believe is their emphasis on individual, as opposed to collective, liberatory strategies. In Chapter 3, we begin charting our efforts to develop a nondualistic feminist theory and liberatory strategy, one that integrates the mind and the body. We have done this by (1) conducting research on competitive female bodybuilders, among whom we hoped to find some exemplars of Amazonian (mind-body) feminism, and (2) combining the ideas of Michel



Foucault and Maurice Merleau-Ponty to ground theoretically the findings we derived from this research. In Chapter 4, we further discuss our intellectual-somatic journey, highlighting our research at Thousand Waves, a feminist martial arts dojo in Chicago for women only. After studying and participating in seido karate at Thousand Waves, we became even more convinced that feminist strategies should be mind-body related. We also found many Amazons— women who not only subscribe to feminist principles but also embody them. This work confirmed our earlier belief that feminist liberatory strategies should focus on collective approaches involving the body as well as the mind. In Chapter 5, we note the curious omission of the female sporting body and feminist sport scholarship from mainstream feminist theory. Certainly within the world of women’s sports, there are many examples of women transgressing patriarchal boundaries, some of them Amazons as we conceptualize them. After examining some of the extensive work of feminist sport studies scholars, we explore the reasons that mainstream feminists have ignored or disregarded this power-packed domain. We also discuss the benefits to be gained from an infusion of feminist sport scholarship into mainstream feminist theory. Chapter 6 examines an area that has been even more neglected by feminist theorists: disability. This omission, which is not simply a shortcoming of feminist theory, tells us something significant about the general response of American culture to bodies that depart radically from youthful “normative” ones. Is there something about the disabled body that evokes fear and thus makes the exploration of disability difficult to consider? Is disability the secular version of purgatory? Does the ultimate existential crisis in American society involve the prospect of having to accept passively the loss of bodily and often mental autonomy? In this chapter, we address questions such as these. We also examine the social construction of disability from a variety of perspectives and note that women with disabilities can provide a radically transgressive challenge to patriarchal constructions of the female body. We therefore argue for an integration of the experiences of women with disabilities into feminist theorizing and praxis. Chapter 7 examines whether coalition building among diversely identified women is possible in this era of identity politics. We explore various definitions of identity (e.g., personal, group, official, and political) using the example of the Mashpee Indians. We also reflect on the production of a new identity classification—multiracial—as a way of further enriching our understanding of the nature and production of identity. Our research at Thousand Waves suggests the possibility of coalition building among diversely identified women; it also demonstrates that, like identity, coalition



building is a process facilitated by activities and experiences that enhance mind-body efficacy. We contend that Thousand Waves can serve as a model for revisioning and restructuring local and national feminist organizations. We believe that this revisioning is necessary if feminism and feminist politics are to prosper into the twenty-first century and continue fostering a culture in which Amazonian transformations are possible. Those readers who are interested in our own research on female bodybuilders and the martial artists may wish to start with Chapters 3 and 4. These chapters provide the basis for one of the central themes of this book—the importance of distinguishing between individually motivated empowerment, which is exemplified by most of our female bodybuilders, and the collective feminist resistance demonstrated by the martial artists at Thousand Waves. The fascination with bodybuilding by feminist theorists reflects the postmodern focus on individual resistance and empowerment. In contrast, our case study of female martial artists represents a radically destabilizing, collective model of feminist social change.

1 The Feminist Wars A funny thing happened at the end of the glorious feminist-theory wars of the 1990s. Perhaps it wasn’t funny at all, or shouldn’t have been, not to a group of individuals who are clearly the primary defenders of women’s rights and women’s equality with men. This battle among feminists appeared strangely similar to the long-standing theoretical wars waged to sustain male dominance because the contested site, as well as the prize, was definition and control of the female body. The adversaries in this battle had aligned themselves with one of two theoretical camps: (1) essentialism (biological or humanistic) and (2) postmodernism, also known as social constructionism and poststructuralism. When the battle ended, the postmodernists emerged as winners. At the time, celebration must have been in order. In retrospect, however, this was only a Pyrrhic victory. Why? Because the postmodern triumph, ironically, has undermined the potential of feminism to establish a political agenda in the real, nonacademic world, an agenda that can empower the lives of all women, not just feminist scholars who are trying to climb the academic ladder. Two shortcomings of feminist theorizing produced this hollow ending: (1) the emergence and subsequent dominance of postmodernism’s critique of female subjectivity and (2) mind-body dualism, which has been an ongoing characteristic of most of feminist liberatory theory. In this chapter, we examine the differences between the postmodern and the essentialist (biological and humanist) positions on female subjectivity and universal theorizing, as well as the impact of the postmodern perspective of multiple female identities on feminist theory and praxis. We then assess the emerging splits within the women’s movement using as examples the antipornography campaign, the sexual harassment issue in the U.S. Senate hearings involving Anita Hill, and the domestic violence dimension in the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson. Our discussion of dualism is more fully analyzed in Chapter 2. The initial feminist assault on the notion of female subjectivity began with the accusation that the female subject of feminist theory was white, 7


Feminism and the Female Body

middle-class, and heterosexual. Indeed, women of color, lesbians, and Third World women had long proclaimed their exclusion from such theorizing and were writing their own narratives. Feminist scholars began taking note of the homogenization of feminist theory and sought intellectual support for their evolving critique, which they found in the writings of French postmodernists such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, and Jacques Derrida. Central to the views of these male postmodernists is their skepticism regarding the Enlightenment view of humans as autonomous and reasonable beings who are capable of making principled decisions. They argued that the notion of a universal human nature, in particular the belief that all human beings are potentially autonomous, rational, and capable of developing a universal code of morality, is in fact an ideology invented by Western imperialistic nations to legitimate their dominance. Postmodernists maintained that human beings are socially constructed and that factors such as race, class, age, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, set within particular sociohistorical periods, are critical in the construction of identity. Many feminist theorists whose work was initially driven by questioning the universal narratives of Western male scholars began to identify themselves as postmodernists and to apply the postmodern critique to feminist theory. These postmodernists claimed that feminist theory had been premised on a universal notion of female subjectivity, which ultimately grounded it in the hegemonic norms and values of Western civilization and, more significantly, that there is no universal female nature or female sexuality. They thus established gender—the sociohistorical construction of designated sex differences—as their critical theoretical construct and emphasized differences among women in terms of class, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. If a published book or article could not address all of these differences, which typically was the case, then the need to add them to future examinations and analyses became part of the ritualistic disclaimer accompanying the conclusions of such works. This emphasis on differences rather than similarities among women emerged from its postmodern roots to become widely accepted in feminist circles. At first there seemed to be a celebration of the uniqueness of women’s individual life narratives. Unfortunately, this “differences approach” led to a despairing sense that each woman’s suffering was her own unfortunate fate and that any change would require solutions on the part of an individual woman or, at best, some cooperation among women who shared exactly the same life characteristics. As a result, a women’s “group agenda” became politically incorrect and suspect. Without intention or malice, postmodernists had undermined the continuation of a women’s movement and, with it, the anger and moral conviction that demands and justifies specific changes in the status of women.

The Feminist Wars


The emotional and intellectual fervor of the “second wave” of feminism thus ended, not with a bang, but with a feeling of nostalgia for the “good old days” when women shared a compelling camaraderie. Many feminist theorists of the 1980s and 1990s experienced this shift from intellectual and political involvement in women’s issues to a suspicion of a women’s agenda. These women had played the role of academic activists; their lives had reflected the oppression of women, and they had researched, written, and marched to end women’s shared oppression. Indeed, they had been part of a group that had to coalesce to effect social change. They now found themselves caught up in a postmodernist momentum—a momentum that initially provided the intellectual cachet to support an attack on male academic standards but continues to justify the impossibility of actualizing a women’s political agenda. This perspective is reflected in postmodern research and writing, which currently have a narrow focus, seem to be addressed to other postmodern scholars, and carefully avoid large normative evaluations and prescriptions regarding the oppression of women. Unlike the postmodern critique, which surfaced during the 1970s and 1980s, mind-body dualism has characterized most of feminist liberatory theory. If one looks back to the origins of philosophy in Western civilization, particularly the works of Plato, the body and bodily desires are viewed as obstacles to the emergence of rational decisionmaking and, ultimately, to the salvation of the human soul. Therefore, matter and form— that is, mind and body—are distinguished. Moreover, for the ancients, this binarization was epitomized in the two sexes, with men representing the potential transcendence of human reason and women representing the interior carnal compulsion of bodily desires. Christianity restated and reinforced this dichotomy, and Rene Descartes, the quintessential dualist who ushered in modern philosophy, provided the critical basis for the epistemology that dominates contemporary science. Descartes claimed that the mind is separate from the natural world of matter and bodies and that knowledge of the natural world and bodies requires removal from both through the process of “objectivity.” In Descartes’s schema, the mind becomes the hierarchical superior over matter, including the human body, and consciousness is separated and elevated to the position of being able to reflect on and control nature and bodies. Because women’s nature was believed to be particularly associated with their bodies, females were relegated to an inferior position. Males, in contrast, were linked with the mental sphere and consequently were viewed as superior. During the 1960s and 1970s feminist theory absorbed and reflected this dualistic thought. For example, Simone de Beauvoir addressed the biology of the female body and the construction of femininity as obstacles to achieving equality with men:


Feminism and the Female Body

The advantage man enjoys, which makes itself felt from his childhood, is that his vocation as a human being in no way runs counter to his destiny as a male. Through the identification of phallus and transcendence, it turns out that his social and spiritual successes endow him with a virile prestige. He is not divided. Whereas it is required of woman that in order to realize her femininity she must make herself object and prey, which is to say that she must renounce her claims as sovereign subject. . . . Man is a human being with sexuality; woman is a complete individual, equal to the male, only if she too is a human being with sexuality. To renounce her femininity is to renounce a part of her humanity.1

According to de Beauvoir, although women can change this ideology in which they must become sexual objects, maternity is the one function that is almost impossible for them to perform while retaining their complete liberty. Because de Beauvoir felt that creative work within the context of an uninterrupted career was the vehicle for women to realize their liberty and humanity, she argued that declining maternity or at least controlling its occurrence (e.g., through artificial insemination) was a prerequisite for women’s independence and liberation. Shulamith Firestone also believed that the biological conditions associated with pregnancy and maternity placed women at a physical and emotional disadvantage vis-à-vis men and were used by men to establish their dominance. During the 1980s, mind-body dualism emerged in a somewhat different form in the works of Catharine MacKinnon and Nancy Hartsock. Women’s biological bodies were no longer regarded as inferior to men’s nor considered the root of women’s oppression. Instead, male dominance was explained in terms of an ideology of male superiority. According to MacKinnon and Hartsock, bodies are merely the base, the precultural natural raw materials of humans; it is the mind or consciousness, in the form of an ideology of male superiority and dominance, that leads to women’s inequality. This ideology must therefore be dismantled and replaced with one in which the biological traits of women and female bodies are viewed as equal to men’s (e.g., pregnancy and maternity would be valued physical conditions as opposed to constricting disabilities). Not surprisingly, MacKinnon and Hartsock emphasize the need for changing attitudes, beliefs, and laws about male and female bodies. On the surface, feminist postmodernists appear to challenge dualism. For example, for Judith Butler the body assumes a significant and active role: It is no longer inert, unchanging matter subject to the powers of the mind. Moreover, the body is viewed as both a signifying and signified agent. Gone is the body as presocial, prelinguistic, and natural; rather, it is a social entity, created through the interaction of cultural norms and sex differences and encoding historical and cultural meanings in sexually specific ways. The body is now active, historical, and connected to the mind.

The Feminist Wars


Indeed, the mind and body appear to have been reunited in the postmodern paradigm, at least in theory. However, as we will demonstrate in Chapter 2, most postmodern theorists conceptually meld mind and body but promote liberatory strategies that emphasize the consciousness dimension of self and social change. Although the postmodernists’ focus on gender and sexuality as a critical component in the way Western societies construct female and male identity is important, their presentation of strategies for contesting this construction has taken them out of the real world of women and into a world of esoteric academic jargon. Luce Irigaray, for example, argues that sexual desire is expressed as male desire and that within this masculine discourse women are viewed as commodified objects. Women are socialized to become feminine, to develop a set of characteristics and behaviors that are compatible with those of men and a desire to create themselves as pleasing objects in the eyes of men. Because authentic female desires have been repressed and silenced, Irigaray recommends the writing of female texts, which she believes can recover female sexuality. The following is an example of Irigaray’s criticism of a male paradigm, in this case Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s, in which the experience of maternity is subjected to a phallic interpretation. She offers her critique as a first step in recovering female corporeality through language. However, the almost inaccessible language of her analysis, as well as the fact that it is directed to a small academic coterie, raises questions about its effectiveness as a liberating strategy: If there is no cutting of the cord and of osmotic exchanges with the maternal world and its substitutes, how could sublimation of the flesh take place? It continues becoming in closed circuit, within sorts of nourishing relationships to the other. Does it sublimate itself in order to accede to the alliance with the other? It does not seem so. It perpetuates a state, entertains it in its permanence, absorbing its cuttings and shocks? What is called reversibility here is perhaps also that by which the subject producing some mucus at the exterior re-envelops itself in it. Some elaboration of the carnal takes place there. But always in it solipsistic relationships to the maternal. There is not a single trace of a carnal idea of the other woman nor of a sublimation of the flesh with the other. At most an alchemy of substitution of a placentary nourishment.2

Judith Butler recommends another strategy for deconstructing patriarchal notions of gender and sexuality: gender parody, which involves crossdressing. Her discussion of this recommendation is equally daunting: How, if at all, is the notion of discursive resignification linked to the notion of gender parody or impersonation? First, what is meant by understanding gender as an impersonation? Does this mean that one puts on a


Feminism and the Female Body

mask or persona, that there is a “one” who precedes that “putting on,” who is something other than its gender from the start? Or does this miming, this impersonating precede and form the “one,” operating as its formative precondition rather than its dispensable artifice? The critical potential of “drag” centrally concerns a critique of a prevailing truth-regime of “sex,” one that I take to be pervasively heterosexist: the distinction between the “inside” truth of femininity, considered as psychic disposition or ego-core, and the “outside” truth, considered as appearance or presentation, produces a contradictory formation of gender in which no fixed “truth” can be established.3

Many postmodernists including Butler echo Foucault’s view that the dominant power-knowledge discourse of heterosexuality is the most significant and oppressive discourse in contemporary Western societies. Although we agree with Foucault and Foucaultian feminist theorists that “compulsory heterosexuality” is an incredibly oppressive phenomenon and that the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals to engage in self-selected sexual behavior and to cross-dress should be acknowledged, women in the world outside of academia are not likely to coalesce around such issues. There is no question that homophobia is a powerful and destructive force in American society. For the majority of women in the United States, however, particularly those who are not white, middle-class, lesbian professionals, homophobia is not an immediate and pressing concern. Rather, disempowerment associated with racist discrimination, violence against women, breast and ovarian cancer, pay and job access equity, educational opportunities, and inadequate health and child care more often configure their lives. These issues are thus more likely to generate group coalition and political action. (This is not to deny the fact that involvement of lesbians in coalition building requires strategies and campaigns that acknowledge particular concerns grounded in heterosexism and homophobia.) It is clear that in order to organize women’s collective momentum, strategies are needed to solve the problems that masses of women experience mentally and physically in their daily lives. We believe that such an emphasis also enhances the possibility of developing theoretical frameworks that encourage women’s collective political action. This emphasis, however, calls for a recognition that women’s commonly shared problems do not exist solely in their minds; they are also bodily experiences and thus require theory building that bridges the mind-body chasm that has dominated feminist theory. We also contend that the physical superiority of men, which involves threatened and actual physical violence against women in conjunction with an ideology of male superiority, is a critical linchpin in maintaining the unequal status of women. We therefore propose a liberatory strategy that involves an Amazonian transformation, that is,

The Feminist Wars


one in which women are empowered physically, not just mentally. Strategies aimed at fortifying both the body and the mind, as opposed to those that rely on mental change alone, will allow women to contest and resist male dominance more effectively. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done because Western norms of feminine body beauty—despite some cultural variations and recent corporate advertising campaigns selling athletic equipment with images of strong female bodies (e.g., Nike and Reebok)—promote thinness, fragility, and vulnerability as sexually desirable qualities for women. Simultaneously, strength building and other physically empowering practices, which ultimately enable women to challenge men’s physical dominance successfully, are carefully contested and resisted. The institution of sport is particularly powerful in this regard because it provides an important cultural text that consistently reminds women that physical practices such as gymnastics, tennis, figure skating, and synchronized swimming are socially acceptable and that those involving interpersonal physical contact are not. In addition, the media attempts to send women strong messages suggesting that female athletes who most embody feminine body beauty norms are the ones most likely to succeed in life. In contrast, elite female bodybuilders, particularly those who have transcended acceptable limits of culturally prescribed femininity, are routinely masculinized and homosexualized. It is interesting to note, however, that although female bodybuilders have been forced to bear the brunt of male mockery and caricature, women who participate in contact sports (e.g., the martial arts and team sports involving collective effort, physical strength, and the direct use of bodily powers to overcome an opponent) are generally regarded as more threatening to male hegemony. Indeed, these physical skills, particularly when they are practiced in conjunction with feminist values, encode the erosion of the dividing line between dominant men and obedient women. Although women participating in such sports are frequently labeled lesbian, the potential contesting of “compulsory heterosexuality” does not fully explain why such practices are viewed as subversive and dangerous or why they arouse such high levels of male (and female) anxiety and ire. The angst is most likely the result of their perceived potential for reducing the physical power imbalances on which patriarchy is founded and reified. This is precisely why we believe that physically empowering practices, together with a feminist text, should be an integral part of feminist liberation strategies. Such practices have the potential to provide women with a mind-body readiness to challenge male physical violence against them. They can also prepare women to contest work arenas such as the military, police and fire departments, and the trades, all of which are viewed as quintessential bastions of male physical hegemony. Although


Feminism and the Female Body

feminists have been concerned with the admission of women to the Citadel, an all-male military academy, and the Navy Tailhook scandal, which involved sexual abuse, they have transubstantiated the underlying, common theme—the physical dimension of male hegemony—into male mind control. The dominance of this mental paradigm has led both essentialist and postmodernist feminist theorists to posit mental transformation as the key to women’s equality. We believe that somatic transformation is also required. This argument is more fully developed in Chapters 3 and 4 in light of our research findings on competitive female bodybuilders and women who practice the martial arts. In the next section, we examine the changes in feminist theory that led to the dominance of postmodern feminism and the consequences of this shift. Where Did We Come From? The Fall from Grace

Two theoretical positions emerged during the 1970s and 1980s: essentialism (biological and humanistic) and postmodernism. Both perspectives attempt to contest male control over the constitution of female embodiment and subjectivity. For the biological essentialist, woman’s basic nature and her embodiment—that is, her subjectivity—are related to her physical reproductive capacities, which have been diminished and exploited in Western patriarchal capitalist contexts. Biological essentialists believe that female characteristics should be celebrated rather than denigrated. They further believe that such characteristics can give rise to a feminist liberatory standpoint, such as that suggested by Nel Noddings’s care ethic and Nancy Hartsock’s female proletariat, or to a transformed language and literature, which is a feminist text proposed by Luce Irigaray and Helene Cixous that recaptures repressed female experiences or what they call “la jouissance feminine.” For humanistic essentialists such as Seyla Benhabib, Judith Grant, Martha Nussbaum, and Susan Moller Okin, the female subject, although situated in a variety of contexts, has a sense of selfhood, autonomy, and agency and can, on the basis of agreed-upon principles, move toward a more gender-equal society. Although humanist essentialists acknowledge the historical and economic differences among women, they believe that all women, regardless of sociocultural background, share the human capacity to reason morally. Therefore, women reasoning together, using egalitarian communication processes, can arrive at mutually acceptable agreements regarding moral principles. Indeed, for humanist essentialists, this capacity to reason morally is the universally defining characteristic of female subjectivity. Human essentialists also believe that because both men and women share this reasoning capacity, “reasoned” communication and dialogue

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between them is possible; however, they feel that such communication will be more likely once the power differential (i.e., political, economic, and social) that separates them is removed. In contrast, biological essentialists believe that women’s biological characteristics define their female subjectivity. From their perspective, sex differences, because they are rooted in biological factors, are profound and unchanging; therefore, communication and dialogue between women and men are more difficult to achieve, regardless of whether or not the power differential is eliminated. Although postmodern feminists (e.g., Sandra Bartky, Susan Bordo, Judith Butler, Jana Sawicki) share with biological essentialists a focus on the female body, their female bodies are not unchanging, ahistorical entities, and biological characteristics do not provide the unchanging base that determines male and female behavior. Therefore, how one is constituted as a female varies from culture to culture; norms and a particular set of economic, social, and political conditions interact to produce female bodies and subjectivities relevant to particular historical periods. For postmodern feminists, both sex and gender are social constructions. Moreover, because norms and rules associated with bodily constitution are transmitted through language, language becomes a critical tool to unearth this archaeology of female bodies. Using postmodern terminology, female bodies and subjectivities are produced within a particular historical network of power-knowledge discourses. Norms are articulated verbally and in written texts and are internalized and reinforced by state agencies and powerful social institutions (e.g., education and medicine). These norms are intertwined with issues of power and control. For example, for postmodernist feminists, the Western notions of agency, autonomy, and selfhood, which are associated with humanistic logic and thought to be universal, actually constitute a Western discourse of exclusion, regulation, and domination. This is evidenced in the fact that Western societies following such norms view themselves as superior and thus believe that their colonial control over non-Western societies is justified. Similarly, the power-knowledge discourses of sex and gender play a significant role in the construction of female subjectivity as inferior to male subjectivity. Postmodernist feminists argue that critically examining the processes by which sex and gender are constituted—that is, questioning the “normality” of notions of male and female—destabilizes gender and the relationship between sex and sexuality. Postmodernists do not view the differences between men and women as biologically intractable, as do biological essentialists; nor do they share the views of humanist essentialists, who believe that dialogue and principled agreement between men and women enhance the possibility of gender justice. The postmodern feminist critique of Western notions of universal values and reasoning autonomous subjects undermines the possibility of such a political agenda.


Feminism and the Female Body

Clearly, the postmodern critique of universal theorizing produced this critical shift in feminist theorizing. Postmodern feminists accused the biological essentialists of attempting to universalize women’s experiences and of using the standards of Western white, middle-class, heterosexual women to do so. Essentialists responded to this accusation by qualifying their generalizations and calling for more research on and by women of color, working-class women, and lesbians; as a result, the essentialist category “woman” has been replaced by the notion of female subjects being produced through a process involving the interaction between culture and female biology. If one allows for the existence of multiple subject possibilities—that is, cultural influences on the biological experiences of women—does biology really determine selfhood? Moreover, can there be a female self impervious to cultural discourses? Seyla Benhabib, a humanist essentialist, argues that if one accepts the notion that the self is socially created, a notion she refers to as a strong version of postmodernism’s critique of the subject, the death of the subject inevitably results. There is no doer beyond the deed; there is no gender identity beyond the cultural expressions of gender; there is no female self who has agency, autonomy, and a sense of selfhood and who is capable of acting on principle. Benhabib contends that the postmodern focus is not sufficient for understanding the process of individuation—how each self can become the inventor of a unique life story. She also believes that although the female “I” is shaped by a historical gender discourse, it is not totally determined by this discourse; for example, the “I” can vary and resist gender codes. As we noted previously, however, even humanist essentialists such as Benhabib have accepted a weaker version of this postmodern constitution of female subjectivity by acknowledging that a sociohistorical study of the diverse codes that shape selfhood is necessary.4 Thus, by successfully persuading all sides to broaden their notion of the female self, postmodernism has acquired the agenda-setting advantage in feminist theory. As a result, feminist theoreticians have fallen into a state of paralyzing anxiety, fearful that any generalizations about women’s characteristics or sources of oppression will be interpreted as ethnocentric essentialism. For example, essentialist scholars such as Martha Nussbaum and Susan Moller Okin, arguing against the “worship of difference,” anticipate that they will be attacked and labeled as white, middle-class women of Western industrialized societies who are engaged in defending an essentialist ideology in the name of feminist theory.5 Still, they are concerned that the overemphasis on cultural differences will lead to a descent into relativity in which women who refer to themselves as feminists adopt positions that justify and converge with oppression. Regarding this possibility, Nussbaum has remarked: “Under the banner of their radically and

The Feminist Wars


politically correct ‘anti-essentialism’ march ancient religious taboos, the luxury of the pampered husband, ill health, ignorance, and death.”6 Although Okin and Nussbaum note that the collective oppression of women has been the foundation for setting a feminist political agenda, their defensive acceptance of the postmodern critique of universal theorizing requires them to carefully circumscribe their beliefs in the possibility of effective feminist political action. Postmodernists insist that their position does not result in a retreat from politics. Judith Butler, for example, acknowledges that political actions such as demonstrations and legislative efforts should make claims in the name of women. Unfortunately, however, every time the category of “woman” is invoked, there inevitably arises internal debate among feminists about whose characteristics are constitutive of “woman.” According to Butler, the debate is the more deeply significant and radical political activity because it questions the normative foundations of the category “woman.” It seems that demonstrations or legislative efforts demanding nursery schools for working mothers or abortion rights are of lesser political importance to Butler than individual women arguing their personalized experiences of race, class, sexual orientation, and religion. The assertion of individual differences thus becomes the critical political agenda. Butler’s view is also a declaration that the most significant political activity in which individual women can engage is to contest sex and gender roles, particularly the use of the category “woman,” which Butler believes is used to reinforce the dominant heterosexual discourse.7 Feminists who question the political efficacy of this individualistic view of politics argue that feminism has always gained its momentum from the belief that women as a group are oppressed and that this common oppression has provided the basis for organized attempts to establish political change. Indeed, as Iris Young has claimed, “Feminist politics evaporates . . . without some conception of women as a social collective.”8 In contrast, Butler and other postmodernists have focused more persistently on the problems associated with the “women as a single group” construct. They have developed reasoned arguments maintaining that a focus on the commonly shared characteristics of all women and the search for a single source of women’s oppression are exclusionary, hegemonic practices. The notion of women as a group, they claim, isolates gender from the constructs of race, class, age, ethnicity, and sexuality. Moreover, the homogenization process excludes or devalues some bodies, discourses, and practices and obscures the constructed, and thus contestable, character of gender identity. In advancing their position, postmodernists developed rallying slogans such as “Gender and sexuality are socially constructed” and “Oppression will end when the word woman has no single meaning.” They also claimed


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that the icons of the 1970s and 1980s who critically explored the gendered nature of history, culture, society, philosophy, law, and psychology— Dorothy Dinnerstein, Nancy Chodorow, Carol Gilligan, Catharine MacKinnon—constructed a “universal woman’s” experience that is just as fictional as that of “universal man.” Despite counterclaims and efforts made by biological and humanistic essentialists to refute postmodern logic, postmodern arguments raised in multiple locations (e.g., at conferences and in published works) resulted in postmodernists’ controlling the agenda in feminist theory and politics. Undoubtedly, the moral support for postmodern thinking provided by other campus groups influenced the battle between postmodernists and essentialists. In grounding their analyses in a respect for differences, postmodernists were able to establish an alliance with campus advocates of “political correctness.” Even more significant to the postmodernists’ gain in momentum was the fact that their intellectual arguments drew heavily on the works of respected European critical and postmodern theorists; they were thus able to demonstrate to male colleagues that they had accepted the traditional standards of academic scholarship. The academic war zone in which this drama was played out included departments, women’s studies, lecture halls, campus activities, and academic conferences. Susan Bordo has provocatively argued that during the 1970s and early 1980s, the agenda for academic feminists who were just entering the white male academy was to explore the cultural construction of the male power structure and the women living within that structure. During the 1990s, many of these academic women have been accepted. Those who have demonstrated intellectual rigor, critical detachment, and adherence to the professional standards of their discipline have proven, in essence, that they can think like men, and they have thus become part of the academic establishment. For many such women, support from feminists outside academe is no longer important. Bordo has noted that in such a world female ways of knowing or thinking may be felt by some to be a dangerous alliance professionally and perhaps a personal regression as well. For, within the masculinist institutions we have entered, relational, holistic, and nurturant attitudes continue to be marked as flabby, feminine, and soft.9

Why did the essentialist position become so problematic among academics, despite their efforts to broaden their views of female subjectivity? Why have the reigning feminist icons such as Dinnerstein, Gilligan, and MacKinnon fallen so precipitously from their status as academic stars? Did their search for the single source of women’s oppression yield too

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many analyses and conclusions, finally shattering the single female image that had been indelibly associated with each theorist? Did the theoretical pursuit advocating women as the female proletariat and the liberatory vanguard (e.g., Nancy Hartsock’s effort to meld Marxism and feminism) flounder with the end of the Cold War and the discreditation of Marxism? Or was it Hartsock’s emphasis on “all women as an oppressed group” that was rejected? Perhaps it was the antipornography wars, spearheaded by Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, that dealt the final blow to the notion of all women as members of a single oppressed group, or was it the emergence of black feminist literature (e.g., the works of bell hooks and Patricia Hill Collins) and the works of other women of color (e.g., Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua) that challenged the conclusions of white, middle-class, heterosexual feminists?10 Indeed, two of these issues, both of which contested the notion of all women as an oppressed group, surfaced dramatically outside the walls of academe: (1) the intersection of pornography and sexuality in the campaign to ban pornography and (2) the intersection of sexual harassment, domestic violence, and race that emerged in the U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas and in the O. J. Simpson trial. In the next section, we explore these issues as examples of the broader political ramifications of identity politics. The Politics of Pornography

The rancor generated by the antipornography campaign provides a powerful example of internal disintegration within the women’s movement. The antipornography cause initially seemed to be an issue that all feminists, whether they were academics or activists, could endorse. The bodies of white women, women of color, and lesbians were grist for the pornographic industry. Moreover, visual pornography seemed to incorporate the most denigrating, physically abusive, and sexually exploitative images of these diverse women. Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, antipornography activists, viewed pornography as a major force in institutionalizing a degrading, submissive second-class status for women. In 1983, they authored an ordinance that would have made pornography a form of discrimination against women. It also would have allowed women to bring civil action against individuals who produced, made, distributed, or sold pornography and would have provided civil remedies for the harm produced by pornography.11 The ordinance was adopted in Indianapolis and immediately evoked a negative reaction by many liberals. Some of these liberals were women’s rights activists, who, while sympathetic to the feminist antipornography campaign,


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were concerned about the threat to free speech embodied in the ordinance. Their reservations found expression in a 1985 decision rendered in a Federal Court of Appeals, which struck down the ordinance as unconstitutional; however, the ultimate death blow to the ordinance was delivered by the U.S. Supreme Court’s summary affirmation of the appellate court’s ruling.12 Superficially, this defeat appeared to be a First Amendment free speech victory, although proponents of the legislation viewed it as a loss in the ongoing battle against male dominance. According to feminist legal postmodernists such as Mary Joe Frug, who opposed the ordinance, the campaign failed because it did not allow for differences among women, particularly those differences associated with their sexual practices. It did demonstrate, however, that the politicization of a complex cultural practice involving women’s sexuality and the attempt to universalize the meaning of such a phenomenon produces strong and disparate reactions among diverse groups of women. Frug has commented on the acrimony generated by Catharine MacKinnon: As a political event involving the community of feminist lawyers it was a dazzling success and an appalling disaster. It politicized feminist lawyers, by engaging many of us in the practicalities of a grass-roots legislative reform effort which was widely publicized and electrifyingly controversial. But it also politicized us by brutally and bitterly fracturing our community. Catharine MacKinnon, in particular, put a high price on feminist opposition to her campaign. In a chapter, chillingly entitled, “On Collaboration,” from her book Feminism Unmodified, she charged, with an emotional intensity which also characterized other campaign participants, that “women who defend the pornographers are defending a source of their relatively high position among women under male supremacy, keeping all women, including them, an inferior class on the basis of sex, enforced by sexual force. . . . ‘I really want you to stop your lies and mis-representations of our position,’ she continued, ‘I want you to stop claiming that your liberalism, with its elitism, and your Freudianism, with its sexualized misogyny, has anything in common with feminism.’”13

Taking advantage of hindsight, Frug noted two factors as critically important to the results of the ordinance campaign: (1) the broad definition of pornography and (2) the alliance between ordinance advocates and nonfeminist conservatives. Each of these factors had both positive and negative effects. Positive developments included emerging grassroots organizations and the political involvement of women from diverse arenas. Rifts within feminist ranks were among the negative. Although many feminist lawyers got involved in the campaign, the broad definition of pornography—“the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women whether in pictures or in words”—was challenged by liberal legal feminists who were

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concerned with First Amendment civil liberties issues. 14 This definition also raised issues for postmodern legal feminists because it “challenged a fundamental premise of post-Freudian, Lacanian theories of self, that is, the premise that domination and subordination are an inevitable aspect of interpersonal relations.”15 In contrast, ordinance advocates such as MacKinnon viewed male sexual domination as a critical component in the social construction of patriarchy. Drawing on her Marxist background and replacing class oppression with sexual oppression, MacKinnon argued that women joining together in campaigns could overcome patriarchal oppression. These disagreements between postmodernists and essentialists were not superficial strategic disputes; in fact, they were rooted in profound perceptual differences regarding the nature and construction of the female self. Whereas MacKinnon argued that women as a group experience sexual oppression, postmodern legal feminists argued on behalf of diverse and changing female identities capable of individually contesting sexual stereotypes. The second outcome of the pornography ordinance campaign—the alliance between feminist ordinance advocates and nonfeminist conservatives—also became problematic for those postmodernists who emphasized the repressive social construction of sexuality. They were concerned that antipornography support among conservatives, which was rooted in their repugnance for “unnatural,” nontraditional sexuality, might further intensify, rather than eliminate, sexual oppression of gays and lesbians. According to Frug, however, the conservative involvement was positive because it extended the ordinance debate and political involvement beyond feminists. She argued that broad political involvement was necessary for the success of the ordinance campaign as well as other feminist battles. Coalition building requires a focus on shared similarities, and Frug had minimized the political effect of the postmodern emphasis on women’s differences. Furthermore, while postmodern theorists were contesting the universal images of women, minority women, particularly women of color, argued that white-skin privilege and racism dominated the women’s movement. They had thus begun developing their own political agenda; and in an effort to divest women’s studies of racism and counter the feminist postmodern insistence on the primacy of gender as opposed to other identity variables, black women’s studies emerged, particularly at black women’s colleges.16 This movement was followed by similar curricular developments associated with other minority women (e.g., Chicana studies and lesbian studies). Both the postmodern feminist ascendancy and the recognition of minority women’s perspectives led to the emergence of identity issues, rather than coalition building, as the focus of the now fragmented women’s movement.


Identity Politics

Feminism and the Female Body

Why has this focus on identity differences, subjectivity, and contesting the definition of the female body come to dominate feminist politics during the 1990s? And why has it become increasingly difficult, despite the emergence of a political agenda involving welfare and abortion rights, Medicare, and Medicaid—issues that profoundly affect women and their children—for feminists in the political arena to effectively organize and build coalitions around a commonly shared set of issues? The dominance of identity differences in feminist politics is mainly to blame. Second-wave feminist theory was drawn primarily from the experiences of white, middle-class academics; thus, the voices and narratives of minority groups were unheard and unrecorded. Women of color, lesbians, and working-class women began exploring their differences and demanding that their accounts be included in the definition of female subjectivity. They found their position justified by postmodern theorists, who applauded their multiple narratives. Not surprisingly, conferences, curricula, faculty appointments, faculty publications, and student organizations increasingly began to reflect such diversity. The same phenomenon characterized grassroots community politics, as was illustrated by the case of the antipornography ordinance. Ultimately, however, this focus on differential identity made compromising and building feminist coalitions in the academy increasingly difficult to achieve. The rise and fall of the Rainbow Coalition further illustrates the divisive outcome of identity issues, this time in terms of community politics. The goal of the Rainbow Coalition was to unite distinct minority groups, among them African Americans and lesbians, yet maintain the identity of each group. Unfortunately, the promise of this organization remains unfulfilled. The difficulties of emphasizing explicitly differentiated group identities and attempting to unite them around political causes finally produced the same suspicions and antipathies that existed in academia. The Rainbow Coalition disintegrated, and its component groups retreated into the individual group identity and insularity that marked the end of the 1980s. The 1990s have seen further fragmentation of the notion of group identity. The sexual harassment campaign provides a striking example of how such fragmentation occurred in the women’s movement. During the early 1980s, many of the women in the academic arena focused on the issues of domestic violence and rape and seemed to agree with MacKinnon’s view that women as a group are sexually oppressed. Many of these women were involved in research and writing that examined the patriarchal construction of this form of oppression. They were also connected with women outside academe in community rape crisis centers and battered women’s shelters, locations in which women’s studies students interned and the sexual oppression of women seemed to be confirmed.

