✯✯✯ Mobility Nancy Mairs

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Mobility Nancy Mairs



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Flexible Mobility

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

By regimes of dieting, makeup, exercise, dress, and cosmetic surgery, women, and increasingly men, try to sculpt their bodies into shapes which reflect the dominant societal norms. Such disciplinary practices attach not only to the production of appropriately gendered bodies, but to other aspects of bodily identity subject to social normalization. Hair straightening, blue tinted contact lenses, surgical reconstruction of noses and lips, are practices in which the material shapes of our bodies are disciplined to correspond to a social ideal, reflecting the privileged position which certain kinds of, usually, white, always able, always young, bodies occupy. From the s, feminist attention to the power relations working through such disciplinary practices has made extensive use of the work of Foucault Foucault , Bartky , Bordo Foucauldian insights regarding disciplinary practices of the body are applied to the disciplining of the gendered, and most insistently the female, body.

Such accounts stress the way in which women actively discipline their own bodies not only to avoid social punishments, but also to derive certain kinds of pleasure. There are two key features of such accounts. One stresses the way in which the material shape of bodies is modified by such practices. The second that such modifications are a consequence of bodies carrying social meanings, signalling within specific contexts, sexual desirability, or availability, or respectability, or participation in social groupings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we cannot approach the extra-discursive except by exploring discursive possibilities. The insight of the new materialist discussions has been to ensure that matter, the material, is accorded an active role in this relation. Mattering becomes more important than matter! Here the body is not simply a materiality which outruns any attempt to conceptualize it; it is actively involved in processes of change and transformation. Nonetheless she draws some problematic conclusions which are not endorsed by current feminist biologists Fausto-Sterling ; Fine , In embracing natural selection she appears to give it a foundational explanatory role so that. Grosz [ 44]. And this sexual differentiation and the sexual selection with which, for her, it is interwoven, is then invoked to ground racial and other forms of bodily differences.

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

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

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

A return to an interest in feminist phenomenology, in the footsteps of Beauvoir, started with the work of Bartky and Young in the late s, but became widespread only in the s. At the center of phenomenological accounts of embodiment is the lived experience of the body. For such writers embodiment is our mode of being-in-the-world Young 9. The notion of experience is treated with great suspicion in the poststructuralist framework within which Butler is primarily positioned. The experiences to which phenomenological writers draw attention are not, however, of such a pure kind.

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

Here the stress is not only on inhibited intentionality. There is also recognition that such experiences can offer alternative possibilities for embodied engagement that can be positive as well as negative. Moi suggests that the category of the lived body can capture the way material features of our bodies play a role in our subjective sense of self, without giving a reductionist, biological account of such embodiment.

In her work a phenomenological account is employed to give an account of those identity categories which are anchored in material bodily features, what she terms visible identities. Focusing primarily on raced and gendered identities, she makes clear the way in which bodily features, color, hair, nose, breasts, genitals are invested with a significance which becomes a part of our immediate perceptual experience of them:. Both race and sex … are most definitely physical, marked on and through the body, lived as a material experience, visible as surface phenomena and determinant of economic and political status. Because of the material reality of the features and the immediacy of our perceptual response, the meanings attached to such features become naturalized.

The fact that they are the product of learned modes of perception is not evident to us, for such perceptual practices have become habitual and are resistant to change. The significance, therefore, of certain bodily shapes, informs our sense of our own body and of the bodies of others. The sense of our own body reflects, as was articulated by Sartre, Fanon, and Beauvoir, the way it is perceived by others. The very shape of the body carries its position in patterns of social interaction. I used to stare at the Indian in the mirror. The wide nostrils … the thick lips ….

Such a long face—such a long nose—sculpted by indifferent, blunt thumbs, and of such common clay. No one in my family had a face as dark or as Indian as mine. My face could not portray the ambition I brought to it. Alcoff ; my emphasis. Ambition is something expressible in a body of a different kind, and the face he looks at points to a positioning at odds with what he desires. Although Alcoff restricts her analysis to race and sex, it is clear that it also has relevance to other bodily identities. Lennon and Alsop , Ch. For experiences of material features of the body are foundational to our sense of our sexed identity and used by others to position us in patterns of social interaction. Despite the polarising and often damaging consequences of the perceptual practices which Alcoff draws our attention to, she remains optimistic about the possibilities for change, though stressing the difficulties of even bringing these practices into view.

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