Second Wave Of Feminism - Female Embodiment


Looking back, one of the most important elements of existence in second wave feminism is how a person lives in a body. 

This is referred to as embodiment by philosophers. 

Second-wave feminists pioneered innovative approaches to analyzing the origins and consequences of issues such as eating disorders, female sexuality, sexual assault, beauty standards, and even bodily conduct. 

  • I examine some of these issues within the context of each of the many waves of feminism in order to demonstrate the various perspectives and techniques. 
  • In this essay, I discuss embodiment in general and its role in second-wave feminist issues. 

In some ways, embodiment stems from a long-standing philosophical conundrum: 

How to reconcile the intellect and the body?

In the seventeenth century, RenĂ© Descartes notably investigated this issue. 

  • The body, according to Descartes, is nothing more than a mechanism that is driven by the rational mind. 
  • The mind and the body are two types of substances: 

    1. the mind is a non-extended material, 
    2. whereas the body is an extended substance (it takes up space). 
  • Descartes, too, confronted the issue of explaining the connection between mind and body in his own time. 
  • To put it another way, how could something that doesn't take up space have any effect on something that does? 

Following philosophers have attempted to answer the issue and have given a range of answers. 

Some feminist explanations have an unique position in social philosophy, despite the fact that they typically come under the umbrella of philosophy of mind. 

As a feminist idea, embodiment refers to how one lives one's body. 

  • Embodiment is the topic of both criticism and positive theory building, given that women's bodies are often the target of considerable societal control as well as the focus of distinctively female contributions to society. 

Some feminists utilize embodiment to criticize women's societal expectations. 

Some feminists have argued that eating disorders and cosmetic surgery are both the consequence of women's estrangement from their bodies. 

    • When society delivers more or less constant signals about what constitutes the ideal or even the "normal" physique for women and men, deviations from those standards may lead a person to see her or his body as alien or even hostile. 

A person may turn to severe means such as life-threatening diet or surgery in order to gain control over this alien power. 

    • Take note of how this interpretation of the body as foreign or "other" appropriates Beauvoir's notion of otherness. 

The Other is seen as a danger that must be subdued. Similarly, the body may be a source of shame. 

    • Menstruation has been mythologized to the point that its onset may give a young woman humiliation at being subject to the forces of nature, as Beauvoir claimed. 

Patriarchal norms of feminine behavior may also lead to body shame. 

  • A woman may conceal her breasts and legs, covering her body to avoid being objectified or reduced to its components, in response to a leering stare or catcall. 
  • Of course, not every physical experience leads to feelings of estrangement or guilt, and not every woman has a complicated relationship with her own body. 
  • Embodiment is also how we interact with the environment. 

Instead of asking, "How does the mind interact with the body?" 

Descartes' inquiry becomes, "How does embodied subjectivity connect with the world?" 

Shame and alienation seem to highlight the inverse of this relationship: 

  • How the environment influences one's bodily experience. 
  • Subjective embodiment seeks communicative experiences and empathic understanding between and among individuals, rather than universalizing statements about the body. 

At various times and in different situations, women have distinct experiences with their bodies. 

  • Subjective embodiment enables women to reflect about how they live their bodies uniquely by rejecting essentialist assumptions about how all women experience their bodies. 
  • This is a world apart from medieval efforts to escape the body and modernist attempts to mechanize the body. 
  • The environment forms and is molded by the living body. 

The shifts in how women perceive embodiment are reflected in feminist theories on female sexual pleasure. 

  • In the Western culture, sexual intercourse was traditionally defined and centered on the male body's activities. 
  • Penetration and ejaculation were the hallmarks of sex. 
  • Women and sexual pleasure are almost completely missing from such a view of sex, and women who do seek or feel sexual pleasure may be demonized or ashamed.
  • They're just there to be entered and maybe pregnant. 
  • Women were even referred to as "vessels for reproduction" by some, but there was no mention of a woman's personal subjective experience of her body during sex. 
  • When the body is reduced to a reproduction object, alienation is common. 

Second and third wave feminists have made significant progress in reclaiming sexual pleasure for women, teaching women about their own bodies, the many locations and sources of sexual pleasure, and female orgasms, as well as educating the general public about sexual equality and reciprocity. 

Third-wave feminists also brought into the public a broader discussion of autoeroticism and non-traditional sexual interactions. 

Finally, embodiment may be seen as a metaphor. 

  • Since Plato, political theorists have utilized the body as a metaphor for the state.
  • Feminists are interested in this kind of body politics because the body shown is often a male body devoid of the natural rhythms and connections associated with women, and because the state/body metaphor may be inverted to demonstrate the molding effect of power on the body. 

The notion that the masculine body represents the state is complicated. 

It could mean one or more of the following (though not all at the same time): 

(1) the state is patriarchal; 

(2) reason rather than nature should rule the state; 

(3) only men are represented in the state; 

(4) the state is phallocratic; or 

(5) the values privileged in the state or society are masculine values. 

We allude to the metaphor's inversion. The state might symbolize the body, illustrating the ability to shape it. 

  • The inherent differences between men and women are less important than how those differences are perceived by a culture or society in determining how women are treated. 
  • Following theorists built on this finding, demonstrating how things like popular media produce women via the strength of ubiquitous message. 
  • When faced with pictures of how the body should seem, individuals usually strive to fit in. 

This is similar to the state's use of coercion to force individuals to follow specific regulations. 

Using the work of French philosopher Michel Foucault, feminists like Bartky even discuss how the body is policed. 

Clearly, a person lives as, in, with, and through a body in a variety of ways. 

Understanding how oppression affects embodiment advances feminist theory beyond legal equality to a far more nuanced understanding of freedom.

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

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