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The interaction between academia and public consciousness was further evidenced in best-selling books such as Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth and Susan Faludi’s Backlash, which were grounded on the premise that all women in the United States experience sexual oppression. A serious discussion of racial differences associated with sexual harassment and domestic violence was not to be found in these polemical works. The issues of sexual harassment and domestic violence took on a significant racial perspective during the confirmation hearings of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, when Anita Hill claimed that Thomas had sexually harassed her. They emerged again in the O. J. Simpson trial involving the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson. Identity Politics and Race

We have discussed how postmodern legal feminists involved in the pornography campaign challenged MacKinnon’s notions of female identity and sexuality and her belief that women as a group have similar experiences of sexual oppression. These feminists argued that female identity and sexuality could not be generalized and that the sexualized female body produced in pornography might have multiple meanings. The controversy over sexual harassment that surfaced during Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings added the race factor to the postmodern conclusion that diverse women experience their sexuality in diverse ways. Women of color and white women were mesmerized by the 1991 hearings. White feminists in particular celebrated Anita Hill as the reigning feminist icon fighting against universal sexual harassment. Just as the meaning of female sexuality become the focus of the antipornography campaign, the impact and meaning of sexual harassment became the focus of debate among these diverse groups of women. At the time of the hearings, MacKinnon’s dominance model, which is based on the assumption that men have power over women and that compliance with sexual demands does not therefore imply consent, was the paradigm that circumscribed sexual harassment. It was this assumption that provided the basis for the 1986 landmark case Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, in which the U.S. Supreme Court, citing the language of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidelines, defined sexual harassment as conduct that has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. 17 Therefore, a female employee could claim that sexual harassment had taken place even if that employee had voluntarily engaged in demanded sex with her male employer over a period of years. According to MacKinnon, sexual harassment is another example of the universal sexual oppression of women. In fact, she generalized that “85


Feminism and the Female Body

percent of working women will be sexually harassed on the job, many physically, at some point in their working lives.”18 Angela Harris argued that although MacKinnon was paying lip service to women of color, she had ignored the more complex racial-sexual oppression experienced by black women that was analyzed by postmodern African American legal feminists during the 1980s (e.g., Patricia Williams, Kimberle Crenshaw, and Angela Harris). Anita Hill’s involvement in the issue of sexual harassment jettisoned the academic discussion among African American feminists into the national television arena. They argued that race and sex intersected in unique ways, making it impossible to label the interaction between Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas as simple sexual harassment. Kimberle Crenshaw, noting the significance of the “lynching trope,” focused on Clarence Thomas’s denouncement of the hearings as a “high-tech lynching.” With such an accusation, Thomas was suddenly transformed from the perpetrator of sexual harassment to a victim of racial discrimination. The “rape trope,” which provides images and representations for understanding sexual harassment and sexual victimization, was based on a white version of gender power; thus it excluded a narrative about the ways women of color experience male, particularly white male, domination. Historically, rape and sexual harassment have been a central condition of black women’s work. Indeed, slavery institutionalized and legalized rape, which was justified by myths and stereotypes implying that black women, unlike white women, are sexually voracious. Since black women were not expected to be chaste, their stories of rape and sexual harassment could not be trusted. Undoubtedly, in the minds of some whites, Anita Hill was not trustworthy. According to Crenshaw, the lynching trope, in contrast, did incorporate the experiences of black women. It reminded them of the white hysteria regarding black male access to white women. Although black men were the targets of white lynching mobs, black women were the indirect victims through the loss of loved ones. Thus, for the African American community, the sexual harassment of black women was not the dominant issue; instead, it was racial solidarity. Not surprisingly, support for Thomas following his lynching statement rose to 80 percent among black women, whereas 80 percent of white women supported Anita Hill.19 Such perceptual differences punctured MacKinnon’s notion of sexual harassment as a race-neutral experience. MacKinnon had similarly generalized about the prevalence of domestic violence. Indeed, the literature she cited democratized violence against women, demonstrating that it crosses race, class, and sexual orientation lines.20 The O. J. Simpson trial demonstrated otherwise, however, at least as far as perceptions are concerned. Announced on October 3, 1995, the

The Feminist Wars


not guilty verdict provided another powerful example of the gaping racial divide between white and black women. According to New York Times reporter Isabel Wilkerson, women were the focal point of the trial: “Nicole Brown Simpson, the battered murdered ex-wife; Marcia Clark, the lead prosecutor; the female-dominated jury; and then in televised images after the acquittal, black women smiling to the heavens thanking Jesus, and white women, sobbing, unable to speak.”21 Women, black and white, with so much in common, at least according to MacKinnon, were not united at the dramatic end of this trial; in fact, they perceived the verdict in dramatically different ways. Such perceptual differences confirm the complex intersection of race and gender. The case involved a black man, O. J. Simpson, who was tried for the murder of his white wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her white friend, Ron Goldman. Mr. Simpson was judged by a predominantly black jury (nine African American women, one white woman, one black man, and one Hispanic man). The lead prosecutor was Marcia Clark, a white woman whose case against Simpson was built around his previous history of wife abuse. The likelihood of domestic violence thus dominated much of the closing arguments, which were delivered primarily by Christopher Darden, a black male who was Clark’s associate. The lead black defense counsel, Johnnie Cochran Jr., focused on a racist conspiracy in the Los Angeles Police Department, which was epitomized by Mark Fuhrman, a racist police detective who discovered crucial evidence incriminating O. J. Simpson. The opinion polling conducted after the not guilty verdict was announced showed that white women identified with Mrs. Simpson as an abuse victim. Black women, however, saw Mr. Simpson as a black man framed by a racist police department. They also may have feared that O. J.’s conviction would be used to reinforce stereotypes of black men as sexually threatening and violent. Additionally, black women who believed he was guilty may have felt that speaking out would result in their being labeled antiblack feminists and subsequently ostracized. Ironically, the verdict took only four hours of deliberation after a fifteen-month trial and was delivered the first Monday of October, a month declared as Domestic Violence Awareness Month by President Bill Clinton. The verdict in this trial clearly exposed the fault line between black and white women that seems to appear every time the former are asked to choose between racism and sexism in explaining personal and social problems. Black male violence against black women is frequently interpreted by black women as a response to the racism black men encounter on the job and at the hands of white police. The perspective and response of black women in both the Anita Hill and Nicole Brown Simpson cases seem to support the postmodernist feminist position that factors such as race, class, ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation profoundly influence the experience


Feminism and the Female Body

of gender and sexuality, at least as they relate to sexual harassment and domestic violence. Politics and Postmodernism During the 1990s

Although postmodernists proclaim the need for multifaceted analyses regarding the definition and control of women’s bodies, increasing local and diverse solutions to political issues, many of which primarily affect women, have emerged as the dominant theme of the 1990s; for example, the right to a legal abortion governed by a single national standard, which was thought to have been settled by Roe v. Wade in 1973. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court began to modify its original national formula by permitting restrictions on federally funded abortions and increasingly accepting state intervention, which allows more restrictive local standards in determining legal abortions. 22 Moreover, in 1996, Medicaid and welfare reform, measures that affect primarily poor women and their children, became code words for giving the states control over welfare programs. The reforms led to the adoption of eligibility and allowance criteria, which vary from state to state. Giving more power to local government is perceived by some politicians and laypersons as a panacea for the vast national bureaucracies that mandate universal oppressive norms. Justified as a way of responding to the needs of diverse localities and constituencies, this shift, ironically, may result in more politicians, mostly men, gaining the power in these localities to define and control women’s bodies. Although the feminist postmodern challenge to the notion of women as a group is theoretically consistent with this call to decentralize power, it is doubtful that postmodern feminists will support greater male power over the allocation of fewer resources for women should decentralization occur. Feminist welfare scholars such as Linda Gordon contend that women not only constitute most of the recipients in state-run welfare programs but have also played a significant role in the construction of programs and policies.23 Gordon convincingly argues that this instrumentality of welfare recipients has been minimized by social scientists, who tend to see them as victims. Nevertheless, these women have been unable to stave off the congressional restructuring of the welfare system, which gives each state control over its own welfare program with fewer resources. The national debate that preceded this legislation has heightened identity politics among women. Because welfare has been stereotypically depicted as a system that thwarts the middle-class work ethic among lowerclass people of color, many middle-class white women may welcome these reforms. In contrast, women of color are likely to view such changes as

The Feminist Wars


racially motivated. The emergence of diversity as a justification for reconstructing social welfare programs is thus likely to accentuate the perception and reality of race and class differences among women. Nevertheless, we believe that cooperation between white women and women of color on particular issues is still possible. Although most black women seem convinced that they must not divorce themselves from black men in their quest for racial equity, there are those who are concerned with black male physical violence against black women. Moreover, the recent emergence of black middle-class professional women, as well as black working-class women who are interested in careers in the male-dominated trades, the military, and the fire and police departments, suggests that the feminist focus on self-realization has had a positive impact on black women, just as it has on white women. Kristal Brent Zook, a young black feminist, takes note of this quest for self-realization and the resulting complex intersection of race and sex within the black community. She believes they call for a complex unity between black women and men, not a habitual one. . . . Growing up after civil rights, women’s lib and the sexual revolution, my generation of black women is not necessarily obsessed with the Man in the same ways that the old guard was. Many of us live among, and even love, white people. Some of us are biracial. And some of us are bisexual. We are more conscious than ever about the ways in which our lives intersect with and differ from those of white women, other women of color and third-world peoples. . . . although we remember the same racist violations as black men, we also remember some that are very different.24

Zook reminds us that the notion of a single black female identity renders invisible the specific contours of living in working-class, biracial, and lesbian bodies. The extensive history and ongoing significance of racism in American society suggests that cooperation between particular groups of white and black women (e.g., white and black lesbians) in contesting patriarchy cannot be presumed and is likely to be piecemeal and forged on the basis of specific converging needs. It seems to us, therefore, that pragmatic cooperative efforts involving women of color and white women on particular issues, as opposed to those designed to solve the problems of all “women as a group,” may be possible. Our perspective involves radically different contestations, however—ones that take place in the real world of messy contradictions rather than in the theoretically consistent world of postmodern or biological and humanist essentialist logic. It also accepts the inevitable conflict of trying to build coalitions among women who have deeply internalized identity politics as critical to their own self-definitions. We invite academics to facilitate this process by conducting empirical research that focuses on concrete issues and problems that concern diverse


Feminism and the Female Body

groups of women. This research should be premised on the notion that women’s diverse identities are mind-body configurations, as are the issues and problems that concern them and the solutions they develop. Such research calls for the use of theory as an important adjunct to the liberatory process, a tool in the problem-solving toolbox, rather than the development of elegant yet often incomprehensible paradigms as a way of understanding women’s lives. Although empirical research has been part of filling in herstory, empirical research studies have been visibly absent from the agenda and works of many feminist theorists. We believe that research is needed examining mind-body practices that radically contest women’s oppression and involving diverse groups of women (i.e., groups formulated on the basis of factors such as class, race, age, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation). Moreover, this research should examine contemporary, not just historical, sites, which has been the common practice. We believe that our work makes such an examination. Our proposed feminist liberatory strategy, which we refer to as an Amazonian transformation, emerged from our research involving elite female bodybuilders and women practicing martial arts in a feminist dojo. We focused on these two physical activities because of our concern and that of diverse groups of women about the rampant nature of violence against women. More specifically, we sought to identify strategies beyond placing a gun in every woman’s hand or making sweeping societal consciousness changes regarding women’s bodies that would end, or least minimize, this insanity. We believe that our findings are significant to both feminist theory and praxis. In an effort to develop a theoretical liberatory model, we augmented and blended the works of Michel Foucault and Maurice MerleauPonty. Although we acknowledge the importance of Foucaultian analysis in describing the genealogies of various systems of gender mind-body oppression, the absence of the autonomous subject in Foucault’s analyses is a serious shortcoming. We found that a feminist version of MerleauPonty’s analysis of embodiment, which he perceives as a mind-body phenomenon involving subjects capable of making individual and cooperative moral choices, solved this problem. From a praxis perspective, our research, which includes participant observation, has shown us that sustained participation in bodybuilding and the martial arts can facilitate high levels of physical and mental empowerment among women, particularly when these activities are combined with feminist consciousness raising and analysis. We found that, particularly among the martial artists, the physical dimension was a very important ingredient in deepening their overall feminist awareness and willingness to engage collectively in a variety of feminist causes. It also contributed to their belief in the efficacy of feminist action in achieving social justice.

The Feminist Wars


This was true regardless of whether or not the women had entered training with a feminist mindset. Our findings challenge the mind-body dualism that has characterized feminism throughout its history. Feminist theory and praxis were founded on the unstated assumption that oppression is mental. Our research has shown us that although oppression has a strong mental component, it is also a lived bodily experience. This is equally true of empowerment. Most important, however, our work suggests that projects developing mind-body empowerment may provide a more efficacious basis for women working together to achieve gender equality than those projects attempting to advance consciousness alone. We are now firm believers that integrated mind-body approaches should be developed that are designed to facilitate coalition building among women around areas of common concern. In Chapter 2, we examine the works of Elizabeth Grosz, Judith Butler, Luce Irigaray, Frigga Haug, and Iris Young, all of whom are feminist scholars who have addressed mind-body issues and claim to have overcome dualism. We argue that although their theoretical analyses have addressed mind-body intersections, their liberatory strategies emphasize mental transformation. Notes

1. De Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 758. 2. Irigaray, Work ethique de la difference sexuelle. Her quotation appears in Grosz, Volatile Bodies, 107. 3. Butler, Bodies That Matter, 230; 233–234. 4. Benhabib, “Feminism and Postmodernism.” 5. Okin, “Gender Inequality and Cultural Differences.” 6. Nussbaum, “Human Functioning and Social Justice,” 204. 7. Butler, “Contingent Foundations,” 49. 8. Young, “Gender as Seriality,” 719. 9. Bordo, “Feminism, Postmodernism, and Gender-Skepticism,” 148. 10. The emergence of black and African women’s studies, Native American women’s studies, Asia-Pacific women’s studies, Chicana and Latina women’s studies, scholarship on Jewish and Muslim women, and queer and lesbian theory were central to this challenge. 11. The language is taken from Indianapolis, Ind. Code 16-3 [q] [1984]. It is quoted in Frug, “A Postmodern Feminist Legal Manifesto,” 145. 12. American Booksellers Association v. Hudnut, 771 F.2d 323, 324 (7th Cir. 1985), affirmed 475 U.S. 1001 (1986). 13. Frug, “A Postmodern Feminist Legal Manifesto,” 146. 14. Ibid., 145; Indianapolis, Ind. Code 16-3 [q] [1984]. 15. Frug, “A Postmodern Feminist Legal Manifesto,” 148. 16. Guy-Sheftall with Heath, Women’s Studies, 16. 17. Meritor Savings Bank v. Mechelle Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986). 18. MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, 143.


Feminism and the Female Body

19. Crenshaw, “Whose Story Is It Anyway?” 416–417. 20. MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, 277, n. 2. 21. Wilkerson, “Whose Side to Take: Women, Outrage and the Verdict on O. J. Simpson,” 1. 22. See Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Robert P. Casey, 112 S. Ct. 2791 (1992). 23. Gordon, “The New Feminist Scholarship on the Welfare State.” 24. Zook, “A Manifesto of Sorts for a Black Feminist Movement,” 89, 88.

2 The Problem of Dualism and the Physically Powerful Female Body In the early phases of feminism’s second wave, the goal appeared to be reclaiming the female body from the control of male scientists, physicians, psychiatrists, social scientists, biologists, and theologians in Western societies. A large part of this enterprise was devoted to critiquing male notions and constructions of female embodiment and demonstrating how masculinist gender constructions result in male hegemonic control of women. Despite differences in perspective, feminists seemed to be united in the goal of ending male domination, and their work reflected a common subtext: that patriarchal ideology, including epistemology, is the linchpin of women’s oppression. Consequently, feminist liberatory strategies called for the development of alternative mental constructs and emphasized consciousness changes as the key to overcoming women’s oppression. This mentalistic focus has been both problematic and contradictory. It is problematic because it supports dualism, which has been genderized in Western society so that women are associated with the inferior, irrational body and men with the superior mind. It is contradictory because although feminists have taken great pains to demonstrate how this ideology perpetuates women’s oppression, their liberatory strategies, by highlighting cognitive activities as the critical emancipatory vehicles, have sustained dichotomous thinking. As mentioned in Chapter 1, many challenges and changes have transpired in feminist theory. Women of color and lesbians, having criticized feminist theorists as universalizing a perspective that was, in fact, white, middle-class, and heterosexual, began featuring texts and liberatory strategies reflecting diverse racial, class, and sexual identities. Postmodern feminists, who also questioned the notion of a fixed universal subjectivity, have steadily adjusted their strategies to be more inclusive. Even feminist essentialists have incorporated the postmodern critique into their liberatory analyses. Amidst these shifts, one idea remains the same: Consciousness, language, and the written text are perceived as the most important variables in overcoming women’s oppression. 31


Feminism and the Female Body

In this chapter, we examine the work of feminist theorists who have rendered accounts of the female body that they claim transcend Cartesian dualism. Elizabeth Grosz, Luce Irigaray, and Iris Young provide examples of the essentialist mind-body approach, modified by the postmodern critique of essentialism’s universal female subject; Frigga Haug and Judith Butler offer postmodernist and poststructuralist mind-body approaches to female embodiment.1 The assumption underlying these accounts is that a focus on the body automatically results in a nondualistic analysis. If we look closely at their liberatory analyses, however, we find that they have not actually done what they claim to do: eliminate dualism. Later in the chapter, we explore a reason for this mentalistic emphasis, which we believe is rooted in apprehension of physically powerful women in Western culture. Such women, who are epitomized in the Amazon, are typically deemed masculine and seen as dangerously challenging the notion of sexual identity. Both in historical and contemporary societies, the fear of being marked an Amazon has intimidated and thus coerced women into conforming to the norms of heterosexual femininity. Even those who claim to be staunch feminist theorists experience and often succumb to this pressure. This, we believe, is a central reason that feminists who are cognitively empowered and encourage other women to become so continue to overlook or disregard the fact that transformation of the female self requires bodily transformation as well. It does not stop these theorists, however, from being fascinated with what appears to be a contemporary version of the Amazon—the female bodybuilder—which is a phenomenon we address in the last part of the chapter. Will the Real Nondualist Please Stand Up?

Elizabeth Grosz seems to be a significant exception to the dualism underlying much of feminist theory. She has been profoundly influenced by Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s important work Phenomenology of Perception, in which he argues the interrelatedness of mind and body. 2 At the same time, she provides an account of female embodiment that questions the premises of male texts, particularly those in which the inferiority of women is grounded in their biological bodies. She even criticizes MerleauPonty for his presumption of sameness between male and female bodies, and thus for subsuming the female within a male model of embodiment. Although Grosz believes that representation and cultural inscriptors constitute female bodies, bodies also act and react, and thus can seep beyond the domains of control. Moreover, they are centers of perspective, insight, reflection, desire, and agency, and there is a mutual interdependence between psychic interiority and corporeal exteriority.

The Problem of Dualism


Grosz also believes that there is a fundamental, irreducible difference between the sexes, that is, a difference that is sexually specific yet culturally coded by race, class, and ethnicity. For example, she claims that although transsexuals can look like women, they can never experience what women feel and experience. Cycles of bodily flow, red and white, blood and milk, are unamenable to coercion and prescription, although they are absolutely open to cultural inscription; thus there is an irreducible specificity of women’s bodies, independent of race, class, and history. This “outsideness” or “alienness” of experiences applies to men as well; consequently, the lived reality of each sex remains unattainable for the other. This specificity, however, does not universalize the diverse ways in which women experience their bodies and bodily processes. Grosz claims to reject mind-body dualism. Although her liberatory agenda involves developing many different analytical accounts of female embodiment that enable female subjectivity to be understood as fully material, the analyses are meant to be written. The fact that her strategy relies on written works indicates that she has not fully overcome dualistic thinking. Luce Irigaray, a French feminist, is another theorist who appears to challenge Cartesian dualism via her analysis of female embodiment. Like Grosz, she focuses on the unique biological dimensions of the female body. Irigaray argues that although female desire, “la jouissance feminine,” has been repressed by male language, women can recapture their unique biological essence and control of their bodies through inventing and using a female language to write female texts. Within Irigaray’s work, we see another attempt at nondualism become dualistic; that is, Irigaray’s liberatory strategy, just like Grosz’s, emphasizes cognitive activities. Frigga Haug, a German postmodern feminist, is a third theorist attempting to provide a nondualistic liberatory strategy. However, the fact that she has been influenced by Foucaultian discourse analysis, along with its emphasis on written texts to reconstruct archaeologies of repressive social practices, leads her down a dualistic path. The following quotation illustrates Foucault’s perspective, in particular the limited scope of prescriptive analysis and the importance of relying on written texts as a source of possible social transformation: I want to say about the task of a diagnosis of today that it does not consist only of a description of who we are, rather a line of fragility of today to follow and understand, if and how what is, can no longer be what it is. In this sense, the description must be formulated in a kind of virtual break, which opens room, understood as a room of concrete freedom, that is possible transformation. . . . The work of the intellectual is to show what is, does not have to be, what it is. Therefore this designation and description of reality never has the value of a prescription according to the form “because this is, that is.” Therefore the return to history makes


Feminism and the Female Body

sense in the respect that history shows that which is was not always so . . . because they are made they can be unmade—of course, assuming we know how they were made.3

In keeping with the Foucaultian approach to social change, Haug has posed the liberatory possibilities available when groups of women collectively reconstruct themselves through techniques involving memory and writing. She claims that this collective remembering and subsequent written re-creation by each woman of her own bodily narrative is a way for women to experience their embodiment positively.4 Hence, it is the written word, mental images, and a feminist consciousness that are the keys to liberation. Judith Butler is yet another theorist who claims to reject mind-body dualism. Like Haug, she has been influenced by Foucaultian analysis, particularly its emphasis on social constructionism. For Butler, the construction of synchrony among sex, gender, and desire, which is epitomized in the ideal of masculine and feminine sexuality, is designed to maintain the regulatory fiction of heterosexuality. Butler believes, as does Foucault, that sexual identity is the dominant oppressive discourse in Western societies and that the sexual categories male and female serve to conceal the discontinuities existing in heterosexual and nonheterosexual contexts: “Gender does not necessarily follow from sex, and desire, or sexuality generally does not necessarily follow from gender; indeed, . . . none of these dimensions of significant corporeality ‘express’ or reflect one another.”5 Consistent with her thinking on the repressiveness of these artificial sexual categories, Butler’s liberatory strategy underscores the need for challenging sexual norms and thus contesting “compulsory heterosexuality.” Butler believes that the parodying of gender, which includes dressing in provocative ways (e.g., cross-dressing, drag, and sexual stylizations of butch and femme), or what she calls “performativity,” is a strategy for deconstructing sex and gender and challenging the notion of fixed gender categories. Performativity, she claims, is not simply the sum of the gendered expressions we perform; rather, it marks the constitutive power of discourse. Thus, by dressing in performative ways one can resist the artificial coherency of masculine and feminine identities, which has been fabricated through regulatory discourses. Although this may very well be true, a critical question comes to mind. Can dress, a superficial external dimension of gender, radically alter a woman’s internal sense of physical vulnerability and weakness? We think not. We also do not believe that dress can transform the bodily experience encoded into the constricted movements, gestures, and occupation of physical space that are part of the embodiment of femininity in Western and non-Western societies.

The Problem of Dualism


Iris Young seems to follow Grosz’s and Irigaray’s prescription for recapturing female bodily experiences in “Pregnant Embodiment” and “Breasted Experience,” two essays that provide phenomenological descriptions of her own embodiment experiences. She too believes that despite the multiple identities of women, there is an irreducible specificity of women’s bodies; thus her bodily experiences of her breasts and pregnancy, as a white, heterosexual, middle-class woman, “can resonate, at least in some aspects, with the experiences of differently identifying women.”6 The underlying premise of these works is that women must use their own descriptive language to repossess their uniquely female bodily experiences. Once again, it is writing that holds the potential for women communicating about and controlling their bodies. In another essay, “Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment, Motility, and Spatiality,” Young offers a different type of analysis, an important exception to the all-too-common emphasis on empowering women through writing and verbalization.7 In this work, Young examines the social construction of female bodies to conform to Western notions of femininity. She claims that women’s bodily comportment and movement patterns are not rooted in female anatomy or physiology or in a feminine essence; rather, they are learned through social practices designed to construct physical disability: “Women in sexist society are physically handicapped. Insofar as we learn to live out our existence in accordance with the definition that patriarchal culture assigns to us, we are physically inhibited, confined, positioned and objectified.”8 Young concludes by stating that she has offered a prolegomenon to the study of women’s experience and situation that has not received the treatment it warrants and recommends additional observation and data collection.9 The unstated assumption of this work is that the physical dimension of female embodiment—that is, throwing and other manifestations of bodily comportment—can be altered through an alternative set of mind-body practices. Such an assumption challenges the liberatory strategy of females writing their way to liberation, which is suggested in Young’s breasted and pregnancy experience essays, and the positions of Grosz, Irigaray, and Haug. It also challenges Butler’s notion of performativity. Women’s oppression is rooted not only in their consciousness and mental attitudes but also in their bodies. Feminist liberatory strategies emphasizing mental processes alone are therefore insufficient. That is, the mind and body must be conceived of as a unity in understanding the social construction of gender and sexuality and in developing and embodying feminist perspectives. Consider, for example, practices such as clitoridectomy, foot-binding, and rape or the fact that girls and women often are socialized to restrict their physical movement, strength, and athletic development. All such practices that physically inhibit, restrict, intimidate, and


Feminism and the Female Body

violate the female body alter the way a woman experiences her body and her self. Indeed, the construction of sex and gender in Western societies requires not only an ideology of femininity but also the physical construction of the feminine body, a process that has involved proscriptions against women developing physical strength, motor skills, and body shapes that allow them to physically intimidate men. Physical development among women, accompanied by an empowered consciousness, has generally been viewed in Western societies as dangerous and subversive. A recent Nike commercial depicting a competition between two teams of elite female volleyball players to sell athletic products illustrates this point. The caption reads “These are not sisters . . . this is a pack of wolves, tend to your sheep.” The message seems to be that physically strong women should be feared. The Amazon as an Icon of Resistance

The perceived inherent danger associated with strong, powerful women is clear when one examines the term Amazon, which has been used to describe women who attain extraordinary physical prowess. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term as “a woman warrior; a strong, masculine woman”; a 1767 usage, “to the men, an Amazon never ceases to be forbidding,” indicates the threatening quality of this term. The word undoubtedly was derived from the Greek Amazon, meaning “without a breast,” and refers to a procedure that female warriors allegedly endured: the removal of the right breast so that it would not interfere with the use of their bows. Apparently, motor skill and control were more important to warrior women than maintaining the integrity or beauty of the body. By today’s standards, this act would be considered abominable, even for an athlete, despite the variety of bodily mutilations contemporary women undergo to achieve a desirable body. Women’s breasts are viewed as a critical body part identifying female sexuality. Undergoing a radical mastectomy, which in essence can be construed as a surgical “de-sexing,” is surely one of the deepest fears associated with breast cancer. We believe that the term Amazon, and the woman who embodies all that the term connotes, is threatening not only to men but also to many women, even feminists. Since sexual identity is one of the dominant discourses of Western societies, “masculine” and “feminine” are primary ways that individuals define themselves. We contend that among many women there is an underlying unease toward or fear of their own physical powers, no doubt because the full development of those powers threatens their sexual identity and may diminish their sexual attractiveness to or

The Problem of Dualism


power over men. This unease or fear might explain in part those feminist theoreticians who acknowledge the significance of a mind-body perspective yet continue to challenge phallocentric control of women’s bodies by employing liberatory strategies that emphasize mental constructs and consciousness changes. Using the logic of this analysis, one may be tempted to suggest that lesbians, who do not define themselves in terms of their attractability to men, could be the significant exception—that only those women who have challenged the dominant discourse of heterosexuality can develop and facilitate new forms of female embodiment. But Foucault has made a persuasive argument that homosexuality is a “reverse resistance” discourse, the flip side of heterosexuality, and thus will not effectively serve this purpose: There is no question that the appearance in nineteenth-century psychiatry, jurisprudence, and literature of a whole series of discourses on the species and subspecies of homosexuality, inversion, pederasty and “psychic hermaphrodism” made possible a strong advance of social controls into this area of “perversity:” but it also made possible the formation of a “reverse” discourse: homosexuality began to speak in its own behalf, to demand that its legitimacy or “naturality” be acknowledged, often in the same vocabulary, using the same categories by which it was medically disqualified.10

If this is the case, lesbian embodiment is likely to be patterned on a reversal of the heterosexual male and female discourse, regardless of whether it is manifested in butch and femme styling or androgyny. Such identity options manifested in dress and bodily comportment, however fluid they may be, have their origins in the discourse that links identity with sexual behavior and establishes heterosexuality as the standard of normality. According to Foucault, there is not, on the one hand, a discourse of power—in this case heterosexuality—and, on the other hand, another discourse—lesbianism—running counter to it. In fact, both are dimensions of the psychiatric, medical, and legal discourses that scientifically link sexuality and identity and categorize heterosexuality as “normal” sexual behavior and homosexuality as perverse. To use Foucaultian logic, lesbians who defend themselves as “normal” illustrate a form of “reverse” resistance, which provides continued support to the power-knowledge discourse of sexual identity; that is, they reaffirm sexual identity as a major component of their subjectivity. Moreover, by labeling their behavior as “normal,” lesbians are subscribing to the application of medical, legal, and psychiatric “normalizing” criteria to all sexual behavior and thus are involved, along with heterosexuals, in producing and reinforcing the same power and knowledge discourse.


Feminism and the Female Body

Foucault does describe a second type of resistance—“resistance as freedom”—which requires breaking out of the power-knowledge discourse of sexual identity. Such resistance involves the development of a new notion of self-constitution that is outside the dominant discourse of sexual identity and can be pursued by women, regardless of their sexual orientation. Mary Joe Frug’s comments on sex, gender, and sexuality provide a feminist version of this Foucaultian perspective; unfortunately, her strategy also reflects the dualism permeating feminist theory. The following quotation illustrates Frug’s view regarding the oppressiveness of the Western discourse on sexuality and sexual identity, as well as her conceptual and linguistic strategy for resistance: “Exploring, pursuing, and accepting differences among women and differences among sexual practices is necessary to challenge the oppression of women by sex. Only when sex means more than male or female, only when the term ‘woman’ cannot be coherently understood, will oppression by sex be fatally undermined.”11 For Frug, a postmodern legal feminist, the law is a critical arena for waging this battle, particularly in areas such as employment, rape, prostitution, and sexual harassment, where patriarchal legal definitions of woman (i.e., those associated with sex, gender, and sexual practices) determine oppressive patriarchal legal outcomes. She argues that the narrow legal definitions of woman, which excludes lesbianism, needs to be expanded. Using the lesbian/gay marriage campaign as an example, she concludes that injustice occurs “when legal rules structure these particular postures in such a way that subordinate groups cannot squeeze into them at all.”12 Frug also believes that legal rules need to broaden the narrow definition of female subjectivity, for if it is not clear who’s the bride and who’s the groom, the domination that feminists fear in both lesbian and heterosexual marriages is less likely to occur. The subtext of Frug’s liberatory strategy rests on the assumption that biological sex, as the basis for gender differences, should be “fatally undermined.”13 Frug’s strategy for accomplishing this postmodernist goal is notably cognitive: to expand the legal concepts of womanhood and sexuality. Is this notion of resistance, and ultimately freedom, a realistic feminist liberatory option? Theorists such as Mary Daly believe not. Although Daly claims that women cannot live entirely outside the patriarchal institutions of sex and gender, they can choose to live on their boundaries. From the boundaries, women can be self-centering rather than defined by male institutions.14 Gloria Anzaldua’s “mestiza,” who lives between cultures, is an example of a woman choosing to live in borderlands.15 Even Foucault acknowledged that developing oneself in novel ways, which he referred to as “resistance as freedom,” requires an awareness that the sexual identity discourse continues to play a significant role in Western societies.

The Problem of Dualism


Daly’s woman living on the boundaries, Anzaldua’s mestiza, and Foucault’s freedom resister all seem to challenge Frug’s recommendation that women engage in a life of cultural nonintelligibility. Moreover, it is clear that they believe, as Frug apparently does not, that an individual woman cannot constitute herself totally outside the dominant social discourses of sex and gender. Regardless of whether one is able to live on the edge or transcend the edge altogether, what seems most important to us is that all of these self-centering liberatory strategies rely on mental, not mind-body, changes. Following the logic of living on the boundaries, living between two or more cultures, resistance as freedom, and our own mind-body perspective emphasizing physical and mental self-determination, we recommend a search for potential Amazons who may become exemplars of these approaches to self-constitution. Amazons are women who choose mind-body self-constituting practices that enable them to shape their own thoroughly contemplated existences; they live on the margins of patriarchal female embodiment. Most significantly, they not only subscribe to the feminist principles of dignity and equality associated with gender, class, race, sexual orientation, age, and disability but also embody such principles. Amazons recognize that the realization of these principles requires collective social action and that individual programs of self-constitution may provide a false form of resistance. Indeed, liberation from oppressive structures demands the support and validation of women who share similar concerns and visions. The critical question then becomes: Which marginalized mind-body practices are likely to provide feminist models of embodiment and thus become sites for contesting oppressive sex, gender, and sexuality norms? The Female Bodybuilder: A Model of Feminist Embodiment?

If the body and the mind, that is, the embodied self, is a cultural text inscribed with gendered, class, and racial meanings and culturally defined feminine and masculine body shapes, the competitive female bodybuilder, who comes in a variety of races, classes, and sexual orientations, seemed to be an obvious starting point for our inquiries. Are these women examples of Amazonian mental and physical empowerment? To many, the competitive female bodybuilder represents a grotesque distortion of the female body, a woman who has divorced herself from the norms of feminine bodily development. The defining characteristics of bodybuilding are, after all, associated with the Western notion of the ideal male body: muscularity, hardness, broad shoulders, and narrow hips, all of


Feminism and the Female Body

which render the opposite of the ideal female body. Women’s participation in bodybuilding appears to challenge the Western notion of masculinity and femininity as exclusionary categories and, more specifically, the idea that muscle, which is associated with physical strength, is a definitive male characteristic. Thus women’s bodybuilding seemed to us a probable area in which to find women attempting to subvert the idea of women as the weaker sex and, at the same time, generate a new model of female embodiment. Female bodybuilders threaten the construction of female and male sexual identity because of the connection between bodybuilding and sport. Although many regard bodybuilding as less than a “real” sport, it is nevertheless a practice in which the hypermasculine identity associated with sport is constructed. Moreover, its association with sports that emphasize large, physically powerful bodies (e.g., football, wrestling, ice hockey) particularly problematizes female bodybuilders who appear to endanger the construction of sexual identity and gender roles. Women’s participation in bodybuilding therefore represents a challenge to the muscular male body, which dominates sporting imagery and signifies the physical power of patriarchy. Sociologist Robert Connell describes the male embodiment of gender differences: The social definition of men as holders of power is translated not only into mental body-images and fantasies but into muscle tensions, posture, the feel and texture of the body. This is one of the main ways in which the power of men becomes “naturalized”, i.e., seen as part of the order of nature. It is very important in allowing belief in the superiority of men, and the oppressive practices that flow from it, to be sustained by men who in other respects have very little power.16

Female bodybuilders, indeed all female athletes, challenge this naturalization process. By rejecting the construction of femininity as powerless, these women are stretching the boundaries of “woman” and thus appear to be engaged in a form of gender bending. Although this may very well be true, we also need to consider if the masculinist and heterosexist institution of sport has not limited, at least to some degree, the resistant feminist possibilities within the bodybuilding experience. Certainly, this has been the case with other female sports. Moreover, is this muscle building merely another form of what Connell has called “emphasized femininity”? It is not difficult to see how one might answer this question in the affirmative. Still, female bodybuilders do challenge the cultural construction of femininity, at least on some level; and it is this apparent challenge that has made them of great interest to feminists who have attempted to theorize women’s bodies. In the last section of this chapter, we examine some of their theoretical interpretations and find that they are varied and often contradictory.

The Problem of Dualism

Female Bodybuilding: An Interpretational Conundrum for Feminists


For some feminists, bodybuilding is a site for contesting patriarchal control and restrictive standards of female embodiment; for others, it is a practice that produces female bodies governed by patriarchal standards. How do we reconcile what appear to be diametrically opposed cultural constructions of female bodybuilders? Are these women practicing a mindbody liberatory discourse, or are they merely reinforcing cultural norms of femininity? The works of Sandra Bartky and Susan Bordo are examples of these different assessments of female bodybuilding. In this section, we analyze their works and set the theoretical stage for our own bodybuilding research, which is presented in Chapter 3. Like Bartky and Bordo, we used a feminist Foucaultian perspective to interpret women’s bodybuilding. We went a step further, however, by incorporating Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the lived-body as an ethical subject, who in conjunction with similarly situated subjects makes value judgments and can take collective action. Thus we believe that we have the beginnings of a nondualistic feminist framework that can provide a way of assessing whether practices such as bodybuilding facilitate the development of mind-body feminism. With few exceptions, the work of Merleau-Ponty has had little impact on feminist theory. In contrast, Foucaultian discourse and disciplinary analysis has been used extensively by feminist theoreticians because it has helped them understand patriarchal processes and influences. It has also been used as a theoretical basis for analyzing women’s bodybuilding. As we noted earlier, however, although Foucault’s legacy serves feminists well, his focus on written works and the mental reconstruction of self is problematic because it has contributed to the perpetuation of mind-body dualism, that is, the emphasis on mind and consciousness as the source of a counterresistant discourse. This dualistic theme is illustrated in the work of Sandra Bartky and Susan Bordo, two feminists who have grappled with Foucaultian analysis. Their exploration of the relationship between the power and knowledge discourse of femininity and the feminizing disciplines of dieting, exercise, gesture, and physical movement are particularly important. We also found their analyses of women’s bodybuilding helpful in developing our own position. Following Foucault’s lead, however, they do not address collective strategies for social change. Bartky attempts to apply Foucaultian analysis as she examines the technologies of femininity that create the feminine body-subject. She argues that the subjugation of the female subject is the product not of a centralized, punitive government but, rather, of females subjecting themselves to femininity discourses. According to Bartky, such discourses are so powerful that,


Feminism and the Female Body

despite women’s growing economic independence, widespread resistance should not be anticipated. Even female CEOs, for example, attempt to control their bodies through diet and exercise; they also have their share of eating disorders. Bartky asks, Why don’t women’s bodies rebel against “the pain, constriction, tedium, semistarvation and constant self-surveillance to which they are condemned?”17 Apparently, it is because such regimes are perceived as necessary to achieve the ideal feminine body, as oppressive as this goal might be. However, she claims that, as history has shown, such forms of bodily domination always result in resistance: In the present instance, what may be a major factor in the relentless and escalating objectification of women’s bodies—namely, women’s growing independence—produces in many women a sense of incoherence that calls into question the meaning and necessity of the current discipline. As women (albeit a small minority of women) begin to realize an unprecedented political, economic, and sexual self determination, they fall ever more completely under the dominating gaze of patriarchy. It is this paradox . . . that produces here and there, pockets of resistance.18

As a feminist theorist, Bartky sees herself playing the role of the intellectual, as delineated by Foucault. She therefore attempts to read the cultural messages women inscribe daily on their bodies with the hope that her work will enhance women’s understanding of how these femininity disciplines reinforce patriarchy and, in so doing, facilitate their resistance to oppression. Bartky identifies female bodybuilders among the small number of oppositional discourses in present-day society, noting that within this subcultural group, “there are a few with little concern for the limits of body development imposed by current canons of femininity.”19 Her conclusion regarding resistance among these women is drawn from observing their physical appearance and visible muscular maturity; it is as if she were saying, the more muscle, the greater the resistance. She uses the same physical appearance criteria (e.g., gray hair, age lines, and excess weight) in deciding that women in “radical lesbian communities” are resisting hegemonic images of femininity and beauty. Determining the meaning or intention of a subject’s actions based on external appearance or form may seem reasonable to some; however, in this instance, we believe it is a form of reductionistic thinking in which Bartky’s limited personal observations are generalized to confirm her views of resistance. Via her examination of anorexia nervosa, Bordo, like Bartky, attempts to integrate feminist theory with Foucaultian analysis, albeit in a dramatically different way. Instead of searching for the resistant possibilities among female bodybuilders, she emphasizes factors that suggest these

The Problem of Dualism


bodybuilders’ compliance to the dominant discourse of feminine body beauty. She does this by enumerating the similarities between female bodybuilders and anorexics. Bordo’s conclusions are based on her interpretation of a series of quotations from interviews with female bodybuilders conducted by Trix Rosen.20 Although Rosen’s informants were not elite bodybuilders, Bordo generalized that anorexic themes characterize all bodybuilders. She claims that the anorexic tendencies of bodybuilders are evidenced in their emphasis on will, perfection, and concentration. She also equates anorexics and bodybuilders because both groups conceptualize their bodies as alien objects, feel that their lives and bodies are out of control, and experience the “thrill of being in total charge of the shape of one’s body.”21 Indeed, for Bordo, the “technology of dictating to nature one’s own chosen design for the body is at the center of the bodybuilder’s mania, as it is for the anorexic.”22 According to Bordo, although anorexia has been identified as a problem originating within a mentally disordered individual (usually a female), it is actually an exaggerated expression of much that is wrong with American culture. She targets the cultural emphasis on slenderness, which is a central feature of feminine beauty, as one such problem because it results in women not only becoming more obsessed with their bodies than men are but also centralizing their identities on bodily weight, shape, and construction. Indeed, anorexia is not a gender-neutral phenomenon: The vast majority of reported anorexics are females. Bordo does not believe that anorexia is a product of deliberately used patriarchal power, however. Following Foucault’s analysis of power relations, she maintains that punitive, coercive governmental bodies or particular individuals should not be viewed as patriarchal conspirators aiming to control women. Although power relations involve the domination of specific groups (e.g., prisoners by guards, women by men), it does not necessarily follow that the dominators are in control of the situation or that the dominated do not sometimes advance and control the situation themselves. For Bordo, “nowhere is this more clear than in the case of the anorexic.”23 Following this line of reasoning, is it possible that anorexic behavior is a protest against the ideal of femininity and female domesticity, perhaps even an act of civil disobedience, similar to the epidemic of female invalidism and hysteria among women during the nineteenth century? Although Bordo suggests that it is anorexics, not some unidentified oppressors, who dominate and control their situation, she does not believe that their actions can be a deliberate political statement: The anorexic’s “protest,” like that of the classical hysterical symptom, is written on the bodies of anorexic women, and not embraced as a conscious


Feminism and the Female Body

politics, nor indeed does it reflect any social or political understanding at all. Moreover, the symptoms themselves function to preclude the emergence of such an understanding: the idée fixe—staying thin—becomes at its furthest extreme so powerful as to render any other ideas or life projects meaningless.24

Bordo also denies the possibilities of resistance among female bodybuilders by underscoring the significance of control in their lives, which she believes makes them similar to anorexics. From Bordo’s vantage point, although the results of anorexia and bodybuilding may be different (mesomorphy vs. ectomorphy), the motivation behind their practices, as well as the practices themselves, are essentially the same. Following this logic, one can conclude that female bodybuilders are not resisting or freeing themselves from dominant femininity discourses; rather, they are absolutely entrenched within and confined by them. It is apparent that although Bordo views bodybuilding as a form of body fetishism endemic in our increasingly “out of control” culture, she also sees the practice as far more, symbolizing a cultural negation of vulnerability and death. Although she has made valid points and interesting connections, our own research suggests some alternative interpretations of control. Bordo does provide a thoughtful application of Foucaultian analysis of the female body. She also demonstrates the problematic consequences associated with such a perspective. The anorexic and bodybuilder, along with all other females concerned with body shape, become a disturbing illustration of “how cavalier power relations are with respect to the motivations and goals of individuals, yet how deeply they are etched on our bodies and how well our bodies serve them.”25 According to Bordo, power is disciplinary, continuous, and anonymous. Thus the autonomous subject with the capacity to evaluate particular practices, and then act, is nonexistent. Bartky, in contrast, believes that political activism is possible. She is hopeful that as growing numbers of women experience the contradictions between the femininity discourse, which is ultimately oppressive, and their improved political, social, and economic status, resistance will follow. For Bartky, female bodybuilders demonstrate such resistance. We believe that Bartky’s and Bordo’s readings of the discourse of female bodybuilders are problematic for three reasons: (1) they have simplified Foucaultian resistance by not distinguishing between reverse resistance and resistance as freedom; (2) their conclusions regarding bodybuilding are not supported by their own empirical observations; and (3) they have accepted Foucault’s view of resistance as an individual, primarily mental, process, which in the end promotes dualist liberatory strategies.

