Theorizing the Body

Candace, 25 July 2005, Comments Off on Theorizing the Body
Categories: Bodies, Women's Studies

There are four main/popular schools of thought in regards to feminist theory:

The two that have the most relevance to me are social constructionist and post-structuralist theory although I know I am influenced by all four in understanding the female bodies around me.

I have been told that there are things I am not allowed to do because I am female. In childhood I was discouraged from some things while being encouraged in others because there were social mores in place about what boys and girls ‘should’ do. Thus I was encouraged to bake and dance and my brother was encouraged to help in the garage and to build things. I was anxious around power tools and behind the wheel of a car because I had been taught that these are things girls were not good at. It was never explained to me what part of my corporeality created this inferiority, it was simply presented to me as fact. As I have gotten older and read and observed more I realize there is nothing innate in me as a woman that predisposes me to baking and dancing just like there was nothing innate in my brother than led him to mechanics. But now I am a dance teacher and he is a mechanic. Even though I have power tools of my own (and have developed skill in using them) we both followed the teachings we received in our childhoods.

Postmodern thinking is appealing in that it challenges the social construction of gender around me. The introduction to postmodern thinking that I have received has helped me explain how my own identity has changed over the past years. Rather than seeing myself as a ‘new’ or ‘different’ person, this type of thinking has helped me see that I really am the same person whose identity is in constant flux. I like the characteristic of postmodern theory that shows how different forces are relevant in influencing women’s position and power in North American society.

Women’s identities are more than their own individual experiences though. The systems that shape our society: government, education, religion, families all play a powerful role on who we are and who we become. These invisible systems affect us at every level of our lives.

When I exhibit traditional female behaviour I consider which individual experiences I have had that cause me to make the choices that I make. I see my behaviour as a construction of the society around me. However, when I see another woman performing a traditional female gender role I am more likely to consider the systems around us all that influence her decisions. While I do think her behaviour is impacted by societal expectations of what it means to be female I think any change in behaviour of women as a group faces a larger challenge from the systems in operation.


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