Burns-Ardolino, W. A. 2003. Reading Woman: Displacing the Foundations of Femininity.

Burns-Ardolino, Wendy A. 2003. “Reading Woman: Displacing the Foundations of Femininity.” Hypatia 18(3):42-59.

Comparing the use of undergarments – tights, garters, body slimmers as a way that “these garments encourage, train, and police women’s performance of normative feminine motility, spatiality, and comportment” (43). This type of embodiment within femininity prevents women from experiencing bodily agency, instead promotes the feminine body as something to be controlled and maintained – lived in, rather than lived through?

“Judith Butler describes in Gender Trouble how the repetition of gendered performatives leaves space for gender transformation, as “the arbitrary relation between such acts, in the possibility of a failure to reappear, a de-formity, or a parodic repetition exposes the phantasmatic effect of abiding identity as a politically tenuous construction” (1999, 179 here 43).

Bourdieu and “bodily hexis” – the body as memory – works to within habitus to produce and reproduce culture (1977).

Young (1989): woman “often lives her body as a burden which must be dragged and prodded along, and at the same time protected” (59 here 46) – an inhibited use of agency, intention, alienation.

Bartky (1988) – restriction of women’s movement and spatiality – closing arms and legs, shortening of stride – compacting the space

“The facts remain, the myth of woman continues, ideal feminine comportment stands as the norm, and subverting the performatives of normative femininity requires vigilant dedication and a willingness to confront the products of the dominant culture – ideal bodies in Lycra power-slips, push-up bras, and microfiber underwear, performing white, ruling-class, heterosexual femininity” (49).

Undergarments as working ON the body to shape and decorate it – objectifying it – but also work FOR the body, separating and protecting the body – subjectifying it. “Therefore, the foundation garment frames precariously the feminine subject/object contradiction and as such performs itself as a signifier of the oppression of woman who has been habituated into the performatives of gesture, movement, and motility while confined within the moving frame of varying shapes and sizes” (49).

Use of undergarments to solve “body problems”, as disguised as clothing problems.

Bordo (1993): self-modification and fixation on it as “the pursuit of an ever-changing, homogenizing elusive ideal of femininity – a pursuit without terminus, requiring that women constantly attend to minute and often whimsical changes in fashion – female bodies become docile bodies – bodies whose force and energies are habituated to external regulation” (166 here 53), marking them satisfactory for consumption within a culture. Barkty (1988): “The disciplinary techniques through which the ‘docile bodies’ of women are constructed aim at a regulation that is perpetual and exhaustive – a regulation of the body’s size and contours, its appetite, posture, gestures and general comportment in space and the appearance of each of its visible parts (80 here 53). — this keeps ideal femininity beyond the grasp of the everyday woman, pursuing it through fashion and self-modification.

“What was formerly the specialty of the aristocrat our courtesan is now the routine obligation of every woman, be she a grandmother or a barely pubescent girl” (Bartky 1988, 81 here 53).

Anonymity of power within production of ideal and disciplined femininity – invested in everyone and no one – dispersed and anonymous. “… we must abandon the idea of power as something possessed by one group and leveled against another; we must instead think of the network of practices, institutions, and technologies that sustain positions of dominance and subordination in a particular domain” (Bordo 1993, 167).


Bartky, Sandra. 1988. “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power.” In Feminism and Foucault: Reflections on Resistance. Edited by Irene Diamond and Lee Quinby. Boston: Northeastern University Press.

Bordo, Susan. 1993. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Bourdieu , Pierre. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Butler, Judith. 1999. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, 2nd edition. New York: Routledge.

Young, Iris Marion. 1989. “Throwing Like a Girl.” In The Thinking Muse: Feminism and Modern French Philosophy, edited by Jeffner Allen and Iris Marion Young. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.


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