The Problem of Dualism

Women’s Bodybuilding: Overcoming the Problem of Dualistic Analysis


The phenomenological perspective of Merleau-Ponty offers a way of dissolving the dualistic divide between the mind and body. Merleau-Ponty believed that the central concern of existential phenomenology was to encourage human beings to become aware of their freedom and take responsibility for shaping the events in which they are involved. He also perceived the lived-body to be an ethical subject and more than the result of disciplinary technologies. Foucault denied this possibility; in fact, in his early writings, he was intent on demonstrating the illusionary nature of individual choice based on objective values: For Foucault, what human beings say and do are determined by the cultural rules and practices they embody.26 His later writings, however, suggest that he returned to Merleau-Ponty’s views about the possibilities of freedom. This change is particularly reflected in one of his last interviews, in which he comments about the purposes of his work: It was a matter rather of showing how social mechanisms up to the present have been able to work, how forms of repression and constraint have acted, and then, starting from there, it seems to me, one left to the people themselves, knowing all of the above, the possibility of self-determination and the choice of their own existence.27

The ethic that Foucault proposes in The Use of Pleasure and Care of the Self, which is patterned on the morality of the ancient Greeks and Romans, was the result of his search for a personal ethic.28 Such an ethic, he believed, could be an alternative to the universal power-knowledge discourse on morality associated with the early development of Christianity. According to Foucault, the subject can be constituted either through practices of subjection, which characterize contemporary Western civilization, or “through practices of liberation, of freedom, as in Antiquity”;29 that is, we can choose to develop our own codes of individual conduct as opposed to continuing to condemn ourselves to a universal morality. The problem is that although Foucault understood how these disciplinary technologies of the body work, he did not explain what resources are necessary to resist them. We agree with Foucault’s last writings: that human beings are not condemned to practices of subjection such as the feminine body beauty discourse that locks women into terrorized bodies that have learned how to “scurry, cringe and submit.”30 Because of their apparent departure from the accepted norms of feminine body beauty, female bodybuilders provide a


Feminism and the Female Body

compelling focus for Foucaultian analysis. Are these women models of resistance to the dominant discourse of feminine body beauty, or are they merely exhibiting compliance to this discourse? Moreover, is female bodybuilding yet another illustration of the mind-body dualism of Western civilization in that bodybuilders seek ultimate control over themselves through their bodies? Or is female bodybuilding an example of the search for a personal ethic, what Foucault calls “care-of-the-self” and an “aesthetics of existence”? Although we believe that it is important to use Foucault’s two types of resistance in assessing the meaning of competitive female bodybuilding, an important question emerges: Can resistance as freedom be achieved on an individual level? In answering this question, we employed Merleau-Ponty’s notion of freedom, which is related to the experience of intersubjectivity. According to Merleau-Ponty, the body is an “intersubjective field”; that is, each person lives in a particular historicial period and interacts with other subjectivities (persons) living through and developing a shared understanding of these historical conditions. Intersubjectivity is thus a process that involves the embodiment of a shared commitment to a set of values. When individuals mutually experience a common oppression, the mutual validation and evaluation of the experience can lead to resistance and the decision to reconstruct one’s life. Our own effort to explore whether female bodybuilding is a feminist mind-body practice is grounded in empirical research and analysis of the mind-body changes experienced by a group of competitive female bodybuilders who had achieved or were aspiring to professional status. We found that our data could best be interpreted by blending feminist versions of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological views of the intersubjective livedbody and Foucault’s perspective on social structures, bodily discipline, and resistance. The experiential accounts of these bodybuilders suggested, however, that we needed to develop a more precise definition of resistance. The Foucaultian distinction between reverse resistance and resistance as freedom was a useful theoretical tool in understanding the attitudes and behavior of this group of elite female bodybuilders. We found it necessary, however, to reexamine Foucault’s emphasis on individual resistance because the mutually supportive relationships that had developed among some of the bodybuilders were critical in explaining why certain women were comfortable contesting the feminine body beauty and sexual identity discourse and others were not. This type of resistance requires more than a willingness to engage in an individual power struggle: resistance as freedom seems to require group validation that comes from bonding with others of “like mind and body” and a commitment to a shared agenda. Resistance as freedom also involves mental and physical components: an alternative set of precepts and physically empowering practices must replace the feminine body beauty discourse.

The Problem of Dualism


We used these theoretical distinctions to determine whether our sample of elite female bodybuilders were engaged in group-validated resistance as freedom practices that facilitate an Amazonian (mind-body) transformation. Our research suggests that an ethics of feminist activism is possible. Notes

1. Butler, “Contingent foundations,” 38–39. Butler points out the problematic nature of defining postmodernism but suggests that part of the project of postmodernism is to question the ways in which paradigms and categories have been used to subordinate and erase that which they seek to explain: “If postmodernism as a term has some force or meaning within social theory or feminist social theory in particular, perhaps it can be found in the exercise that seeks to show how theory, how philosophy, is always implicated in power.” Within the postmodern movement, Butler seems to see her role as that of a poststructuralist, to subject notions of the body and materiality to a deconstructive critique, “to interrogate what the theoretical move that establishes foundations authorizes, and what precisely it excludes or forecloses.” An example of her use of a deconstructive analysis is her examination of the sexual categories male and female, which, according to Butler, function as a principle of regulation and production at the same time. 2. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception. 3. Foucault, “How Much Does It Cost Reason to Tell the Truth,” 252. 4. Haug & Others, Female Sexualization. 5. Butler, “Gender Trouble, Feminist Theory and Psychoanalytic Discourse,” 336. 6. Young, “Introduction,” 17. 7. Young, Throwing Like a Girl. 8. Ibid., 153. 9. It should be noted that this study of women’s bodily comportment has been conducted for the past twenty years by feminist sport sociologists and other sport-related scholars. Its invisibility to feminist theorists such as Iris Young and Elizabeth Grosz is, unfortunately, an example of academic mind-body dualism. Disciplines associated with the body are often regarded as inferior, and research and writing associated with such disciplines are not viewed as serious and significant academic scholarship. 10. Foucault, The History of Sexuality, 101. 11. Frug, “A Postmodern Feminist Legal Manifesto,” 153. 12. Ibid., 22. 13. Ibid. 14. Daly, Beyond God the Father. 15. Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera. 16. Connell, Gender and Power, 85. 17. Bartky, “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power,” 82. 18. Ibid., 82–83. 19. Ibid., 83. 20. Rosen, Strong and Sexy. 21. Bordo, “Anorexia nervosa,” 99. 22. Ibid.


Feminism and the Female Body

23. Ibid., 91. 24. Ibid., 105. 25. Ibid., 109. 26. Foucault’s intellectual journey, in which he explored the dualism of Western philosophy, began with Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological conception of the lived-body. In fact, Merleau-Ponty’s lived-body, which is a fully integrated mindbody concept as opposed to a physical body separated from and controlled by the mind, was the focus of Foucault’s initial enterprise. Although he claimed that Merleau-Ponty had furthered our understanding of human behavior by emphasizing the central importance of the body, he felt Merleau-Ponty’s account of cultural embodiment was too general. Foucault thus assumed the task of researching the historical and cultural dimensions of bodily disciplinary practices that were developed in Western civilization. Dreyfus and Rabinow, Michel Foucault. 27. Foucault, The Return of Morality, 312. 28. Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, 10–12; and Foucault, The Care of the Self. 29. Foucault, The Return of Morality, 313. 30. Frug, “A Postmodern Feminist Legal Manifesto,” 129.

3 Elite Female Bodybuilders: Models of Resistance or Compliance? Bodybuilding has helped to transform my sense of self. The world doesn’t control me anymore. I finally have a mind and body of my own.1

Feminist social analysis has been directed toward understanding women’s oppression as well as developing strategies for resistance and empowerment. Such oppression is often attributed to the dominance of masculinist paradigms that emphasize the abstract and rational and diminish the feminine, which has been associated instead with the body, emotions, and feelings. As we noted in previous chapters, although feminists are critical of the mind-body dualism inherent in masculinist mental constructs, many have failed to eliminate this dichotomy in their own liberation proposals. In contrast, we believe that the mind and body must be conceived of as a unity in understanding the social construction of gender and in developing and embodying feminist perspectives. In this chapter, we attempt to develop a nondualistic feminist framework that is consistent with our research involving a sample of elite female bodybuilders. Merleau-Ponty and Foucault, two contemporary theorists who view the body as the critical source of social analysis, have influenced our perspective. The strength of Merleau-Ponty’s work is his concept of human subjectivity, located not in the mind or consciousness but in the body. The benefit of Foucaultian analysis is its contribution to understanding the socialization of bodies. Both theorists fail to take into account the fact that women’s oppression in Western societies is in part rooted in the social construction of their bodies to be restricted, deferential, and seductive; we therefore interpreted their works through our feminist lens.

Developing a Nondualistic Feminist Perspective of Female Embodiment

Feminist theory is rooted in a normative critique of social institutions by an engendered subject. Thus, developing a feminist perspective of embodiment 49


Feminism and the Female Body

requires an analysis of how and why women might resist an oppressive mind-body discourse (e.g., the feminine body beauty discourse) because it undermines equality between the sexes and, instead, constitute themselves in a way that is not determined by such a discourse. Foucault’s notion of resistance has been helpful in this regard; but before we explore its application to our sample of competitive female bodybuilders, we need to examine the contemporary focus on the sexualization of women’s bodies and the power relations that such a focus entails. According to Foucault, one’s “true” sexual identity, feminine or masculine, is the primary way that individuals in Western societies define themselves.2 This emphasis on gender and sexuality in contemporary society emerged during the eighteenth century when knowledge and power discourses began to be centered on the production of the body. Foucault refers to this phenomenon as “bio-power,” which was characterized by an increasing organization of the population to enhance force and productivity.3 Foucault identifies two poles of development around which the organization of power over life is deployed. The first pole emphasizes the body as a machine and thus involves disciplinary procedures that optimize its economic usefulness; the second, the “species pole,” emphasizes propagation, birth, mortality, and health. Sexual identity, which melds anatomical and biological elements and sensations and pleasures into an artificial unity, becomes the critical nexus of these two poles and the juncture around which the management of social life is organized. Thus one’s “true” sexual identity, which is linked to one’s biological sex and forces a categorical distinction between feminine and masculine, becomes the primary way that individuals constitute themselves. In his introduction to Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth Century French Hermaphrodite, Foucault notes the social insistence on a single sexual identity, which was supported by the medical and legal professions.4 Apparently, legal and medical experts felt that they, not the individual in question, should decide which sex she/he was to be. Barbin’s memoirs attest to the pain and suffering inflicted by this power-knowledge discourse of “true” sexuality, which ultimately resulted in his suicide. Sexualized bodies, defined by notions of ideal femininity and masculinity, provide the grid for power relations of the body. Power, which for Foucault is synonymous with force, is not merely governmental bodies issuing orders to the ruled; rather, it originates from multiple sources. Moreover, power is relational and is the result of ongoing divisions and inequalities in human society; consequently, where power exists, there will also be resistance. Foucault clarifies the relationship between power and resistance when he says that power relations “depend on a multiplicity of points of resistance: these play the role of adversary, target, support, or

Elite Female Bodybuilders


handle in power relations. These points of resistance are present everywhere in the power network.”5 Thus, because power and resistance are interactional, resistance will continue to emerge within power-knowledge discourses such as femininity and masculinity. Foucault distinguishes between two types of resistance. The first type, reverse resistance, involves continued support of the power-knowledge discourse that links sexuality to identity; the second type, resistance as freedom, requires breaking out of this discourse and developing a new notion of self that is not grounded in stereotypical notions of feminine or masculine. If, for example, elite female bodybuilders view bodybuilding as a feminizing practice, then their resistance with regard to muscle development will continue to support the power-knowledge discourse of feminine body beauty and sexual identity and thus may be considered reverse resistance or even compliance. Conversely, if they believe bodybuilding allows them to construct themselves physically and mentally in ways other than those defined by this discourse, they are engaging in resistance as freedom. So the critical question becomes: How can a woman extricate herself from a dominant discourse and develop an ethic of self-constitution? Although we cannot necessarily adopt the solution to a problem from another time in history, Foucault believes that we can learn from the ancient Greeks and Romans. He focuses on these societies because they did not define themselves in terms of sexual identity but through self-mastery, or what he calls a “care-of-the-self” ethic. A care-of-the-self ethic required training in order to perfect oneself, for example, abstinence, memorization of important things one had read or heard, examination of conscience, meditation, and attention to health, diet, physical exercise, and sexual practices. This attention to the self was not a form of narcissism; instead, it was composed of social acts emphasizing perfection of character, friendship, moderation, service to the polis, and the importance of reciprocity in bodily pleasure. Most important, work on the self was not imposed on the individual by legal, religious, or scientific power-knowledge discourses grounded in universal norms; rather, individuals made the choice to constitute themselves. 6 Although many of these suggestions for self-improvement seem mind-body related, Foucault regards writing about one’s experience of such events as the most significant act in the cultivation of the self. Thus he maintains a dualistic emphasis. Why does Foucault proclaim the superiority of the Greco-Roman method for self-constitution? Moreover, why does he maintain that the power-knowledge discourse of sexual identity should be rejected? Foucault’s introductory comments to the memoirs of Herculine Barbin indicate clearly his negative views about the norm of “true” sexuality and its


Feminism and the Female Body

presumed relationship to “true” identity. To support his position, Foucault should have established normative criteria for distinguishing between good and bad power, that is, between repressive power (e.g., domination) and authorized power, which enables individuals to determine when power should be resisted. He also should have articulated how resistance as freedom, as opposed to reverse resistance, emerges within the power relations and politics of everyday life. Unfortunately, he does neither. Foucault does, however, urge researchers to search for marginalized practices that may provide models of self-care. He recommends these practices because he presumes that they are less subject to constraints of power because they are not the focus of the judicial system or the social or medical and psychiatric sciences. He also presumes that freedom is desirable and that individuals will choose to discard particularly repressive power-knowledge discourses. Indeed, the autonomous subject, functioning as a rational moral agent, who was earlier banished by Foucault, appears to have resurfaced via his distinction between reverse resistance and resistance as freedom. These different forms of resistance demonstrate Foucault’s effort to acknowledge the grid of power relationships that simultaneously define the everyday lives of individuals and delineate the way they can negotiate zones of freedom. Foucault believes that the intellectual plays a significant role in facilitating opportunities for freedom by developing descriptions of norms and institutions operating during contemporary times and then contrasting these norms and institutions with those from other historical periods. Such comparisons, he felt, demonstrate the social construction of reality and thus open possibilities for transformation. As Foucault has remarked: “The work of the intellectual is to show that what is, does not have to be.”7 But what is it about the subject that incites struggle within a powerknowledge discourse (i.e., reverse resistance) in one situation and transcending the discourse (i.e., resistance as freedom) in another? First and foremost, the subject must be more than a body enmeshed in powerknowledge discourses; the choices that individuals make and the meanings they give to their choices are also critical. For example, some female competitive bodybuilders build muscle while trying to make themselves more feminine (e.g., through breast augmentation). Although these women depart from feminine body beauty norms to some extent, they are ultimately conforming to the discourse that fuses identity and sexuality. In contrast, those who reject all vestiges of femininity while shaping their own path appear to be engaged in resistance as freedom. We believe that these distinctions are significant, but their viability as explanatory concepts requires going beyond Foucault’s individualistic views of self and normative evaluation. From a practical point of view, such a move is necessary because individual resistance, although admirable,

Elite Female Bodybuilders


rarely results in pivotal social change. Moreover, from a Foucaultian perspective, women’s bodybuilding, as a form of reverse resistance, results in a personal struggle that only perpetuates the status quo. Even Foucault’s resistance as freedom, which involves transcending a dominant discourse, must remain an individual experience because if bodybuilding becomes part of a group process, the group identity creates the possibility of a new power-knowledge discourse. And, of course, this new way of being can become as confining as the original discourse from which it emerged. Thus Foucaultian resistance limits the extent to which social transformation can occur. We also found that the individualized nature of Foucaultian resistance was inadequate in explaining the experiences of the bodybuilders who participated in our research. For example, their relationships with other female bodybuilders were enormously significant, particularly for those deviating from the feminine body beauty discourse. We therefore sought out a mind-body theoretical framework that would fill this explanatory gap. Merleau-Ponty offers a more coherent explanation of the relationship between the shared meaning that individuals assign to events and the concept of freedom, which he defines as an act of choosing. Admittedly, his analysis of the structure of bodily perception is gender neutral and ahistorical. We countered the first limitation by examining the experiences of women. We did not believe the second was a serious shortcoming because although Merleau-Ponty rejects the determinism of historical materialism, he recognizes that sociohistorical context influences the relationship between meaning and freedom. This recognition is illustrated in his remark “I am a psychological and historical structure, and have received with existence, a manner of existing, a style.”8 Indeed, it is because we are profoundly influenced by such contextual relations that Merleau-Ponty believes a social revolution is possible only at certain moments in history. Applying these notions to our sample of female bodybuilders, we see that through their bodily practices, which are shaped by the social and political context of the 1990s, these women have chosen a way of existing in the world. Furthermore, each of the bodybuilders represents an “intersubjective field” whose experience of embodiment connects her with those in similar circumstances. From Merleau-Ponty’s perspective, resistance as freedom could never be a solitary activity defined by one individual; it must include interaction with other similarly identified individuals within a particular socio-historical context. Merleau-Ponty addresses the importance of communication and social validation in his discussion of the proletariat. A worker in a factory, which was the unique creation of the industrial revolution, perceives concretely that his work conditions, wages, and living conditions are synchronized with those of other workers and that they share a common lot. As a result


Feminism and the Female Body

of this shared experience, “social space begins to acquire a magnetic field, and a region of exploitation is seen to appear.”9 To be a worker is to identify oneself as a worker and take a stand through an existential project that “merges into our way of patterning the world and coexisting with other people.”10 Such comments raise questions about the likelihood that an isolated bodybuilder can develop a care-of-the-self ethic, particularly one that results in a physical appearance that diverges from the dominant discourse on feminine body beauty. Using Merleau-Ponty’s framework, however, it is possible to explore the communication and social validation that some of the bodybuilders, particularly those who question the feminine body beauty discourse, view as critical in defining themselves. Moreover, we begin to understand how female bodybuilding might contribute to the embodiment of care-of-the-self perspectives. Many of the bodybuilders in our sample perceived concretely that their living and work conditions were synchronized with those of other female bodybuilders. For example, they all had experienced the highly variable standards of feminine muscularity held by individual judges and had felt the marginalization of being a female athlete, particularly when their practices were not as financially rewarding as those of male bodybuilders. Thus they had a set of common experiences from which to draw insights. According to Merleau-Ponty’s analysis, however, resistance as freedom requires a commitment to a shared set of values and actions. Although it was rare, we did find this form of commitment in a few cases. Indeed, those who questioned the feminine body beauty discourse typically sought out other female bodybuilders who supported and validated their views. Moreover, feminist concepts and language framed their critique of this “feminine” ideology and its influence on women’s competitive bodybuilding. Such findings suggest that it is possible for a female bodybuilder to develop a care-of-the-self ethic with other similarly constituted women. They also point to the liberatory possibilities of collective feminist consciousness raising in conjunction with bodily practices, a matter we address at the end of this chapter. Elite Female Bodybuilders: The Experiential Base

The critical question guiding our research investigation was, Is bodybuilding a feminist mind-body practice that facilitates an Amazonian transformation among women? Certainly, the extensive muscle development and diminished body fat, both of which are associated with masculinity and strength and are part of the distinctive body marking of competitive female

Elite Female Bodybuilders


bodybuilders, suggest the possibility that women can empower themselves by radically altering their physical comportment. But does this empowerment lead to resistance? Further, does bodybuilding foster a care-of-theself ethic, which involves both freeing oneself from the dominant sexual identity discourse and creating an authentic self, or is it merely a form of reverse resistance, which stabilizes this discourse? In order to answer such questions, we needed to go beyond what external appearances seem to indicate; we therefore conducted a research study of twenty elite female bodybuilders living in Southern California and the midwestern United States.11 An elite bodybuilder was operationally defined as one who currently trains with the primary purpose of competing in bodybuilding contests and thus is different from a person who regularly trains with weights to enhance physical fitness but who has no intention of competing. The sample included twelve Caucasians, five African Americans, two Latinas, and one American Indian ranging in age from twenty-four to thirty-six years. At the time of investigation, four of the bodybuilders were professionals, nine maintained national or international status, and seven were local champions. All but one nonprofessional were aspiring to professional status. Most of the women had been athletic as children, often identifying themselves as tomboys, and before entering bodybuilding had competed extensively in other sports, ranging from gymnastics to downhill skiing to rugby. Sexual orientation was not formally disclosed. We believe that most of the women were heterosexual; two of the bodybuilders did identify themselves as lesbians. All of the bodybuilders had a high school education, most had some college experience, three had completed bachelor’s degrees, and one was pursuing graduate work. Although the majority of the women worked, they had selected occupations that allowed time for bodybuilding: Personal trainer was the most often reported occupation; others included nurse, MRI technician, radiology technician, waitress, actress-model, and salesperson. Their income ranged from $16,000 to $75,000 per year, and there was variability in terms of how they identified their social class status (from lower working class to upper middle class). Most of the women trained with other male or female bodybuilders in gyms designed for serious competitors. On average, they trained five to six times per week, generally twice per day, for approximately three to four hours per day prior to competition. All of them had been training in this manner for at least one year, some for as long as six. The majority had been encouraged to enter into competitive bodybuilding by someone who had noted their muscular development and told them they had “good genetics”—most often a trainer at a gym or a fitness


Feminism and the Female Body

center. Several had seen female bodybuilders on television or in movies or had been exposed to bodybuilding through live competition. Because most of these women had been athletes, they had a serious commitment to taking care of their bodies and remaining physically fit. The vast majority also felt deeply compelled to alter their body, for example, by controlling body weight or changing bodily shape. They were told and ultimately believed that bodybuilding was a way to accomplish that. Thus a search for the perfect body was part of what had driven most of these women to begin bodybuilding at the recreational level; seeking the thrill and challenge of competition, which is typical among athletic types, later motivated them to compete. Most of the women made the move from recreational to competitive bodybuilding because they had been told by someone immersed in the world of competitive bodybuilding, usually a male, that they could be successful in competition. The significance of males urging this step into a masculinized territory cannot be underestimated; it may have provided the assurance that bodybuilding would not compromise the women’s heterosexual attractability. In fact, this idea was suggested to us by more than one bodybuilder. Several women mentioned that they had never intended to take the practice of bodybuilding as far as they had; however, once they had achieved some success in competitions, they became hooked on the attention and adulation. The fanfare came mostly from men and women inside the bodybuilding world, but the competitors also found that men and women outside that world would comment respectfully and sometimes envyingly on their hard bodies. Many of the women, particularly those who had competed in team sports, felt that bodybuilding was an activity in which they could make more money through endorsements and guest posings. For some of the women, extrinsic factors such as these were highly significant in sustaining their continued participation and interest in competitive bodybuilding; others seemed more motivated to continue competing because they were developing a body that enhanced their self-esteem and confidence and were shattering stereotypes of women’s frailty. Although this latter group did not use the term resistance, they expressed the belief that they were challenging feminine body beauty images and norms. The question is, in what type of resistance were they engaged?

Resistance Among Female Bodybuilders

The results of our study indicate two types of resistance among this sample of bodybuilders: (1) resistance within the feminine body beauty discourse, that is, reverse resistance, which we also refer to as compliance; and (2) resistance as freedom, which involves developing a care-of-the-self ethic.

Elite Female Bodybuilders


Reverse resistance or compliance. It may be argued that these women are compliant with the dominant discourse of feminine body beauty in that they have become more conscious of and invest a tremendous amount of energy in controlling bodily shape, weight, and fat. All but two of the twenty women began bodybuilding to change some aspect of their bodies: Thirteen wanted to lose weight and gain self-control, and five desired to add shape to a thin physique. All of the bodybuilders reported weight and body fat control as a major reason for continuing bodybuilding. When asked to identify the major benefit to be gained by losing weight, the typical responses were “to look better” and “to have higher self-esteem.” Other responses included “to compete more successfully” and “for health.” Our findings also revealed a high degree of psychological and behavioral investment in appearance, fitness, and health and the perceived importance of these three factors to overall self-esteem. In this respect, these bodybuilders are similar to individuals with eating disorders who are very preoccupied with their bodies. Other indicators of compliance include the finding that the majority of our sample have either contemplated or actually had plastic surgery; breast implants were among the most commonly cited procedures. Other alterations included wearing hair extensions, bleaching their hair blond, tanning, and extensive dieting to get “cut” or “ripped.” A few even admitted that they and many other female bodybuilders, particularly those who are professional or aspiring to professional status, used steroids to achieve a certain look. Significantly, all but two of the women reported feeling sexier and more feminine as a result of bodybuilding; for the majority, feeling sexier and more feminine was cited as a major reason for bodybuilding. For example, one woman commented: “I never felt womanly before I began to bodybuild. Too skinny, no shape. Building a strong, hard-body has made me feel more attractive and noticeable. I really enjoy the sexual attention I now get from men. Bodybuilding has really enhanced my sexual power.” Most of the women reported that it was important that they fit the dominant image of body beautiful at least to some extent, though their notion of body beauty was lean and toned, not ectomorphic like the bodies of fashion models. Most also stated that the role models they envisioned as they sculpted their bodies were women such as Cory Everson and Rachel McLish, bodybuilders who maintain high levels of stereotypical femininity amidst their advanced muscularity. Still another ever-present theme was that of self-control. Several women reported the desire to be always in control; four even claimed that the only time they truly felt in control of themselves and the environment was when they were bodybuilding. For others, the need to feel in control of both body and mind had become an uncomfortable obsession. Although


Feminism and the Female Body

many reported that they had gained an overall appreciation of the mindbody connection through bodybuilding, the practice requires a high degree of objectification of body and self, which often leads to perfectionism. This is illustrated in the following quotations: The obsession is tough to overcome; you see every little thing, every little change. The mirror becomes your enemy, your demon; the pursuit of the flawless muscle becomes an all-consuming drive. I think the obsession occurs most often in the beginning because one is seeing things for the first time in a new way. My friends told me it [the obsession] would lessen later, but it has not. The demons who live in my head are laughing.

I think you can get burnt out. The constant watching and monitoring of the body and the way I think about things. I couldn’t keep this up forever. It’s too hard, dieting all the time, consumed with self and body parts, measuring everything out. I worry about whether I will trash myself when I have to let go of the control. Having the perfect body for only a short time can be a curse. I feel like I’m on a never-ending treadmill.

Taking steroids on a regular basis can make you act with abandon. You feel like a machine, a powerful machine, programmed for non-stop action. I have become obsessed with the physical, including sex. Although these drugs make you feel in control and powerful, it’s all an illusion. I also worry about my health in the future; my voice has deepened to the point that I don’t think it will ever be normal again, but you feel like you have to do it [the steroids] to have a competitive body.

The mirrors become both friend and foe. Before bodybuilding I often avoided mirrors because I didn’t like what I saw. In the gym, we are surrounded by mirrors. They are calling for scrutiny of every little body part. What bothers me, however, is that I cannot go anywhere now without checking myself out in a mirror or window and doing a little flex here and there. It drives people who are with me crazy. I feel like the mirror controls my attitude for the day, just like the scale did years ago. I can’t imagine being like this when I’m 60. The thought scares me!

Taken together, these quotations indicate that although these bodybuilders are busily engaged in cultivating a bodily shape different from what has been commonly acceptable for women, they also are highly invested in achieving a particular aesthetic ideal and maximizing their womanly appeal. More significantly, their practices emphasize control of mind and body in an effort to design an image that is still aligned with the feminine body beauty discourse. From this perspective, one could argue that women’s bodybuilding is yet another beauty contest in that form is being rewarded, not function or athletic expertise, as is the case in women’s weight lifting and power lifting. We believe that a significant factor blocking the emergence of a careof-the-self ethic is that these particular women continue to participate in bodybuilding competitions. Competition per se does not defacilitate resis-

Elite Female Bodybuilders


tance; the problem is that within the competitive context, both female and male judges emphasize femininity as a critical component for winning. Thus women’s muscular development is always kept in check. All of the women noted the femininity-masculinity debates that have plagued women’s bodybuilding over the years: Although size, symmetry, and muscularity are critical variables in determining success, judges most often select as winners women who maintain stereotypical femininity (e.g., long-haired, blond, pretty women with discernible breasts). They also noted the lack of uniformity in judging criteria for women’s contests. As one woman aptly commented: “Women’s bodybuilding is a sport of opinion.” Moreover, the commercial “gaze” of the most significant validating groups—those who determine income earnings from media coverage and product endorsements—searches for muscle development within the confines of the feminine body beauty discourse. Although some of the larger and more muscular women may win contests, the more stereotypical “feminine-looking” women are most often asked to do guest posings and are given extensive media coverage. It is not surprising, therefore, that competitive female bodybuilders feel compelled to shape their bodies in accordance with these standards and in ways that may compromise their health. As long as they define their practices primarily in terms of bodybuilding competitions, it is not likely that their bodies will provide sites for resistance as freedom struggles or a destabilization of the gender order. It seems that, once again, the masculinist and heterosexist institution of sport has constrained female agency in ways that make it very difficult for women to make bodybuilding an Amazonian practice.

Resistance as freedom. Despite the aforementioned reservations, our findings do indicate that competitive bodybuilding for women has care-of-theself possibilities; it can actually encourage women to construct a sense of self that transcends the dominant discourse of heterosexual femininity. For example, most of the bodybuilders claimed that as a result of their bodybuilding practice, they no longer felt compelled to model themselves after the ectomorphic, often emaciated models of female beauty common in American society. Instead, they had become more flexible in establishing criteria for beauty. As one bodybuilder mentioned: I used to try to be model-thin. It wasn’t right for my body because I would get sick, like colds, a lot. After I began training and was hanging around with women who are developing a different style of physique, I felt much more at home and happier. Now, when I look at those ads in magazines, I don’t feel down on myself. Those women are no longer my role models. I applaud them for what they have, but now I find the larger, more muscularly sculpted woman equally attractive and appealing. My standards of female beauty have definitely broadened.


Feminism and the Female Body

Several women extended this viewpoint by stating that meeting their own internal standards for appropriate weight, body fat, and shape were far more important in influencing their overall self-esteem than fitting the highly variable competitive bodybuilding criteria for women. That is, they may have constructed their bodies to fit the bodybuilding ideal, but they did not allow that ideal to determine their evaluation of self. Eighteen of the twenty bodybuilders stated that, as a result of their bodybuilding practice, they no longer became anxious over minor weight fluctuations, nor did they compare themselves to standardized weight charts for women, because they realized that muscle weighs more than fat. Each woman had established a personal weight norm based on observations of her own body over time. Most of these women no longer weighed themselves daily and claimed to be not as obsessed with weight control as they had been before becoming bodybuilders: My body makes much more efficient use of calories as a result of training. There also is a more efficient burning of fat due to the increase in muscle mass. I can eat multiple meals throughout the day and still not gain weight. Prior to bodybuilding eating so much would have terrified me. Now I have a much more balanced perspective. I finally feel free of my weight obsession and have learned to treat my body with respect.

Four women even reported that they had successfully overcome eating disorders during the course of their bodybuilding training, and all of them believed that bodybuilding played an important role in the recovery process: I had serious bulimia until I began bodybuilding, three to four purges a day. Now I not only have a better body image, I can also eat sanely without fear of gaining weight or becoming fat. I believe that bodybuilding can do this for you. I no longer feel that my body and weight are out of control.

When I was a gymnast, I starved myself all of the time to fit the gymnast mold. I never ate anything, or one cup of chicken soup per day. Now, as a bodybuilder I don’t have to starve myself anymore. Also, if I ever do gain weight, I know that I have a way of taking control without starving. In bodybuilding I learned to eat and feel OK about it. I also learned to trust my body with food.

Additional evidence supporting an interpretation of resistance as freedom included the fact that all but four cited the challenge of creating new and broader images of womanhood and resisting narrow definitions of femininity as major reasons for participating in bodybuilding. Several also believed that as bodybuilders they played a role in changing how women are perceived in society, and they felt proud to be part of this transformative process. As two women remarked:

Elite Female Bodybuilders

It is so gratifying to know that you are busting a few stereotypes regarding your gender, ones that only serve to hurt women—mentally and physically. Women were meant to be strong and developed, not weak and diminished like so many of us try to be. Otherwise our bodies would not develop like this when we train.


Representing an example of the other end of the continuum of female physical form is challenging, yet exciting. Challenging in the sense that you have to put up with people’s fears of social change. We certainly have enough emphasis in this culture on the thin female body. The muscled female body is now being viewed as acceptable and even attractive. I feel proud to have played a small role in extending the imagery of the female body.

It is important to note that resistance as freedom was more likely to emerge in the context of shared experiences with other female bodybuilders who were of similar mind and body. Two women referred to the importance of female friends: Although we are well accepted and respected in the inside world of bodybuilding, when you are traversing new territory, it is easier with a buddy. If Sandy [a pseudonym for another competitive female bodybuilder] was not there, I might not have taken my body so far or felt as comfortable with my new-found muscles. We are engaged in an adventure, often provocative, together.

After about six months of training I began to see muscle definition that I had never seen before. Although this was exciting, it was also disconcerting, particularly when I would walk around in sleeveless tops outside the gym. I even lost a boyfriend over this—my new muscles. He said my muscles were unappealing. If it hadn’t been for the other girls giving me support to continue at this time, I’m sure I would have quit. Later, I learned that some guys like muscular girls.

The data further confirmed that although control of body and self was a prominent theme in the bodybuilders’ lives, it did not always lead to compliance to the stereotypical feminine ideal. This is illustrated in the following: In bodybuilding, I learned to focus myself, to care for myself. Bodybuilding has helped to strengthen my sense of self. Bodybuilding is something I do for myself, not for anyone else. Co-dependency in relationships has been an issue for me in the past. Through bodybuilding and the required centering on self, I have learned to overcome some of my negative tendencies. It has been a powerful experience.

Bodybuilding has made me stronger both physically and mentally. It’s made me freer to be who I really am and to claim the space that is rightfully mine. Part of this has to do with building a body that is strong and powerful and has presence. Part of it has to do with feeling less physically


Feminism and the Female Body

vulnerable. I now see the connection between body power and being a self-defined woman.

Bodybuilding has helped me gain a lot more self-respect. I now move in stronger, more powerful ways and with less fear in public spaces. Although I do not know self-defense per se, I do feel less vulnerable in some ways. I feel that I would be able to defend myself better than I would have before bodybuilding because I have more confidence in my body and what it is capable of.

Such comments reflect what might be the beginnings of an emerging care-of-the-self ethic. Indeed, some of the bodybuilders have chosen a way of bodily being in the world that departs from feminine body beauty norms. They know that they are insurrectionary. Both male and female reactions to their muscles, primarily outside the bodybuilding world, confirm their resistance: People often approach me on the street or in the store, mostly men, but sometimes women. You are open to critique from all angles, from the very negative to the very positive. When guys ask me if I am a man or woman, not only are they demonstrating their ignorance, they are also being hostile and want to challenge the power my appearance suggests. I doubt that they would approach a male bodybuilder in the same way.

Moreover, the bodybuilders claimed that as a result of their bodybuilding experience, they had more interest in sexual relationships that emphasized reciprocity and friendship and thus challenged the passive-submissive version of female sexuality. They also reported a change in consciousness that not only clarified the unity of mind and body but also increased their overall self-confidence. Notably absent from the bodybuilding experience, however, is a set of precepts related to a care-of-the-self ethic that guides and regulates their practices and shapes their lives. Another limitation is the fact that although these women feel more powerful, most have not chosen to combine their weight training with self-defense training, which would allow them to contest not only the notion of muscles as male domain but also men’s claim of physical superiority. Additionally, the comrades with whom they share the plights of female bodybuilding ultimately are their competitors, which sometimes minimizes the bonds of friendship that could sustain genuine insurrection. Constrained by the conditions set by judges, media personnel, and competition, the emergence of resistant collective behavior does not seem likely. Thus, the feminist possibilities we find in women’s bodybuilding, as well as in many conventional women’s sports, becomes a highly individualistic, depoliticized form of feminism. We therefore conclude that although empowering physical practices that challenge the feminine body beauty discourse can be an important

Elite Female Bodybuilders


component in the emergence of a care-of-the-self ethic for women, a feminist perspective must inform the constructed meaning of such practices. Moreover, our notion of a care-of-the-self ethic is based on the premise that feminist mind-body models must go beyond Foucault’s scenario for individual resistance and individual plans for personal self-constitution. To this end, we conceptualized resistance in terms of Merleau-Ponty’s notion of intersubjectivity, which stresses the intimate relationship between resistance activities and group validation. A care-of-the-self ethic, while incorporating the lived-body perspective of Merleau-Ponty, must also focus on the resources that make such a quest possible. (We did not develop this theme in our work; nevertheless, it is an important issue to raise.) The possibilities for groups of women to develop mind-body liberatory lifestyles cannot emerge in a vacuum. Not all women have the resources to follow Foucault’s care-of-the-self injunction to make one’s life into a work of art. Socioeconomic resources and opportunities for developing the autonomous woman who is capable of shaping her life are inequitably distributed; moreover, disability often hampers a woman’s ability to be autonomous. To challenge the dominant discourse of female sexual identity, a feminist perspective shaped by combining the genderized views of Foucault and Merleau-Ponty must be expanded to include a social analysis that addresses the impact of class, race, age, disability, and sexual orientation on the distribution of economic and political resources and on the ability of women to be self-determining. What would motivate a group of women to form a bodybuilding collective that incorporates both feminist theory and strength building? And what would cause them to go a step further by adding self-defense skills to their physical protocol? The answer would probably involve some of the same factors that motivated many women to participate in the feminist martial arts dojo we discuss in Chapter 4. Perhaps it would be an awareness that their muscle development does not provide them with skills to defend themselves against rape or spousal abuse. Indeed, one bodybuilder mentioned that she had been raped by someone she knew after she had been bodybuilding for one year. This experience made her realize that weight training alone did not provide her with the skills necessary to protect herself physically, which in turn motivated her to attend self-defense classes. Or the answer might be that the bodybuilders felt the contradiction of being marginalized as women in the masculine sport of bodybuilding (e.g., by the differential criteria for judging men’s and women’s championships) despite their advances as women in American society, a contradicition that Bartky argues will ultimately result in resistance. The fact that female bodybuilders are involved in the male-dominated sport of competitive bodybuilding seems to undermine their moving to this next radical level,


Feminism and the Female Body

that is, merging their energies with other bodybuilders to reconfigure bodybuilding as a feminist mind-body practice. Some of the bodybuilders comprehend the liberatory possibilities of their bodybuilding practices. They experience their bodies as physically powerful, and as their bodies become more powerful, the way they feel about themselves is altered, as is the way they walk and physically posture themselves. Several women mentioned that their physical and emotional spaces are not as easily penetrated, whether it be on the street or in work and social settings. If bodybuilders desired to develop a bodybuilding collective, their efforts would certainly be enhanced through collective feminist readings and analyses that emphasize alternative models of female embodiment. Although we have focused on the necessity of adding the physical to the mental dimensions of empowerment, it is equally true that the mental must intersect the physical. Discussions regarding political involvement and coalition building among diverse groups of women around issues such as safe streets, pay equity, and decent health care, as well as methods for contesting oppressive bodily disciplines, might develop a sense of mutual support and validation among these women. We believe that these care-of-the-self activities, performed within the context of a bodybuilding support group, could augment the practice of bodybuilding and provide the intellectual-somatic framework, as well as the intersubjective bonding experience, necessary to sustain resistance as freedom. This belief has been supported by our research at Thousand Waves, a feminist martial arts dojo featuring female teachers, an allwoman space, and an integrated mind-body approach to empowerment. Thousand Waves, which is discussed in the next chapter, provided us with a model from which to deepen our analysis. It also allowed us to see the benefits of moving beyond individual empowerment, which leads to a sort of pseudo-resistance that ultimately fortifies patriarchal hegemony, to collective resistance, which is more likely to contribute to a progressive destabilization of the gender order. Notes

1. Anonymous quote from interview with elite female bodybuilder, 1991. 2. Foucault, The History of Sexuality. 3. Dreyfus and Rabinow, Michel Foucault, 7–8. 4. Barbin, Herculine Barbin. 5. Foucault, The History of Sexuality, 95. 6. This interpretation draws on Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, 14–32, 61, 86–91, and The Care of the Self, 43–45; 220–227. 7. Foucault, “How Much Does It Cost Reason to Tell the Truth,” 252.

Elite Female Bodybuilders


8. Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception, 455. 9. Ibid., 445. 10. Ibid., 447. 11. See Appendixes A, B, and C for a discussion of research methods and examples of instrumentation and interview questions.

