Bodies & Embodiment

Gender & Society in the Classroom: Bodies & Embodiment

Organized by: Amanda Levitt, Wayne State University

This section on bodies and embodiment seeks to give educators an in-depth collection of articles to use when discussing the body as a site of labor, political identity, and visibility politic. While also embodying gender, racial, class or other identity status where social situations are impacted by how the body is used, viewed and performed.

McCaughey, Martha. 1998. The Fighting Spirit: Women’s Self-Defense Training and the Discourse of Sexed Embodiment. Gender & Society 12 (3): pp: 277-300.

This article presents ethnographic research on women’s self-defense training and suggests that women’s self-defense culture prompts feminists to refigure our understanding of the body and violence. The body in feminist discourse is often construed as the object of patriarchal violence (actual or symbolic), and violence has been construed as something that is variously oppressive, diminishing, inappropriate, and masculinist. Hence, many feminists have been apathetic to women’s self-defense. As a practice that rehearses, and even celebrates women’s potential for violence, women’s self-defense illustrates how and why feminism can frame the body as both a social construction and as politically significant for theory and activism.

Mora, Richard. 2012. “Do It For Your Pubic Hairs!”: Latino Boys, Masculinity and Puberty. Gender & Society 26(3): pp. 433-460.

This article highlights the embodied experiences of Puerto Rican and Dominican adolescences. Through ethnographic research, the body becomes the central way boys in puberty understand their masculinity and social world. The author examines how the boys construct masculinity through social practices and interactions that directly reference their changing bodies. Due to the research subjects positionality as second generation immigrants, they construct a masculinity that emphasizes toughness and physical strength.

Bailey, Lucy. 2001. Gender shows: First-time mothers and embodied selves. Gender & Society 15(1): 110-129.

This article discusses the transition into motherhood and the impact it has on women’s sense of gendered self. The authors look at three separate themes that they found from their research sensuality, shape and space. This article would be a good contribution to understanding changes to the body during pregnancy creates a need to reconceptualize how gender impacts the sense of self during this period.

Williams, Susan. 2002. Trying on gender, gender regimes, and the process of becoming a woman. Gender & Society 16(1): 29-52.

In this article it discusses how adolescent girls “try on” or experiment with gender as a means to fully create sense of womanhood. Based on a 4 year study of 26 adolescent girls this article is a good reference to understanding how femininity or sense of gender is created not only through experimentation but also how communities have differing forms of femininity due to class, race and gender differences.

Beauboeuf-Lafontant, Tamara. 2003. Strong and large black women?: Exploring relationships between deviant womanhood and weight. Gender & Society 17(1): 111-121.

This article questions the societal and cultural image of Black women as strong and suggests that this seemingly affirming portrayal is derived from a discourse of enslaved women’s deviance. In highlighting connections between perceived strength and physical size among Black women, the analysis extends current feminist theory by considering the ways in which the weight many strong African American women carry is reflective of the deviant and devalued womanhood that they are expected to embody both within and outside their culture. This article also provides a stark contrast to the many of the themes found within literature about the body, eating disorders and body image that focuses on white women by taking into account the how the intersections of race and gender impact how black women’s bodies are framed in society.

Kang, Miliann. 2003. The managed hand: The commercialization of bodies and emotions in Korean immigrant-owned nail salons. Gender & Society 17(6): 820-839.

This article gives an introduction to how bodies are used as the site of labor, while also discussing the how intersections between race and class status shape emotional labor by looking at service interactions through an ethnographic study.  Main themes show how bodies are used as a performance to conform to correct or acceptable appearance while on the job, maintaining emotions to better serve customer needs and conceptualize how bodily labor changes with intersecting identities.

Hennen, Peter. 2005. Bear bodies, bear masculinity: Recuperation, resistance, or retreat?. Gender & Society 19(1): 25-41.

Looking into the subculture of Bear communities, this article takes a look at how gay men embody Bear culture through resistance against stereotypical association of homosexuality with effeminacy by embracing larger, fleshy hairy bodies. This article also discusses how Bears look, act and perform masculinity within the subculture. By looking at how Bear embodiment is performed, Hennen shows that while Bears can be subversive in challenging normative forms of masculinity they still repurpose it as an attempt to form normalization.

Schrock, Douglas, Lori Reid, and Emily M. Boyd. 2005. Transsexuals’ embodiment of womanhood. Gender & Society 19(3): 317-355.

