Anatomy of Gender

Anatomy of Gender: Women's Struggle for the Body

Dawn H. Currie
Valerie Raoul
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 289
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  • Book Info
    Anatomy of Gender
    Book Description:

    Throughout the ages, the female body has been enshrined as an aesthetic object, associated with nature, sin and danger. This collection of essays covers a range of topics related to the female body.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7375-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. ii-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Dawn Currie and Valerie Raoul

    As we began to put this collection together, we became increasingly aware of the enormity of the task involved in a project that has as its aim re-writing the female body. As a goal of Women’s Studies, this task is made difficult because of resistance to alternative discourses within traditional academic disciplines, resistance that often springs from the pervasiveness of “common sense” wisdom about the body, particularly the female body. However, it is also difficult to produce a genuinely alternative discipline when the diversity of women’s voices is masked by our tendency to concentrate on the needs of privileged women...

  5. Contributors
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. The Anatomy of Gender: Dissecting Sexual Difference in the Body of Knowledge
    (pp. 1-34)
    Dawn H. Currie and Valerie Raoul

    While the goal of sexual equality unifies feminist politics around the world, the question of sexual difference, and what it means in the struggle for equality, is a controversial aspect of feminist theory in the west. Prior to the 1960s, the study of sexual difference was more or less confined to the natural sciences. In the study of the social world, differences between women and men were seldom considered to be significant; if taken into account, they were seen to reflect natural rather than social processes and to justify gender inequality. As a consequence, gender divisions along sexual lines were...

  7. Section One: Representation of the Female Body
    • Pornography or Misogyny? Fear and the Absurd
      (pp. 37-52)
      Isobel McAslan

      Pornography is difficult to define. Dictionaries impart nothing of the reality of it, nor do they convey anything of its variety. To say that pornography is “the expression or suggestion of obscene or unchaste subjects in literature or art”(Compact Oxford English Dictionary, 1986) means little. Looking at the roots of the word, however, we find a clearer meaning: its first root is the Greek word “pome,” which means harlot, and its second is “graphein,” to write. So, harlots being women who are used sexually by men, pornography comes to have a meaning involving sex and the domination of women...

    • On the Way to Female Imagery of God
      (pp. 53-64)
      Janet Cawley

      The official theologies of Christianity have always maintained that God does not have a gender: gender is a concept tied to the biology of reproduction, and since God is not thought to have a physical being, it is not possible to attribute gender to God except in a metaphorical or purely grammatical sense. Nevertheless, the personal images of God have been overwhelmingly male, both in the Bible and throughout the history of the Church. While there are some exceptions, they remain minority voices, and many ordinary believers as well as theologians defend male imagery as the only proper imagery for...

    • The Female Body in Eighteenth-Century Art
      (pp. 65-80)
      R.A. Sydie

      In herMemoirs,Madame Vigée-Lebrun states that in pre-Revolutionary society women reigned supreme while after the Revolution “it was very difficult to convey an adequate idea of the urbanity, the gracious ease and pleasant manners, which gave so much charm to Paris society . . . The gallantry of which I talk . . . has completely vanished” (1927: 112). Other authors, such as the Goncourt brothers, also viewed pre-Revolutionary France as a sort of “paradise” for women, at least for upper-class women. The evidence for the privileged life of French women is, however, contradictory. On the one hand the...

    • Representation of Women in Chinese Fiction: The Female Body Subdued, Re(s)trained, (Dis)possessed
      (pp. 81-96)
      Rosemary Haddon

      In 1919, China experienced an enormous upheaval, the May Fourth movement, which the historian Chou Tse-tsung defines as a “combined intellectual and sociopolitical movement to achieve national independence, the emancipation of the individual, and a just society by the modernization of China” (Chou, 1960: 358—9). This movement had long-lasting consequences for all areas of Chinese social and economic life, including the status of women. The representation of women in fiction since May Fourth reflects the conceptual awareness of women’s social position on the part of Chinese writers and intellectuals that was engendered by the liberation ideology of May Fourth,...