4 The Thousand Waves Experience: Intersecting Feminism and the Martial Arts What would motivate a woman to learn seido karate at a feminist martial arts dojo, an all-woman space featuring female teachers? She is most likely a woman who has been raped or sexually abused or who is fearful about moving alone at night in public spaces. She therefore wants to acquire skills to defend herself so that she is less vulnerable to physical intimidation. In this chapter, we examine a location in which women are learning to do just that. They are also participating in an environment in which they are exposed to feminist principles and thought. This merging of mind and body makes the setting we describe herein different from that in which most of the bodybuilders discussed in Chapter 3 were training; thus different results can be expected. In this chapter, we begin by examining the analytical framework that we developed to interpret the experiential accounts of the thirty women whom we studied. We then highlight particular themes that emerged from these accounts. Developing a Feminist Mind-Body Analytical Framework

Reclaiming female identity, which has been defined and controlled by male scientists, psychiatrists, and theologians, is one of the most significant agendas of feminist theory. Following this agenda, we have searched for mind-body practices that contribute to women’s self-determination through what we refer to as a feminist care-of-the-self ethic. The need for such an ethic is premised on our belief that gender identity—the social construction of feminine and masculine—constitutes a dominant and repressive form of self-identification in Western societies. Feminists argue that this form of social construction is particularly oppressive to women because it is grounded in Cartesian dualism, which 67


Feminism and the Female Body

identifies the body as inferior to the mind and then associates bodily functions with females and mental functions with males. We have noted in previous chapters that although they have developed alternative theories and images of female identity, feminists continue to emphasize the intellectual dimension (e.g., consciousness changes) in their liberatory strategies. Ironically, this intellectual focus, albeit on the reconstruction of patriarchal societies and female identity, reinforces dualism. It also promotes a lack of awareness that gender construction, which involves male control and oppression of female bodies, is ultimately rooted in the threat and practice of male violence against women. Indeed, Pauline Bart and Patricia O’Brien, recognized authorities on violence against women in the United States, have claimed that rape is the paradigmatic practice of our sexist society.1 Taking a Cartesian approach to solving the oppression of women ignores the fact that oppression is always an embodied experience. Resistance and the reconstruction of feminist identity, therefore, require not only the shedding of an ideology of oppression and the development of a feminist perspective but also the acquisition of gestures and movements associated with autonomy and physical empowerment. The work and death of Mary Joe Frug, a feminist law professor who was slashed to death on a street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, provides a startling example of the role violence and femicide play in controlling women, even those who are cognitively empowered. In her posthumously published draft, Frug discusses the meaning of the female body and claims that legal rules permit and sometimes mandate the terrorization of the female body. This occurs by a combination of provisions that inadequately protect women against physical abuse and that encourage women to seek refuge against insecurity. One meaning of the “female body,” then, is a body that is “in terror,” a body that has learned to scurry, to cringe, and to submit.2

We agree with Frug’s contention that terrorization of the female body by men is a socially constructed problem common in patriarchal societies. Frug sought changes in legal rules to diminish this terror; however, we do not believe that legal change alone will solve the problem. Too often women are socialized to embody a disabling movement vocabulary as part of their feminine identity, one emphasizing softness, vulnerability, physical weakness, and fear of injury. As a result, successful resistance (i.e., resistance as freedom) requires not only changes in the intellectual component of female socialization but also the development of a physically empowered female self. We refer to this developmental process as a feminist care-of-the-self ethic. It is a mind-body self-constitution of female identity that emphasizes

The Thousand Waves Experience


the social construction of identity and thus allows for the possibility of contesting existing social norms and directed social change. Our views of this ethic are drawn from Michel Foucault’s notion of care-of-the-self, which he defined as a set of techniques that enable individuals to free themselves from oppressive norms associated with sexuality and gender.3 According to Foucault, in order to practice freedom properly, as opposed to living a life governed by internal and external norms that lock the self in a web of oppressive power relations, it is necessary to know oneself and then shape one’s own life. Self-care thus becomes the basis for an ethics of freedom and making choices in our personal relationships and community involvements. These practices of the self, which are chosen from possibilities found in one’s culture, society, and social group, can provide the tools to challenge racial, political, economic, and other social structures of domination. Foucault speaks of this quest as discovering how to live “the good life.” His model for self-constitution thus differs from the Western approach, which is a code-oriented morality emphasizing sexual identity. According to Foucault, Western technologies of the self are rooted in gender and sexuality, with heterosexuality and the two prescribed sex roles—male and female—as the norm. Moreover, the individual is viewed as having endemic weaknesses and frailties, which must be resisted and curtailed through coercive institutions and internalized “scientific truths,” truths everyone must observe in the same way. We agree with Foucault’s account of the dominance and repressiveness of gender and sexuality in shaping Western norms of identity and with his advocacy of an alternative care-of-the-self ethic; however, we have expanded his views of subjectivity found in his last writings, which were grounded primarily in the experiences of men, to include the experiences of women. In particular, we focus on how we as individual women can constitute ourselves by emphasizing the physical and mental dimensions of this self-constitution. According to our embodiment perspective, which was drawn from Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, we receive information about our bodies through our mind-body interactions with the world. Thus our feelings of bodily vulnerability are experienced both physically and cognitively and cannot be totally transcended through mentally empowering activities. By the same token, physically empowering activities are equally limited. Such physical and mental care-of-the-self is encapsulated in the image of the Amazon. Unlike Foucault, who viewed care-of-the-self as an individual search, we believe that the success of this quest for feminist self-constitution requires that many of the activities be shared in the company of other women, supported by feminist mentors, and that they take place, for the


Feminism and the Female Body

most part, in a gynocentric space. As we noted in Chapter 3, our belief in the importance of the group dimension in developing a care-of-the-self ethic was influenced by Merleau-Ponty’s notion of intersubjectivity, which is a process involving the embodiment of a shared commitment to a set of values derived through group consensus. In contrast, the gynocentric aspect of our perspective was supported by extensive research in educational settings suggesting that women can improve their performances measurably in gynocentric spaces. Once women have gained confidence, they can perform at equally high levels in a co-ed setting. Feminist teachers and mentors, or at least those who are strong female role models, contribute to this process.4 Our notion of care-of-the-self is also different from the construct of care associated with essentialist positions such as that of Nel Noddings.5 Essentialist proponents do not critically examine women’s genderized role of caregiver. Moreover, they do not fully acknowledge the critical role of violence against women in perpetuating genderized sexual roles, nor do they address the interrelated political, economic, and social construction of oppression. Instead, essentialists assume that caring is rooted in women’s unchanging biological nature. Nel Noddings, for example, emphasizes women’s natural capacity for caring and advocates the adoption of the “ethical approach of the mother” because she believes transformative possibilities are inherent in this extension of self. Noddings’s examination of a mother’s murder of an abusive father and husband is an example of one of the problematic victim-blaming conclusions of her essentialism. Rather than recognizing the murder as a response to the endemic male violence directed against women and children, the mother’s action is labeled as a case of diminished ethical capacity. According to Noddings, the mother, although legally exonerated, has not fully met the ethical responsibilities of the “one caring” (wife and mother) for the “cared for” (husband and father). Although Noddings argues that the basis of her care ethic is grounded in reciprocal caring, we do not believe such reciprocity is likely in a context of socially supported abuse against women and children. Furthermore, Noddings’s model of reciprocal care does not explore empowered physical, economic, and political female identities as the basis for building such caring relationships. In contrast, physically and mentally empowered female identities provide the basis for our proposed feminist care-of-the-self ethic, which is grounded in the following assumptions: (1) Women must commit themselves to developing their own notions of identity, which requires that they challenge oppressive gender and sexual roles; (2) the focus on care-of-theself should not be viewed as selfish or self-serving but rather as a significant dimension of self-articulation that can provide the basis for equal relationships and an involvement in community concerns; (3) care-of-the-self

The Thousand Waves Experience


must be embodied through mind-body practices, not just mental or physical attitudes alone; (4) care-of-the-self requires developing a strong sense of self through practices that emphasize educational development, health and nutrition, meditation or its equivalent, physical activities involving strength and self-defense training, and the study of diverse forms of oppression and resistance strategies. We believe that these care-of-the-self activities experienced in feminist spaces with feminist teachers committed to gender and sexual equality may become the basis for women developing empowering relationships with other women. Such relationships may in turn contribute to building collective structures capable of sustaining feminist goals and values, which we believe may become the foundation for equality between women and men. Thousand Waves: A Case Study

We found such a feminist community and the practice of a feminist careof-the-self ethic at Thousand Waves, a martial arts dojo in Chicago. The dojo is owned and operated by two lesbian feminists who team-teach approximately 160 students, 25 percent of them children. Among the students, there is diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, age, and disability. Research Participants

Thirty female noncompetitive martial artists living in Chicago and the surrounding suburban areas served as participants in this study. A noncompetitive martial artist was operationally defined as one who regularly trains with mastery as her goal, as opposed to competition in formal contests. The sample included twenty-six Caucasians and four women of color (three African Americans and one Hispanic) They ranged in age from twenty-six to sixty-two years (M = 38) and in belt status from blue (one step above novice) to black (the highest level, five steps above novice). All participants had been training at this dojo for at least six months, some for many years, and several had trained in other, primarily co-ed, dojos (n = 9). Approximately half were nonathletes as children (n = 16); the other half had a sport or dance background (n = 14). Two participants had formerly competed in martial arts competitions before becoming members of this dojo. The vast majority (n = 26) were professionals with a college education, although a few (n = 4) had no college education. Eleven women were self-identified feminists before joining the dojo. Although lesbians represented the majority of the sample, there were at least four hetero sexuals and two bisexuals, and three women did not disclose their sexual


Feminism and the Female Body

orientation. Several of the women indicated that they had some sort of disability; most of the disabilities were related to psychological health or physical mobility.6 The Research Setting

The Thousand Waves environment begins with the conception of two women who equally share the ownership, the directorship and the teaching at the dojo. They are committed to the empowerment and healing of women, and their commitment is clearly demonstrated in their pedagogical philosophy and techniques, political practices, and the physical design of and activities at their dojo. Thousand Waves is a feminist school, open to all women, and to children, both girls and boys, from six to twelve years of age. The primary martial art taught at Thousand Waves is seido karate, which, like all forms of karate, is a kicking and punching art and thus develops self-defense skills. The practice also builds cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and power, flexibility, physical coordination, and mental awareness and control. Seido karate is a spiritual practice that fosters individual awareness and growth and emphasizes connections between mind and body and among self, others, and the universe. Not all martial arts training accomplishes this latter goal, nor are many dojos committed to women’s empowerment. What makes Thousand Waves unique is that the practice, pedagogical methods, and ambience created at the dojo are grounded in the teachers’ feminist mission: to reconstruct gender relations through the empowerment and healing of women. From the outset the owners recognized the importance of environment in achieving their feminist goals; hence, a woman was hired to create a space for women that is beautiful, elegant, comfortable, and safe. For most of the women in this study, Thousand Waves was a gynocentric retreat, a sanctuary where they could be fully authentic, escape the stressors of the patriarchal world, and associate with kindred spirits. Although boys attend the children’s classes, and men (only significant others) occasionally observe the classes, women and girls make up the bulk of students. Thousand Waves also operates as a community political center, encouraging members to participate in community and political activities. For example, students demonstrate their martial arts skills in the Gay Rights Parade and “Take Back the Night” marches, and they are actively involved in International Women’s Day and the Chicago Women’s Cancer Project. As we have noted, the two owner-directors equally share the major teaching responsibility; however, as women achieve the highest belt levels (brown and black), they also can become student instructors (senpais). Mentorship and support for other members is strongly encouraged, even

The Thousand Waves Experience


among those who are at lower belt levels; a beginning white belt student is a senpai for those with less training and is encouraged to help others whenever possible. Activities such as beach training, which takes place on the shores of Lake Michigan, and special training, which brings together women from other seido karate schools, also encourage bonding among the members. Formal training, which has the form and feel of an exercise class, includes flexibility and strength exercises for warm-up; a combination of individual stances, kicks, punches, and blocks; kata, which are martial art dances that tell stories of imaginary battles in ancient Japan; and partner drills such as sparring. Less formal training includes conditioning classes, karate aerobics, and short-term self-defense classes. One night a week, there is a meditation class that begins with a formal meditation session and is followed by antiracist and feminist workshops or discussions of feminist readings, the historical and cultural background of seido karate, and other topics relevant to the Thousand Waves community. When women are promoted to the next belt level, the meditation class is used for them to share verbally what they have gained from their seido experiences. One is not bombarded with an ostentatious display of trophies upon entering the dojo, as is typical of dojos wishing to emphasize the competitive success of their teachers and students. Instead, the signs of success are more subtly presented through pictures on the walls. Herein lies a fundamental difference between Thousand Waves and other dojos: the emphasis on cooperation and equality rather than competition and dominance. Ritual courtesies are an important part of training at Thousand Waves. As students enter and exit the building and the training floor, they bow and say “osu,” a Japanese word that is used as a greeting but also means “I’ll try my best.” Bowing is a gesture of respect and a sign of appreciation for the opportunity to train, not a sign of subservience to a superior power. The fact that it is an act of equality is reflected in one woman’s remarks: We bow to our partners in gratitude for allowing us to use their bodies in partner training; bowing also means that we are emptying a glass filled with our ego so that we may truly dialogue and enter an equal relationship with our teachers and partners.

In addition, women are strongly encouraged to use their voices, which signifies the bringing of one’s identity to the dojo; for example, yelling “kiai,” which represents one’s spirit, is done after a series of movements. Inside the locker room are various feminist publications and a martial arts library. Adorning the walls are informational articles and inspirational pictures—for example, a picture of and a poem by a woman who has a tattoo on the scar from her radical mastectomy. The word Amazon can be


Feminism and the Female Body

found on literature and pictures in the locker room, along with a whirlpool bath, a steam room, and a massage room. All of these feminist touches and extra amenities make this dojo unique and attractive to women. As one woman emphasized: The body culture at Thousand Waves is highly significant. It is a very beautiful space: the colors and lighting are soft and nurturing; there is a healing quality and a physical intimacy to the dojo; the underlying message is to nurture and care for your own body and those of others. It is a very physical nurturance, which is a side benefit that is rarely discussed. Most dojos do not have spa areas or a masseuse. There is a ritual and communal feel about bathing and sitting in the steamroom together; at other dojos you are likely to be changing your clothes in a closet.


The findings of this research offer compelling evidence that women’s embodiment—the way they experience their bodies and minds—is profoundly altered by martial arts training at Thousand Waves. Several themes emerged from the data: (1) physical and psychological empowerment; (2) enhancement of body image; (3) healing from psychosexual abuse and other psychosocial issues; (4) improved perceptions of women and the female body; (5) improved perceptions of and relations with men; (6) the importance of the gynocentric environment; (7) other environmental factors related to self-group and change; (8) martial arts and self-defense as resistant and socially transformative activities; and (9) the importance of self-defense training for children. Each of these themes are addressed individually in the following sections.

Physical and psychological empowerment. Empowerment of women— physical, mental, and spiritual—is a central goal at Thousand Waves. Indeed, all of the women interviewed reported empowerment as one of the major benefits of martial arts training. Although many were feminists prior to joining the dojo and felt fortified by their feminist ideologies, a significant majority did not feel physically powerful. In fact, many had come to Thousand Waves for self-defense training, hoping that such skills would allow them to dismantle their fears and sense of vulnerability. A key factor that makes the Thousand Waves experience empowering is that the women learn how to defend themselves physically. More important, however, they learn that they have the right to self-defend. As one woman remarked: What happens at Thousand Waves is the embodiment of feminist thought. That is, not only do we have the physical ability to defend ourselves, we

The Thousand Waves Experience

also have the right to defend ourselves. This requires another level of acceptance. The skills are worthless if you don’t feel you have the right to defend yourself on the street, at home, or in the workplace.


Other factors fostering empowerment include the mental and spiritual challenges provided at Thousand Waves. One of the results of meeting such challenges is an enhanced awareness of the importance of persistence in achieving goals. This is evidenced in the following: The biggest lesson I have learned, that I apply to everything is: if you do something consistently over time, you get results and can reach your goals. It’s part of the mind, body, spirit connection: if strength meets technique, strength will win; however, if technique is matched with spirit, spirit will always conquer both strength and technique and find the way; the underlying message of Thousand Waves is “you don’t need great physical strength or perfect technique, if you have strong spirit.” Most of us wouldn’t have lasted in any other school.

Also empowering is learning that resistance is an option and that it can be used successfully when encountering oppressive conditions. At Thousand Waves, the women tell success stories in class. For many, this is a vastly important part of training because of the contradictory images of “woman as professional” and “woman as victim” that are juxtapositioned throughout the media. A woman discussed the psychological havoc this plays when women attempt to empower themselves physically: We may see images of women as strong in their careers or strong intellectually, yet at the same time we see them being victimized, sometimes tortured, at the bodily level. For example, the advertisement of a doctor or lawyer in her underwear, or a woman executive baring her cleavage at a business meeting. This tells a woman that her real strength in the business-political world is her sexual appeal. And this brand of sexual appeal is not equated with physical strength and power. We also get messages that becoming physically strong and fighting back against oppressive conditions only makes things worse for women. Such ambiguous programming, that is, intellectual strength housed inside a context of physical weakness, caused me a type of non-clinical schizophrenia and made changing the image of myself as a physical victim more difficult. This is why it is vital to see time and time again that resistance to victimization is possible and profitable.

Using the image of a bonsai as a metaphor for what happens to women in our culture, one martial artist described the female socialization that results in bodily fear, vulnerability, and lack of instrumentality and how these experiences are deconstructed at Thousand Waves: Our strengths are pruned as is the bonsai; we become disabled. My mother found my tomboy instrumentalism embarrassing, so I shut down


Feminism and the Female Body

this aspect of myself. I did not develop discipline with anything and always felt ashamed of my independence and physical activity. Martial arts training at Thousand Waves has enabled me to break through these selfimposed boundaries and limits. I can see it in my personal life and at work. I have much more confidence.

Others recounted similar processes, reflecting the diversity of empowerment experiences at Thousand Waves and the fact that they are mindbody related: I always felt fragile and fearful of harm. I thought that was how a woman was supposed to feel. The more fragile I felt, the more attractive I believed myself to be. Hence, I worked at this and was quick to turn my power over to others, particularly men. At Thousand Waves we gain a more accurate assessment of our bodily powers; as a result, we are able to shed warped notions of our own fragility, as well as other people’s omnipotence. Martial arts has helped me break out of traditional feminine training and to recreate myself.

Martial arts teaches control and focus. I feel much stronger and less vulnerable. I never used to go out at night, I was terrified. Now I do things I never did before. I generally feel more secure and was able to ask my boss for a raise. I never felt confident that I was very good. The physical strength I am feeling snowballs. I feel I now have the right to use my voice, my space, and to be respected.

At Thousand Waves you learn to engage the world in more assertive and self-respecting ways. This has helped me to disengage from cultural expectations for women that diminish women’s potential. I feel better and healthier, more centered with the universe. This understanding used to be just cerebral for me, all theory; now I feel more powerful and in control of more situations in life. Good martial arts training, like we get at Thousand Waves, builds you from the inside out.

As mentioned earlier, many of the women at Thousand Waves possess athletic expertise and thus had high physical self-efficacy before entering the school. One might expect martial arts training to have a lesser impact on the self-constitution of these women than on the self-constitution of women with little or no movement background. We did not find this to be the case; in fact, most athletes and dancers reported that learning to defend themselves physically advanced their levels of self-determination: Even though I have always been athletic, feeling powerful didn’t come to me until having gained martial arts training. It’s self-esteem related. I walk differently. I have improved body and mental awareness, and a feeling of security in what to do if I encounter a bad situation. I have gained a strength in karate that I use to solve many of my life’s problems.

Dance is powerful but you are not allowed to show the power; the whole point in ballet is that you’ve got this blockbuster strength but must appear

The Thousand Waves Experience

as fragile as a butterfly; you also need to be a particular body type: pencil thin. I couldn’t stomach that. I wanted to look strong, be strong, and act strong. I can do this in the martial arts and it does affect your body and self-image in beneficial ways. At Thousand Waves you can be big and strong and are celebrated for it!


Viewed as a composite, the quotations in this section illustrate the fact that enhancing perceptions associated with physical empowerment can be extended to a broader and healthier view of the self. They also suggest that stabilizing the core identity leads to greater behavioral flexibility and adaptability.

Enhancment of body image. Closely related to a developing sense of empowerment is an enhanced body image. All of the women expressed significant improvements in their bodily perceptions. Many were told as children that they were uncoordinated and clumsy, and thus they had no confidence in their motor skills. In the supportive, nonelitist environment at Thousand Waves, where the emphasis is on setting one’s own standards rather than meeting universal norms, these martial artists gained an acceptance of and respect for their bodies: I was always trying to change my body. Before I focused a lot on weight issues, continually dieting to control weight. Up and down, I felt like my body was out of control. I now have come to accept my body as it is and that there is nothing wrong with it. I really don’t care anymore what others think. I’m now proud of my body and focus more on what it can do, rather than how it looks. Thousand Waves has helped me to shed the idea of the ruined or inadequate body.

Even athletes and dancers, whom many people assume to have positive conceptions and feelings about their bodies, reported improvements in their body images after gaining martial arts training, particularly the ability to self-defend. As one athlete remarked: I was always athletically talented and have a lot of confidence in my physical skill; however, I realized that I did not have a plan for a crisis situation and wasn’t really aware of the naturally occurring weapons on my body. Now, I feel more comfortable and safe in my female body and feel even more at home here.

Enhanced body image, regardless of athletic status, resulted in changes in body posturing and carriage, which many women found helpful at work, in social settings, and on the streets of Chicago particularly: There’s been a big change in the way I posture my body. I call it “posturing for power.” I don’t have the same victim stance. I use my body


Feminism and the Female Body

differently than I did in the past and use space differently; I’m confident in most situations now and know I can handle myself. Early on I noticed a drastic reduction in harassment on the street and in social settings. You start putting out different vibes and different energy; it has a lot to do with changes, many times minute, in the body.

Although reductions in sexual harassment were commonly noted, an African American woman emphasized still another dimension of how martial arts training at Thousand Waves had changed her body image and carriage: I have gotten rid of the posturing that represents the internalization of my own oppression. I now live in the Black community and don’t focus on being more white. Blacks often denounce African features. I used to. Trying to be white is so metabolized for many of us, we usually don’t stop to think about it. I have been able to stop this process at the bodily level and have really become proud of being Black. And it shows in the way I carry my body.

Healing from psychosexual abuse and other psychosocial issues. Healing was another significant theme to emerge from the accounts. Many Thousand Waves women are healing from incest; others are recovering from rape and other forms of sexual assault, eating disorders, drug abuse, and growing up in dysfunctional families. Although few of the women came to Thousand Waves for this specific purpose, healing has been a common result. The following quotations underscore the therapeutic gains derived from the Thousand Waves experience, as well as how such psychological gains were perceived to be connected to physical empowerment: There is so much shame that comes when you are abused. I used to think it was my fault and held my shame inside my body. Karate helps me to get over this. You can’t do the body movements of karate without the mind shift entering in, so it is all integrated. In karate I feel the emotional unease and take that to therapy; however, I see the body as a critical part of the process necessary to change my mind and sense of self. Thousand Waves was a place to start feeling my body.

The yelling aspect, for example, the kiai, has been important for me. I have learned to use my voice and realized how my voice has been taken away from me. I have gotten rid of a lot of my anger as a result of martial arts training. Part of it is learning to center myself. Part of it is not feeling so helpless. I now feel as if I am truly taking care of myself.

Fear was my issue, and my fear was stored in my body—stiffness, holding my breath were part of my way of being in the world. To break out of your fear pattern, you need to move physically. I have less fear now because I have developed stronger boundaries through my martial arts training; hence, I am not as fearful of relationships and intimacy. We become more conscious at Thousand Waves; consequently, repressed stuff comes up. It’s not necessarily pleasant but is integral to the healing process.

The Thousand Waves Experience


Many of the women we studied had been or were in therapy and thus were able to compare benefits derived at Thousand Waves with those gained in traditional therapeutic settings. For them, karate is a mind-bodyspirit discipline that facilitates the healing process in ways that are compatible with, yet qualitatively different from, traditional psychological therapies: The martial arts is a type of physical and psychological therapy. I can go to karate and kick and punch through my feelings. I have also done therapy. Martial arts is not a replacement for talking therapy but what it does, that traditional therapy cannot do, is put you back in your body. I believe that my body remembers everything that happened to it and that’s why moving in karate helps in ways that are connected to say kicking and punching. Kicking and punching allow me access to my anger as a recovering alcoholic, as a child of alcoholics, and as a woman in our culture; martial arts at Thousand Waves allows me to express those feelings in a safe way; I suppose you could do this in a therapist’s office, punching a pillow, but this is sustained, long-term healing that happens, particularly when you practice often.

I believe therapy and martial arts are complementary forms; I am now convinced, however, that healing has to come through the body; I think this is a shortcoming of traditional talking therapy. It makes perfect sense to involve the body because the pain is located in the body, it’s not just in the head. Therapists often assume that healing is just some sort of mental process.

What happened to me as a child happened to my physical body. You cannot heal on a purely intellectual level, like what is emphasized in traditional therapy. Martial arts is a physically healing process. Feeling connected to your body is the first step to being connected to the rest of the world.

Improved perceptions of women and the female body. Most of the women discovered that as they changed the way they thought about and used their own bodies, they also perceived the bodies of other women differently; in particular, their perceptions of “body beautiful” and phobic reactions to fat were altered: I can now appreciate large, heavy women as being strong and powerful. Before I thought they wouldn’t have much power, strength, or quickness. I’ve changed my attitude. I now think thinner women are wimpy looking and unhealthy; I don’t strive to be pencil thin anymore, it is no longer appealing. I no longer model myself after emaciated models with no physical substance or power. I have become convinced that the ideals of normalcy are actually stereotypes and are not normal at all. I also do not fear fat as much.

Others talked about how their perceptions of women’s nature and abilities were transformed as a result of being around strong, powerful female


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role models. Moreover, although most had a healthy respect for women before they began their training at Thousand Waves, their admiration for women had grown by observing them successfully hurdle myriad obstacles: I’ve changed my idea of what it means to be a victim and survivor in all different areas; I am much less likely to blame a woman for a situation she is in; for example, my mother who never went back to law school. After meeting women at Thousand Waves who come up against tremendous odds, I now see my mom as a survivor. The teachers have brought this out: no one is to be blamed for being in a bad situation; this is where the feminism gets woven in at the dojo: in the meditations, in the general philosophy; it’s there for the taking; I was looking for this so I soak it up like a sponge.

Experiences at Thousand Waves also helped to dismantle notions associated with ageism, disabilism, racism, sexism, and heterosexism: Seeing the older women and women with physical disabilities who are moving their bodies in powerful ways helps me to feel that when I get older I can do that too; I don’t have to swallow the fact that I’m destined for dowager’s hump or senility; I don’t have to live a terrible, fearful life. Seeing these women counteracts the propaganda we are fed in patriarchal society.

I used to say “Black is beautiful” at the theoretical and intellectual level, but at the bodily level I had assimilated white notions of beauty. I didn’t live it. It was reflected in my dating patterns. I didn’t date Black, dark skinned women, only light skinned or Latina women. I also used to get hurt if someone said “you are so black.” I am now living what I know and believe. Hence, my notions of beauty and dark skinned women have changed. I am no longer assimilating white supremacist notions of beauty. We become more aware at Thousand Waves, even those with a previously developed feminist consciousness. I deeply regret that more women of color are not here to experience this.

When you see women generating that kind of physical power and strength, and mastery of the body, it is Amazonian and awesome to watch; to see women who are that developed, you have to say, yes, this is how we are supposed to be, not crippled in our bodies the way women all over the world are.

I feel differently about myself as a woman so I relate to women differently. I now feel more comfortable with and bond with others who have chosen alternative lifestyles. Being around lesbians at Thousand Waves has helped me to become less homophobic because I can see the falsity of many stereotypes. In becoming more self-defined as a woman, I have also become more woman-identified.

The changes in perceptions occur not only among the students but also among the teachers, most of whom have attained black belt (the highest

The Thousand Waves Experience


level) or brown belt (one step below black) status. One senpai at Thousand Waves noted how her evolving notions of women’s abilities have influenced her pedagogical philosophy and techniques: My perceptions of women have changed, particularly from a teaching standpoint. My first reaction as a teacher was that you should be fit and not overweight. Nancy [the head sensai] has helped me to see that the art may be adapted to all women, even those who are large and have physical disabilities. This has helped me to look at coordination differently. There is always something more going on in uncoordinated movement, for example, emotional stuff, than just a fixed uncoordinated physical state. Now I look at women for their own special qualities. There is always something that they can do better than anyone else; I find it and then emphasize it.

Improved perceptions of and relations with men. Many participants noted that their perceptions of and relations with men also had improved as a result of training at Thousand Waves. The following comments demonstrate the importance of neutralizing the physical power imbalances between the sexes and including the physical dimension in feminist liberatory strategies: I use my voice more and speak up to abusive men. This experience of mental, emotional, and physical power has helped me at work. I am more able to handle crisis situations, particularly those created by my male boss. I am not as fearful of men anymore and find myself engaging with men as persons instead of as threats.

I feel more as an equal of men, not just like them, but I’m more aware of how the power imbalance that existed between us has now been lessened. I recognize sexism at work more readily now and am able to deal with it in ways that do not make me feel diminished. I have more of a voice in speaking up about it. In self-defense I have learned practical ways of claiming my space and preventing men from intruding in on that space physically and mentally.

Although I am heterosexual, Thousand Waves has made me less willing to center my life on men. I have come to realize that there are much more important things in life than men finding me attractive. Now, I will not go out with men who cannot handle my strengths.

I am softer in my relations with men. I have more of a sense of power in myself and don’t need to be as nervous out in the world. I can manifest my natural friendliness with strangers, because if it turns out not to be a peaceful encounter, I have more options. I no longer have to hide behind a tense persona because of fear, and thus can allow my authentic, gentle self to emerge.

The importance of the gynocentric environment. As demonstrated in the previous sections, women who train at Thousand Waves derive a variety of physical and psychological benefits. In fact, all of the martial artists


Feminism and the Female Body

experienced positive changes after gaining martial arts skills. Furthermore, all but two believe that such changes are associated with gaining the ability to self-defend and other physical strengthening skills. Not all martial arts training results in such benefits, however, nor do all martial arts teachers seek to produce the type of changes that are readily experienced at Thousand Waves. The Thousand Waves environment, as created by the owners/teachers and the community of women who train there, is a critical element in this process. All of the women emphasized the importance of the gynocentric environment in promoting personal transformation. Not only do most prefer training in a woman-only space, but those who began their training at this dojo believe that had they begun in a male-dominated dojo, they would have quit because of a fear of appearing inadequate among men and having to compete with them. It is noteworthy that these same women believe they now could train successfully in a co-ed setting. Apparently, the attitude and skills learned within the woman-only space have helped build a sense of self strong and confident enough to negotiate previously intimidating arenas. Each of the following quotations illustrates the impact of having female teachers and a female environment on the students’ training and lives: There are definite benefits to being taught the martial arts by women. We are used to women as teachers, but not in physically empowering activities. Women understand women better than do men. Of course, not all women are good teachers; however, we don’t have enough opportunities to be taught by powerful female role models. We need women for the model of what the art looks like on a female body and for the mentorship.

It is important to have women instructors both as role models and to practice with; from a physical point of view it doesn’t seem so threatening, particularly in a feminist setting. Your feeling of comfort is likely to be higher because of trust and you tend to be more matched physically; at the higher levels when you are practicing with someone who is physically like you, you have more freedom to experiment and take more risks; when practicing with someone stronger and more massive, you are constantly protecting yourself from the mass and compensating.

In the all-women environment you get to see the power of women’s leadership; in a mixed dojo it is rare to see women get in that position. Also you are more likely to say to yourself, she’s a woman living in a woman’s body; if she can do this so can I.

Incest survivors also emphasized the significance of the woman-only space but paid particular attention to the healing aspects of the environment, for example, feelings of safety and the sensitivity of the teachers to incest issues:

The Thousand Waves Experience

Many incest survivors are drawn to the martial arts because it’s so empowering. We want to reclaim the power that was taken from us as children. Female teachers make all the difference for me because of my issues with men. The teachers at Thousand Waves are very aware and sensitive to incest issues. I believe I would have left a male dojo. I wouldn’t have been able to express fear because I would not have felt safe enough; also if the martial arts triggered anything, which it tends to do, I probably wouldn’t have known what it was, nor would the male teachers. I would have gotten scared and dropped out. It’s ironic in this space because it’s safe and so physical, things get triggered but you can deal with them. If I have any kind of emotional flashback I can cope because I get support and the emphasis is on getting through it and back to your strength. This helps me to heal.

There is no penalty for making mistakes at Thousand Waves. The noncompetitive, non-judgmental element makes it more healing. It is a community of women who do not want to abuse me; they are supportive and interested in seeing me succeed. They help restore my sense of trust, which is a big issue for an incest survivor. I had been abused all my life and believed that my body belonged to other people. At Thousand Waves I learned I could ask my body to do things and it would respond. The environment there pushed me to new heights and clarified many issues for me. Both the teachers and the trainees at Thousand Waves provide a sense of family, safety and love. I can let my guard down. I don’t think healing could take place in a coed dojo. You don’t have the permission and safety in that setting, and the men are training for other reasons. Besides, most men aren’t comfortable with that kind of energy coming from women.


Several of the women had visited the head seido karate school in New York (Honbu), which is co-ed and run by a male sensei (black belt, seniorlevel instructor), who is both the founder of seido karate and the teacher of the head sensei at Thousand Waves. Although the art and philosophical emphasis at Honbu are the same as those at Thousand Waves, the women found dramatic differences in the co-ed environment: Before going to New York, I would have said you could get this training and the benefits anywhere with the right school or the seido karate art. At special training when I met women who train at the New York school they kept telling me how lucky I was. I didn’t really understand until I went there. The sensation walking in the door, the aesthetic appearance of the physical environment, the whole mind set was male-dominated. Women play a very subordinated role, even those who are black belts. You are treated like men. You play with the big boys and you meet their norms. They do not discuss empowerment for women. I found it to be a disempowering experience. In contrast, Thousand Waves is very nurturing; if you were missing a leg, they would find a place for you. The message is we will empower you no matter who you are and how you are. We will bring the art to you, rather than you having to meet our standards.


Feminism and the Female Body

Although the importance of female teachers and a female-only space is a central theme that emerged from our research, it is also necessary to emphasize that not all female teachers are capable of creating the kind of environment that achieves the greatest good. The teachers at Thousand Waves, as well as those students who had trained in other all-female dojos or with other female teachers, were quick to point this out. In fact, the potential for abuses of power in an all-female dojo is just as great as it is in a male or co-ed school. None of the students reported observing such a pattern at Thousand Waves, however, and several mentioned the precautions taken to prevent such occurrences (e.g., senpais are strongly encouraged to avoid becoming romantically involved with students).

Other environmental factors related to self- and group change. Additional factors that both we and the martial artists believed were related to selfchange include (1) the encouragement of and assistance to all types of women to participate in training, regardless of size, race, age, financial privilege, sexual orientation, or disability; (2) individualized exercise prescriptions commensurate with personal ability; (3) feedback provided to students by teachers and other students that is consistently supportive yet challenging; (4) a general ambience in the dojo that celebrates women’s power and strength; and (5) a teaching style that encourages setting one’s own criteria for excellence, as opposed to emphasizing universal standards of excellence, competition with others, and winning tournaments. The Thousand Waves environment and activities also are structured to develop cohesion and, ultimately, collective efficacy. Collective efficacy, which is the belief among group members that they can solve their problems and improve their lives through concerted efforts, is related to selfconfidence. Indeed, as Albert Bandura, the psychologist who coined the term, once remarked, “Inveterate self doubters are not easily forged into a collectively efficacious force.”7 The owners attempt to build collective efficacy because social change associated with enhancing the physical perceptions and self-perceptions of women is an essential element of their feminist agenda. Building women’s individual self-esteem through the martial arts is the key to this process; however, to produce the significant changes envisioned by the owners, sustained collective effort is required. Most of the women in this study reported not only that they had become more committed to feminist issues and concerns after training at least six months at Thousand Waves, but also that they had become more confident that feminist goals could be achieved. Even those who identified themselves as feminists prior to joining the dojo made this claim. Undoubtedly, a partial explanation for this finding is that the women in this sample had internalized the feminist mission and energy of the owners/teachers. It is noteworthy, however, that these women believed that the enhanced collective feminist efficacy that

The Thousand Waves Experience


they perceived among the martial artists at the dojo was grounded in the enhanced self-esteem so many of them reported experiencing. Several strategies are used to accomplish feminist collective efficacy. Teaching is done in small groups of similar skill level, activities designed to promote camaraderie (e.g., beach training) are provided, and all students, regardless of skill level, are encouraged to bond with and mentor others who have less experience. Although physical and mental prowess are products of training, seido karate is grounded in a philosophy that emphasizes not only individual awareness and growth but also connections among self, others, and the universe. The dojo also operates as a community and political center; students are encouraged to become involved in activities directed toward social change. Martial arts and self-defense as resistant and socially transformative activities. All of the martial artists believed that the ability to defend oneself physically is one of the most important survival skills women can possess in a society in which violence against them is pervasive. They also believed that knowing how to self-defend, which is an integral part of learning seido karate, helps neutralize the power imbalances that exist between women and men. As a result, many perceived martial arts as transformative not only personally but also socially: What we are learning at Thousand Waves is absolutely radical. If women learn to defend themselves physically, you would see less sexual assault, fewer women willing to put up with being second-class citizens and being abused. I see the body as the most fundamental level of dealing with patriarchy; intellectual theory is great, I love an engaging discussion of deconstruction. If that is the only thing I did, however, I would be stuck in my head. We engage as physical beings in the world, thus, I believe that we have to change the way we physically engage each other and the ways that we communicate with each other, non-verbally and verbally. This is what I learn at Thousand Waves: new ways of communicating physically. I don’t think you understand boundaries, until you understand them at the physical level, then you can understand them at the emotional level. This is so important for women, because the physical level is the level that most of us are violated on.

Violence is at the core of patriarchy. If every woman in the world could defend herself, it would change the world; patriarchy would crumble. As women we are trained to think we are powerless and that inevitably men are so much stronger, can overpower us, and that we have to cave in; this just isn’t true. Physical empowerment for women is critical from the start; then women wouldn’t be as intimidated psychologically by men; they would have more confidence and would have less need of male protection, which is the biggest protection racket in the world.

One of the reasons men attack women physically is because they know women usually can’t defend themselves. If there were a critical mass of Amazons out there who could physically challenge men’s natural strength


Feminism and the Female Body

and force advantages, men would think twice before they moved into our spaces.

Sports, particularly contact sports, whether it be football, rugby, or most of the martial arts, can be used to help women gain control in the world. To me, the relationship is so self-evident. I suspect the relationship is self-evident to many, particularly men and that is why they fight it like crazy. In a perfect world we wouldn’t have to educate about this, and your work would not be necessary. Until then, one of the most important things a woman can do for herself is to become physically strong and powerful, and be able to defend herself when necessary.

The importance of self-defense training for children. The women at Thousand Waves believed that self-defense training for children and adolescents is a critical part of challenging the patriarchal status quo. In fact, most of them believed that self-defense should be an integral part of elementary and secondary physical education in the public schools so that all young people can learn to defend themselves. As one woman put it: “Teaching your children how to defend themselves is as important as waterproofing them through swimming lessons.” There was consensus regarding the importance of having ethical teachers and a humanistic, nonviolent, and noncompetitive philosophy, such as that guiding seido karate at Thousand Waves. In responding to the question of why both girls and boys should be exposed to martial arts and self-defense training, one of the owners commented: Early adolescence is a time when girls unlearn their natural strengths. Age 9–11 is the apex of the female experience in this culture; at this time girls are still allowed to be free people and athletic. About 12–13 they are taught that this is the end of the line for this type of behavior; now they must take on the role of passivity: let the boys do it, let the boys succeed, don’t challenge the boys. This sets girls up for abusive experiences, and certainly they unlearn their natural self defense skills and assertiveness. This is a time that is very tragic for boys and girls together because they start excelling in damaging roles. In self defense, both boys and girls learn it doesn’t have to be this way; we are all human and have human potential to be strong; we can work together harmoniously; we can appreciate men who move in graceful, soft, and non-competitive ways while women move in strong, powerful ways.

Another woman, an incest survivor, also perceived the importance of self-defense training for children but arrived at her conclusions from a different angle because of her life experience: This work [self-defense and martial arts experience at Thousand Waves] is so important for children because there will be so much less recovery

The Thousand Waves Experience

to do later in life. If I had been at Thousand Waves as a child, the sexual abuse that happened to me might not have happened, nor have continued for so long. And I know for certain that my healing would not have taken so long.

Interpretations and Conclusions


These data provide compelling evidence that female embodiment can be profoundly altered when physically empowering activities such as the martial arts are practiced in gynocentric spaces, particularly those that are infused with feminist spirit, ethics, and pedagogy. The results indicate that women derive an array of benefits, including (1) empowerment of the mind and body; (2) enhanced body image; (3) enhanced perceptions of other women and the female body; (4) healthier relations with men at work and in social arenas; (5) an appreciation for activities that challenge patriarchal practices; and (6) an increased confidence that women, working together in an organized way, may actually transform these practices. The findings also suggest that healing from incest, rape, and other psychosocial issues is often facilitated by martial arts and self-defense training and that healing occurs in ways that are qualitatively different from traditional psychological therapy. It is clear, however, that such benefits are not automatically the result of martial arts training. Critical factors in this process of altering female embodiment are the environment and the vision, philosophy, ethics, methods, and qualities of those individuals who structure and participate in that environment. Since the late 1960s, feminist martial artists and self-defense teachers have emphasized self-defense as a critical survival skill for women living in misogynist cultures. Others who have done extensive research on rape survivors and avoiders, most notably Pauline Bart and Patricia O’Brien, have concluded that women who participate in sports, particularly contact sports, have a far better chance of avoiding physical assaults than those who are nonathletic. Despite the proliferating literature and research confirming that violence against women is widespread, feminist liberation proposals have continued to emphasize mental rather than physical empowerment. Although such theorizing is an essential element in moving women forward politically, economically, and socially, it has not eliminated the violence done to our bodies and minds, nor the deaths experienced by women such as Mary Joe Frug. In order for feminism to be fully effective, we believe that the perspective must be embodied. In this chapter, we have tried to demonstrate how practices involving both physical and psychological empowerment of women may ultimately be more effective in transforming individuals and society than practices that focus on cognitive activities alone. We have referred to this model of transformation as a feminist care-of-the-self ethic.


