Bordo, S.R. 1989. “The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity: A Feminist Appropriation of Foucault.”

Bordo, Susan R. 1989. “The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity: A Feminist Appropriation of Foucault.” Pp. 13-33 in Gender/Body/Knowledge, edited by Alison M. Jaggar and Susan R. Bordo. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

“The body – what we eat, how we dress, the daily rituals through which we attend to the body – is a medium of culture”  (13). Bodies (to anthropologist Mary Douglas) becomes symbol where rules and commitments to culture can be exacted and reinforced. Body as a metaphor for culture. Body as text of culture, but also a place of social control ( a la Foucault) – etiquette practices become a means of grooming and controlling the body to suit a culture, and to demonstrate power of society. Subscribes to Foucauldian “practice over belief” (14) – where organization of daily lives and practices becomes formative over ideologies – the gendered practices in pursuit of ideal femininity promotes the Foucauldian “docile body” – where regulation, improvement, transformation, and subjection are routinized, and discipline in diet, dress, etc. become organizing mechanisms of power and discipline.

“ […] We must first abandon the idea of power as something possessed by one group and leveled against another, and we must think instead of the network of practices, institutions, and technologies that sustain positions of dominance and subordination within a particular domain” (15).  Focus on constitutive, rather than repressive force – that is, the power to build and organize, rather than dismantle.

“With the advent of movies and television, the rules for femininity have come to be culturally transmitted more and more through the deployment of standardized visual images.  As a result, femininity itself has come to be largely a matter of constructing, in the manner described by Erving Goffman, the appropriate surface presentation of the self.  We no longer are told what “a lady” is or of what femininity consists. Rather, we learn the rules directly through bodily discourse: through images which tell us what clothes, body shape, facial expression, movements, and behavior is required” (17)

Bordo – of uncited Barthes – “C’est le sens qui fait vendre” – “it’s meaning that makes the sale” (18)

Advertisements promote the regulated feeding and consumption of women, always in minute portions, where men’s appetites are public and pronounced.

Anorexia, hysteria, agoraphobia as chaotic embodiments of extreme femininity – slenderness, quietness, emotionality, domestic. However, these extremities can be viewed as a means of protest, even if (self) repressive – ability to access privilege and characteristics not otherwise noted to femininity  – but in this, becomes the reproduction of a docile body.

Feminine praxis to fit feminine ideal of body – differentiating between the ‘intelligible body’ and the ‘useful body’  – (more Foucault – more about this?!)

(kx^ talks briefly about noting traditional means of feminine praxis as potential sites of domination; however, can these praxes become full means of protest, as these disorders are? More development needed.)


Douglas, Mary. 1982. Natural Symbols. New York: Pantheon.

Foucault, Michel. 1978. The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1. New York: Pantheon.

Foucault, Michel. 1979. Discipline and Punish. New York: Vintage.


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