    • I-less and Gaga in the West Edmonton Mall: Towards a Pedestrian Feminist Reading
      (pp. 97-116)
      Janice Williamson

      The West Edmonton Mall (WEM) and the adjoining Fantasyland Hotel are sites of capital desire and consuming pleasure; both work to address and transform those who venture through the corridors as shoppers. An important cultural site in Edmonton, WEM’s construction has altered the face of the city, shifting tourist revenues and urban life from downtown to the western suburbs, a flat suburban sea of bungalows. At latitude 53, Edmonton is the largest of Canada’s northernmost cities. As a result of its relation to the hinterland, WEM can draw on a population which extends as far north as the Arctic, offering...

  8. Section Two: Repression of the Female Body
    • A Suitable Case for Treatment? Premenstrual Syndrome and the Medicalization of Women’s Bodies
      (pp. 119-129)
      Janet M. Stoppard

      I expect that most women will readily recognize the “ordeal” described in the quotation above as referring to the days in the menstrual cycle just before bleeding begins. For some women, this premenstrual phase of the cycle is indeed an ordeal, with a week or more in each cycle spent in extreme discomfort and distress.

      In recent years, the termpremenstrual syndromeor PMS has gained prominence as a way of referring to certain kinds of menstruation-related complaints that women experience. For some women, being able to name their menstruation-related problems as PMS has provided a welcomed medical validation of...

    • Sexual Difference and the Law: Premenstrual Syndrome as Legal Defense
      (pp. 130-146)
      Kathy Kendall

      In 1980, 1981, and 1988, much controversy surrounded three sensational British murder cases. Three women charged with murder had their charges reduced to manslaughter because the courts found that Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) had diminished these women’s responsibility for their actions. Despite the fact that the women were not simply acquitted, and that their releases were contingent upon receiving treatment, there was public uproar that these women had literally “gotten away with murder” (Sommer, 1984; Edwards, 1988). It is within this context that PMS has become a controversial issue within feminist discussions of justice for women. On one hand, acknowledgment of...

    • Assessing Reproductive Wrongs: A Feminist Social Work Perspective
      (pp. 147-160)
      Kelly E. Maier

      The purpose of this chapter is to analyze what I call “reproductive wrongs” from a feminist social work perspective. In the title I use the term “assessing” for several reasons. First, assessment accurately describes what a social work practitioner does. Second, what follows from assessment in social work practice is a plan of action, or intervention strategy. My hope is that a critical assessment of reproductive wrongs will lead to practical action. Feminist social workersshouldand hopefullywillengage in the urgent task and ongoing process of assessing reproductive wrongs and taking action to stop them. In a profession...

    • Risky Business: Medical Definitions of Pregnancy
      (pp. 161-174)
      Anne Quéniart

      Although most areas of women’s lives have been neglected by traditional research, one thoroughly investigated aspect of women’s lives in western societies is that supposedly privileged time of maternity. Although subject to medical authority, maternity is also the object of social and economic policies — budgetary projections, for example — as well as being central to many contemporary discourses (theological, scientific, and feminist). Quite surprisingly, though, we know very little about the way women live and feel pregnancy. Indeed, despite an abundant literature (sociological,¹ biomedical, popular) on maternity, there is little concerning what pregnant women experience. This lack prompted my study that...

    • Images of Women in Canadian Social Policy: Em-bodying Patriarchy
      (pp. 175-188)
      Kathryn McCannell, Claire McCarthy and Barbara Herringer

      A 19-year-old First Nations woman living on a reserve discovers she is pregnant. Her white, male doctor pressures her to have an abortion, pointing out that as she is a single woman, her baby will in all likelihood be raised in poverty.

      A 53-year-old working-class spinster is employed in a clerical position and grosses $25,000 annually. Her company offers minimal benefits and no pension scheme. She pays one-half of her monthly income on rent and has no savings.

      A lesbian couple and three children are experiencing financial hardship due to extremely large dental bills. While one of the partners has...