Feminism and the Female Body

This ethic provides an alternative to a construction of identity based on gender norms of femininity and masculinity. Such norms, which associate femininity with vulnerability, physical weakness, and fear of injury, have been used to justify female inequality. Gender constitutes the hegemonic ideological and physical structuring of identity. This system, which divides the world into two mythical sexes, interacts with other power systems such as race and class in the construction of gender stereotypes. Women’s successful resistance to this systematic web of gender inequality requires both the shedding of ideologies and physical practices of oppression and the involvement in practices that foster self-determination and full participation in constructing one’s own diverse subjectivity. Our focus on the martial arts and self-defense at Thousand Waves should not preclude the possibilities of designing physically and mentally empowering practices in other sites. Feminist care-of-the-self practices and their associated ethic must be embodied, however, by engaging in mind-body practices that develop a strong sense of self, including (1) a focus on health and proper nutrition; (2) meditation; (3) strength building and self-defense training; (4) the study of feminist theory and strategies that effectively challenge sexual and gender oppression and all other forms of oppression; and (5) discussion of study materials in group sessions. Such an ethic is further advanced by experiencing these mind-body practices with other women in feminist spaces with feminist teachers. In such settings feminist care-of-the-self alternatives are most effective in empowering female identities at the individual level and in providing group validation for emerging Amazons who can pursue equality between women and men on broader social levels. Thousand Waves provides us with a vision of such possibilities. In developing a feminist care-of-the-self ethic, Thousand Waves is a site that not only effectively challenges the patriarchal status quo but also has the potential to deeply transform it. The results of this study clearly indicate transformative effects at both individual and small group levels. They also give us reason to believe that if a critical mass of females were exposed to this kind of environment and sustained practice, particularly at a young age, we would observe some profound changes in the way women experience their bodies and the world. In Chapter 5, we examine women’s sport, an area that has received minimal attention from mainstream feminist theorists, yet one that has the potential to facilitate Amazonian transformations and from which Amazons have emerged. We explore the reasons for this lack of attention and the benefit to be derived from incorporating sport-related scholarship into feminist theory.

The Thousand Waves Experience



After reading an early version of this chapter, feminist theorist Judith Grant noted that she and other women became feminists without transforming their bodies. She suggested that the martial artists at Thousand Waves may have succeeded in developing an Amazonian presence because many of them had begun their practice with a feminist consciousness. She seemed to be implying that their a priori belief about their bodies and their sense of self were significant to their interpretation of the martial arts. So, Grant asks, doesn’t this justify an emphasis by feminist theorists on consciousness changes? In answer to Grant’s first observation, we respond with the following: Most female academics probably did become feminists without transforming their bodies. However, while they, along with Mary Joe Frug, were contesting patriarchy in a variety of arenas, many of them undoubtedly possessed a body language and comportment epitomized by what Frug identified as scurrying and cringing. In a context such as that which produced Frug’s violent death, consciousness raising and legal changes result in only a partial sense of empowerment. Physical empowerment minus a feminist framework is equally incomplete. Grant’s second comment indicates her belief that consciousness raising is the most important component in contesting patriarchy. That is, she questions whether women who do not have this feminist perspective are likely to seek out a physically empowering experience such as the martial arts. The same question could be asked regarding the sexual orientation of many of the women at Thousand Waves: Wouldn’t lesbians, who do not center their lives on men, be more likely than heterosexual women to choose a feminist martial arts dojo and perceive physical and psychological empowerment differently? At this point, we remind our readers that not all of the women who entered Thousand Waves began with a well-developed feminist consciousness, nor were they all lesbians. Moreover, it does not necessarily follow that because a woman is a lesbian, she will be a feminist or strongly value physical empowerment. Most lesbian feminists know this only too well. We could also approach this argument from another angle by placing physical empowerment before mental empowerment. It has been argued that sport is a feminist experience and a breeding ground for women who will later challenge the patriarchal status quo. From this perspective, one could easily perceive that physical empowerment of women is more important than mental empowerment, or assume that once a woman is physically empowered, mental empowerment will surely follow. According to Pauline Bart, women who engage in contact sports—ones not closely associated with the feminine body beauty discourse—posture


Feminism and the Female Body

their bodies and occupy space in ways that make them less likely to be a target of male physical violence. Will they be able and willing to self-defend? Will they contest male dominance in business and the law or the far greater media exposure given to male athletes? We believe that absent a feminist perspective, these athletes are not likely to engage in feminist confrontations, that they too are partially empowered, as are women who develop only their cognitive capacities. Thus the critical issue is not whether the mind or body is most important or which should be developed first. We believe that they are both important. Certainly, the discourses and practices of patriarchy involve both physical and mental dimensions. It therefore should not be difficult to envision that resistance must also be a mind-body affair if it is to be maximally effective in contesting patriarchy. Our notion of Amazonian feminism involves an integrated mind-body approach. Indeed, the Amazon we envision embodies her feminist perspective. Notes

1. Bart and O’Brien, Stopping Rape. 2. Frug, “A Postmodern Feminist Legal Manifesto,” 129. 3. Our discussion and interpretation is taken from Foucault, “On the Genealogy of Ethics”; The Care of the Self; “Technologies of the Self”; and “The Ethic of Care for the Self as a Practice of Freedom.” 4. There are many research studies documenting the benefits girls and women receive in female-only environments. Among them are Miller-Bernal, “Single Sex Versus Coeducational Environments”; Monaco, and Gaier, “Single-Sex Versus Coeducational Environment and Achievement in Adolescent Females”; Clark, “Education & Gender”; Tidball, “Women’s Colleges and Women Achievers Revisited.” 5. Noddings, Caring. 6. For a description of the methods used in this study, see Appendixes D and E. 7. Bandura, “Self-Efficacy Mechanism in Human Agency,” 143.

5 Female Sporting Bodies Where, oh where, are the mainstream feminists who analyze and theorize sport? Feminist literature published during the 1980s and 1990s seems to suggest that they do not exist; Iris Young is among the few exceptions. Four recent collections of feminist theory, all of which focus specifically on women’s bodies, illustrate this fact: Jaggar and Bordo’s Gender/Body/ Knowledge: Feminist Reconstructions of Being and Knowing; Nicholson’s Feminist/Postmodernism; Epstein and Straub’s Body Guards: The Cultural Politics of Gender Ambiguity; and Benhahib, Butler, Cornell, and Fraser’s Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Exchange. Each volume offers a range of articles by academics affiliated with comparative literature, English, anthropology, philosophy, and political theory. The authors’ interests are far ranging, and they draw examples from the works of artists, philosophers, scientists, psychiatrists, political theorists, and writers to illustrate women’s exclusion from or their phallocentric presentation in these significant arenas. The one area that is notably absent from these anthologies is sport. If the underlying agenda of all feminist theory is indeed to contest male hegemony, this is an unfortunate oversight. With the exception of perhaps the military, sport is surely the most male identified of all cultural domains, a turf upon which male privilege and patriarchal constructions of masculinity are carefully cultivated, and women’s inclusion and images are meticulously monitored. Yet, with few exceptions, a discussion of hegemonic practices in sport is missing from most mainstream feminist publications and political agendas. Is this simply an oversight? Since the 1980s, feminist sport studies scholars—most notably sport sociologists and historians, but also some sport psychologists—have analyzed women’s involvement in sport from a feminist perspective. Much of this work has been overlooked, or perhaps disregarded, by mainstream feminist theoreticians. This is an interesting omission, considering the fact that women’s studies scholars have used issues related to women’s bodies (e.g., rape, domestic violence, abortion, and surrogate motherhood) to legally challenge male-dominated institutions and value systems. 91


Feminism and the Female Body

The fuel igniting this litigation has been the belief that female bodies should not be violated and that women have the right to control their reproduction and protect their bodies, even from marital partners. Ironically, the focus on women’s legal rights and men’s legal obligations has allowed a patriarchal restatement of women’s bodies as weak and vulnerable, which in turn has affirmed the narrative associated with men as predators and protectors. Even more ironically, feminist liberatory proposals have emphasized mental rather than physical empowerment for women. Curiously absent are strategies for actualizing movement skills, skills that enable women to proactively define their bodies as physically instrumental and gain confidence to use space as they desire, even that demarcated by men as their own. Although mainstream feminists have analyzed the images of sexually seductive female bodies on television and in the print media, they have not theorized the media’s portrayal of physically powerful female sporting bodies, or their absence from the media altogether, which is even more common. Given the significant coverage of sport on television and the role of the media in reproducing cultural practices and meanings, the media’s hegemonic view of male sporting practices is an obvious site for feminist analysis, or so one would think. Unfortunately, this phenomenon has not been carefully examined by mainstream feminists, nor has any other serious sport-related issue having implications for gender relations. Although we have suggested in previous chapters that postmodern and social constructionists now shape the agenda in feminist theory, this has not been the case with the female sporting body. In fact, in the sporting arena, it is the biological essentialists, focusing on women’s biological differences and values, who seem to have provided the unspoken justification for dismissing sport: They perceive it as a practice associated with women and men who perpetuate the worst features of patriarchy. Of course, not all sports for women are similarly condemned, just those emphasizing physical contact and aggressive movements (e.g., football, rugby, ice hockey, wrestling, and boxing). According to essentialists, women and girls who participate in such sports are denying their female nature. The essentialists’ dismissal of sports requiring the direct use of one’s body to overcome an opponent is based on their belief that the limitations of the female body make it unsuitable for physical contact. Sport is one of the few realms in which we appear to be dealing with unmediated reality and in which beliefs about biological gender differences rank supreme. In general, men run faster, jump higher, and throw farther than women. Case closed. Herein seems to be the source for legitimating patriarchal values based on the physical differences between men and women. Sport appears to be a realm that is different from wage work, the domestic sphere, and legal and political arenas, locations in which it

Female Sporting Bodies


is more obvious, and thus more easily argued, that sex role stereotypes have deeply affected assigned roles and monetary outcomes. Moreover, on the surface, sport seems to be a nonutilitarian activity done for intrinsic reasons, a realm of freedom and simplicity in which right and wrong, good and bad, are taken for granted and thought to be easily and absolutely identified. And when greater skill, strength, or power produce a fair result, they should be rewarded, should they not? Case further closed. Indeed, because men are, on average, physically stronger and more powerful than women, sport is viewed as a realm that should be continuously preserved and guaranteed for men. Rarely does one stop to consider the fact that most sports, particularly the heavily commercialized variety— the ones deemed “major” in American society—are structured to highlight the extreme advantages of the male body. As a result, the presence of women in these sports is often viewed as bizarre, certainly less so today than in previous decades and centuries, but still anomalous. For example, it was not uncommon for outstanding female athletes like Babe Didrikson Zaharias to be compared to the proverbial dog who walks on her hind legs. Perhaps from the vantage point of mainstream feminist theorists, the choice of sport as a site for contesting gender constructions and the resulting inequities is a battle not worth entering because the outcome is a foregone conclusion and cannot be altered. Moreover, for feminists who are biological essentialists, sport denigrates female virtues such as nurturance, cooperation, and nonviolence. Nevertheless, for the past fifteen to twenty years, feminist theorists, particularly social constructionists, have focused intensely on issues associated with the shaping and control of female bodies and subjectivity. In this process, they have designated the female body as a site of resistance against patriarchal conceptions of femininity and female beauty. Additionally, Foucaultian social constructionists such as Susan Bordo have extensively analyzed the practices and discourses associated with eating disorders, the cult of thinness, plastic surgery, the control of pregnant women’s bodies, and mind-body dualism, which links women with the materiality of the body.1 Such analyses have helped challenge a multitude of restrictive bodily disciplines. In contrast, sporting practices have been slighted as a source related to the reproduction of the female body and notions of femininity and masculinity. They have also been overlooked as important sites of female resistance to patriarchal constructions. Women’s competitive bodybuilding is an obvious exception to this omission. Indeed, the myriad interpretations of Pumping Iron II: The Women, a film that focuses on a competition for the title of Miss Olympia, attest to the fascination among feminists with potentially transgressive female bodies that challenge notions of masculinity and femininity. We certainly understand the feminist interest in bodybuilding because we possess


Feminism and the Female Body

that interest ourselves. What is equally compelling to us, however, is why mainstream feminist theorists highlight competitive bodybuilding while ignoring women’s participation in power lifting, weight lifting, and contact sports such as rugby and football—participation that has even more transgressive implications with regard to the construction of femininity and masculinity. Clearly, the singular fascination with bodybuilding brings into bold relief a practice that challenges the attributes of “natural” gender identity yet also “reveals how culture processes transgressive bodies in such a way as to keep each body in its place.”2 This isolated examination of one sport, however, deemphasizes the power relations that are constructed in a variety of sports. Indeed, competitive bodybuilding does not float free; it is part of an intricate web of ideology and physical practices, which, because they are an immensely significant part of popular culture, influence and are influenced by social, political, and economic structures and processes. As a result, women’s participation in bodybuilding, as in any sport, can reproduce hegemonic social relations; but, as we noted in Chapter 3, it also can subvert them. In fact, the history of sportswomen, which has yet to be recognized by mainstream feminist theoreticians, is replete with transgressive female bodies; Mildred (“Babe”) Didrikson, who later became Babe Didrikson Zaharias, provides a provocative example. Babe was an athlete of no small stature; in fact, she was nicknamed Babe because her athletic talents invited comparison to those of Babe Ruth, who lived during the same time period. Babe’s athletic accomplishments in track and field from the late 1920s to the early 1940s culminated in her winning one silver and two gold medals at the 1932 Olympic Games. Instead of granting her the prestige due an athlete of her ranking, Babe’s athletic accomplishments problematically merged with her independence and lack of interest in makeup, clothes, and men as potential marriage partners. Reporters, trying to account for what they perceived to be masculine athletic skills and the visible absence of significant men in her life, searched incessantly for ways to feminize Babe’s tomboy persona and establish her skills as a cook or seamstress to reassure readers that she was truly a woman.3 When she left track and field, Babe briefly toured with a men’s traveling baseball team as a catcher, which again hardly contributed to the conventional femininity narrative. Her gender troubles finally ended in the late 1940s, however, when she embarked on a more gender-acceptable sporting career in professional golf. Even greater social acceptance came when she married professional wrestler and sports promoter George Zaharias. Didrikson’s transformation was announced in Life magazine’s headline: “Babe Is a Lady Now: The World’s Most Amazing Athlete Has Learned to Wear Nylons and Cook for Her Huge Husband.”4 Babe’s

Female Sporting Bodies


dangerously liminal body was now constrained. She even appeared different to onlookers; for example, reporter Pete Martin focused on “her big breasts, small waist and thirty-seven-inch hips.”5 The feminizing narrative of the tomboy transformed into a “real woman” by a “real man” was complete. Babe’s athletic abilities no longer threatened the masculine domain of sport or the physical superiority of men. For a twenty-year period, however, her face and athletic body confronted and challenged the deeply imbedded notion of sport as male terrain. A growing cadre of feminist theorists who are affiliated with kinesiology and physical education departments or who identify themselves as sport studies specialists have focused on women in sport, particularly from this gender-bending perspective. In this chapter, we examine the works of several theorists who have analyzed the intersection of sport and other systems of power such as gender, race, and class. We then assess the effect of the enormous increase in women’s sporting participation on the production of patriarchal notions of masculinity. Finally, we explore the reasons why female sporting bodies and sport studies scholarship have been marginalized in mainstream feminist theory and why incorporating them would be beneficial. Women in Sport and Physical Education and Anxious Masculinity

Sport studies scholars who view sport from a feminist perspective have noted organized sport as a critical arena in the power struggle over the social conception of masculinity and femininity. They have also noted that sport intersects other systems of power in ways that justify and support power relations associated with gender, age, class, race, disability, and sexuality. Michael Messner provides an example of such an approach in his historical examination of the conflict over gender definition and the changing nature of capitalism. He posits a relationship between challenges to traditional definitions of masculinity and femininity that occurred during the development of industrial capitalism and the increased reliance on sport to legitimize gender roles. These challenges, or crisis periods, led to drastic changes in work and the structure of the family and were accompanied by significant feminist movements. According to Messner, the first crisis period, at the turn of the twentieth century, was related to the spread of industrial capitalism, which resulted in fewer men controlling their own businesses and labor. The role of breadwinner and male ownership of property, which provided the basis for male privilege, had been undermined. The disappearing western frontier and the domination of public education by women additionally contributed


Feminism and the Female Body

to men’s fear that American society was becoming feminized. All of these events resulted in men becoming increasingly concerned with physicality and toughness and sport becoming more significant as a critical set of experiences through which masculinity could be validated. Although men perceived their dominance being undermined at work and at home, in the male-created sphere of sport, where they were separated physically and psychologically from women and female values, they were provided visible proof of their “natural” physical superiority. The emergence and success of the suffrage movement during this period have been attributed to the fact that its key architects elected not to challenge gender roles. Instead, they focused on women’s special differences as the justifying rationale for inclusion rather than exclusion from public life. For example, Jane Addams, one of the leaders of the suffrage movement, projected women as municipal housekeepers who must move out of their homes in order to protect them.6 This strategy paid off with the passage of the nineteenth Amendment in 1920, which provided the vote for women. Not surprisingly, men’s opposition to female athletes and the athletic body began to emerge after voting rights had been achieved. The traditional wives and mothers involved in purifying politics clashed with the image of the mannish lesbian who participated in sport. Prior to the passage of this amendment, women’s sport in women’s colleges and universities was gaining acceptability and popularity. During the 1930s, however, the wholesome, healthy physical education major as the prototype of the modern athletic female preparing for marriage and motherhood was replaced by the negative image of a mannish social and sexual deviant. What had transpired to cause this shift in thinking? First and foremost, the works of Havelock Ellis and Sigmund Freud, which claimed sexual identity as profoundly significant to personal identity, had become part of mainstream culture. More significantly, doctors and psychologists incorporated this view into their research, categories of illness, and definitions of social deviance and sexual perversity. Susan Cahn describes this development in the following: In the 1930s, psychologists developed masculinity and femininity tests using perceived lesbian characteristics to define the masculine end of the women’s scale. Moreover, early test results found that the only women who rated “more masculine” than lesbians were a group of 37 superior women college athletes. As the figure of the “mannish lesbian” entered popular awareness, within women’s sports pre-existing notions of mannishness and sexual release converged, providing a host culture for popular homophobic images.7

Women in physical education were singled out as particularly suspect. Physical educators responded by shifting gears, both philosophically and

Female Sporting Bodies


in practice, by developing policies calling for a “separate sphere” for women because of their biological differences. Physical education courses became spaces to distance women from the competition and aggressiveness of sport and were thought to provide a place for women to exercise without embarrassment or public disdain. Games were modified to reduce stress, and loose-fitting uniforms were adopted to preserve the modesty of the young women who wore them. Ultimately, such strategies, which were designed to combat homophobia, backfired, and a backlash ensued. Female physical educators had extensively criticized male-controlled sport on the grounds that it promoted unhealthy aspects of competition, athletic elitism, winning at any cost, and commercialism. Although their criticism certainly contributed to the backlash, it was their separatist strategy that came under direct assault. The sense of community developed in these separate spaces was now viewed as an unnatural breeding ground for lesbianism. To combat this charge, female physical educators embraced an even more aggressive promotion of heterosexuality, which became the cornerstone of course offerings. Beauty and social charm were stressed and rigorous exercise was deemphasized. Team sports were minimized and replaced by tennis, golf, bowling, and horseback riding because the latter were thought to possess more carryover value in heterosexual relationships with potential marriage partners. The trimness, grace, and beauty of the woman emerging from physical education courses were emphasized and accompanied by the claim that physical education played an important role in supporting and advancing heterosexual development. Physical educators hoped that their heterosexual strategy would attract nonathletic women to their programs, or at least those more interested in men than in sports. Unfortunately, this plan did not prove effective, and the image of physical education majors and teachers as “amazons, social misfits, prudes, or lesbians” became even more entrenched during the 1950s.8 Indeed, as Cahn has claimed, the physical educators’ defensive response to the stigmatization of their profession only further cemented the linkage between lesbianism and women’s sport in the societal mind. The preexisting and ongoing association of sport with masculinity also provided the cultural context for marking female athletes with the lesbian stereotype; however, as Cahn has argued, the stereotype of the lesbian physical educator may have actually generated a lesbian reality: The homophobic atmosphere, which is the historical legacy of physical education, functioned as a sort of sexual field-of-force. It repelled many heterosexual women who were uncomfortable with the P.E. image at the same time it attracted sportsminded lesbians. They surely also worried about the profession’s “queer” aura, but may have been drawn by the sense of difference, the physical focus, and the female culture of physical education.9


Feminism and the Female Body

Instead of becoming bulwarks for dispelling associations of athletic women with deviant sexuality, physical education courses paradoxically reified heterosexism and lesbian oppression. Thus, while women’s sporting activities continued inside and outside academic settings, they became marginalized and often ignored by white popular culture. It must have seemed to many as if the threat of the female athlete to “the hegemonic ideology of male athleticism, virility, strength, and power” had been contained.10 The changes in capitalism occurring after World War II, however, continued to undermine the economic basis of male identity and hegemony. Heavy industrial jobs requiring physical labor were increasingly replaced by service-oriented ones; a similar shift occurred in the military. Moreover, women’s greater involvement in the public realm of work and politics, which was propelled by the events of World War II, continued to challenge the breadwinner role as the justification for male domination of the family. The diminished relevance of physical strength in the workplace and in the military and the increasing involvement of women in both arenas did not end the ideology of gender difference, however. Indeed, as the title of Mariah Burton Nelson’s book The Stronger Women Get, the More Men Love Football suggests, the more women successfully contest male workplace dominance and inequalities, the more important sport, particularly aggressive contact sport, becomes to men.11 For example, television’s images of male strength, power, and aggression on the football field have strongly enhanced the symbolic significance of football in the lives of American males. The Super Bowl, which is viewed by millions of men and women, has become a complex cultural celebration of hegemonic ideological themes. Such themes, which meld sexualized images of women, warfare, patriotism, violence, male bonding, and male athletic skills, are evident in the half-time pageantry and commercials, as well as in the commentary and metaphors of sports broadcasters, Messner’s comments on the ideological importance of football are telling: Here individual males are given the opportunity to identify—generically and abstractly—with all men as a superior and separate caste. Football, based as it is upon the most extreme possibilities of the male body (muscular bulk, explosive power and aggression) is a world apart from women, who are relegated to the role of cheerleader, sex objects on the sidelines, rooting the men on. In contrast to the bare and vulnerable bodies of the cheerleaders, the armored male bodies of football players are elevated to mythical status, and as such give testimony to the undeniable “fact” that there is at least one place where men are clearly superior to women.12

Race and Sporting Female Bodies

Despite the encroaching images of contemporary female athletes, sports, particularly those that are grounded in obvious displays of physical strength,

Female Sporting Bodies


continue to provide support for a masculine/feminine patriarchal ideology. The perceived fusion of women’s sport and masculinity, which began emerging in the 1920s, applied primarily to women who were part of dominant middle-class or upper-class white culture. In black communities, although sporting participation for women was considered secondary to men’s, there still existed significant interest in and encouragement of female athletes. This was because black women’s life experience necessitated a different version of women’s nature, one that required the fulfillment of multiple roles: worker, mother, community activist, and athlete. Thus, for black women, womanhood and femininity were not narrowly defined or constructed in sharp opposition to masculinity. Cindy Himes Gissendanner has examined the impact of race and class on the sporting perceptions and participation of African American women during the period of 1920 to 1960 and has noted the very different model that guided the African American female athletic experience, one that was far more competitive than that to which middle- and upper-class white women were exposed. Women’s basketball in African American communities, which involved spectators who paid admission and the provision of travel funds, meals, and uniforms to players, was an example of this distinctive reality. Many black female teams played by men’s rules, and there was diversity in the types of teams that played (e.g., women’s teams from black colleges played black YWCA’s and high school teams). During the 1920s, it was not surprising to find a black women’s basketball game as the opener in a doubleheader involving black men’s teams. Lack of funding often required that one black coach, usually a man, head both the men’s and women’s teams, although sometimes a woman held the position. Female players, after leaving high school or college, also had an opportunity to play on independent black teams (e.g., the Blue Belts of New York City, and the Orioles of Baltimore). Gissendanner claims that this African American ideal of active femininity has had long historical and socioeconomic roots. The lives of black women, particularly those from the rural South, involved hours of long, hard physical labor. As a result, the experiences of African American women often contradicted the teachings of the white medical establishment, which linked physical exertion to reproductive malfunction. The attitude of students at black colleges and universities toward female athletes provides a clear illustration of a more active ideal of femininity among African Americans than among middle- and upper-class whites, who tended to perceive athletics and femininity as a contradiction: Students at Tuskegee did not view female athletes as ugly, masculine, or socially maladjusted. In fact, the honor of “Miss Tuskegee” was regularly given to physical education majors and female athletic stars . . . Beauty, personality, and athleticism were not considered to be mutually exclusive


Feminism and the Female Body

qualities in this African American student community whose members were drawn primarily from the surrounding rural communities.13

Moreover, according to Gissendanner, many of the prominent black female physical educators, “unlike their white counterparts, were married.”14 Her explanation for this difference is that within the African American community there was a more positive attitude toward married women who worked outside the home and the view that a physical education career was an excellent economic opportunity that was compatible with marriage. Gissendanner claims that there was a different phenomenon operating among white female physical educators; that is, they sought not only a career route to economic independence but also identification with other women who were “escaping the white middle-class ideal of heterosexual marriage.”15 Her analysis seems to suggest that most black female physical educators and athletes during the 1920s–1960s were heterosexual and most white women in similar positions were lesbians. We will examine this notion later when we assess the significance of perceived lesbianism in the marginalization of feminist sport scholarship by mainstream feminist theorists. Although the social construction of race contributed to a broader notion of femininity among African American society, class identification also shaped notions of black femininity. In elite black universities and colleges such as Howard and Spelman, women’s competitive basketball teams were abandoned and replaced by intramural class competitions. Among these college-educated African Americans, competitive women’s sport was viewed as “a barrier to the attainment of a class-based feminine ideal,” whereas archery, badminton, golf, fencing, and tennis were viewed as appropriate feminizing athletic activities.16 Thus, elite black colleges adopted the physical education philosophy and programs of their white counterparts. Among working-class and rural African American women, however, competitive and commercialized sport provided the possibility for individual achievement and breaking down sports’ racial barriers. The following biographical note on one of four black female wrestlers who were to compete in an upcoming wrestling match, which appeared in an article in the 1953 edition of the Afro-American, illustrates this point: Mary is 22 years old, 5 ft. 5 inches tall, and tips the scales at 150 pounds. She’s well versed in many subjects having studied science, poetry, politics, and criminology in college. Her original plans were to become a college instructor, but upon learning of the financial success of girl wrestlers, she changed her mind.17

Gissendanner hypothesizes that if the white press had covered this wrestling match, innuendos about the femininity of the female wrestlers

Female Sporting Bodies


would have characterized the narrative. She speculates that the very different perspective witnessed in the Afro-American reflects less restrictive notions of femininity, as well as the fact that there were fewer economic opportunities available to African Americans. There is no doubt that black female athletes were viewed differently by the black and white communities. When African American women began dominating the track and field events during the 1948 Olympic Games and other international meets and continued to do so throughout the 1950s, the black press hailed the athletic success of these women and viewed them as significant symbols of pride for the black community. In contrast, the white press virtually ignored the athletic achievements of such African Americans as Alice Coachman, the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal, and Mildred McDaniel, the only American woman to win an individual gold medal in the 1956 Olympic track and field events. Later, the dominance of African American women in track and field— particularly the success of Wilma Rudolph, who won three gold medals in the 1960 Olympics—along with the civil rights movement, resulted in more media coverage of black female athletes in the white press and more recognition of these articles among whites in general. However, the nicknaming of Rudolph as the “black gazelle,” using the imagery of a jungle animal that had been tamed and trained, was a reminder that the beastlike characteristics assigned to African American women set them apart from their white counterparts. Moreover, white defenders of female track and field athletes, focusing on white athletes, continued to employ stereotypical images of femininity drawn from white-dominated gymnastics, swimming, and diving. Thus the outstanding performances of black women in track and field seemed to augment the perception that mannish black female athletes gravitated to track and field and that white feminine athletes were attracted to gymnastics and swimming. Although contemporary images of black track and field stars such as Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Florence “Flo Jo” Joyner attest to their femininity and heterosexuality via ever-present husband-trainers and confirming feminine costuming, the interplay of racial and gender stereotypes in women’s sport has reinforced a white norm of heterosexual femininity. The dramatic increase of white women and women of color in sport, facilitated by the passage of Title IX, has not changed this emphasis on heterosexual production. Gender Equity and Women’s Sport: The Case of Title IX

During the second wave of feminism in the 1970s, more white women and women of color began participating in sport, which increasingly began to


Feminism and the Female Body

challenge patriarchal notions of the feminine body. Not surprisingly, the more visible and expansive women’s sporting participation becomes, the more male resistance increases and comparisons between men’s and women’s physical achievements surface. In this section, we examine the increased sporting opportunities for women since the advent of Title IX, the problematic impact of gender equity on female sport, and the influence of women in sport on patriarchal ideology. During the late 1960s, the women’s movement, which spearheaded challenges to biologically based gender characterizations, had an impact on female physical educators as they began reflecting on the unequal conditions of women in sport. Two significant events resulted because of the vision of a vanguard of these women: the establishment of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) in 1971 and the passage of Title IX in 1972. Title IX was part of the Education Amendments to the 1964 Civil Rights Law. The AIAW was founded by female physical educators as the governing agency for women’s intercollegiate athletics. In keeping with its woman- and student-centered philosophy, the organization tried to provide safeguards for avoiding the problems associated with men’s athletics. AIAW guidelines and rules were designed to strike a balance between the roles of student and athlete and to place the academic and social concerns of student-athletes above the interests of academic institutions, commercial media, fans, and alumni. Title IX prohibited sex discrimination in any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. This was the first time that the issue of female access to and participation in sport was raised to the status of public policy. Although the law applied to far more than sporting conditions, its sport-related dimensions produced the greatest controversy. This is true even today: Battles have been waged over everything from regulations and compliance rules to monitoring and enforcement provisions. Without a doubt, the most successful result of implementing Title IX at all educational and competitive levels has been increased participation and participation opportunities for women. Far more girls and women are playing sport today, and they have a greater variety of sports from which to choose.18 The status of women in coaching has been more problematic; the number of women coaching women’s teams has generally declined since Title IX’s implementation. Although the situation has improved somewhat in the past few years, there are still far fewer female head coaches than in the days prior to Title IX because more men have been interested in and able to attain these positions. Not surprisingly, women have not been able to follow a similar path by obtaining positions coaching men’s teams. The implementation of Title IX has been least successful by far in the administrative ranks of women’s sport; there are relatively few female

Female Sporting Bodies


administrators who head women’s programs and even fewer who head both men’s and women’s sports. Furthermore, when females are housed in administration, they most often reside at very low levels in the power structure and rarely possess the authority to construct policy. In the early years before Title IX, women in physical education ran their own show, and all administrators and almost all coaches of women’s teams were women. This was true at both the collegiate and the high school level. Today, this critical mass of female leadership has all but disappeared. Indeed, Vivian Acosta and Linda Carpenter, two researchers who regularly monitor the progress of Title IX, have remarked, “There are more female college presidents in each competitive division than there are female athletic directors over both men’s and women’s athletics.”19 It appears that the long-standing ideology regarding the inferiority of women in sport and the discriminatory practices supported by such thinking are not easily changed by statutory decrees such as Title IX. Moreover, it is important to note that the dramatic increases in women’s participation in collegiate sport during the early post–Title IX years were made under the aegis of the AIAW. By 1978, using the symbolic impetus of the passage of Title IX, the AIAW had succeeded in servicing 100,000 female student-athletes, providing seventeen national championships in twelve sports, and gaining revenue from corporate sponsorship and advertising.20 Until this time, the governing body of men’s collegiate sport—the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)—had taken little interest in the growth of women’s sport. Even in 1978, the NCAA’s major concern was ensuring that Title IX would not diminish funding for men’s athletic programs. By 1980, however, the NCAA’s efforts to stop Title IX seemed fruitless. Taking note of the revenue-generating possibilities of competitive women’s sports, organizational leaders decided to adopt a new posture: They voted to sponsor national championships for women. This decision marked the beginning of NCAA efforts to take over women’s athletics. Using financial incentives and the establishment of women’s championship programs, the NCAA succeeded in attracting substantial numbers of women’s collegiate sports programs to join its ranks, eventually forcing the AIAW out of existence. The impact of this shift was enormous. Gone was the feminist concern with safeguarding student-athletes and the effort to integrate academic, social, and athletic activities. In its place, collegiate female sports adopted the same criteria for success as those guiding male sports: the gaining of revenue, emphasis on victories, and concern with media and media-driven income. Not surprisingly, women’s programs began to be cited for the same violations as male programs (e.g., illegal recruiting tactics; illegal benefits to players, and use of scholarships to attract players). Thus the


Feminism and the Female Body

victory of greater female participation in sport has mirrored the male model of elite competitive sport, particularly at the college level. Ironically, the Title IX version of gender equity focuses on comparing the athletic abilities of men and women and, in the “big money” sports, expenditures and gate receipts. The fact that, on average, men run faster, jump higher, and throw farther than women contributes to the “natural” biological justification for patriarchal domination. Consequently, although funds are distributed among men’s and women’s sports, the higher budgets allocated to men’s football—the major college team sport found in the quintessential “jock” universities—have not diminished. Although gender equity in sports via Title IX has enhanced opportunities for women in many sports—which is reflected in the fact that women’s athletic records have greatly improved and, in some cases, are fast approaching male achievements—these sports are typically less well-funded and are provided less media attention. Coaches and administrators of athletic programs are significant in articulating the goals and funding of particular sports; unfortunately, women are markedly underrepresented in these pivotal roles. Because Title IX increased salaries and compensations available to coaches of women’s teams, more men became interested in coaching women’s sports, particularly those who were not successful in landing jobs in men’s sports. In contrast, women have not been able to penetrate the world of coaching in men’s sports. Thus, although Title IX’s equal opportunity application of gender equity has produced an enormous increase in the number of female athletes, it has also meant more coaching and administrative careers for white males who, by and large, are committed to the promulgation and continuance of the male sporting model. This model highlights those sports that display the biomechanical and body composition advantages of the male body (e.g., football and basketball) and supports an ideology of male physical superiority. Critics have noted another entity equally interested in the Title IX– forged structure of female athletics—corporate America. Indeed, the dramatic increase in the number of girls and women involved in sport and fitness activities has created new business opportunities. Moving swiftly to seize these opportunities, the corporate complex has augmented its empire through sports costuming and fitness paraphernalia, both of which have become multi-million dollar industries. Cheryl Cole and Amy Hribar have labeled this partnership the “commodification of feminism.”21 An ongoing Nike advertising campaign using the slogan “Just Do It” illustrates their point. Compelling images in magazines and on television show women of color and white women, ranging in age from eighteen to thirty-five, jogging, biking, lifting weights, and

Female Sporting Bodies


rock climbing. Their bodies are hard, lean, and healthy; their look is one of determination and concentration. Men, who usually appear in these montages to provide the directed gaze of approval on a sexually desirable objectified female body, are absent. Indeed, these women appear to be selfdirected, at one with themselves and their environment. These are the liberated women of the 1990s, wearing spandex and Nike athletic shoes, intensely involved in self-transformation through the process of working on their bodies. The feminist movement of the 1970s and 1980s, in which dowdy, overweight, and unfit women organized, marched, and lobbied for a variety of causes, has become the “before” image, presenting a constant reminder to the contemporary woman that, in order to better herself and her condition, she must tirelessly work to transform her body. Nike has become the symbol of a company that is pro-woman and personifies the progressive notion that women can be all they want to be. However, Nike empowerment fuses athletic activity and bodily care with consumerism. The image is the message: Stepping into a pair of Nikes is the first step toward the “good life” of the postmodern woman. Unfortunately, unlike the bodies of sporting women such as Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Martina Navratilova, Muffin Spencer-Devlin, and Sheryl Swoopes—bodies that have transgressively challenged male power systems, including sport—these hard multicolored Nike bodies do nothing to confront gender, race, or class oppression. Perhaps this association between fitness and consumerism and women’s empowerment, which implies a superficial, frivolous route to gender equity, is at the heart of the exclusion of sporting women’s bodies from mainstream feminist theory. In the next section, we discuss this and other suppositions as to why this exclusion occurs. The Invisibility of Female Sporting Bodies in Mainstream Feminist Theory

Because sport and movement practices are popularly viewed as bodily activities, mind-body dualism seems an appropriate starting point to begin our speculation. In previous chapters, we noted that mind-body dualism has been an ongoing characteristic of Western civilization and academic institutions. And ironically, despite the feminist critique of such dualism, it has been dominant in feminist liberatory theorizing as well. Thus we conjecture that disciplines associated with bodily activities have been placed at the bottom of the academic hierarchy and those associated with mental theorizing have been afforded “top dog” status. Indeed, the Platonic injunction to overcome bodily desires and to cultivate the mind as the route to happiness and wisdom, along with the


Feminism and the Female Body

Cartesian motto “I think, therefore I am,” epitomizes the educative enterprise. In the process of distinguishing mental from bodily activities, the latter are identified as pandering to inferior appetites. The legacy of this categorical thinking is that sport and physical education courses have been derogatorily labeled as “jock” activities, and those involved in such enterprises, both students and faculty, viewed as intellectually inferior. Feminist theorists, being no different from their academic colleagues, have undoubtedly perceived physical educators and students, as well as the physical education curriculum, as nonintellectual or perhaps even antiintellectual. When women’s studies began surfacing on college and university campuses during the 1970s, feminist academics, who were newcomers to academia, pursued respectability and recognition from traditional departments. As is typical of most academics, they sought departmental validation for their research and writing and accreditation for their new courses, which by their very existence challenged the male academic and publishing establishment. Many traditional male academics viewed women’s studies as a threat to the academy and to themselves as the embodiment of the Western intellectual heritage. The women who trod these waters knew they were in dangerous territory. Although “Fear not” must have been their motto, even they were not bent on suicidal tactics. It is reasonable to speculate, therefore, that given their low ranking on the academic intellectual scale, courses taught in physical education departments were not high on feminists’ lists of subject matter to include in women’s studies curricula, nor were physical education faculty actively recruited to design new women’s studies courses or join women’s studies alliances on campuses. Because feminists have been stereotypically identified as man haters, the leap to label them as lesbians was not a quantum one, particularly for academics hostile to the women’s studies enterprise. Thus, for many, the terms feminist and lesbian became interchangeable; and, of course, some feminists were in fact lesbian. Although the perceived link between feminism and lesbianism at least required a judgmental leap in the popular mind, the sexual orientation of female physical educators and physical education majors seemed beyond the realm of conjecture. The long-standing history of labeling physical educators as lesbians and physical education departments as lesbian spaces helped support this thinking. Most likely, the gynocentric structuring and administration of college and university physical education departments further contributed to this stereotype. Prior to the early 1970s, physical education departments were divided into separate men’s and women’s departments; the women’s side was administered by women, and courses for female students were taught by female faculty. In fact, departments of physical education were one of the few, if not the only, large-scale matriarchies on university campuses as

Female Sporting Bodies


well as in the world outside academe. All of this would change later during the 1980s, in the aftermath of Title IX. During the early days of women’s studies, a connection with such a perceived lesbian power enclave must have seemed risky to feminist faculty newly arrived to academe. This was certainly true for many students who wanted to major in physical education but selected other majors for fear of being condemned as a lesbian. Although lesbians held teaching positions in a variety of other departments and some of them were feminists, their numbers were scattered, and most of the departments in which they were housed were male dominated. Moreover, in those early days, there were no women’s studies departments with separate women’s studies faculties and totally women-centered and controlled academic programs. Women’s studies courses in English, history, psychology, and political science, offered by faculty who were paid, promoted, and tenured through their departmental affiliation, were part of the course offerings of the home department and contributed to a core of courses identified as women’s studies. In most cases, a female faculty member became a volunteer coordinator; in rare instances, a paid part-time or full-time administrator served in this capacity. In contrast, female physical education department leaders hired, promoted, and recommended tenure for their female faculty. It is possible that there was an internalized assumption among mainstream academic feminists that male standards were the significant criteria that had to be met and that the hiring and promotional standards of their female physical education colleagues were lower and less intellectually rigorous. It is equally possible that because physical educators taught courses that were related to physical activity and the body, mainstream feminists believed that these courses should be relegated to a lower mental order, even when these courses included kinesiology and philosophy in their titles. Perhaps the lesbian stereotype was cemented further because feminists perceived these sports-identified women to be associated with the worst of antiwomen patriarchal values (e.g., violent yet sanctioned aggression, obsessive-compulsive competition, and athletic elitism). Without a doubt, the quintessential stereotype of women in physical education transformed the physical educator into a mannish-looking dyke who constructed herself in terms of not only male characteristics such as muscularity and physical dominance but also an entire collage of patriarchal values. The physically educated woman was thus divested of all feminist possibilities. Furthermore, because homophobia among women in sport and physical education has been long-standing and deeply ingrained, mainstream feminists who fancied themselves as less homophobic or nonhomophobic may have viewed sporting women as reactionary and nonprogressive in terms of women’s rights. In the face of these off-putting images, it is likely that


Feminism and the Female Body

feminist academics felt a need to marginalize the women and practices associated with physical education and sport. Despite their own changing circumstances during the 1980s, the views of mainstream academic feminists toward the physical education enterprise remained unchanged. By the early 1990s, many of these feminist theorists had arrived: They had been promoted and tenured. Women’s studies had gained “politically correct” status, and feminist academics, drawing on the intellectual legitimacy of European critical theory and postmodern critique to ground their research and writing, were viewed as acceptable by the academic establishment. No longer did they run the risk of jeopardizing their careers by becoming tainted by a subject matter and a methodology that were stamped as intellectually inferior. Ostensibly, they were now in the position to pronounce on what constituted reputable research and writing. Additionally, the issue of lesbianism via homosexual rights had become a legitimate civil rights issue on campuses and in classrooms. This was witnessed when academic proponents of gay and lesbian rights celebrated the “coming out” and espousal of lesbian and gay rights by the extraordinary female tennis star Martina Navratilova. None of this laudatory acceptance transferred to academics associated with physical education, however. They remained the mannish “other,” women who constructed themselves in terms of the values of male football players and were intellectually inferior and homophobic to boot. Mainstream feminists may have asked themselves, Why read any of the articles or books written by these hybrid academics? The Title IX controversies over sport for women that appeared in college newspapers and in the commercial media, as well as the increasing number of female athletes, seemed to hold little interest for these feminists. After all, weren’t Title IX controversies on their campuses part of the same financial tug-ofwar in which the budgets for sports competed with “serious” academic departments for increasingly limited dollars? From this perspective, Title IX and women’s sports were undermining the funding of the real mission of academe, which now grudgingly included women’s studies. Perhaps the bottom line explanation for this dismissal of sport from feminist theory is that many of these mainstream feminists had little or no athletic background. They may be part of the fitness obsession of the 1990s, partaking of fat-free, high-fiber diets and jogging or climbing stairs that go nowhere in a gym, but for them such activities are done only to enhance physical health and body image. These women may not have personally experienced the physical and psychological empowerment that comes from being skillful in the use of the body. They may also not have come to know what Merleau-Ponty calls “motility,” that is, the way we experience and define ourselves through bodily movement. When we reach out to interact physically with the world, we begin the process of self-

Female Sporting Bodies


definition; the “I,” “I can,” and “I cannot” are embodied experiences profoundly and positively impacted by mastering and moving one’s body in skilled and intentional ways through space. Whereas most boys experience this enlargement of self through physically powerful movement, most girls and women still do not, despite the positive influence of Title IX. Beginning with childhood sports, boys learn to use their bodies in skilled and forceful ways and thus gain detailed knowledge about their physical capacities and limits. Boys learn to develop power and transmit it through their arms and legs or devices such as baseball bats and hockey sticks. They also learn self-defense skills, often through their early exposure to contact sport training but also from parents and significant others, because the ability to self-defend physically is viewed as a vital survival skill for boys. Girls often learn to throw, run, or climb “like a girl,” not to put their whole bodies into motion or use their strength to the fullest, and to condense themselves physically—to be “smaller than.” And if girls are taught self-defense skills, it is the exception rather than the rule. They most often learn at an early age to experience their bodies as an object for others, whereas boys learn to experience themselves as subjects who have the capacity and the right to act upon others and the environment. These learned movement patterns, what Iris Young has referred to as “inhibited intentionality,” are part of the process of becoming feminized in Western society; unfortunately, by becoming feminine, many girls become “physically disabled.” Catharine MacKinnon, in a 1982 keynote address at a conference on feminism and sport, makes a similar argument in her critique of gender hierarchy: Issues like rape, incest, sexual harassment, prostitution, pornography—issues of the violation of women, in particular of women’s sexuality—connect directly with issues of athletics. The systematic maiming of women’s physicality that marks those athletic and physical pursuits that women have been forced or pressured or encouraged to do, on the one hand, connect with those we have been excluded from doing, on the other. If you ask, not why do women and men do different physical activities, but why has femininity meant physical weakness, you notice that someone who is physically weak is more easily able to be raped, available to be molested, open to sexual harassment. Feminine means violable.22

MacKinnon’s speech has been referred to by a number of sport studies feminists. Without a doubt, this is at least partially due to MacKinnon’s stature as a feminist theoretician. Perhaps it is also due to the fact that mainstream feminists so rarely give the sport area notice or demonstrate that it is important enough to write about. It should be noted that MacKinnon did not


Feminism and the Female Body

pursue sport-related issues in her subsequent writings. Still, she deserves credit for at least recognizing the important link between patriarchal sport and women’s disempowerment, as many mainstream feminists seemingly do not. Her training in the martial arts may have helped her understand the empowering possibilities of sport. Perhaps the reason that most mainstream feminist theorists fail to include sport-related topics in their anthologies is that they have not experienced any type of sport training and therefore do not fully understand the importance of physical competence in constructing an authentic and free self. The Female Athlete as Transgressive Amazon?

