Feminism and Autonomy

The female body in Western culture is both traditionally and currently surrounded by controversy. There are many parts of the female body that are simply unacceptable, yet desirable in only a sexual manner. In contrast, the male body is completely acceptable and desirable, but in many ways other than sexual. Essentially women are regulated down to their sex organs, without being allowed to have any other state of personhood. How then can women claim bodily autonomy if their bodies are everything that they are judged upon? A woman with sexual power is still sexualized. Women who try to stay away from being sexualized by doing “unacceptable” things like refusing to shave or wearing baggy or male clothes are trivialized. And no matter what they wear, whether it be revealing or completely covering, women will always be sexualized. As a feminist I think it is very important to study how women, and Western women specifically in this particular instance, make meaning through their bodies when all of that has been taken from them. Being “feminine” and dressing “feminine” is seen as one of the most demeaning things in Western/American culture. This is why it is acceptable for women to dress “masculine” (i.e. pants, button down shirts, suits), but unacceptable for men to dress “feminine” (i.e. dresses, skirts, high heels, tights). Understanding how women make meaning through defiance or compliance or something in between these norms could be very beneficial and a practical use of anthropology, especially since we are now beginning to recognize women as human beings, and not as a mystifying sexual entity.

Reference: Amar El Pueblo: The Embodied Politics of Autonomy by Christopher Loperena

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7 thoughts on “Feminism and Autonomy

  1. Feminism is an interesting topic. I believe that feminism is about being empowered, others might think something else which is definitely alright with me. However, women can be empowered in many different ways. Some could be empowered through becoming the head of a company. Others might base it on if their body is very attractive. Even though women can be hurt by society’s deciding of who’s attractive and who’s not, some might become empowered knowing that they fit society’s “perfect” body image.

    • This is a really interesting observation, and I’m glad you pointed this out. But what about those who don’t fit into society’s perfect body image? How would they then use their body (or not) for empowerment?

  2. As I said, some women might be hurt by society’s ideal body image because they do not fit that image. In that case they would not be empowered. Or they can look at certain celebrities that are confident in their bodies, such as Amber Riley on Glee or Meghan Trainor who sings “All About That Bass”. Those celebrities could be people some women look to in order to gain confidence in their bodies.

  3. This is a very interesting post. As a feminist myself, I have to say I agree with just about everything you have said here. However, one suggestion I have for you would be to try and go into a bit more detail as to why certain female body parts are unacceptable. Have they always been this way? I would also try to explain why these body parts are unacceptable to society: Are they always unacceptable? Are they unacceptable /because/ they are sexualized, or for some other reason?
    Those are just a few questions you could answer that might add a bit more depth to this post. Otherwise, it’s great!

  4. The argument that you raise directly links back to several issues we have discussed in class this semester. When you spoke of a woman’s body being broken down into sexual organs, it reminded me of the discussion we had about breasts and how their primary purpose is for providing nourishment to a child, but our society sexualizes them and shames women for exposing them. I also liked that you spoke of how the concept of being “feminine” is thought of as being a bad thing in our culture. That relates back to “Dude, You’re a Fag” and how the author discussed how boys who had more feminine traits were seen as weaker and less favorable. These are real issues that need to be addressed in our culture.

  5. It is interesting to study the contrast between how the female body is sexualized and accepted in culture and how the male body is conceptualized. Going against the social norm in terms of clothing, in this case, challenges sexual identity and what makes the female body sexually desirable. For example, the point you brought up about females dressing “masculine” is quite interesting; culture in some cases forces women to dress like men in order to be accepted. Your article does a great job in addressing gender stereotypes, such as females being judged solely by their body. Sexual power and how females make meaning via their bodies is an interesting subject and your blog touches upon it nicely.

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