This article draws on in-depth interviews with nine white, middle-class, male-to-female transsexuals to examine how they produce and experience bodily transformation. Interviewees’ bodywork entailed retraining, redecorating, and reshaping the physical body, which shaped their feelings, role taking, and self-monitoring. These analyses make three contributions: They offer support for a perspective that embodies gender, further transsexual scholarship, and contribute to feminist debate over the sex/gender distinction. The authors conclude by exploring how viewing gender as embodied could influence medical discourse on transsexualism and have personal and political consequences for transsexuals.

Balogun, Oluwakemi M. 2012. Cultural and cosmopolitan: Idealized femininity and embodied nationalism in Nigerian beauty pageants. Gender & Society 26(3): 357-381.

The author considers how two separate Nigerian beauty pageants create two different forms of gendered and embodied nationalism. Comparing the two different pageants shows how one creates a form of gendered nationalism that focuses on embodying the values and culture of Nigeria. The other is to find a woman that can represent Nigeria internationally by embodying a gendered nationalism that is able to transcend or reach the standards of an international community, while still being able to represent their home country. This article shows how different practices and standards can create two different forms of national identity or femininity that both serve a purpose by emphasizing how embodying these identities can represent a form of gendered nationalism.

Hammer, Gili. 2012. Blind women’s appearance management: Negotiating normalcy between discipline and pleasure. Gender & Society 26(3): 406-432.

This article discusses how blind women use appearance management and use their body as a tool to disrupt or reject stigmatizing beliefs about themselves made by society. The author confronts how most literature about women’s appearance focuses on visual interactions where women “see and are seen” with them taking an active role in using sight with these interactions, which ultimately leaves out how disabled blind women negotiate these interactions. What she found were women taking on a visibility politic that challenged normative beliefs about how blind women perform or embody femininity to actively challenge how others view them.

Madeleine Pape. 2019. “Gender Segregation and Trajectories of Organizational Change: The Underrepresentation of Women in Sports Leadership” Gender & Society 34 (1): 81-105

This article offers an account of organizational change to explain why women leaders are underrepresented compared to women athletes in many sports organizations. I distinguish between accommodation and transformation as forms of change: the former includes women without challenging binary constructions of gender, the latter transforms an organization’s gendered logic. Through a case study of the International Olympic Committee from 1967-1995, I trace how the organization came to define gender equity primarily in terms of accommodating women’s segregated athletic participation. Key to this was the construction of women’s bodies as athletically able but inferior to men, an arrangement formalized in codified rules and procedures and legitimized by external stakeholders. Defined in these terms, gender equity did little to transform the organization’s binary and hierarchically gendered logic, which continued to shape the informal norms and procedures associated with the organization’s allegedly gender-neutral and meritocratic yet male-dominated leadership. I argue that the exclusion of women from ostensibly gender-integrated leadership positions allows organizations to avoid revealing gender similarity between men and women. This maintains a logic underpinned by notions of binary gender difference and masculine superiority.

Reena Kukreja. 2021. Colorism as Marriage Capital: Cross-Region Marriage Migration in India and Dark-Skinned Migrant Brides. Gender & Society 35(1): 85-109.

This article, based on original research from 57 villages in four provinces from North and East India, sheds light on a hitherto unexplored gendered impact of colorism in facilitating noncustomary cross-region marriage migrations in India. Within socioeconomically marginalized groups from India’s development peripheries, the hegemonic construct of fairness as “capital” conjoins with both regressive patriarchal gender norms governing marriage and female sexuality and the monetization of social relations, through dowry, to foreclose local marriage options for darker-hued women. This dispossession of matrimonial choice forces women to “voluntarily” accept marriage proposals from North Indian bachelors, who are themselves faced with a bride shortage in their own regions due to skewed sex ratios. These marriages condemn cross-region brides to new forms of gender subordination and skin-tone discrimination within the intimacy of their marriages, and in everyday relations with conjugal families, kin, and rural communities. Because of colorism, cross-region brides are exposed to caste-discriminatory exclusions and ethnocentric prejudice. Dark-skin shaming is a strategic ideological weapon employed to extract more labor from them. The article extends global scholarly discussion on the role of colorism in articulating new forms of gendered violence in dark-complexioned, poor rural women’s lives.