MacKinnon’s observations echo a concern that essentialist feminists and sports studies feminists have expressed about “malestream sport”; that is, whether the empowerment of women is best derived amidst the domination of others, dismissal of physical and psychic pain, and winning at all costs, which are associated with major male sports, or in other types of sport settings. In this section, we examine this issue and reflect on whether sport, as it is presently constructed, facilitates Amazonian transformations. Although sports studies scholars have carefully noted the problems associated with a win-at-all-costs sporting ethic, the high value placed on masculine aggression seems to exclude, or at least minimize, other empowering dimensions of the sporting experience; for example, the smooth, powerful motions of swimming, running, gymnastics, and figure skating; the self-awareness and feeling of control that come from possessing finely tuned motor skills; the sense of community that emerges in cooperative team activities; the sense of awe that is associated with transcending previous boundaries; and the happiness that comes from having fun in sport. Certainly, any sport or physical activity has the potential to provide such empowering alternatives to the predominant male sporting experience. And, just as certainly, such benefits can be experienced by both women and men. Although many individuals understand and practice this version of sport, the media’s emphasis on only a few of the most popular male sports (i.e., football, baseball, basketball, and ice hockey), limits and marginalizes this understanding in the societal consciousness. Ironically, much of this perspective of sport was exemplified within the educational philosophy of the AIAW (1972–1982) and the women’s physical education departments that existed prior to Title IX. Although the number of females participating in sport has vastly increased under Title IX jurisdiction, the NCAA model of malestream sports won out over the AIAW woman-centered model. Under the aegis of predominantly male coaches and administrators, post–Title IX sporting experiences for women have become identified with a male model of sport.

Female Sporting Bodies


Feminist sport studies scholars have focused on such issues, and of equal importance, they have examined feminist alternatives and challenges to the ideology of masculinity and femininity that supports male physical domination. One of these alternatives is the feminist martial arts setting we examined in Chapter 4. Additionally, Susan Birrell and Diana Richter have identified feminist softball teams as an example of a feminist transformation of sport. 23 The women who composed these teams were deliberately involved in deconstructing male softball. In its place, they created a feminist softball model emphasizing enjoyment of the game as opposed to winning. The hierarchical relationship between coach and players was dismantled, and elitism based on athletic skill, as well as sexism, ageism, racism, heterosexism, and sizeism, were replaced with a more democratic participatory process. These women also practiced an “ethic of care” toward their opponents, similar to that discussed by Carol Gilligan. Such strategies, which were designed to overcome the alienation and high rate of injuries many players experienced while participating in win-at-all-costs sports, were found to have a very beneficial effect on the women involved. David Whitson has argued that for such restructuring to have a mutually beneficial effect both on men and women and on the popular consciousness, cultural images and narratives of the physically empowered body must transcend the masculine preoccupation with force and domination.24 Merely increasing the numbers of women participating in sport will not change the male view toward sport in popular culture, nor will a group of feminists who decide to deconstruct baseball in a faraway park. Instead, disciplined skill development and personal and shared pleasure in movement activities must be valued and emphasized in the media, in the family, and elsewhere. Moreover, men must begin to value these types of sporting experiences and to examine the ideology of football and similar sports critically. The work of sport studies theorists such as Michael Messner and Don Sabo provides excellent examples of men deconstructing malestream sports.25 In addition to changes in male attitudes, the attitudes of nonfeminist female athletes must also change. Elaine Blinde, Diane Taub, and Linling Han have noted that researchers examining the empowerment potential of sport for women have focused primarily on woman-controlled sport organizations, feminist sport leagues, and lesbian teams. Although it is true that feminist sporting structures “promote such outcomes as equality, cooperation, fairness, sense of community, and mutually supportive experiences,”26 they will have limited impact if women participating in dominant sporting structures do not experience and come to value such empowering alternatives. Blinde, Taub, and Han’s research, which examined the sporting experiences of twenty-four female athletes from a variety of team and individual sports, is instructive in this regard. Findings indicated that although


Feminism and the Female Body

collegiate sporting participation stimulated a sense of group identity and personal empowerment among these athletes, it had little or no effect in terms of developing their feminist awareness. In fact, the researchers noted the following: Despite their belief that sport participation challenges societal perceptions about women and their identification of the more visible forms of gender inequality in sport, women athletes in this study generally lack a critical understanding of the underlying ideology that perpetuates their disadvantaged position. Further, most athletes disavow the feminist label, rarely display a feminist consciousness, and do not engage in activism associated with women’s issues.27

The researchers identify three factors to account for this phenomenon. First, men dominate the leadership positions in women’s intercollegiate sport. Considering the patriarchal nature of sport and the dominance of the authoritarian approach among coaches, it is highly unlikely that men will encourage female athletes to adopt a feminist consciousness. Blinde, Taub, and Han argue that women, given their experiences in the patriarchal world of sport, are undoubtedly better suited to raise the awareness of gender issues among female athletes, that is if more female coaches were available and less homophobic. Second, the athletic climate fosters individual rather than structural solutions to problems and a heavy emphasis on winning, which discourages coaches from educating athletes about issues they do not perceive to be directly related to game outcomes. Third, female athletes may dissociate from feminist or women’s issues because they fear being labeled as lesbians, which can often lead to social death, sexual harassment, or dismissal from the team. Indeed, female athletes use a variety of stigma management strategies to ward off perceptions linking female athleticism with homosexuality: everything from accentuating femininity (e.g., painting their nails and wearing ribbons in their hair) to playing to male spectators and ignoring female audiences. Considering the strong association between women’s sport and lesbianism and between feminism and lesbianism, an athlete who openly identifies as a feminist or becomes involved as an activist for women’s rights would be doubly stigmatized. Although all three explanations undoubtedly interact to minimize the feminist possibilities in mainstream sport, we believe that the lesbian stigma has the greatest negative impact on female athletes, coaches, and administrators. So even if more women were to move into positions of power in sport as it is presently ideologized and structured, it is doubtful that they would feel safe enough to assume responsibility for being feminist educators or role models for their athletes.

Female Sporting Bodies


Sport appears to be fertile ground for the development of Amazons, particularly in light of the much publicized “Olympic Year of the Woman” and the success of professional women’s basketball leagues. The absence of a collective feminist consciousness among many female athletes, coaches, and administrators, however, minimizes this possibility, just as it did among the female bodybuilders discussed in Chapter 3. In this chapter, we have attempted to demonstrate that male-defined sport continues to play a powerful role in constructing and maintaining a male-dominated gender system. The validity of our premise is witnessed every time women’s efforts to challenge this power system, through either intensifying their sporting participation or pursuing legal means, produce responses of acute hostility and countermaneuvers to contain and commodify these challenges. We have also offered some reflections as to why mainstream feminist theorists may have excluded women’s sporting practices and analysis from their thinking and writing. The contestation of the sport complex may be regarded by mainstream feminists as the efforts of a group of women whom they associate in some ways with the cheerleaders at male sporting events, that is, women who have completely internalized the most problematic of male values. By ignoring or dismissing sport, however, feminists contribute to the marginalization of the work of feminist sport studies scholars, who have carefully examined one of the significant components in the production of hierarchical gender relations. More importantly, however, they lose the insight that can be gleaned from the study of another piece of the patriarchal pie. This chapter is a call to mainstream feminist theorists to examine their biases with regard to sport, female sporting bodies, and the academic disciplines associated with sport practitioners. The theoretical and often combative involvement of mainstream feminist theorists in instances of sexual harassment in the Navy (e.g., the Tailhook scandal), in military academies (e.g., the Citadel), and in the Army (e.g., the Aberdeen Proving Ground), all of which are bastions of patriarchal values, provide fruitful analogies and illustrations of feminists contesting male-dominated power systems. Like the military, sport celebrates values and attitudes that to many feminists represent the worst manifestations of patriarchal ideology. Feminists should take careful note that the values of the military culture, which they regard as particularly problematic, deeply converge with those of sport to reproduce a physically powerless, vulnerable, and overly sexualized version of femininity in American society. In order to undermine these values, feminists will need to direct their attention to sport just as they have the military. External critical scrutiny is significant in undermining these values and providing support for resistant voices within these two systems. We, therefore, believe that incorporating the insights of feminist sport studies scholarship into feminist theorizing can help not


Feminism and the Female Body

just advance the theoretical analysis of sexist oppression but also contribute to the toolbox of viable liberatory strategies. In Chapter 6, we examine women with disabilities, who, like female athletes, generally get ignored or disregarded by mainstream feminist theorists. This is an unfortunate oversight because disabled bodies transgressively challenge the narrow construct of normality, just as female sporting bodies do, albeit in different ways. Thus an inclusion of their experiences in a disabilist culture can only enrich feminist analysis and liberatory strategies. Notes

1. Bordo, Unbearable Weight. 2. Balsamo, “Feminist Bodybuilding,” 350. 3. Cahn, Coming on Strong, 215. 4. Ibid., 216. 5. Ibid., 215. 6. Rhode, Justice and Gender, 14. 7. Cahn, “Crushes, Competition, and Closets,” 331. 8. Ibid., 335. 9. Ibid., 336. 10. Messner, “Sports and Male Domination,” 69. 11. Nelson, The Stronger Women Get, the More Men Love Football. 12. Messner, “Sports and Male Domination,” 70–71. 13. Gissendanner, “African American Women and Competitive Sport, 1920– 1960s,” 88. 14. Ibid., 89. 15. Ibid., 89. 16. Ibid., 87. 17. Ibid., 89. 18. Acosta and Carpenter, Women in Intercollegiate Sport. 19. Ibid., 13. 20. Lamar, “To Be an Equitist or Not.” 21. Cole and Hribar, “Celebrity Feminism.” 22. MacKinnon, Feminism Unmodified, 118. 23. Birrell and Richter, “Is a Diamond Forever?” 231. 24. Whitson, “The Embodiment of Gender.” 25. See Messner and Sabo, Sport, Men, and the Gender Order, and Sport, Violence, and Sports. 26. Blinde, Taub, and Han, “Sport as a Site for Women’s Group and Societal Empowerment,” 52. 27. Ibid., 57.

6 Women with Disabilities: Transgressive Challenges to the Normative Body In this chapter we consider women with disabilities, who, like female athletes, have been marginalized by mainstream feminist theorists; we also examine reasons why this marginalization occurs. We then present some of the analytic frameworks that have been employed to understand disability, which we believe may be helpful in developing feminist analyses and liberatory strategies associated with female disability. The marginalization of particular groups of women is not a recent phenomenon. Elizabeth Spelman is one among many who have taken feminists to task for homogenizing women. According to Spelman, the feminist assertion that women share a common lot is fundamentally flawed because it has been grounded in an examination of predominantly Western white middle-class women, not those of myriad backgrounds and markings. Moreover, when other groups of women were finally considered for inclusion, they became add-ons to the standard white middle-class formula for understanding female nature. In her book Inessential Women: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist Thought, Spelman identifies working-class women, women of color, Jewish women, and lesbians as “inessential” and thus disregarded by feminist analysts. Notably, her inventory of silent voices excludes an important group of women: those with disabilities. Unfortunately, Spelman is not alone in this omission. Although feminist theorists have taken heed of Spelman’s indictment by expanding their inventories of female subjectivities and have done more than any other theoretical group to analyze the social construction and control of the female body in diverse societies, the voices and experiences of women with disabilities have yet to be fully incorporated. The works of Jenny Morris, Barbara Hillyer, Michelle Fine, and Adrienne Asch are among the few exceptions.1 We believe that the social marginalization of disabled women is not simply a shortcoming of feminist theory. The almost total absence of 115


Feminism and the Female Body

images associated with disability in the mass media, with the exception of catastrophic narratives and advertisements selling health aids, tells us something significant about the general response of American culture to bodies that depart radically from youthful “normative” ones. This leaves us to wonder: Is there something about the bodies of women with disabilities that evokes revulsion and fear, thus making the exploration of disability-related issues difficult? In light of the fact that contemporary American culture is obsessed with bodily appearance, particularly that of women, this supposition is entirely possible and may explain why the severely and visibly disabled are often spatially segregated in institutions, which some describe as permanent internment centers. With the exception of cultural anthropologists, social theorists, like their “hard science” counterparts, have tended to view disability as a biomedical, not a social, construct. This viewpoint has fostered another version of biological determinist ideology, similar to that which framed the defense of sexism, racism, and heterosexism. According to this logic, the “natural” traits of women and men determine gender relations; those of African Americans and other people of color determine race relations; and the “natural” sexual symmetry of women and men precludes nonheterosexuality. In the case of disability, biological determinism leads to the belief that “unnatural,” disabled bodies should somehow be fixed, or at least normalized as much as possible; otherwise they are game for able-bodied fear, revulsion, and sometimes hostility. This generation of negative affect is due to the fact that people with disabilities often symbolize vulnerability, dependence, and an inability to control the body, all of which are deeply embedded concerns among able-bodied people. Historical records show that this perspective and negative response to disability have not always existed; in fact, views of disability have shifted many times in Western culture. For example, during the premodern period, disability was believed to be an existential religious phenomenon. By the nineteenth century, the medical model, which relied on the notion of the “normative” body, transformed disability into a medical problem, which could be explained and managed by scientific experts. At first glance, this medical approach seems to be a more humane and rational response to disability. However, it is driven by the underlying assumption that classification and norms are necessary. This assumption allows the medical establishment, which is considered the authority in such matters, to label certain bodies and bodily functions as normal and healthy and departures from such norms as needing reconstruction. Critical theoretical analyses surfaced when disabled activists began to question these medical-scientific analyses. Following this challenge, social theorists began examining disability within the context of disabilism, that is, not simply as a biomedical condition defined in terms of neutral scientific

Women with Disabilities


criteria but as a socially constructed negative category.2 Thus several theoretical frameworks for decoding the social representations and politicaleconomic structures contributing to the oppression of the disabled have emerged, which in turn have advanced the development of liberatory strategies. Gender, race, and sexual orientation have only minimally shaped these frameworks, which reflects the fact that theoretical interest in disability is recent. It is, however, an important beginning. Critical Perspectives on Disability

In this section, we discuss some of the theories that have been used to analyze disability, as well as their associated social change strategies.

Stigma Management

In Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity, Erving Goffman analyzes disability oppression from the sociological perspective of deviance management. According to Goffman, American society is a coherent whole, a self-stabilizing system, with mechanisms for managing perceived dysfunctions and instabilities and the tensions arising from encounters with what is regarded as abnormal. One of these mechanisms involves categorizing persons according to attributes considered “ordinary and natural” for their particular group.3 Persons carrying the signs of abnormality, what Goffman calls “stigma,” are treated differently from others and often shunned. Goffman notes the social relativity of stigma; that is, a person with certain attributes can be stigmatized in one society and considered quite normal in another. Goffman believes that stigmatized individuals in American society— including those with disabilities, the elderly, the mentally ill, homosexuals, ex-convicts, and certain minority groups (e.g., African Americans and Jews)—are a diverse lot. Despite their diversity, these groups share a common fate: They are stigmatized because they are perceived as outsiders and deviants who do not conform to dominant social norms. Goffman claims that stigmatization serves a variety of social functions. For the ex-convict, it is a form of social control, constantly reminding the deviant of the price to be paid for his or her behavior; for the members of certain religious, racial, and ethnic groups, it diminishes their opportunities in various competitive markets (e.g., business and politics); and for those with bodily disfigurements, it narrows romantic and marriage opportunities.4 According to Goffman, stigmatized individuals are not simply marked by the dominant society and then automatically take on a socially assigned identity; rather, the process of developing an identity is far more complex


Feminism and the Female Body

and involves both personal and social components. Although personal identity is influenced by social constructions, it is not always identical to that which is socially allocated by dominant society. Moreover, some individuals try to manage stigma by “passing,” that is, by controlling information about themselves and cultivating facades. There are also what Goffman calls “social deviants,” who do not accept the category they are accorded by society or their segregation. Such individuals often form an aggregate of fellow sufferers, which alleviates the pain of stigmatization. Goffman claims that studying the common experiences of stigmatized individuals, for example, on the basis of race and disability, allows one to identify a society’s commonly held assumptions about human nature. Such knowledge can result not only in a deeper understanding of social control mechanisms but also in universal strategies for combating the negative results of oppression. The problem is that Goffman offers little guidance in terms of how to apply his strategy. Furthermore, by noting that the multiplicity of societal norms disqualifies many persons from absolute normality, he seems to be suggesting that almost everyone can experience stigmatization. Liminality

Robert Murphy, a disabled cultural anthropologist, believes that relying on Goffman’s broad notion of stigma can only lead social scientists to a theoretical dead-end. Lumping together white men who do not quite fit the all-American profile because they are Catholic and not Protestant with exconvicts, people of color, and the disabled diminishes the significant differences in social responses to these groups. Drawing on his own personal experience, Murphy claims that persons with disabilities evoke negative emotions that extend far beyond those associated with race. Indeed, he observed that his acquired disability—paraplegia, which later developed into quadriplegia—became his dominant public persona, demolishing his status as a white male academic and placing him in a lesser social category than that of blacks. He also recounts a story about how his female students were more comfortable in his presence after he became disabled, even to the point of touching him, whereas before they maintained a carefully defined space. Apparently, the perceived threat of his being a man capable of sexual interest and harassment wore off as he became more and more disabled.5 Murphy’s reflections give us reason to pause: Does disability represent some deeper, more frightening reminder of a dimension of human life about which we care not to think, that is, a lack of control over the fate of our minds and bodies? Clearly, control of the body and the self are associated with sexual identity, which, as we have suggested in previous chapters, is a critical dimension of subjectivity for most people. Indeed, the

Women with Disabilities


prospect of losing one’s faculties and sexual appeal may explain the moral fervor that validates bodily disciplines such as bodybuilding and aerobics, which seem to promise to faithful acolytes the rewards of youth, health, and sexual attractiveness. Murphy claims that the concept of “liminality,” a construct used by cultural anthropologists Mary Douglas and Victor Turner, helped him to understand how his physical condition and sexual identity were interpreted by others. Both Douglas and Turner have drawn on the work of sociologist Arnold Van Gennep, who conceptualized society as a “structure of positions.” Van Gennep maintained that periods of margin or “liminality” are interstructural situations that become “rites of passage” or transitions to other positions. This process is marked by three phases: separation, margin, and aggregation. The separation and aggregation phases include clearly defined social structures and statuses; the liminal (transitional) phase is structurally invisible and indefinable.6 Although liminal persons are without status and considered temporarily dead, liminality, which Turner characterizes as “betwixt and between,” is a condition of ambiguity and paradox.7 Thus, although a body has been identified as not fitting into a “normal” category, it is also regarded as being on the brink of a “new birth.” Like Turner, Mary Douglas uses Van Gennep’s ideas about liminality to ground her work; however, she concentrates more extensively on its dangerous and impure dimensions. Van Gennep saw society as a house with rooms and corridors in which passage from one room to another is required yet dangerous. Danger lies in the passage or liminal phase because it has no apparent structure. The liminal person is therefore without classification and must negotiate a series of obstacles to enter the appropriate room: The person who must pass from one to another is himself in danger and emanates danger to others. The danger is controlled by ritual which precisely separates him from his old status, segregates him for a time and then publicly declares his entry to his new status.8

Douglas, like Goffman, believes that societies are coherent social systems; departures from the categories by which human beings delineate coherency are thus disturbing and associated with dirt and disorder. Purification rituals, which create a unity of experience and integrate anomalous events or physical appearances into existing classification categories, remove such dissonance. Until such rituals are performed, however, the impure, who are regarded as marginal beings because they do not fit into normal categories of classification, are perceived as dangerous and representative of what is wrong with life.


Feminism and the Female Body

Douglas claims that cultures have various ways of dealing with anomalous events. For example, the Nuer, a traditional African tribe, reduce the ambiguity between normal and aberrant babies by treating “monstrous births as baby hippopotamuses, accidentally born to humans; and with this labeling, the appropriate action is clear. They gently lay them in the river where they belong.”9 Another method for dealing with persons who do not fit into existing categories is to avoid and isolate them. Although Douglas derived her observations from studying non-Western cultures, similar strategies can be found today in the United States. For example, if a fetus is medically diagnosed as having a serious physical disability, which is the contemporary version of a “monstrous” birth, termination of the pregnancy is ritually validated by the medical and legal systems. Moreover, many disabled persons regularly experience avoidance and isolation in American culture, treatment that spatially confirms that they lack a valued social status. If we accept Douglas’s framework, purification rituals designed to reintegrate the disabled could positively contribute to the functioning and cohesion of American society, for both the able-bodied and the disabled. For the able-bodied, the rituals would integrate what seems ambiguous or discontinuous into a coherent unified pattern; for those who were born with or who have acquired disabilities, they would serve as a rite of passage into mainstream society. Jenny Morris, a disabled feminist and freelance writer and researcher, describes the liminal experience of disability. Her disability occurred during her mature years. An accidental fall resulting in paraplegia detached her from her identity. She became declassified. Like the initiates in a traditional non-Western society, she was set apart, treated differently, and viewed as contaminated. Unlike these initiates, who are eventually assigned a new, more elevated status and reintegrated into society, individuals with chronic disabilities such as Morris are likely to remain in limbo. Indeed, according to Murphy, they are neither sick, nor well, neither dead nor fully alive, neither out of society nor wholly in it. . . . They are human beings but their bodies are warped or malfunctioning, leaving their full humanity in doubt. . . . They are neither fish nor fowl; they exist in partial isolation from society as undefined, ambiguous people.10

Murphy seems to be suggesting that disability, as “liminal limbo,” is a secular version of purgatory. Perhaps therein lies the explanation for our cultural aversion to disability. Those with disabilities are in a virtual no-man’sland. American society has rites of passage related to birth, educational achievement, and marriage, which culturally mark a transition to a new positive status, but the disabled are without any guarantee that they will be

Women with Disabilities


assigned a valued position. Their only hope is to normalize themselves by fitting into already existing roles (e.g., a paraplegic who becomes a gold medalist in the Paralympics).

Discourse Analysis

In this section, we examine the work of Henri-Jacques Stiker, a French sociologist who examines the historical juxtaposition of categories, institutions, and values in constructing disability. Following the methodology of Foucault, Stiker focuses on the Western discourse of bodily impairments, using biological, social, religious, and medical texts to characterize the cultural construction of disability during entire periods of European history. He also examines the varying responses that physical differences have evoked during these time periods. During the medieval period, physical impairments, referred to by Stiker as “infirmities,” were viewed as forms of suffering that were an inevitable part of life. They were also perceived, along with poverty, as part of God’s plan for life on earth. The response to infirmity was prayer, an acceptance of religious explanation, and charity. Those with disabilities were cared for by their families or by charitable patrons, without any social function or identity as a distinct group.11 During the eighteenth-century Enlightenment period, attention was placed on education and re-education. Stiker has noted the pioneering work of Abbé de l’Épée (1712–1789) and Valentin Haüy (1745–1822), who developed sign language for deaf-mutes and initiated education for the blind, respectively, and the contributions of Louis Braille, who invented a system of writing and printing for the blind. Because of these early efforts, by the end of the nineteenth century there were educational institutions for those with visual and hearing impairments and orthopedic institutions for correcting bodily infirmities. At that time, those who had motor or intellectual impairments were sent to institutions only if their families were unable to care for them, which was rarely the case. By the nineteenth century, the discourse on disability had changed to a medical one, with classification rather than explanation as the purpose. This perspective was followed in the twentieth century by a rehabilitative approach to disabilities, which was propelled by the large number of men who suffered bodily impairments during World War I. Prostheses were developed, and with them the notion of replacement and substitution materialized. Because notions of normalcy and rehabilitation deeply intersected earlier Western notions of equality and equal opportunity, it was felt that physical differences should be mitigated as much as possible so that each person could have an equal chance to succeed in life. Stiker sees in this


Feminism and the Female Body

period the beginning of the denial of difference that he finds characteristic of our time: Whereas earlier epochs situated the infirm as exceptional in some way, the modern intention (or pretention) is that they are ordinary and should be integrated into ordinary life and work. Infirmities do not raise metaphysical problems so much as technical ones to be taken in hand and administered by social workers, vocational trainers, and medical and legal specialists. The assumption is that we master all the outcomes; every condition can be treated and adjusted, though not all can be cured.12

Although discourse analysis has many strengths, among which is its contribution to understanding entire historical periods in terms of ideology and social practices, its deterministic tendencies diminish the importance of individual subjectivity and agency in interpreting cultural messages. Thus, in the case of disability, the responses of the disabled to various social definitions of impairment and the role these individuals play in shaping such definitions are nowhere to be found. Moreover, Stiker’s version of discourse analysis, following the Foucaultian pathway, does not account for gender differences. Female disability is merely subsumed within the general category of the disabled, which is constructed from texts, practices, and institutions associated with males. Experiential Accounts of Disability

In contrast to discourse analysis, the experiential approach directs the researcher to the lived experiences of persons with disabilities as well as their associated meanings. Sometimes these subjective accounts contradict what is gleaned from discourse analysis. For example, Stiker claims that earlier constructions of infirmity have been erased from today’s social practices. Although the disabled may still experience the vestiges of the medieval Christian notion of charity, he believes that older disability perspectives associated with evil and impurity, all of which were linked to a cosmological view of the universe, are no longer existent. Therefore the disabled should no longer encounter responses from able-bodied persons indicating that they are impure and dangerous, at least not in contemporary Western societies. Jenny Morris’s personal experience of disability, as well as those of many other disabled women whom she has interviewed, seem to contradict Stiker’s conclusions; that is, medical-rehabilitative norms have not completely eradicated older constructions of disability. This is evidenced in the following statements made by two different disabled women quoted by Morris: It is the knowledge that each entry into the public world will be dominated by stares, by condescension, by pity and by hostility.

Women with Disabilities

I was a freak, an outsider, an “other” and the world made it very clear that I owed them an explanation.13


It is clear from these remarks that persons with disabilities are still viewed as contaminated, dangerous, impure, and disturbing, at least by some people. The life experiences of Morris and Murphy further demonstrate the persistence of disability perceptions from earlier times. In light of accounts such as these, Stiker’s discourse analysis seems to provide only a partial understanding of disability in contemporary Western societies. Although anecdotal accounts add an important dimension to understanding disability, they are also not without their limitations. Most obvious is the fact that life stories, in this case recounted by those with disabilities, may become individualistic versions of impairment. Moreover, when subjective accounts are read or heard, there is a tendency among the able-bodied to look for human emotional universals as a way to enter the world of the disabled. Although this can be a very powerful experience for nondisabled persons, the diversity of embodiment experiences among those with disabilities, which are shaped by particular cultural texts and institutions and variables such as sex, race, class, and sexual orientation, tend to lose their significance. Experiences Within the Context of Discourses

We believe that an approach that integrates discourse and experiential analysis in analyzing disability helps eliminate the problems that occur when using either approach alone. An excellent example is Geyla Frank’s “On Embodiment: A Case Study of Congenital Limb Deficiency in American Culture.”14 This study is a complex phenomenological and social construction account of the embodiment experiences of a thirty-five-year-old American woman, Diane DeVries, who was born with quadrilateral limb deficiencies. Frank gathered information on Diane over a ten-year period through personal interaction, interviews, and observation. Using life history methodology, she describes Diane’s adaptation over time to disabling conditions as well as the context and meaning of such conditions. This case study, which presents Diane functioning within the context of her home and educational and rehabilitative institutions, ultimately raises questions about the deterministic impact of social practices; that is, although Diane accepts some of the values of American culture, it is clear that she rejects or alters others. Diane’s acceptance of societal strictures is suggested by the fact that she subscribes to various standards of feminine beauty. For example, she describes her acquired mode of dress and bodily comportment as “looking together” because she believes they produce a look opposite that of the stereotypical “cripple.” Diane also believes that she looks best in a body shirt and shorts, saying, “You’ve got to show off


Feminism and the Female Body

what’s best. My best thing is my boobs, you know, ’cause that’s big and they look nice. That’s all I got that looks real good.”15 Additional evidence that Diane has internalized society’s bodily norms (e.g., the rehabilitation emphasis on independence, self-sufficiency, and physical appearance) is found in the fact that she enthusiastically accepted artificial legs because she thought they might enable her to walk. When the Child Amputee Prosthetics Project (CAPP) personnel wanted her to abandon her lower prostheses because they were too difficult to manage, Diane succeeded in persuading the unit to make cosmetic legs for her. She realized that she would never walk but felt that her appearance would be improved by them. These examples demonstrate that Diane has endorsed societal norms to some extent, but it is apparent that she resists and modifies others. For example, after a self-image change in her late teens, Diane abandoned her cosmetic legs because she no longer felt they significantly enhanced her overall appearance. She also rejected prosthetic arms because no matter how effectively she learned to use them, they did not offer her the same possibility of normalcy, as the legs had earlier. Although Diane’s rejection of arms conflicted with clinical ideals for normalizing her life and made members of her clinical team feel uncomfortable because they could see her naked stumps, she felt that, comparatively speaking, she looked better than some amputees who have, what she called, “little fingers hanging off.”16 Thus Diane has not simply incorporated the disability normalizing discourses of the rehabilitative personnel, nor has she subjectively developed a set of responses to her limb deficiencies absent external influence. Her bodily interactions with the external world confirm what she can and cannot do. Moreover, Diane’s external world is shaped not just by physical obstacles but also by a set of structures and ideology constructed in terms of disabilism. It is interesting to note, however, that despite her continued involvement and interaction with rehabilitative institutions and the ablebodied world, which define her primarily in terms of her disabilities, Diane has persistently reconfigured these images. She has also managed to retain the image of her body as natural and fundamentally normal. Frank’s life history interrelates the social discourse of disability, particularly the norms and practices of institutionalized rehabilitation, with Diane’s personal experience of these norms and structures. In so doing, her work indicates the extent to which Diane as an individual ignores, adapts, or resists these cultural messages and social practices. We believe that this phenomenological and social construction framework enables the researcher to explicate more fully the embodiment of female disability and other female subjectivities than does either discourse analysis or anecdotal accounts alone.

Women with Disabilities

Feminist Theory and Disability


Barbara Hillyer, who has written about her experiences as a feminist raising a disabled daughter, has observed that feminism’s ideal woman is physically fit and mechanically competent, making it difficult for women with disabilities to define themselves within such an ideal.17 Moreover, the “super-crip” role, which appeals to feminists who are trying to change the victim image of women, requires self-confidence and assertiveness. Unfortunately, becoming a super-crip is easier from a position of economic security, a status that does not characterize most women with disabilities. The super-crip role, which is rooted in liberal capitalist ideology, also emphasizes individual competitiveness and responsibility. This emphasis places an enormous burden on the disabled, as well as on their caretakers, who most often are women. According to Hillyer, emphasizing communal responsibility and cooperation, particularly in terms of care and costs for the disabled, would lessen the burden. It could also have a significant impact on the social construction of disability. Today the prospect of raising a disabled child or caring for a disabled adult, which is assumed to be women’s work, is emotionally and monetarily overwhelming. Moreover, if the disabled child is a girl, the gender impact of disability is likely to make caretaking a lifelong project: The high value placed on women’s appearance and fitness results in fewer disabled women marrying than disabled men; and if disabled women do marry, they are more likely to marry a disabled spouse, which can add to the burden of their caretakers. Advocates for the rights of those with disabilities argue that if the burdens of care were socially shared, rather than considered an individual responsibility, the lives of those with disabilities would less often be viewed as burdensome and worthless. It is precisely such issues that divide feminists with disabilities from those who are able-bodied. Disabled feminist activists claim that coalition building will occur only when able-bodied feminists begin listening and responding to their concerns through political action. Although this has not yet come to fruition, policy proposals for government-funded collective care arrangements have brought together disabled and elder activists. Given the likelihood that most feminists will become caregivers at some point during their lives, it seems plausible that care arrangements could also become the basis for building bridges to other feminist factions. Abortion seems to be a much more complicated, divisive issue. For able-bodied feminists, abortion on demand—for example, in the case of rape and in pregnancies when prenatal screening finds a “handicapped” fetus—is a cornerstone of women’s rights. For most nondisabled women, the knowledge that a fetus has a physical or mental disability will turn a wanted pregnancy into an unwanted one. In contrast, the notion of the


Feminism and the Female Body

“damaged” fetus for feminists with disabilities underscores the general devaluation of their lives. Morris claims that the response to parenthood is often shaped by the medical profession, which essentially views a disabled fetus as an endless financial and emotional tragedy. This is bolstered by parents’ prejudice about disability, as well as the knowledge that they will be totally responsible for raising this child. For persons with disabilities, this perspective echos Darwinistic and Spencerian “survival of the fittest” ideology, which promulgated sterilization programs for institutionalized “defectives” (e.g., the Nazi Euthanasia Program that, in its official phase, murdered over 200,000 people, including more than 70,000 adults and 5,000 children who were physically and mentally disabled). According to Hillyer and Morris, most able-bodied feminists have made little effort to confront the personal prejudice that forms the basis for their belief that it is morally justifiable to abort a disabled fetus: Because of feminism’s failure to incorporate the interests of disabled people, disability activists have been faced with the unenviable choice of either being aligned with the anti-abortionist organizations . . . or supporting a women’s right to choose but feeling extremely uncomfortable that such an alignment with non-disabled feminists has meant supporting a women’s right to abortion merely on the grounds of disability.18

This dilemma makes coalition building between proabortion and disabled feminists difficult. Moreover, it is likely that medical advances in prenatal screening, gene research, and reproductive technologies will magnify even further the differences between the two groups. Constructing and Deconstructing Disabilism

Liberal capitalist ideology explains and purports to solve complex societal problems through individualized approaches. In the case of disability, this logic claims that an individual woman is not disabled by society’s negative reactions or cultural messages associated with disability or by an absence of social and economic resources; rather, it is her personal lack of character and determination to succeed. Control is a very significant dimension of this individual success model. The more control a woman has over her life and body, as well as over other people and institutions, the more valuable and successful she is considered. In a society that prizes autonomy and physical fitness as visible signs of moral goodness, dependence and lack of control, both of which are associated with disability, are viewed with disdain. Disability is viewed less negatively only when a disabled person succeeds despite the

Women with Disabilities


odds. This individualized cultural story incorporates disability into a social myth that is applied to all Americans: We all are basically the same; we all are basically equal; and if you work hard enough, you can make it. This is a message that makes the notion of disability less fearful for able-bodied people. Since success is measured by able-bodied standards (i.e., money, power, control, and status), it also legitimizes the dominant standards of normality and thus disabilism. Equality is another significant component of the liberal capitalist paradigm. By the time the term disability gained currency in American society, it clearly reflected the notion of equality as similarity. Disability is defined to mean deprivation or loss of a needed competency or qualification; therefore the response to disability is rehabilitation or restoration to a former condition or, in the case of congenital disability, to “normal” states of being. Ultimately, rehabilitation involves restoring the ability to participate equally, which is based on the idea of equality as innate similarity.

Disability Tropes

The dominant discourse on disability permits only single heroic stories of triumph over personal tragedy. These narratives, as portrayed in the popular media, most often involve an individual man. It is the disabled man’s dependency and lack of autonomy that sets him apart from the Western ideal of masculinity and from which the tragic quality of his story is derived. An example is the media portrayal of Christopher Reeve, whose quadriplegia resulting from an equestrian accident and subsequent recovery therapy are consistently recounted in terms of his movie role as Superman. Similarly, the films My Left Foot and Born on the Fourth of July derive their dramatic meaning from the patriarchal construction of masculinity that emphasizes autonomy, strength, and invulnerability. The tragic theme in both of these films is that a man is emotionally and physically dependent and thus impotent. The heroic part is that both the men in these films and Christopher Reeve successfully battle to reassert their autonomy and manhood and are unwilling to succumb to a fate of physical passivity. The fact that they are able to overcome myriad obstacles restores able-bodied faith in capitalist ideology: If one works hard enough, one can be successful. Moreover, because sexual potency is linked to heterosexual masculinity, Reeve’s assertion about his ability to father additional children reassures the public that he is a “real man,” despite his quadriplegia. The counterpart of the disabled film hero is the blind heroine played by Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark. This movie typifies the stalker, slasher, rapist genre of films with an added titillating ingredient: a blind female victim. There are no complex tragic overtones in this film, however, because passivity, dependency, and vulnerability, which are closely


Feminism and the Female Body

associated with disability, are also included in the definitional category of “woman.” Although the heroine cleverly turns her blindness to her advantage and escapes physical violence, she is not a tragic heroine in the mode of Tom Cruise’s Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July. Furthermore, Hepburn, like the few disabled women who have been the subjects of inspirational narratives (e.g., Helen Keller), portrays a super-crip, that is, a disabled person who achieves feats that are remarkable even for able-bodied persons. Although disabled men in film and the media are also expected to be super-crips, there seem to be two types of roles for disabled women: the helpless, pitiable dependent who either passively accepts her condition or blames everyone else for her problems and the inspirational superachiever who rejects sympathy and charity. The fact that a helpless, dependent, passive woman is not considered an abomination undoubtedly contributes to the limited portrayal of the disabled woman. Morris notes that the cultural representations of women and men emotionally experiencing disability say more about what disability means to able-bodied people than about the real feelings and concerns of those with disabilities. She suggests that resigned complacency is easier than anger for able-bodied persons to accept because it does not challenge them to confront the pain and despair experienced by those with disabilities. It also disguises the underlying oppressive social construction of disability. When anger among those with disability does emerge, Morris claims, nondisabled persons tend to interpret it as bitterness resulting from personal emotional inadequacies in dealing with a deformed body. This interpretation is more compatible with able-bodied views of disability; that is, disability is an unfortunate objective physical condition unrelated to social perceptions of disability: Anger felt by women because of our disabilities is rarely accepted in women’s communities, or anywhere else for that matter. Disabled or not, most of us grew up with media images depicting pathetic little “cripple” children on various telethons or blind beggars with caps in hand (“handicap”) or “brave” war heroes limping back to a home where they are promptly forgotten. Such individuals’ anger was never seen, and still rarely is. Instead of acknowledging the basic humanity of our often-powerful emotions, able-bodied persons tend to view us either as helpless things to be pitied or as Super-Crips, gallantly fighting to overcome insurmountable odds. Such attitudes display a bizarre two-tiered mindset: it is horrible beyond imagination to be disabled, but disabled people with guts can, if they only try hard enough, make themselves almost “normal.” The absurdity of such all-or-nothing images is obvious. So, too, is the damage these images do to disabled people by robbing us of our sense of reality.19

Women with Disabilities


Morris claims that the anger that exists among persons with disabilities is rarely the result of psychological deficiency; rather, it is a sane response to the oppression they experience by living in a disabilist culture. Some Final Thoughts on Disability

Taking account of Spelman’s critique presented at the beginning of the chapter, we believe that the experience of disability should be fully integrated into, not just added on to, existing feminist theory. Such an integration begins by recognizing the significance of disability in constructing female subjectivities in Western societies. This enriched understanding of the oppression of nonnormative female bodies must take into account the interlocking nature of variables such as race, class, and sexual orientation. In this chapter, we have examined the social construction of disabled female bodies. We believe that such an analysis contributes to our comprehension of bodily norms and challenges to these norms by transgressive bodies. Although Western societies have rituals relating to what are believed to be important stages of life (e.g., birth, adulthood, marriage, and death), there are no meaningful symbolic representations, or practices of social incorporation, linked to the mind-body changes associated with disability. Indeed, Murphy, who in midlife became paraplegic and ultimately quadriplegic, characterizes himself as a “changeling.” After establishing a career as a well-known anthropologist, he found himself assigned to the category of the disabled as his disease progressed. He claimed that his status as disabled became a more significant identifier than his age, occupation, ethnicity, and even gender. As a disabled person, he experienced loss of status, avoidance, fear, and hostility. His departure from normalcy, he suggests, contributed to the aversion he experienced. Murphy also feels that gender expectations are more intense for men; hence, disabled men experience a greater sense of failure. He claims that the “normal” American male body is supposed to have a shape that conveys masculinity, strength, activeness, speed, virility, stamina, and fortitude. This shape, he notes, is achieved by diet and exercise and driven by a zealous moral fervor that worships youth, virility, and physical activity. Murphy’s paralyzed, inactive body radically contravenes this American male ideal. Hillyer and Morris claim that gender expectations fall equally hard on women with disabilities. Contemporary women are expected to “normalize” themselves in terms of physical fitness, physical beauty, and sexual attractiveness, as well as educational and professional accomplishments.


