Feminist Perspectives on the Body

Feminist Perspectives on the Body

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4090-9.ch010
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This chapter discusses feminist theories of embodiment. The theories provide a general account of the relations between bodies and selves. The philosophy of embodiment extends outside the social and political sphere to engage with debates in philosophy of mind/body, where attention to embodiment has extended beyond a simple reductionist picture of the relation between mind and brain, to consider an embodied self, embedded within an environment. The formation of embodied subjectivity as constitutive of the self, to which feminists have paid such careful attention, and the persisting interrogation of the appropriate way of understanding biological and social embodiment, has links with these debates. Feminist theorists discussed in this chapter argue that naturalising frameworks need supplementing with phenomenological, poststructuralist, and psychoanalytic ones for a complete understanding of the embodiment of the female human body.
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10.1 The Body: Historical Background

Early feminists such as Wollstonecraft and Harriet Taylor Mill, regarded their bodies with suspicion. In the context in which they lived as middle class women, their bodies were commodities to be maintained to enable them to entice men into matrimony so that they would have the material means to live. Women's attention to their bodies took the form of producing them as objects for others' appraisal. Wollstonecraft's 1792 text, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, provides a clear example of the disciplining of the female body to preserve personal beauty (Wollstonecraft, 1988, 55). The body was also considered as a source of vulnerability. John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill were preoccupied with the way their susceptibility to illness interrupted their ability to produce philosophical work and cast the shadow of early death over their life plans. Moreover any celebration of the body as source of sensual pleasure was constrained by a risk of pregnancy.

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