  9. Section Three: Reclaiming the Female Body
    • Representation and Resistance: Feminist Struggles against Pornography
      (pp. 191-208)
      Dawn H. Currie

      Following Michel Foucault, the study of discourse reveals not truth, but ways in which the “true” and the “false” are differentiated, with effects attached to the alternative that we designate as Truth. “Discourse,” in this context, includes not only text but attendant beliefs about reality which constitute the Subject of a particular discourse. In this chapter, pornography will be analyzed as a discourse that constructs sexuality, primarily through the portrayal of the female body. As text, pornography is constructed from the perspective of the male viewer and for the male consumer (albeit through the appropriation of women’s labour). Debates about...

    • Knowing Ourselves as Women
      (pp. 209-221)
      Winnie Tomm

      Women’s Studies challenges how we think about knowing, specifically that it requires the separation of mind and body. In this essay, we will examine ways of connecting knowing with sexuality, that is, with embodied social energy. A second purpose is to indicate how patriarchal society is organized around the assumption that men have a right of access to women’s bodies and, therefore, to their consciousness. Third, we will show how goddess symbolism provides women with the possibility of knowing themselves more directly as subjects of independent female energy and how that imagery thereby counteracts institutionalized social practices of gender-based dominance-subordination....

    • Unhiding the Hidden: Writing during the Quiet Revolution
      (pp. 222-231)
      Anne Brown

      During the decade that predated the resurgence of feminism in Québec, novels written by women could be characterized by their aim to explore a strictly female reality. During the Quiet Revolution, a decade also known as “Pâge de la parole,”² women wrote seventy-four novels. Prior to that, relatively few female voices were heard in Québec’s literary scene. The winds of freedom blowing over Québec thus gave flight to women’s literary aspirations. Writing at a time when feminist consciousness was not yet generalized, they nevertheless clearly concerned themselves with breaking the silence on women’s private experiences. In this they foreshadowed the...

    • Black Women’s Reality and Feminism: An Exploration of Race and Gender
      (pp. 232-242)
      Noga A. Gayle

      The dominant Women’s Movement in North America is increasingly being criticized for its exclusion of the experiences of women designated as “Other.” This exclusion has become so ensconced in our consciousness that we tend not to see it as problematic. The very notion that this paper is exploring the relationship of Black women’s reality to feminism is a clear indication that women as a whole do not represent a homogeneous group. So too, Black women are not a homogeneous group, and to treat us as such negates the cultural differences that exist among us.

      This situation has persisted because earlier...

    • Self-Representation and Fictionalysis
      (pp. 243-247)
      Daphne Marlatt

      For the critic, the question behind autobiography seems to be first of all “how does the writer represent herself?” For the writer it is “how do you represent others?” An interesting differential which, in either case, brings up the notion of truth and how or whether it differs from fiction. The writer worries about the difference between how she sees the people she writes about and how they see themselves. The critic looks at the self that is being presented and its difference from what is known about the writer’s life (the facts, say). Or “the (f) stop of act”...

    • moving parts
      (pp. 248-258)
      Betsy Warland

      The struggle for the self-determined body is absolutely crucial to all women. Yet, in our “house-bound” minds, we are uncertain about our practical, worldly knowledge. Even though we may be “professionals,” our mind’s muscles have been trained to push down; against. Our self-recognition is all too frequently rooted in what we are not: “I can’t do that”; “I’m not like them”; and “I’ll never know what that’s like. “The I-crises: self more a matter of what weare not,as women, than what weareandcan be.It’s as if we are caught in a suspended state of labour...

    • Habeas Corpus: Anatomy/Autonomy in Relation to Narcissism
      (pp. 259-274)
      Valerie Raoul

      Several papers in this volume refer to various aspects of “French feminist theory,” but the latter is far from easy to define.¹ Sometimes elaborating on concepts developed by male French post-structuralist thinkers (mainly Derrida and Lacan), sometimes pursuing a parallel path, some contemporary women writers in France have produced texts that are creative and philosophical as well as both personal and polemic. They do not constitute a cohesive “school.” Some of them reject the feminist label, and others are opposed to the concept of theory. What they have in common is that, focusing on the problematic status and function of...