Feminism and the Female Body

Therefore it seems likely that both men and women with disabilities experience and judge themselves and are judged by others in terms of the dominant able-bodied social norms. There is no question that those who depart from society’s rigid notions of physical beauty subvert an American ideal. This is true regardless of gender. We believe that this departure more negatively impacts women’s chances for success in life because women’s value is more often determined by their physical beauty than is men’s. Indeed, a male version of the feminine body beauty discourse has yet to become the dominant normative matrix in men’s lives as it has in women’s. Although professional accomplishment clearly has become more significant in the construction of female identity, it is still a more heavily weighted component of male identity. Despite these gender differences, persons with severe disabilities, regardless of gender, betray the American dream, and in so doing they present a fearsome possibility. They become the frightening other—a living symbol of frailty, failure, and desexualization. As an embodied counter to normalcy, their humanity is questioned; accompanying this dehumanization is the aura of contamination, which hovers over the antiseptic practices of rehabilitation. The social construction of disability has certainly had a profoundly negative effect on the lives of Jenny Morris and Robert Murphy. However, their educational and professional achievements have enabled them to reconstruct their personal and professional lives in remarkable ways. Murphy’s life seems to epitomize the notion of super-crip, in this case a disabled person bent on becoming a high achiever based on able-bodied norms. Perhaps his need to achieve confirms our earlier statement about the emphasis on public achievement in the social construction of male identity. The life story of Diane DeVries, who was born with physical impairments, presents an alternative interpretation of the effect of able-bodied social norms on those with disabilities. Diane’s embodiment of quadrilateral limb deficiencies indicates the possibility of an individual reinterpreting and resisting harsh societal norms. Despite her significant physical impairments, which repulse many able-bodied people whom she encounters, including rehabilitation personnel, Diane has been able to build a positive body image. Perhaps this achievement has something to do with the fact that her disability is congenital, whereas Morris’s and Murphy’s were acquired later in life. The experiences of Morris, Murphy, and DeVries confirm the significance of physical abilities and disabilities in Western notions of personhood. They also remind us that individuals are not simply produced by social discourses of disability. In fact, they adopt, evaluate, reshape, and even resist these disability texts and institutions.

Women with Disabilities


In Chapter 5, we examined the issues associated with women in sport and the reasons that mainstream feminists have omitted sporting bodies from their analyses. We argued that female bodies have been marginalized because sport, particularly contact sport, raises the prospect of physically large and powerful female bodies. The fact that physically powerful bodies connoting invulnerability are perceived to be a problem, however, does not explain why the bodies of disabled women, which in some cases are considered far more vulnerable than the “normative” body, are excluded from mainstream feminist theory. No doubt, this omission is deeply connected to the fear of aging, increasing loss of mind-body control, and ultimately death. The problem is that the absence of disabled bodies from feminist theory reifies restrictive body beauty norms, just as the omission of female sporting bodies does. Whereas the absence of sporting women tells women that they should not become too large and powerful, the absence of women with disabilities leaves the impression that the only female bodies worth fantasizing about or pursuing are those with no physical flaws. Disabled bodies are also constructed as asexual. Although the notion of fluid sexuality, which includes the possibility of asexuality, is likely to be intriguing to a postmodern feminist bent on deconstructing sexual identity, the idea of not being sexually attractive to anyone or having no sexual options whatsoever is likely to be disconcerting. Our exploration of disability in this chapter and its absence in feminist theorizing certainly raises this possibility, We suggest that the bodies of women with disabilities may provide even more radically transgressive challenges to the patriarchal construction of the female body than those of sporting women. Persons with disabilities expose the fragility of life and bodily ideals. Although the ablebodied woman can postpone the task of identifying with her imperfect body, at least until chronic illness or accident occurs or advanced aging sets in, the disabled woman does not have this luxury.20 Indeed, women with diminished physical capacity and stamina cannot demand that their bodies fit the bodily and health ideals of our culture. They are therefore likely to have a greater capacity than are able-bodied individuals to understand the meaning of bodily integrity and the creative possibilities associated with bodily difference and change. They also are more likely to understand how one can adapt to and manage a differently abled body—a body that does not fit cultural ideals—and still experience joy and life satisfaction.21 Despite the benefits inherent in incorporating this knowledge and insight into mainstream feminist thought, such incorporation has yet to become a reality. There is a need for feminist theories of disability not only because of the intersection between disability and gender but also because


Feminism and the Female Body

disability oppression is deeply associated with a cultural oppression of the body in Western societies. Consequently, the inclusion of the experiences of women with disabilities, as well as a critical analysis of the social structures and ideology that help shape their experiences, would both broaden feminist theory by including another group of female subjectivities and deepen our understanding of women’s mind-body oppression. In Chapter 7, we tie together the major themes of this book. This is accomplished via our examination of the production of identities, the persistence of dualism in feminist liberatory theory, the exclusion of potentially transgressive bodies, and the influence of postmodernism in undermining collective feminist activism. Notes

1. Morris, Pride Against Prejudice; Feminism and Disability; and Fine and Asch, Women with Disabilities. 2. Ingstad and Whyte, Disability and Culture. 3. Goffman, Stigma, 2. 4. Ibid., 139. 5. Murphy, “Encounters.” 6. Van Gennep, The Rites of Passage. 7. Turner, The Forest of Symbols. 8. Douglas, Purity and Danger, 96. 9. Ibid., 39. 10. Murphy, The Body Silent, 131. 11. Whyte, “Disability Between Discourse and Experience,” 269. 12. Ibid., 270. 13. Morris, Pride Against Prejudice, 25, 28. 14. Frank, “On Embodiment.” 15. Ibid., 211. 16. Ibid., 210. 17. Hillyer, Feminism and Disability. 18. Morris, Pride Against Prejudice, 66–67. 19. Ibid., 100. 20. Persons with disabilities call able-bodied people TABs, an acronym for temporarily able-bodied. The acronym reflects the fact that the able-bodied condition is a transitory one and that if we live long enough, we all develop a disability or disabilities of one type or another. 21. These notions about the benefits of disability were derived from Wendell “Toward a Feminist Theory of Disability.”

7 Identity Politics and Coalition Building The persistence of mind-body dualism in feminist theory is a theme we have emphasized in the previous chapters. We have argued that mainstream feminist theorists, despite their preoccupation with liberating the female body from patriarchal control, have relied on strategies involving mental (consciousness) change. Diminishing the importance of the body in transforming notions of the self is not typical of feminists alone. In fact, throughout history, all types of philosophers and theoreticians, male and female, have believed the body to be inferior to the mind. So why blame feminists? Because they claim to know better. This historical insistence on marginalizing the body suggests an irrational fear of the body. On some level, human beings fear the body, perhaps because it seems less controllable than the mind and is more governed by instincts, which allows easier comparison with life forms deemed inferior. Indeed, Elizabeth Spelman has noted that oppressive stereotypes of “inferior races” and of women . . . have typically involved images of their lives as determined by basic bodily functions (sex, reproduction, appetite, secretions, and excretions), and as given over to attending the bodily functions of others (feeding, washing, cleaning, doing the “dirty work”).1

Although feminists have not been the only group to challenge dualism, they have been the primary ones to note its negative effects on women: Dualistic thinking links men with the so-called superior rational mind and women with the inferior uncontrollable and instinctual body. As a result, feminists have called for alternative philosophical constructions and the elimination of dualism from feminist theory and praxis. This has not yet become a reality because, for many feminists, the mind is still considered the pathway to enlightenment. Indeed, we have provided many examples that demonstrate their perceptual biasing of “mind over matter.” In contrast, our work has been devoted to developing a feminist framework that 133


Feminism and the Female Body

integrates the body and the mind by combining genderized versions of Foucaultian discourse analysis and Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology. Along with many other feminist theorists, we agree that the Foucaultian perspective helps us understand feminine discourses and disciplines that “normalize” the female body in contemporary Western societies. From a Foucaultian standpoint, however, the self is socially constructed, and the role of the individual as an evaluative subjectivity is diminished; that is, the socially constructed female identity is not rooted in an ongoing self who accepts, alters, or resists social norms based on a set of values external to power and knowledge discourses. Moreover, values are viewed as personal relativistic choices, which makes a feminist agenda involving collective action problematic. According to Foucault, relationships with others are defined and expressed in terms of the power dynamics (i.e., domination and submission) that are part of dominant social discourses and practices. Amidst these power-laden oppressive norms, feminist liberatory strategies associated with Foucaultian analysis require individuals to make self-imposed changes in mental attitudes. As we have argued throughout the book, such strategies perpetuate dualism. The phenomenological theory of Merleau-Ponty offers a way of overcoming this problem. Instead of viewing the body as an appendage and obstacle to the mind, Merleau-Ponty depicts it as a basic experiential agent that introduces order and meaning into our interactions with other subjects and objects. He believes not only that there are interrelationships among the body, self, and world but also, more radically, that these elements are inseparable. Following this logic, the quality of our movement and bodily experience in the world shapes and therefore determines our human experience. Furthermore, this body-self has a coherent sense of identity that makes responsible decisions, which are based on values related to justice and equality and are developed through group consensus. Our empirical research with female bodybuilders and martial artists, discussed in Chapters 3 and 4, was the basis for deciding to expand our analysis beyond Foucaultian parameters. The efforts of these women to contest the oppressive dimensions of patriarchal practices and norms did not fit well into Foucault’s notion of “resistance as freedom” as an individual and mental act. In fact, their resistance involved both mental and physical changes. The martial artists, for example, not only were engaged in consciousness-raising sessions on violence against women but also were developing self-defense and other physical skills. These intimately related mind-body activities resulted in an alteration of attitude and analysis, as well as bodily comportment, abilities, and body-self image. They also included a significant social dimension; that is, these women were involved in a group process in which they mutually validated newly emerging

Identity Politics


empowered feelings about themselves and other women. Even among our bodybuilding sample, resistance as freedom was not an individual act; rather, it involved a supportive relationship with at least one other female bodybuilder who was also contesting patriarchal strictures in an attempt to re-create herself in her own image. Had we relied solely on Foucaultian notions of individual resistance, it would have been necessary to diminish the importance of these group processes in fostering self-change or ignore them altogether. Melding genderized versions of Foucault and Merleau-Ponty’s ideas provided an analytical framework that enabled us to examine real problems, perceived by diversely identified women, from a mind-body perspective. It also directed us to mind-body liberatory strategies, which was an important step. Oppressive norms, as Foucault demonstrated in his genealogy of various bodily disciplines, are embodied; they are forms of body writing. Why, then, would resistance strategies be limited to consciousness changes? The findings of our empirical work confirmed the importance of transforming both mental scripts of repression and oppressive bodily practices. They also led us to question the mental pathway of Foucault’s liberatory strategy. Our integrated discourse and phenomenological framework does not aim to be comprehensive or to give a universal account of female embodiment; rather, it is a pragmatic effort tied to specific practical problems that particular women identify and experience. As Iris Young has noted, practical theory is not any less complicated or complex than totalizing theory. It does, however, have a pragmatic focus: It is directed toward solving particular problems.2 Indeed, the female embodiment problems about which we have theorized in previous chapters relate to the physical vulnerability experienced by multitudes of women in the contemporary United States. Our pragmatic efforts led us to conjecture about feminist liberatory symbols, that is, mind-body images with which women can identify and be inspired to adopt empowering social change strategies. The Search for Feminist Liberatory Symbols

Evidence of mind-body dualism in contemporary feminism can be found not only in feminists’ liberatory strategies but also in the symbols they select to represent female liberation. As usual, the vast majority reflect mental changes; for example, Gloria Anzaldua’s border woman with a new mestiza consciousness; Patricia Hill Collins’s Afrocentric feminist who theoretically interprets black women’s reality; Judith Butler’s performative cross-dresser who deconstructs the heterosexual term woman so that it becomes a permanently open word; and Drucilla Cornell’s psychoanalyst


Feminism and the Female Body

who uncovers the unconscious fantasies of “woman” that contribute to the material oppression of women. Although all of these symbols portray the possibility of liberation for women with complex racial, class, and sexual identities, they also are evidence of the ongoing dualism in feminist thought. Donna Haraway’s “cyborg,” which is a representation of both imagination and material reality, seems to offer a more promising liberatory symbol. She notes that science fiction, particularly science fiction written by women, presents a variety of cyborgs (part machine, part human) that are conceived with a power and energy unrelated to the discourse of male and female sexual identity. The machine/human image of the cyborg conjures up notions of physical and mental empowerment. Thus it seems that the cyborg is a symbol that can transcend both the mental emphasis in feminist theory and the heterosexual power and knowledge discourse. These cyborgs do not reside in the real world, however. Sandra Bullock’s role in the film The Net, is a more realistic and contemporary version of a Haraway cyborg. Computer technology provides the machine component of Bullock’s human character. When she is on-line, her computer abilities empower her mentally because then she is living in the world of computer cyborgs who recognize her extraordinary intellectual abilities. In the outside world, detached from her computer, Bullock moves in the world of male-female power relations in which her sense of empowerment diminishes. Indeed, she is as physically vulnerable as any other woman. This is different from the world of feminist science fiction, where amidst a flurry of discourses, those associated with sexuality are no longer dominant and thus cyborgs reign supreme. In the sphere of real space and time, Bullock’s approximation of a cyborg character can only remove herself from the feminine and masculine identity discourse of the postmodern twentieth century if she spends all of her time on line. As it turns out, language and communication, whether it is conventional language or computer language, is the preeminent technology of cyborgs. According to Haraway: “Cyborg politics is the struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communication, against the one code that translates all meaning perfectly, the central dogma of phallocentrism.” 3 Haraway, like other postmodernists, believes that patriarchal language and constructs oppress women; thus their liberation rests on a feminist reconstruction of consciousness. We partially agree with the premise underlying these beliefs: that redesigning language, text, and communication are important components of woman’s liberation. Because mental or languagedriven components of female oppression are always bodily related, however, we seriously doubt whether liberation can be achieved on this level alone.

Identity Politics


The relationship between the body and notions of social order were observed by anthropologist Mary Douglas. She claimed that bodies conforming to categories of “normality” are regarded as “pure” and “good.” In contrast, those that transgress such categories are viewed as threatening to the political and social order and thus require normalization. The process of normalization mandates the acceptance of standards about what constitutes a gender-appropriate body in terms of shape and size and the development of practices that produce such a body. The “normal” feminine body in contemporary Western societies is one that conveys vulnerability, accommodation, and seductiveness whether it be through gesture, movement, or occupation of space. Uncovering the unconscious fantasy images of this femininity construction, which is what Drucilla Cornell has proposed, does not change the bodily comportment accompanying them; neither does cross-dressing or other Butlerean performative acts. This is why we believe that a liberatory symbol and strategy attending to embodied oppression are critical. The Amazon: A Contemporary Version of Mind-Body Empowerment

In keeping with our intention to engage in practical theorizing about real problems as contemporary women perceive them, we sought a symbol that reflects discourses still relevant in the lives of women and represents their mind-body potentialities. The Amazon, who is part of the pantheon of monstrous hybrids regarded as impure and dangerous, is our symbol of mind-body empowerment. Haraway, who prefers the symbol of the cyborg, has suggested that the Amazon is limited by her ties to the sexual identity discourse of an earlier historical era, despite the fact that she represented a serious challenge to it at a particular time. Haraway observes that the cyborgs in feminist science fiction, in contrast, are not constructed in terms of feminine or masculine identities and are not bound by previous time frames. Thus, for Haraway, feminist science fiction provides an imaginative restructuring of our contemporary myths and symbols: Monsters have always defined the limits of community in Western imaginations. The centaurs and Amazons of ancient Greece established the limits of the centered polis of the Greek male human by their disruption of marriage and boundary pollutions of the warrior with animality and woman. Unseparated twins and hermaphrodites were the confused human material in early modern France who grounded discourse on the natural and the supernatural, medical and legal, portents and diseases—all crucial to establishing modern identity. The evolutionary and behavioral


Feminism and the Female Body

sciences of monkeys and apes have marked the multiple boundaries of late twentieth-century industrial identities. Cyborg monsters in feminist science fiction define quite different political possibilities and limits from those proposed by the mundane fiction of Man and Woman.4

Science fiction’s innovative reflections on contemporary issues, institutions, and problems—albeit through the eyes of monsters—are among its strengths; developing a realistic strategy for social change is not. Typically, cataclysmic events are the literary devices used to usher in new societies, characterized by their own unique discourses, myths, and symbols. Such events also mark these societies’ destruction. In the real world, there are no such convenient endings and beginnings; moreover, discourses interlocking sex, gender, and sexuality are still alive and well. The Net offers a messier, though more realistic, analogue of social change as real women are likely to experience it: The heroine, while constructing her identity in terms of the newer cyborg discourse, is still bound by the traditional sexual identity discourse. Indeed, social change, whether it be on macro- or microlevels, is not a sudden, explosive shift into a new historical era and a novel set of discourses; more often it is a gradual undertaking occurring within a context of old and new discourses. This overlapping of old and new identity discourses was evident in our examination of the social constructions associated with disability in Chapter 6. That is, the notions of impurity, danger, and repugnance, consigned by Henri-Jacques Stiker’s disability discourse analysis to ancient Greece and early Judaism, persist in postindustrial Western societies alongside modern medical conceptions of disability. Indeed, Jenny Morris, Robert Murphy, and Diane DeVries have all found that they experience their disabilities in terms of both the older, more repressive “impurity” discourse and in the contemporary, seemingly less restrictive, “medical-rehabilitative” discourse. Overlapping discourses were apparent in ancient societies as well. For example, in ancient Greece, although upper-class Greek women were not allowed outside the home, there existed mythical stories of Amazon warrior women who subversively contested the notion of the male polis in which male military service was the basis for political participation. These were tales of female warriors who fiercely and competently ruled and defended themselves, their families, their homes, and the regions in which they lived. They performed remarkable athletic feats and were physically strong and politically astute. These tales must have sent some ancient Greek women a mixed message regarding how they were to construct themselves as women; other women must have felt that being an Amazon was a great deal better and more compelling than being a kept woman. It is interesting to note that, despite the long herstory of Amazonian existence,

Identity Politics


it is only recently that women have begun to move out of the private sphere of hearth and family to participate in the public arenas of politics and war, and then only in particular countries. We believe that the ancient symbol of the Amazon still has meaning for contemporary Western women. The significance and staying power of the Amazonian symbol is evidenced in the many manifestations she has assumed to reflect the myriad identities of women. Moreover, she has been particularly prominent in societies that assign their women solely to the private sphere. Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, Janice Raymond’s A Passion for Friends, Antonia Fraser’s The Warrior Queens, and Jessica Salmonson’s The Encyclopedia of Amazons: Women Warriors from Antiquity to the Modern Era remind us both of the past and the contemporary relevance of this symbol.5 The Amazon is a symbol for all that women can be. Moreover, her mind-body dimensions provide an alternative to the oppressive body beauty norms that characterize contemporary American society. As we noted in Chapters 5 and 6, the feminine body beauty discourse has little tolerance for images that depart from these norms. We believe that the Amazon is free of such restrictions. She is not a symbol of normative physical beauty and strength or normative mental development. She does not encourage women to model themselves in accordance with one “superior” mold. Rather, she suggests the unleashing of each woman’s potential, taking into account her individual circumstances (e.g., age, disability, and financial resources). It is absolutely critical that liberatory symbols have meaning in the lives of women who identify themselves in a variety of ways. We believe that the Amazon is such a symbol. In Chapters 1 and 2, we noted that the liberatory prescriptions advocated by a number of feminist postmodernists and poststructuralists seem removed from the lives of real women. Postmodernists argue that in order to escape from the repressive feminine and masculine discourse, one needs to live outside the cultural criteria for sexual and gender assignment and thus live a life of cultural nonintelligibility. We concur with Mary Daly and Gloria Anzaldua that such a life is not possible: Women cannot entirely transcend patriarchal institutions and discourses associated with sex, gender, and sexuality. Our contemporary example of Haraway’s cyborg—Sandra Bullock’s computer-human in The Net—illustrates this point. Acknowledging that point, however, does not preclude choosing one’s own discourses of self-constitution. Possibilities might be drawn from artistic and creative expression of self in the spiritual domain, in public service, or in one’s chosen field of endeavor, as long as the expression is not completely immersed in the power and knowledge discourse of sexual identity. Such self-constitution allows the shaping of a life that is not


Feminism and the Female Body

determined primarily by sex and gender, a life lived on the boundaries, sometimes between two or more cultures. Although this way of living can produce psychic unease because one walks a different path, it also possesses the greatest potential for resistance and the empowered sense of self that often accompanies resistant activity. Moreover, the discomfort one may experience from going against the grain can be mitigated by collective support. The Amazon is a symbol of such resistance. Indeed, she is drawn from ancient stories that tell of her contesting the notion of the male warrior. At the same time, the Amazon, at least our notion of her, represents resistance as freedom; thus she is a symbol of physical and mental self-determination for contemporary women. She is also a symbol that inspires the reconstruction of female identities to become empowered physically and mentally. We have referred to this mind-body reconstruction as a care-of-theself ethic. We believe that this process calls for reconstruction, as opposed to construction, because we presume that most women subscribe in varying degrees to the dominant femininity discourses. “Liberating the Amazon within” therefore requires women to rethink and redo themselves, to redesign their minds and their bodies, and to engage in these dangerous processes with other like-minded women. Our work included a search for Amazons, that is, women who are exemplars of this mind-body approach to self-constitution. We found that a few of the bodybuilders fit our notion of an Amazon; what many of them were missing, however, was a set of feminist precepts and analysis, arrived at by being part of a group of like-minded women, to guide their bodybuilding practice and their lives. At Thousand Waves, the feminist martial arts dojo in Chicago, we found more Amazons, despite the fact that, like the bodybuilders, many of the women worked and lived among men and were caught up in feminine and masculine identities. Moreover, although some of the martial artists were heterosexual, which means they had adopted the so-called normal sexual pathway, they lived on the margins of patriarchal embodiment in many other respects. What makes them Amazons in our estimation is that they, along with the lesbians and bisexuals at Thousand Waves, had chosen mind-body selfconstituting practices that enabled them, at least some of the time, to move the sexual identity discourse from the center of their personality to the periphery. The women of Thousand Waves—even those who were older and had disabilities—also seemed able to transcend aging- and disability-related discourses. Most important, they were attempting not only to subscribe to principles of dignity and equality associated with gender, class, race, age, sexual orientation, and disability but also to embody such principles. Our focus on the martial arts and self-defense training at Thousand Waves is not meant to preclude the possibilities of designing physically

Identity Politics


and mentally empowering practices in other locations. Feminist care-ofthe-self practices and their associated ethic must be embodied, however. We believe that embodiment this is fostered by engaging in mind-body practices that develop a strong sense of self and include the following: (1) a focus on health and proper nutrition; (2) meditation or its equivalent; (3) strength-building and self-defense training related to one’s physical capacities; (4) the study of feminist theory and strategies that effectively challenge sex, gender, and sexual oppression, as well as other forms of oppression (e.g., race, class, age, disability); and (5) discussion of study materials in group sessions. Such an ethic is further advanced by experiencing these mind-body practices with other women in feminist spaces with feminist teachers. It is in such settings that feminist care-of-the-self alternatives are most effective in empowering female identities at the individual level and in providing group validation for emerging Amazons who can pursue the attainment of equality between women and men on broader social levels. Thousand Waves provides us with a vision of such possibilities. At Thousand Waves, we have seen care-of-the-self transformative effects on both the individual and small group levels. The group dimension of these changes suggest the possibility of building coalitions among diverse women in the pursuit of political goals. We refer to this process as “coalition building”; Diana Fuss and Nancie Caraway have referred to it as “identity politics.”6 Our usage of the term identity politics in this and other chapters has a different meaning. For us, the term refers to strongly identified groups who define their issues based on characteristics that distinguish them from other groups (e.g., race and class). This focus on identity can make coalition building very difficult, which was illustrated in the case of the Rainbow Coalition. Identity politics, as formulated by Fuss and Caraway, and our notion of coalition building acknowledge the importance of a feminist political agenda and the enormous diversity among women. The theoretical problem thus becomes how to develop feminist political goals without coercively homogenizing women into a single category of woman. This is easier said than done. Indeed, in the real world of politics, differences of identity among women (due to race, class, sexual orientation, age, and disability) are offered as the primary explanation for why broad-based political coalitions of women addressing a common set of goals are no longer possible. In the sections that follow, we examine the notion of identity, the production of identity, and the possibility of building coalitions. Two actual cases centering on the issue of identity and its production provide the locus of our analysis: (1) the Mashpee Wampanoag tribal identity lawsuit and (2) the emergence of a multiracial identity.


Feminism and the Female Body


According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), identity is derived from the Latin stem idem meaning “the same.” Referring to personal identity, it is defined as a condition or fact of remaining the same person throughout the various phases of existence. Thus the term suggests a continuity of the personality, a deep invariable core, which, the OED notes, has been linked to the notion of consciousness. Mary Joe Frug, feminist postmodernist, argues, however, that group identities and the identity of an individual as a member of a particular group “are constituted by the multiple discourses through which they are described and recognized”; that is, they do not possess an element impermeable to external forces.7 Frug believes that the claims case of the Mashpee Indians illustrates the negative legal consequences associated with a deep-self version of identity. In 1976 the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council sued the New Seabury Corporation for possession of approximately 16,000 acres of land, which was three-quarters of the town of Mashpee, Massachusetts. The significance of the case for Frug was the debate over the notion of tribal identity. Frug concludes that the suit was unsuccessful because the Mashpees, having been transformed over the years by their interactions with others, were unable to demonstrate to legal authorities that they satisfied the arbitrary definitional requirements the law demanded of “tribes” seeking to qualify for the Native American status and legal protection.8

According to Frug, legal rules grant rights or privileges only when “those who seek legal protection are able to exhibit a coherent subjectivity.”9 Thus, in order to obtain legal assistance, which requires fitting into prescribed categories, legal claimants are forced to diminish the complexity of their lives. Unfortunately, oppressed groups such as the Mashpee Indians typically find that these definitions are structured in such a way that they cannot fit into them.10 James Clifford, a critical anthropologist, also examined the issue of identity in the Mashpee case, only he focused on the judge’s instruction to the jury: The Mashpee Indians had to prove the existence of a tribe in Mashpee from 1790, the year that the first significant federal legislation pertaining to Indians went into effect (the Federal Non-Intercourse Act of 1790), to 1976, the year the lawsuit began. The jury’s response was based primarily on the evidence of expert testimony. The Mashpee Indians relied on professional anthropologists whose data were based on the oral testimony of living Mashpee Indians and on anthropological accounts of American Indians, including the Mashpee. In

Identity Politics


contrast, the New Seabury Corporation banked primarily on the testimony of a single historian who built his case around a written record, including deeds, petitions, laws, town records, and state papers. According to Clifford, the jury’s determination—that the Mashpee Indians did not demonstrate documentation of a continuous tribal existence—indicated that they had accepted the common assumption of written knowledge being more authentic than oral knowledge. This determination, of course, diminished the importance of Indian oral narratives in establishing identity and tribal continuity. The second assumption accepted by the jury was that if there was such a thing as Mashpee identity, then it had to be integrally tied to the continuity of the Mashpee tribe over time. Although the jury acknowledged that the tribe had existed in 1834 and 1842—the years selected by the judge for examination—there was no written documentation that a Mashpee tribe existed during other selected years. The jury thus concluded that there was no proof of tribal continuity or continuous Mashpee identity. According to Clifford: The court behaved like a philosopher who wanted to know positively whether a cat was on the mat in Mashpee. I found myself seeing a Cheshire cat—now a head, now a tail, ears, nothing at all, in various combinations. The Mashpee “tribe” had a way of going and coming; but something was persistently, if not continuously there. The testimony I heard convinced me that organized Indian life had been going on in Mashpee for the past 350 years. Moreover, a significant revival and reinvention of tribal identity was clearly in process. I concluded that since the ability to act collectively as Indians is currently bound up with tribal status, the Indians living in Mashpee and those who return regularly should be recognized as a “tribe.”11

A central fact that the jury did not examine was how the Mashpee negotiated their identity in contexts of domination. According to Clifford, the significant elements that we attach to the notion of identity (e.g., language, land, blood, leadership, and religion) can be changed or replaced, or even disappear completely, which they often do under colonial conditions, yet a sense of intrinsic identity endures. Clifford quotes a Mashpee elder who made the following comment after the trial: “How can a white majority decide on whether we are a tribe? We know who we are.”12 According to this elder, Mashpee identity does not depend on an external authorized entity “objectively” establishing attachment to a continuously existing group; rather, identity resides in the feelings that individuals have about themselves and others who share those feelings. Clifford’s follow-up on the Mashpee case suggests another interpretation of identity. In 1986, the Gay Head Indians, who, like the Mashpee


Feminism and the Female Body

Indians, are identified as Wampanoags, filed a petition with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The petition was similar to the one the Mashpees had filed in a federal district court ten years earlier, and the history of the Gay Head Indians resembled that of the Mashpees. In the first round, the Bureau of Indian Affairs rejected their petition for tribal recognition. The Gay Head Indians appealed the decision, offering additional evidence of continuing “social networks” among them. As a result, the Bureau of Indian Affairs reversed a negative preliminary verdict for the first time in its history. Clifford quoted the response of Gladys Widdiss, chairperson of the Wampanoag Tribal Council, to this victory, which involved tribal affirmation and a settlement of returning tribal lands: “I am delighted. This now means that the Tribe can function in a formally recognized manner. Our status as a tribe can no longer be in doubt. Recognition means that our survival as a tribe for generations to come is assured.”13 In contrast to the Mashpee elder, Widdiss believed that definitive proof of identity came with validation by officials. Thus it seems that for the Wampanoags, identity includes self-identification in a deep, personal sense, which is confirmed by the awareness that they are part of a group who share these feelings, and official certification.14 Undoubtedly, this certification by governing bodies is particularly significant to minority groups with long histories of exclusion and legalized oppression by governments at local and national levels. Although Frug believes that the multiple texts and legal practices of authorities are important in understanding the construct of identity, her analysis excludes the possibility of a deep sense of self. We can see from the Mashpee and Gay Head Indian cases, however, that personal and group facets of identity are equally significant in determining who one is. The politics surrounding the newly proposed census category of “multiracial” illustrate even more clearly the coexistence of personal, group, and official dimensions of identity. In the next section, we examine the creation of this classification category, which involves all three facets of identity, as well as an additional political component. The struggle over the creation of this new category illustrates the complex nature of identity, a notion so elusive that Clifford compared it to the proverbial smile of the Cheshire cat. The Production of Identity

Since 1977 the Census Bureau has used four racial categories: white, black, American Indian/Alaskan native, and Asian/Pacific Islander. In 1990 the Bureau added another classification, “other,” and began asking respondents to report whether they were of Hispanic or Spanish origin.

Identity Politics


The question is, Why did they add the “other” category? Was it a recognition that a sizable number of Americans do not feel comfortable assigning themselves to the four existing categories? Or was it an acknowledgment that the general category of race itself is problematic? Certainly, many scientists have argued that race is a social construct, not a biological absolute. They claim that although it can be reasonably argued that sex is determined by the X or Y chromosome, there is no genetic marker for race. Therefore, categorizing race is not only misleading but also discriminatory to those who are nonwhite. Despite this move to dissolve the construct, and thus the importance of race as an identity marker, we were reminded by the O. J. Simpson trial that race remains a persistent feature of life in the United States. On July 20, 1996, thousands of mixed-race Americans gathered on the Mall in Washington, D.C., under the banner of the Multiracial Solidarity March. Their purpose was twofold: to celebrate their multiracial identity and to pressure the federal government to add a multiracial category to the next census. In fact, one of the largest multiracial organizations, Project RACE (which stands for Reclassify All Children Equally), has persuaded seven state legislatures to enact laws requiring a “multiracial” classification in all government documents. In 1990 3 million Americans told the Census Bureau that they were married to or were living with someone of a different race, and 2 million children were listed as part of these living arrangements. Moreover, according to the New York Times, “the number of interracial marriages doubled from 1960 to 1970 and tripled from 1970 to 1980.”15 These interracial couples are a significant political force. They have organized political groups at the national and local levels, have founded magazines, and have established Web pages on the Internet. The executive director of RACE, Susan Graham, sees the inclusion of this new census category as a simple identity issue. She is white, her husband is black. Her son has been classified as white by the census (according to current census criteria, a mixed child takes on the race of the mother), black at school, and biracial at home. Graham told a New York Times reporter that before 1980, census takers decided a person’s race after a brief interview. Today, the census is conducted mostly by mail and is based on self-identification. Consequently, respondents can declare their own race and that of household members. According to Graham, the multiracial category will extend this right of self-identification to all Americans. From Graham’s perspective, the determination of identity and race seems simple: They are self-selected. The desire to have this selection approved by the American government via a census category, however, confirms the significance of authoritative bodies in validating identity.


Feminism and the Female Body

Moreover, the politics of multiracialism involves far more than demonstrating the existence of substantial numbers of multiracial Americans and the right of these individuals to be counted. Indeed, letters, public testimony, and articles from members of the National Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the National Council of La Raza warn that the multiracial category would reduce the numbers of Americans belonging to existing racial minority groups. More significantly, it would “dilute the electoral power of these groups and make it more difficult to enforce the nation’s civil rights laws.”16 These organizations also point out that the implementation of civil rights laws—for example, those ensuring that banks award mortgages fairly in black neighborhoods and those granting federal contracts to minority businesses—depends on census data. Reduced numbers equals reduced political leverage. From this political standpoint, the group with the most to lose would be American Indians, who are involved in the greatest number of interracial marriages. American Indian organizations have voiced concern that the multiracial category would have a devastating impact on American Indian communities because many of the programs targeting American Indians (e.g., those associated with the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, and Health and Human Services) are tied to population numbers. For others, multiracialism is a thinly disguised effort to abolish affirmative action, a move that would ultimately suggest that in melting pot America race is no longer relevant in deciding who gets jobs, educational opportunities, housing, mortgages, and bank loans. Although advocates of multiracialism believe that it represents resistance to the privileging of established racial categories, for representatives from officially recognized racial groups, the classification threatens to diminish existing benefits and advance the loss of group identity and political leverage.17 These representatives also undoubtedly wonder whether multiracialism will discourage political cooperation among diverse racial and ethnic groups and multiracial organizations. Based on our examination of the production of a multiracial identity, as well as the fact that identity is a complex phenomenon that contains personal, group, official, and political dimensions, we do not believe that multiracialism precludes coalition building. Identity in the personal sense, which is the product of many different aspects, events, and relationships in our lives, may be the dimension of identity most helpful in explaining why coalition building among diversely identified groups is possible. We are not necessarily formed solely by fitting a particular gender or racial classification; in fact, we may fall within many categories. We may be Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or agnostic. We may be multiracial, black, white, Asian, or Native American. We are men or women; gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, or intersexual; old

Identity Politics


or young; able-bodied or disabled. We are parents or childless. We work in diverse professions and jobs. Perhaps one set of factors or relationships stemming from one of these experiential arenas is very important in our lives and others are less important. Sometimes this set is not of our own choosing, as is the case with Jenny Morris and Robert Murphy, who felt forced into the world of disability. Over a lifetime, however, the significance of these factors may diminish. Moreover, the intersection of multiple identities (e.g., a woman who is black, lesbian, disabled, old, and Christian) suggests membership in several groups that, as separate entities, may have mutual antipathy for each other and perceived divisive differences. If identity were simply the product of multiple discourses without an integrative sense of self, we would function as split personalities. In fact, for generations popular cultural narratives and images of the tragic mulatto, the tortured mixed-race outcast, suggested racial separation as the prescription for personality coherence and mental health. Somehow, however, individuals with multiple identities function as coherent person alities. Somehow they negotiate the contradictions of these affiliations. Indeed, many multiracial, multiethnic Americans claim that their circumstances of color and culture have opened up experiential windows that have enriched their lives. Something similar can occur on a small group level involving diverse women. This suggests to us the possibility of coalition building among individuals who seem totally different yet share membership in one or more of these identity categories. Identity Politics and Coalition Building: Insular Enemies or Cooperative Partners?

In this section, we explore the possibilities of coalition building. Our belief that coalition building is possible is rooted in our research at Thousand Waves, particularly in the group dynamics we observed among these diverse women. Certainly, the women of Thousand Waves could be described as having composite identities. They were socially defined as women yet were different in many ways. They were heterosexual, lesbian, and bisexual. They were white, black, Latina, Asian, Native American, and multiracial. Some referred to themselves as older, some disabled. They practiced a variety of religions and worked in an assortment of jobs and professions. Some were poor; others were financially comfortable. Were their alignments, which were based on particular group memberships, nonnegotiable? If this were the case, they could not have worked together on mind-body empowerment or commonly chosen political projects. Somehow they were able to transcend their differences.


