The Politics of Women's Bodies: Sexuality, Appearance, and Behavior

The Politics of Women's Bodies: Sexuality, Appearance, and Behavior

The Politics of Women's Bodies: Sexuality, Appearance, and Behavior

The Politics of Women's Bodies: Sexuality, Appearance, and Behavior

Synopsis

For nearly three decades, feminist scholars have examined how the female body and ideas about the female body affect women's lives. The Politics of Women's Bodies: Sexuality, Appearance, and Behavior, 2/e, brings together recent critical writings in this important field, covering such diverse topics as the sources of eating disorders, the nature of lesbianism, and the consequences of violence against women. With the exception of two classic articles, all pieces were published in the last decade, and one-quarter of the selections are new to the second edition.
The Politics of Women's Bodies: Sexuality, Appearance, and Behavior, 2/e, begins by looking at how ideas about women's bodies become culturally accepted. As the writings in the first section demonstrate, this is a political process that can reflect, reinforce, or challenge the distribution of power between men and women. Subsequent sections look at how, once ideas about women's bodies become accepted, they can serve as powerful--and political--tools for controlling women's appearance, sexuality, and behavior. Articles new to this edition include "Daring to Desire: Culture and the Bodies of Adolescent Girls," by Deborah L. Tolman; "Casing My Joints: A Private and Public Story of Arthritis," by Mary Lowenthal Felstiner; and "Holding Back: Negotiating a Glass Ceiling on Women's Muscular Strength," by Shari L. Dworkin. This unique interdisciplinary anthology is ideal for undergraduate courses that cover the body and sexuality. It is also appropriate for introductory courses in women's studies and courses in the psychology, anthropology, or sociology of women; women and health; and feminist theory.

Excerpt

Since the start of the modern feminist movement, many writers and scholars have examined how ideas about the female body affect women's lives. They have produced a large and diverse literature, spread across many academic disciplines and using many theoretical approaches, on topics ranging from the nature of lesbianism, to the sources of eating disorders, to the consequences of violence against women. Taken together, this literature forms the nucleus of a new field, the politics of women's bodies. To date, however, no monograph or anthology has brought this literature together and demonstrated its coherence. This book aims to cast a new light on this growing field and to bring it the attention it deserves.

Three themes unite the readings in this anthology: how ideas about women's bodies are socially constructed, how these social constructions can be used to control women's lives, and how women can resist these forces.

The social construction of women's bodies is the process through which ideas (including scientific ideas) about women's bodies develop and become socially accepted. As this anthology demonstrates, this is a political process, which reflects, reinforces, or challenges the distribution of power between men and women.

Like all political processes, the social construction of women's bodies develops through battles between groups with competing political interests and with differential access to power and resources. For example, doctors have presented their ideas about the existence, nature, and consequences of “premenstrual syndrome” (PMS) as objective medical truths. Yet those ideas reflect both a particular economic context—in which women are increasingly demanding equal treatment in the world of work—and socially determined ideas rather than objective facts regarding the frailty and dangerousness of the female body. Doctors' ability to convince the public to accept these ideas has depended both on their economic and social power and on the support they have received from women who believe they have PMS and want validation for and treatment of their symptoms.

The social construction of women's bodies often serves as a powerful tool for controlling women's lives by fostering material changes in women's lives and bodies. Again, we can use PMS as an example. The existence of this diagnostic category gives employers an excuse not to hire or promote women—regardless of whether they have PMS—on the grounds that . . .

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