Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Fighting for Subjectivity: Articulations of Physicality in Girlfight

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Fighting for Subjectivity: Articulations of Physicality in Girlfight

Article excerpt


The analysis of Girlfight (Karyn Kusama, 2000) in this paper is framed by critical discourses surrounding physically active female characters in the action genre, the conventions of the boxing film 'genre', the relationship between bodily spectacle and narrative structure, as well as the more general significance of the female boxer's challenge to normative and binary notions of bodily existence and subjectivity. With a particular focus on the interrelationship between narrative structure and boxing sequences ('numbers'), this paper explores notions of the (gendered) subjectivity constructed around the film's female boxing character, Diana (Michelle Rodriguez). I will argue that the boxing 'numbers' largely function as a (bodily) articulation of Diana's struggle for a unified sense of identity and the embodiment of subjectivity. However, the emphasis on the materiality of the body in earlier 'numbers' is replaced in the final boxing sequence by a sense of abstraction and generic integration. The significance of the physicality of the body in relation to the embodiment of subjectivity is therefore strangely disavowed and the (bodily) agency of Diana's character undermined.

Keywords: gender, body, subjectivity


'The body' and visual representations of 'the body' are issues that have attracted the attention of (feminist) film critics, cultural studies scholars and media researchers for some time. Questions surrounding representations of 'the body' frequently arise in the context of questions surrounding articulations of 'subjectivity'. However, 'the materiality of bodies and bodily movement can sometimes become paradoxically submerged' within these debates as 'the body' remains a strangely abstract concept (Desmond 2). In response to this tendency, a number of contemporary scholars in various fields have started to take an increased interest in the 'inescapable fleshiness of the human subject' (Taylor 344). This shift towards a more corporeal worldview and a consideration of the materiality of the 'lived body' has its origins in the work of phenomenologists such as Marcel Merleau-Ponty and is also heavily influenced by Foucault's work on sexuality and institutions. The emphasis on the 'lived body' is linked to a rejection of the Cartesian mind/body dualism as the significance of the relationship between body and mind is emphasised; in this context, conceptualisations of subjectivity as 'embodied' become central (see Taylor 2007).

The following analysis of Girlfight (Karyn Kusama 2000), an independent American film about a female boxer, is situated in the context of this proposed shift. My reading of the film draws on debates concerned with the ambiguously empowering nature of women's pursuit of a quintessentially 'masculine' sport such as boxing. Additionally, it is situated in relation to debates surrounding cinematic representations of female physicality, particularly within the action genre. Lastly, my conceptual approach borrows from work on the 'musical', in particular the sustained academic interest in the relationship between narrative and 'number', as well as from conceptualisations of the boxing film as a (sub)genre in its own right. I will first outline the conceptual framework for this analysis in some more detail, before moving on to a discussion of Girlfight itself, where I will argue that the boxing 'numbers' function as an articulation of the protagonist's (bodily) struggle for a unified and embodied sense of self.

The Female Boxing Character: Action Heroine?

The relatively recent phenomenon of the boxing film with a female protagonist has been discussed primarily in the context of the increased presence of central female characters in the action genre--an issue that has received much critical attention within feminist film and media studies over the last two decades (Tasker 1993 and 1998; Holmund 2001). This work is primarily concerned with the ideological implications of the depictions of physically active and powerful female characters, as well as with the broader socio-cultural contexts in which these images are produced and consumed. …

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