Feminism and the Female Body

We are not suggesting that the interactions among these diverse women were totally free of conflict. Indeed, conflict and peaceful resolution of conflict are an important part of the Thousand Waves experience, both at individual and small group levels. They also are a critical part of martial arts training with partners. The women’s interactions with each other and their teachers, however, were not characterized by dominance and submission, a dynamic that can easily emerge in a setting whose focus is the development of martial arts skills. Certainly, many of the women had observed or experienced these power dynamics in other martial art locations. It is also important to note that the women at Thousand Waves involved themselves as a group only in those projects they had discussed and to which they had agreed. Perhaps it is only within this type of decisionmaking context, where there is mutual agreement and respect, that personal identity and coalition building can become a realistic merger rather than contradictory processes. The intriguing question is, What was responsible for getting them to this point? That is, What facilitated agreement and respect among these diverse women? Undoubtedly, many things contributed to the community spirit at Thousand Waves, one being the cooperative environment established by the two directors in martial arts training sessions, weekly meditation and discussion meetings, and in the day-to-day routines of the dojo. Indeed, these experiences, which involved collaboration and respect for others, became mechanisms for affirming not only the women’s diverse individual personas but also their Thousand Waves group identity. It is our belief, however, that the key that opened the proverbial lock to communication and consensus was the mutual experience of becoming physically and mentally empowered. This experience was made up of two critical factors: (1) individual mind-body empowerment confirmed by observing diverse female subjectivities accomplishing mind-body feats that patriarchal logic suggests they cannot (e.g., learning to self-defend and healing from incest); and (2) the nonhierarchical format of their collective readings, discussions of social justice issues, and decisions regarding political action. Thus, training and discussion sessions seemed to be free, for the most part, of Foucault’s power and knowledge domination games, as were the women’s decisions about which social justice projects to adopt and how to proceed. Both of these factors were instrumental in developing the empathy and mutual respect necessary for political consensus, cohesion, and collective feminist efficacy among the women.18 In fact, in many respects, Thousand Waves interactions resembled the Rousseauian model of participatory democracy. From the Rousseauian “social contract” perspective, factions of similarly identified individuals, intent on their own agenda, are likely to form when their numbers increase

Identity Politics


to the point that they preclude face-to-face “town meeting” discussions. In such large-scale settings, insular identity politics surface (e.g., the Rainbow Coalition); thus it seems that consensual communication is most likely to materialize in small-scale settings. Thousand Waves is a small-scale model of consensual communication. The women at Thousand Waves are practicing a version of a care-of-theself ethic, which has enhanced their sense of personal efficacy and their respect for the other women at the dojo and for women in general. This experience has also improved their relationships with men. What is most important in terms of this discussion, however, is that this new-found efficacy seems to merge with an interest in promoting social change and the belief that social change is possible through organized collective efforts. This suggests that feminists first need to identify and then carefully study small grassroots organizations that engage in political causes to advance social justice, particularly those organizations that are also building strong women from the ground up. Preferably, these groups should involve women of diverse backgrounds and identities who are successfully working together to solve personal and social problems. Thousand Waves is an example of this type of organization. It is important to remember, however, that the efficacy gained by women at Thousand Waves is physical as well as mental. In fact, in some respects, the physical development seems to mediate and advance the psychological. Although this finding is not likely to be earth shaking to sport and exercise scientists, it may be so for many mainstream feminists. We are not suggesting that bodily development is more important than mental; in our schema, they are equally important. We have attempted to demonstrate that the processes of identity and coalition building are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Our view differs sharply from that of many feminists who have pronounced feminist politics as problematic because it erases identity differences among diverse women. These individuals seem to view identity as insular and static; in contrast, we perceive it as a dynamic process, composed of many dimensions. Moreover, our research at Thousand Waves, which was supported by considerations of pertinent theoretical literature, reminds us that identity is also a mind-body phenomenon. We believe that our conclusions associated with identity and coalition building can be applied to large-scale feminist organizations seeking to represent the interests of diverse women. These groups need to emphasize mind-body liberatory strategies, as opposed to those calling for strictly mental changes. Moreover, if these organizations are intent on encouraging coalition building among diversely identified women, they may need to reinvent themselves. We believe that these two requirements can be facilitated by the following: (1) educating young girls and women of all ages, including feminists,


Feminism and the Female Body

about the importance of building not just the mind but the body as well, and for more than just losing weight and preventing cardiovascular disease; (2) locating and examining grassroots women’s groups and organizations that stimulate mind-body empowerment (e.g., women’s shelters that teach women to defend themselves physically and mentally); and facilitate diverse groups of women working together cohesively on various individual or social projects (e.g., women’s sporting leagues and women’s groups working on environmental or local school issues); (3) encouraging women’s groups that are intent on empowering their members to add a physical-strengthening or self-defense dimension to their programs, and those whose focus is on physical development to incorporate a feminist perspective; (4) becoming discussion centers in which diverse women, representing local organizations and groups, are encouraged to propose and debate issues they are willing to support; and (5) acting as lobbying and liaison agents to private or governmental bodies and agencies when agreements are reached and validated by local groups. We introduced the theme of identity politics and coalition building in Chapter 1 via our discussion of politics and postmodernism during the 1990s. We argued that decentralization and diversity seem to align themselves with a postmodern feminist political agenda. We also noted that increasing local control and developing diverse solutions to political problems such as welfare, which affects predominantly poor women and their children, may result in greater male control over fewer resources. A focus on diversity and identity politics also accentuates race and class differences (e.g., white middle-class women viewing welfare changes as welcome reforms, whereas middle-class and working-class women of color perceiving them as racially motivated). With this prospect of heightened identity politics, the lessons we learned at Thousand Waves regarding the practical possibilities of coalition building seem very relevant. National feminist organizations can play a significant role in this process. They came into existence when an essentialist perspective was central in feminist circles. To be relevant today, however, they must acknowledge diversity, coalition building, and the importance of redefining and restructuring themselves in accordance with the changing times. We believe that such acknowledgment is necessary if feminism is to prosper in the twenty-first century and continue to successfully call for and create a culture in which Amazonian transformations are possible and even probable. Notes

1. Spelman, Inessential Woman, 127. 2. Young, “Gender as Seriality,” 718.

Identity Politics


3. Haraway, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs,” 218. 4. Ibid., 222. 5. See the following works: Kingston, “The Woman Warrior”; “A passion for Friends”; Fraser, “The Warrior Queens”; and Salmonson, “The Encyclopedia of Amazons.” 6. “Identity politics,” as used by Diana Fuss and Nancie Caraway, is a theoretical response to the accusation of “woman” being used as a way of privileging the political agenda of white middle-class heterosexual women. It suggests a way to provide a theoretical basis for women working together, without relying on the essentialist universalistic notion of woman. Identity politics for these authors is the unity and solidarity among diverse women developed from political discussions about oppression that produces the identity “woman.” “Women as a group” is thus a construction of feminist politics. See Young, “Gender as Seriality,” 721–722. We use “identity politics” in a broader political sense, drawn from the example of the Rainbow Coalition, which unsuccessfully attempted to unite distinct minority groups, among them African Americans and lesbians, around political causes and candidates and yet maintain the identity of each group. The Rainbow Coalition disintegrated in the 1980s. Its component groups retreated into individual group identity and insularity. 7. Frug, Postmodern Legal Feminism, xix. 8. Ibid., 19. 9. Ibid. 10. Kimberle Crenshaw makes the same point about discriminatory practices against African American women, who do not fit into the legally prescribed subjectivity categories of black male or white woman. See Crenshaw, “A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Law and Politics.” 11. Clifford, The Predicament of Culture, 336. 12. Ibid., 344. 13. Ibid., 345. A more recent case involves two groups each identifying themselves as the Juaneno Indians of Orange County, California, and applying for tribal recognition from the U.S. government. Which group receives recognition, according to Holly Reckford, chief of the Bureau of Indian Affair’s Branch of Acknowledgment and Research, depends on supporting, authentic documentation. Ideally, she states, this is documentation written down on paper or found in records. Granberry, “Tribal Split Tangles Federal Recognition,” A 1. 14. Iris Young distinguishes between two notions of identity: who persons are in a deep psychological sense; and self-ascription, which involves belonging to a group with others who similarly identify themselves. See Young, “Gender as Seriality,” p. 734. 15. Mathews, “More Than Identity Rides on a New Racial Category.” 16. Ibid., 7. 17. The notion of multiple genders is a way for feminist theorists to contest women sharing a common identity and a set of gendered attributes. Feminist theorists, however, have tended to assume that the categories of race, class, religion, and ethnicity have stability and unity. 18. Mutual respect and self-efficacy as the grounds for consensual agreement among diverse individuals is a conclusion confirmed by other theorists such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jurgen Habermas, and Albert Bandura. According to Rousseau, equal respect and self-efficacy are among the conditions that facilitate participatory democracy. The communication that characterizes decisionmaking at Thousand Waves also appears to exemplify Jurgen Habermas’s notion of communicative rationality. The choice of projects selected by the women at Thousand


Feminism and the Female Body

Waves and the decisions to work with other differently identified groups are tied to reasoned agreement based on defensible claims espoused by the discussion participants. The women at Thousand Waves also substantiated Bandura’s concept of democratic collective efficacy. According to Bandura, the belief among group members that they can change their life conditions through concerted efforts is positively related to the self-confidence of each individual in the group. What we have added to this analysis is the physical and mental components of this process.

Appendix A Research Methods for the Bodybuilding Study Two questionnaires were used. The Multidimensional Body-Self Relations Questionnaire (MBSRQ) is a self-report inventory that assesses attitudinal and behavioral aspects of the body image construct.1 Body image is made up of three psychological dispositions toward one’s body—affective, cognitive, and behavioral—and the body is conceived of in terms of three somatic domains: physical aesthetics (appearance), physical competence (fitness), and biological integrity (health). Within each of these three somatic domains are items comprising two composite subscales: (1) evaluation (i.e., the extent of liking, attainment, and satisfaction with the domain); and (2) orientation (i.e., the degree of cognitive importance of and attention to the domain and behaviors related to maintaining or improving facets of the domain). The MBSRQ was selected because it has undergone extensive psychometric evaluation (through an iterative process of rational-empirical item selection and validation research, including factor-analytic research) and because it is one of the few such inventories that assess body image along with both perceptual (size estimations) and attitudinal (body-related affects and cognitions) dimensions. The MBSRQ has been shown to be valid and reliable for both adult women and men and has been used extensively by researchers studying body image, both those who authored the instrument and others.2 The sixty-nine-item inventory is made up of the following: (1) fiftyfour items producing six subscales: appearance evaluation and orientation, fitness evaluation and orientation, and health evaluation and orientation; (2) a nine-item Body Areas Satisfaction Scale (BASS), a modified version of the Body Parts Satisfaction Scale3 that measures feelings of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with discrete aspects of one’s body and appearance; and (3) six weight attitude items that yield six subscales: fat anxiety, weight vigilance, self-classified weight, current dieting, eating restraint, and weight preoccupation. The MBSRQ yields a total of thirteen subscales, each of which uses a five-point Likert scale. 153


Appendix A

The MBSRQ was developed on the basis of conceptual, empirical, and psychometric criteria from earlier versions and was administered through a nationwide readership survey of Psychology Today.4 Norms were established based on a stratified (sex by age distribution of the U.S. population) random sample of 2,000 respondents. The second instrument, Nutritional Perceptions and Practices of Bodybuilders (NPPB), consists of approximately two hundred items, twenty of which elicit demographical data and nine that yield a body preoccupation scale assessing the same body areas as the BASS subscale of the MBSRQ.5 The NPPB was developed specifically for the purposes of this study and thus has not undergone thorough psychometric assessment. Content validity was established, however, by a panel of experts in the areas of body image and nutritional disorders (i.e., psychologists, professional health and physical educators, and researchers). The vast majority of NPPB items are constructed according to a Likert scale, although a few require rank ordering responses (see Appendix B for sample questions). The questions were designed to measure attitudes and behaviors related to nutrition and weight control, body image, and bodybuilding. More specifically, DSM-III-R anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are assessed, as are other pathogenic weight control practices that do not meet strict DSM-III-R criteria.6 Motivations for weight control (e.g., health, appearance, and performance), perceptions regarding the body (e.g., body composition, shape, and appearance), training behaviors, and reasons for bodybuilding also are determined. NPPB items were constructed to ascertain information related to the specific purposes of this study. Strict DSM-III-R standards were used in designing questions to evoke respondents’ perceptions of whether or not they had anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. For example, there are four diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa and five for bulimia nervosa; thus a question corresponding to each of the criteria was developed. A respondent was not identified as being anorexic or bulimic unless her responses met all diagnostic criteria. This strategy was used instead of a well-known instrument such as the Eating Disorder Inventory7 because it was a more direct approach and made the NPPB a less time-consuming instrument. Interview Format

Interviews consisted primarily of open-ended questions and were standardized to minimize interviewer-related error (see Appendix C for sample interview questions). That is, each question was read exactly as worded, only nondirective probes were used for clarification and elaboration (i.e., those that did not influence the content of the resulting answers), all re-

Research Methods for the Bodybuilding Study


sponses were tape-recorded and transcribed without interviewer discretion, and the interviewer attempted to communicate a neutral, nonjudgmental perspective with regard to the respondents’ answers. Procedures

Data were collected in two different geographical locations over a fiveyear period. Potential respondents were first identified via personal contacts in local fitness gymnasiums and then contacted by phone. Those who agreed to be respondents (twenty out of twenty-three) were mailed a questionnaire packet that included a cover letter explaining the purpose of the study: to explore the attitudes and behaviors of elite women bodybuilders and their reasons for bodybuilding. All respondents completed questionnaires (100 percent response rate) prior to interview sessions, with no researcher present. Later, each woman was interviewed privately in her home for approximately ninety minutes. In order to minimize the possibility that subjects might respond in a socially desirable manner, and following human subject protocol, anonymity and confidentiality of questionnaire and interview responses were guaranteed and maintained throughout the study. Notes

1. Cash, T. F., Winstead, B. A., and Janda, L. H. (April 1986). “Body Image Survey Report: The Great American Shape-up.” Psychology Today, 30–44. 2. This instrument has been used in various studies, including Pasman, L., and Thompson, J. K. (1988). “Body Image and Eating Disturbance in Obligatory Runners, Obligatory Weightlifters, and Sedentary Individuals.” International Journal of Eating Disorders, 7(6), 759–769; and Thompson, J. K., and Psaltis, K. (1988). “Multiple Aspects and Correlates of Body Figure Ratings: A Replication and Extension of Fallon and Rozin (1985).” International Journal of Eating Disorders, 7, 813–818. 3. Berscheid, E., Walster, E., and Bohrnstedt, G. (November 1973). “Body Image. The Happy American Body: A Survey Report.” Psychology Today, 119– 131. 4. Cash, Winstead, and Janda. “Body Image Survey Report.” 5. Guthrie, S. R., Ferguson, C., and Grimmett, D. (1991). Nutritional Perceptions and Practices of Bodybuilders. Unpublished Questionnaire, California State University, Long Beach. 6. American Psychiatric Association (1987). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 3rd ed., rev. Washington, D.C.: APA. 7. Garner, D. M., Olmsted, M. P., and Polivy, J. (1983). “Development and Validation of a Multidimensional Eating Disorder Inventory for Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia.” International Journal of Eating Disorders, 2, 15–34.

Appendix B Examples of Questions from the Nutritional Perceptions and Practices of Bodybuilders Likert Questions Assessing DSM-III-R (1987) bulimia:

1. To what extent do you engage in episodes of binge eating (rapid consumption of a large amount of food in a discrete amount of time)? I have not binged in the last three months More than once per day for at least three months Once a day for at least three months 4–6 times per week for at least three months 2–3 times per week for at least three months Once per week for at least three months 2–3 times per month for at least three months Once a month for at least three months Less often than once a month Other (e.g., in cycles or spurts); explain 2. To what extent do you feel a lack of control over your eating behavior during eating binges? Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Often, Usually, Always 3. To what extent do you engage in the following method to lose weight? (self-induced vomiting, semi-starvation diets [i.e., less than 1,000 calories per day], fasting, diuretics, laxatives, vigorous exercise) Note: Each method is listed separately. Never, Weekly, Less Than Weekly, Daily 4. To what extent do you believe you are overconcerned with your body shape and weight? Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Often, Usually, Always

Sample Item Using a Rank Ordering Scale:

There are a number of reasons why people may be concerned about weight/fat, as well as body shape. Most of the concerns are based on 157


Appendix B

beliefs that certain benefits can be obtained from losing weight or maintaining a low body weight. Rank each of the following statements in order of importance to you as potential benefits of losing weight or maintaining a low body weight. I I I I I

1 = most important

8 = least important

will look better. will compete more successfully. will be healthier. will enjoy athletic participation more. will be at an advantage socially (for example, to be more popular). I will have higher self-esteem. I will be able to satisfy others. Other ————— (please explain and rank)

Appendix C Examples of Bodybuilding Interview Questions 1. Give me a brief history of how you got into bodybuilding. Who or what influenced you? 2. What benefits do you receive from bodybuilding? What major life lessons have you learned from bodybuilding? What have you learned from bodybuilding that you can apply in other domains (e.g., work, relationships)? If you could not bodybuild anymore, how would you feel? 3. What are the things you don’t like about bodybuilding? What was your worst experience? Was there ever a time or an experience that made you contemplate giving up bodybuilding? Please describe. 4. How important is bodybuilding to your sense of self? To your image of and feelings about your body? How much of your body image is connected to your self-esteem? Did your body image and self-concept change after your began training for bodybuilding? If so, how? 5. What do you most like and dislike about your body and why? How do you think others perceive you, your body, and the fact that you are a competitive bodybuilder? 6. What do you see as the dominant images of beauty for women in our culture? With what media images do you identify? What is your notion of “body beautiful” for women; that is, what body types do you find beautiful? Did your thoughts regarding what is the beautiful female body change at all after you began bodybuilding? If so, how? 7. Do you believe that you are involved in changing the image of women in today’s society? If so, how?


Appendix D Research Methods for the Martial Artist Study An interview guide was developed for the purposes of this study based on previous research examining self-esteem changes associated with the martial arts. Interviews consisted primarily of open-ended questions and were standardized to minimize interviewer-related error (see Appendix E for sample questions). Each question was read exactly as worded, only nondirective probes were used for clarification and elaboration (i.e., those that did not influence the content of the resulting answers), all responses were tape-recorded and transcribed without interviewer discretion, and the interviewer attempted to communicate a neutral, nonjudgmental perspective with regard to the respondents’ answers. The interview began by asking each martial artist some general questions: to describe herself, her reasons for becoming involved in the martial arts, and why she decided to join this particular dojo. It then became more focused as each participant was asked a series of questions related to her training experience in seido karate and other types of experience in this dojo; for example, what benefits had she derived from training; what, if any, perceptual changes in self-esteem had occurred as a result of training; did she perceive a connection between changes in physical perception and global self-esteem change; had she trained in other dojos and, if so, what differences did she discern; and what aspects of the current training program did she believe to be responsible for such changes. Procedure

Interviews were conducted over a three-month period during summer 1993. The researcher encouraged participation in the study by meeting with a large number of women who attended a weekly meditation class at the dojo. The general nature and importance of the study were discussed, and questions and concerns were addressed. Participants were identified 161


Appendix D

from this group (n = 18), as well as by word of mouth (n = 12), and were later contacted by phone. Of the 30 participants, 19 regularly attended the weekly meditation and discussion group; eleven did not regularly or ever attend because of time restrictions. Each volunteer was interviewed privately in her home, face-to-face, for approximately 90 to 120 minutes. In order to minimize the possibility that participants might respond in a socially desirable manner, and following human subject protocol, anonymity and confidentiality of interview responses were guaranteed and maintained throughout the study. Participant Observation

Although the empirical data for this study were derived primarily from structured interviews, participant observation techniques were also used. That is, the researcher participated in three months of martial arts training at Thousand Waves, made numerous observations of courses other than her own, and had informal conversations with a variety of women who were learning the martial arts at Thousand Waves but who were not formally interviewed. Participant observation was used to deepen the researcher’s understanding of how the dojo environment and the practice of seido karate contributed to self- and group change. Inductive Content Analysis

Each interview was transcribed verbatim in preparation for data analysis. After the transcripts were completed, each interview was read, question by question, and salient themes and illustrative quotations were recorded. The purpose of the inductive analysis process was to synthesize specific perceptions reported by the participants into meaningful themes. This process was guided by a search for patterns of similarity across the raw data themes and to merge similar themes into one integrated concept. Each of the raw data themes was recorded on a separate sheet of paper. Quotations illustrating the theme were also written on the paper, as well as a comment summarizing the quote. One reliability check was performed by having two individuals, neither associated with the research process, read all of the quotes and summary comments to determine if the summaries accurately reflected the quotations. Both reviewers found the summaries to be accurate reflections of the quotes. After the list of raw data themes was compiled, an inductive analysis of the data was undertaken in order to generate higher-order themes (i.e., merging similar raw data themes into a higher-order concept). A second

Research Methods for the Martial Artist Study


reliability check was performed by a third person, again not associated with the investigation, who independently read the transcripts and subsequently categorized raw data themes into more general themes. These categories were compared to those of the researcher and found to be 100 percent consistent at the higher-order level and almost entirely consistent at the lower raw data level: The reliability checker identified two additional raw data–level themes not identified by the researcher. After discussion, it was decided to add the two to the original list.

Appendix E Examples of Martial Artist Interview Questions 1. Give me a brief history of how you got into the martial arts. What motivated you to begin practicing martial arts? Why did you select this dojo? 2. What benefits do you receive from martial arts training and specifically from gaining the ability to self-defend? What have you learned from self-defense that you can apply in other domains (e.g., work, relationships, politics)? Are there any costs (negatives) you have received from martial arts training? 3. Have you changed as a result of your martial arts training at this dojo? If so, how? If you have had experience in other dojos, how is this dojo different? 4. Has the way that you experience your body and self changed as a result of gaining the ability to defend yourself physically? If so, how? 5. Have your relations with and perceptions of others (women and men) changed as a result of your self-defense experience? If so, how? How do you think others perceive you now that you know how to self-defend? 6. How is your perceived ability to self-defend related to your sense of physical worth? Your overall self-esteem? 7. Are there benefits to be gained from training in a women-only dojo? Are there any costs? Please describe. What aspects of this dojo have contributed to the body and self-esteem changes you noted earlier?


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Index Abortion, 26, 125–126 Acosta, Vivian, 103 Adolescence, 86 African American women, 19, 23–24, 25, 26–27, 78, 80; and sports participation, 99–101; and white women, 23, 24, 25, 26–27. See also Women of color Afro-American, 100, 101 Ageism, 80 AIAW. See Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women Amazonian transformation, 6, 12, 28 Amazons, 1–2, 32, 36, 39, 69, 137, 138, 139–140 American Indians, 142–144, 146 Anorexia, 42–44 Anzaldua, Gloria, 19, 38, 135, 139 Asch, Adrienne, 115 Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), 102, 103, 110

Backlash (Faludi), 23 Bandura, Albert, 84, 151(n18) Barbin, Herculine, 50, 51 Bart, Pauline, 68, 87, 89–90 Bartky, Sandra, 15, 41–42, 44, 63 Basketball, 99 Beauty. See Femininity Beauty Myth, The (Wolf), 23 Beauvoir, Simone de, 9–10 Benhabib, Seyla, 14, 16, 91 Biological determinism, 116 Biological essentialism, 7, 14, 15, 16, 70, 92 Bio-power, 50

Birrell, Susan, 111 Blinde, Elaine, 111–112 Bodily comportment, 35, 47(n9), 77–78, 89–90, 108–109 Bodily discipline, 43–44, 46, 50, 57–58 Body. See Mind-body dualism; Mindbody empowerment; Self Body beauty discourse. See Femininity Bodybuilding, 3, 58–59, 93–94, 134–135; Amazonian, 140; and femininity, 13, 40, 43–44, 45–46, 52, 54, 56, 57–59, 60, 62; feminist study of, 28, 41–44, 63–64; and Foucaultian resistances, 46, 51–53; as individual experience, 52–53, 62; male encouragement for, 56; participant observations of, 58– 62; participants and methods in study of, 54–56, 153–155, 157–159; perception of, 13, 39–40, 60–61, 62; and self defense, 62, 63; as shared experience, 53–54, 61, 64 Body Guards (Epstein and Straub), 91 Body image. See Bodily comportment; Femininity Body weight, 60, 77, 79, 157 Bonsai, image of, 74 Bordo, Susan, 15, 18, 41, 42–44, 91, 93 Born on the Fourth of July (film), 127 Braille, Louis, 121 “Breasted Experience” (Young), 35 Breast removal, 36 Bulimia, 60, 157 Bullock, Sandra, 136, 139 Butler, Judith, 10, 11–12, 15, 17, 29, 32, 34, 47(n1), 135




Cahn, Susan, 96, 97 Caraway, Nancie, 141 Care, ethic of, 14, 70, 111. See also Care-of-the-self ethic Care of the Self (Foucault), 45 Care-of-the-self ethic, 45, 51, 52, 67, 68–70; Amazonian, 140–141; in bodybuilding study, 54, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63–64; as group process, 63–64, 141; in martial arts study, 87–88; See also Intersubjectivity; Resistance as freedom Carpenter, Linda, 103 Children, 86–87 Chodorow, Nancy, 18 Christianity, 9, 45 Civil Rights Law (1964), Title IX Amendment to, 101–104, 108, 110 Cixous, Helene, 14 Clark, Marcia, 25 Class, 16, 99, 100, 115 Clifford, James, 142, 143, 144 Coachman, Alice, 101 Coalition building, 2, 5–6, 8, 9, 12, 21, 22, 27, 141. See also Bodybuilding, as shared experience; Group identity; Identity politics; Intersubjectivity; Martial arts training, group coalition in; Political activism; Resistance as freedom, as group process; Women’s experience, as group Cochran, Johnnie, Jr., 25 Cole, Cheryl, 104 Collective efficacy, 84–85, 152(n18) Collins, Patricia Hill, 19, 135 Connell, Robert, 40 Consciousness, 89, 136, 142. See also Identity; Self Cornell, Drucilla, 91, 135, 137 Crenshaw, Kimberle, 24 Cross-dressing, 11–12, 34 Cruise, Tom, 128 Cyborgs, 136, 137, 138, 139

Daly, Mary, 38–39, 139 Dancers, 76–77 Darden, Christopher, 25 Democracy, participatory, 148, 151(n18) Derrida, Jacques, 8 Descartes, Rene, 9, 105

DeVries, Diane, 123–124, 130, 138 Dinnerstein, Dorothy, 18 Disability, 5, 115–117, 124, 125, 138; and able-bodied, 128–129, 131, 132(n20); and abortion, 125–126; and disabilism, 116–117, 124; experiential accounts of, 122–124; and feminist study, 129, 131–132; and gender, 127–128; historical construction of, 121–122; and individual control, 125, 126–128; and liminality, 118–121; and norms, 116, 117–118, 130; and rehabilitation, 121, 124, 127; and stigma, 117–118; and super-crip, 125, 128 Diversity. See under Women’s experience Dojo, 5, 71, 72–74, 85 Domestic violence, 24–26 Douglas, Mary, 119–120, 137 Dress, 11–12, 34, 123 Dworkin, Andrea, 19

Eating disorders, 42–44, 57, 60, 78, 157 Ellis, Havelock, 96 Empowerment. See Mental empowerment; Mind-body empowerment; Physical empowerment Encyclopedia of Amazons, The (Salmonson), 139 Épée, Abbé de l’, 121 Epstein, J., 91 Essentialism, 7, 31, 32, 70, 92; and postmodernism, 14–19 Everson, Cory, 57

Faludi, Susan, 23 Fear, 45, 68, 78, 83 Female body. See Female embodiment; Female subjectivity; Femininity; Mind-body dualism; Women’s experience Female desire, 33 Female embodiment, 14, 32–33, 35, 68, 74, 87; as mind-body interaction, 28, 69, 135; as object for others, 11, 109. See also Female subjectivity; Mindbody empowerment; Women’s experience


Female identity. See under Identity Female proletariat, 14, 19 Female reproductive capacity, 10, 11, 14 Female subjectivity, 7–8, 14, 15, 16, 22, 31, 38. See also Female embodiment; Women’s experience Femininity, 9–10, 42, 96, 109; and bodybuilding, 13, 40, 43–44, 45–46, 52, 54, 56, 57–59, 60, 62; body norms of, 13, 130, 131, 137, 139; and eating disorders, 42–44; and sport, 13, 99, 100–101, 113. See also Gender Feminism. See Feminist liberatory strategies; Feminist study; under Lesbians Feminism Unmodified (MacKinnon), 20 Feminist Contentions (Benhabib, et al.), 91 Feminist liberatory strategies, 4–5, 28. See also Amazons; Mental empowerment; Mind-body empowerment; Physical empowerment Feminist/Postmodernism (Nicholson), 91 Feminist study, 7–8, 9, 16, 22–23, 27, 28, 31, 106, 107; and written language, 33–34, 35, 51, 136. See also Essentialism; Feminist liberatory strategies; Postmodernism; under Bodybuilding; Disability; Martial arts training; Sport Fine, Michelle, 115 Firestone, Shulamith, 10 Football, 98 Foucault, Michel, 3–4, 8, 12, 28, 33–34, 45–46, 63, 134, 135; in bodybuilding study, 41, 44, 45, 46, 49, 50–53; on homosexuality, 37; and Merleau-Ponty, 45, 48(n26); resistance discourses of, 37–38, 44, 46, 50–53; and sexual identity, 50, 51–52. See also Care-of-the-self ethic; Power-knowledge discourses Frank, Geyla, 123, 124 Fraser, Antonia, 139 Fraser, N., 91 Freedom, 45, 52, 69. See also Resistance as freedom


Free speech, 20 Freud, Sigmund, 96 Frug, Mary Joe, 20, 21, 38, 39, 68, 89, 142, 144 Fuhrman, Mark, 25 Fuss, Diana, 141

Gay Head Indians, 143–144 Gender, 8, 34, 36, 38, 50, 67, 68, 88; and disability, 125, 127–128, 129–130. See also Femininity; Masculinity; Resistance as freedom Gender/Body/Knowledge (Jaggar and Bordo), 91 Gender parody, 11–12, 34 Gender relations, 2, 14–15, 71, 72, 95–96, 116, 181. See also Interpersonal relations; Power relations Genders, multiple, 151(n17) Gentleness, 81 Gilligan, Carol, 18, 111 Gissendanner, Cindy Himes, 99–101 Goffman, Erving, 117–118 Gordon, Linda, 26 Graham, Susan, 145 Grant, Judith, 14, 89 Grosz, Elizabeth, 29, 32–33 Group identity, 22, 142–143, 151(n10). See also Coalition building; Identity politics Gynocentric environment, 70, 72, 81–84

Habermas, Jurgen, 151(n18) Han, Linling, 111–112 Haraway, Donna, 136, 137, 139 Harris, Angela, 24 Hartsock, Nancy, 10, 14, 19 Haug, Frigga, 29, 32 Haüy, Valentin, 121 Healing, through martial arts, 78–79, 82, 83 Hepburn, Audrey, 127, 128 Herculine Barbin (Barbin), 50 Hermaphroditism, 50 Heterosexuality, 12, 13, 34, 37, 97, 140 Hill, Anita, 23, 24 Hillyer, Barbara, 115, 125–126, 129 Homophobia, 4, 12, 21, 38, 96, 97, 107


Homosexuality, 37, 108. See also Lesbians Honbu seido karate school, 83 Hooks, bell, 19 Hribar, Amy, 104 Humanistic essentialism, 7, 14–15


Identities, multiple, 7–8, 147 Identity, 5, 142; female, 68, 70, 134, 151(n17); personal, 117– 118, 142–144, 146, 151(n14). See also Female subjectivity; Group identity; Identity politics; Sexual identity; Women’s experience Identity politics, 4, 5–6, 27, 141, 151(n6); and race, 22–26 Incest, 78, 82–83 Individualism, 16, 17, 21, 45, 52–53. See also Self Industrial capitalism, 95, 98 Inessential Women (Spelman), 115 Inhibited intentionality, 109 Intellectuals, 52. See also Mental empowerment Interpersonal relations, 21, 80, 81, 89, 134. See also Power relations Intersubjectivity, 46, 53–54, 63, 69– 70 Irigaray, Luce, 11, 14, 29, 32, 33

Jaggar, A. M., 91 Jouissance feminine, 14, 33 Joyner, Florence, 101 Joyner-Kersee, Jackie, 101

Karate, 72 Kiai, 78 Kingston, Maxine Hong, 139 Knowledge-power discourses. See Power-knowledge discourses

Lacan, Jacques, 8, 21 Language. See under Feminist study Law, 38, 68, 91–92; and tribal identity, 142–143 Lesbians, 22, 108; and feminism, 89, 106, 107, 112; and physical education, 97, 100, 106, 107; and sexual identity, 37, 96; and sport, 96–97, 112; stereotype of, 96, 97, 106, 107

Liberatory strategies. See Feminist liberatory strategies Life (magazine), 94 Liminality, 118–121

MacKinnon, Catharine, 10, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 109–110 Male dominance, 10, 11, 20, 21, 23, 31, 98, 113 Male embodiment, 40 Male-female relations. See Gender relations; Interpersonal relations; Power relations Marriage: homosexual, 38; interracial, 145, 146 Martial arts training, 3, 28, 71, 76, 77, 89, 134–135; Amazonian, 140; and body perceptions, 77–78, 79–81; feminist study in, 73, 75, 76; group coalition in, 3, 84–85, 88, 141, 147–149, 151(n18); gynocentric environment in, 70, 72, 81–84; healing in, 78–79, 82, 83; mentoring in, 72, 73, 82, 85; participant observations of, 74–87; participants and methods in study of, 71–74, 161–163, 165; and relations with men, 82, 83, 89; and self-defense, 72, 74–75, 85–87; and yelling, 73, 78. See also Care-of-the-self ethic Martin, Pete, 95 Marxism, 19, 21 Masculinity, 40, 95–96, 97, 98, 127 Mashpee Indians, 5, 142–143 Maternity, 10, 11 McDaniel, Mildred, 101 McLish, Rachel, 57 Meditation, 71, 73 Mental empowerment, 4, 33, 34, 35, 68, 70, 87, 89, 136. See also Mindbody dualism; Mind-body empowerment Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, 4, 5, 11, 32, 135; and intersubjectivity, 46, 53–54, 63, 69–70; and lived-body, 41, 45, 46, 48(n26), 49, 63; and motility, 108; and moral responsibility, 28, 41, 45, 70, 134 Messner, Michael, 95, 98, 111 Mind-body dualism, 2–3, 4, 41, 47(n9), 67–68, 135–136; postmodernist,


10–11, 31–32; and women, 9–10, 133, 134 See also Mental empowerment Mind-body empowerment, 35–36, 49, 68, 69, 70, 87, 89, 134, 136, 137; Amazonian, 140; in bodybuilding, 28–29; and coalition building, 148–150; in martial arts training, 72, 74–77, 78–79. See also Care-of-theself ethic; Mental empowerment; Physical empowerment; Resistance as freedom Minorities. See African American women; Group identity; Women of color Moraga, Cherrie, 19 Morality, 14–15, 28, 45 Morris, Jenny, 115, 120, 122, 123, 126, 128–129, 130, 138 Multiracialism, 5, 144–146 Multiracial Solidarity March, 145 Murphy, Robert, 118–119, 120, 123, 129, 130, 138 My Left Foot (film), 127

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 146 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), 103, 110 National Council of La Raza, 146 National Urban League, 146 Native Americans, 142–144, 146 Navratilova, Martina, 105, 108 NCAA. See National Collegiate Athletic Association Nelson, Mariah Burton, 98 Net, The (film), 136, 138, 139 New York Times, 25, 145 Nicholson, L. J., 91 Noddings, Nel, 14, 70 Nuer tribe, and disability, 120 Nussbaum, Martha, 14, 16–17

O’Brien, Patricia, 68, 87 Okin, Susan Moller, 14, 16, 17 Olympic Games, 101 “On Embodiment: A Case Study of Congenital Limb Deficiency” (Frank), 123–124 Oppression, 19, 21, 22–23, 29, 35, 38, 46, 49, 68, 70, 75, 135


Passion for Friends, A (Raymond), 139 Patriarchy, 13, 21, 68, 85, 102, 127, 136; and bodybuilding, 4, 41; and femininity, 35, 42; and law, 38, 92 Performativity, 34 Phenomenology of Perception (Merleau-Ponty), 32 Physical education, 96, 97–98, 99–100, 106–108, 110 Physical empowerment, 3, 13, 68, 85, 87, 89, 110, 136; and bodybuilding, 55–56, 57–58; and martial arts training, 74–77, 78–79; and sport, 110, 111–112. See also Mind-body empowerment Plato, 9, 105 Political activism, 4, 12, 17, 20, 44, 72, 141. See also Coalition building Political correctness, 8, 17, 18 Pornography, 19–21 Postmodernism, 4, 7, 8, 9, 26–27, 32, 47(n1), 139; and essentialism, 14–19; and mind-body dualism, 10–11, 31–32 Poststructuralism, 7, 32, 47(n1) Power-knowledge discourses, 3, 12, 15, 37–38, 41, 45, 50, 51, 52. See also Power relations Power relations, 15, 44, 47(n1), 81, 84, 85, 95–96, 134; repressive/ authorized, 52; resistance to, 37, 38, 50–51. See also Power-knowledge discourses; Resistance as freedom; Reverse resistance Pregnancy, 10, 35 “Pregnant Embodiment” (Young), 35 Project RACE, 145 Pumping Iron (film), 93

Race, 17, 21, 22, 23, 24–26. See also African American women; Multiracialism; Women of color Racial solidarity, 24, 25, 27 Rainbow Coalition, 22, 141, 151(n6) Rape, 24, 68, 78, 87 Raymond, Janice, 139 Reeve, Christopher, 127 Resistance as freedom, 38, 51, 52, 68; Amazonian, 140; in bodybuilding study, 59–61; as group process,



46, 53–54, 61, 134–135. See also Care-of-the-self ethic Responsibility, 45, 134 Reverse resistance, 37, 46, 51, 52, 53, 57 Richter, Diana, 111 Rosen, Trix, 43 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 148, 151(n18) Rudolph, Wilma, 101

Sabo, Don, 111 Salmonson, Jessica, 139 Sawicki, Jana, 15 Science fiction, 136, 137–138 Seido karate, 72, 85 Self, 16, 21, 134. See also Selfconstitution Self-constitution, 15, 16, 21, 108–109, 139–140; historical, 45, 51, 69; and sexual identity, 38, 39 Self-control. See Bodily discipline Self-defense, 62, 63, 72, 74–75, 77, 81, 85–86; for children, 86– 87 Self-efficacy, 1, 76, 149, 151(n18) Self-esteem, 57, 60, 76, 85 Senpais, 72, 84 Sensei, 83 Sexes, representations of, 9–11. See also Female subjectivity; Sexual identity; Women’s experience Sexual abuse, 82–83, 87 Sexual appeal, 13, 75. See also Femininity Sexual desire, 11 Sexual domination. See Male dominance Sexual harassment, 22, 23–24 Sexual identity, 34, 36–37, 38–39, 40, 50, 69, 96, 138; Amazonian, 137; and disability, 118–119, 131; and resistance discourses, 37–38 Sexuality, 11, 34, 36, 50, 69, 109. See also Sexual identity Sexual relationships, 61, 62, 84. See also Interpersonal relations Shared experience. See Intersubjectivity Simpson, Nicole Brown, 25 Simpson, O. J., 24, 25 Social change, 95–96, 149 Social constructionism, 7, 8, 93

Social deviants, 118 Socialization, 11, 68, 75–76 Society, categorization in, 117, 118, 119–120 Softball, 111 Spelman, Elizabeth, 115, 129, 133 Spencer-Devlin, Muffin, 105 Spiritual empowerment, 75 Sport, 87, 89–90, 99, 102, 104–105, 108–109; African Americans in, 99–101; and femininity, 13, 94, 95; and feminist study, 3, 5, 90, 91–92, 93, 112, 113, 131; and lesbianism, 96–97, 112; male deconstruction of, 111; male defined, 95–96, 97, 98, 103, 104, 109, 110, 112, 113; and social change, 95–96, 98. See also Physical education Sports administration, 102–103 Sports coaching, 102, 104, 112 Steroid use, 57 Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity (Goffman), 117 Stiker, Henri-Jacques, 121–122, 138 Straub, K., 91 Stronger Women Get, the More Men Love Football, The (Nelson), 98 Subjectivity, 49, 69. See also Intersubjectivity Suffrage movement, 96 Super Bowl, 98 Supreme Court, U.S., 20, 23, 26 Swoopes, Sheryl, 105

Taub, Diane, 111–112 Terrorization of female body, 45, 68 Thomas, Clarence, 23, 24 Thousand Waves martial arts dojo, 5, 72–74 “Throwing Like a Girl” (Young), 35 Title IX, 101–104, 108, 110 Tribal identity, 142–144 Tribal recognition, 142–144, 151(n13) Turner, Victor, 119

Use of Pleasure, The (Foucault), 45

Values, 41, 46 Van Gennep, Arnold, 119 Victims, blame of, 80 Violence, 25, 68, 70, 85, 87, 89


Wait Until Dark (film), 127–128 Wampanoag Indians, 142–144 Warrior Queens, The (Fraser), 139 Welfare reform, 26–27 Whitson, David, 111 Widdiss, Gladys, 144 Wilkerson, Isabel, 25 Williams, Patricia, 24 Wolf, Naomi, 23 Woman Warrior, The (Kingston), 139 Women of color, 8, 19, 21, 22, 29(n10) Women’s experience: of body, 33, 35; diversity of, 8, 21, 22, 28, 141, 151(n6); essentialist, 16; as group, 4, 8, 17, 19, 21, 151(n6);


postmodernist, 17; as universal, 8, 16, 17, 18, 35. See also Female embodiment; Female subjectivity Women’s liberation. See Feminist liberatory strategies Women’s studies. See Feminist study Working-class women, 16, 22 Wrestling, 100 Young, Iris, 17, 29, 32, 35, 91, 109, 135

Zaharias, Mildred “Babe” Didrikson, 93, 94–95, 105 Zook, Kristal Brent, 27

About the Book Reclaiming the female body, which historically has been defined and controlled by male scientists, physicians, psychiatrists, and theologians, is one of the most significant agendas of feminist theory. According to Shirley Castelnuovo and Sharon Guthrie, male control and oppression of female bodies is ultimately rooted in the threat of male violence, whether battering or rape, sexual harassment or the negative stereotyping of physically powerful women. What fuels this threat and the resultant terrorization is the disabling movement vocabulary that is part of being feminine in our culture—a vocabulary emphasizing softness, vulnerability, weakness, and fear of injury. The authors challenge the Cartesian emphasis on mind that characterizes much feminist theory, offering instead a perspective that conceives of mind and body as a unity. They examine the construction of terrorized female bodies, how this construction is affected by age, class, race, and sexual preference, and how women who resent the status quo are developing themselves physically. They conclude by proposing a politics of feminist embodiment in which women use collective “care-of-the-self” practices that empower both their bodies and their minds. Extensive interviews with women involved in bodybuilding, selfdefense training, and similar activities provide the empirical context of this original theoretical analysis.

Shirley Castelnuovo is professor of political science emeritus at Northeastern Illinois University and adjunct professor of political science at Saddleback College. Sharon Guthrie is associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education at California State University, Long Beach.