Feminisom in the U.S.A and the us of the Femeal Body
The Rhetorics of the Body in the United States Feminism
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Using the French-American approach to feminism, this research tries to show how the body can be used as a rhetoric device in the feminist narrative. In the same way, the article tries to show the ways the patriarchy seeks to deny women the right to know and use their bodies. It will demonstrate that the patriarchy shows itself not only in the government but also in the country’s culture, through mass media and fashion. Last, this essay aims to show how the use of the “body” as a method of self-awareness permeates today’s feminism
What is feminism, and what makes a person a feminist? Before starting on the subject, it is important to lay a conceptual framework that answers these primordial questions regarding the importance of women in the American history. However, this essay is not focused on how women are essential for the country’s history. Instead, the research focuses on how the image of the female body and all its connotations have been used by the feminist movement through the years as a way to empower women and raise awareness of the existent gender gap in the country.
The word feminist as known by the mass media, and the general population carries a myriad of connotations, and a series of perceived stigmas that mark feminism as “dangerous” or “controversial” (Offen, 1988). In the same light, mass media has portrayed women’s rights movements as problematic, and that notion continues to exist today, difficulting any investigation on women and their history.
To achieve a “complete” definition of feminism would be an endeavor longer than the pages available, that is why this investigation will use the most thorough definition available. This research takes for valid the French-American feminist tradition where feminism is defined as:
“Feminism opposes women’s subordination to men in the family and society, along with men’s claims to define what is best for women without consulting them; it thereby offers a frontal challenge to patriarchal thought, social organization, and control mechanisms. It seeks to destroy masculinist hierarchy but not sexual dualism.” (Offen, 1988)
Feminism in the 20th Century U.S.
Scholars have identified three “waves” of feminism in the country (Krolokke & Sorensen, 2006). All three were politic in their intentions. While the first aimed for more presence of women in the society, looking to attain fundamental rights such as the suffrage, the last two centered in the body as the central core of the feminity. This means that the body should be respected, and not used as an image to entice. In the same way, the 1960s gave birth to a new generation of feminists that considered their body as something of their “own”; rendering sexuality as something disconnected from marriage and motherhood (Krolokke and Sorensen, 2006). Currently, the so-called “third wave” of feminism focuses more on online activism, embracing strategies of inclusion and exploration of women’s body and sexuality, regardless race; age and sexuality. Fighting the dehumanizing effects of globalization and reunifying women.
The Rhetorics of the Body in 20th Century Feminism
Most of the criticism of women are based on the gender differences, and a lot of the gaps between genders are founded on the sex differences between men and women. That way, to be able to fix the gender gap, feminists deemed necessary to raise awareness on the idea of the body being something of “our own”. If men funded their superiority in terms of the body, women had to take account of theirs as a way to make the patriarchy understand they had the same rights.
Contemporary philosophers have emphasized the importance of the body and the dichotomy of the body as something biological and determined, or as a social and cultural construct. To feminists such as Susan Bordo, females have been subjugated through their bodies thanks to the gender ideologies and sexist reasoning proposed by the patriarchy (King, 2004). This difference stems from the philosophers of Ancient Greece to modern philosophy at least. A great part of the body rhetoric used against women during most history have measured women bodies against the male norm. This has caused that women were seen throughout the history as “less than a man”.
Another part of the positions of women based in the body is found in the biological criteria set by men to declare women as inferior. Given the fact of the biological differences between both sexes, men have always been considered superior. Men have historically been regarded as moral and rational while women represent nature and emotions. Marking the latter as biologically inferior and incapable of undertaking the same works and conditions man had. This lead to feminists such as Sojourn Truth to state in 1851
“I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And a’n’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear de lash a well! And ain’t I a woman? (Truth, 1851)
This aimed to address the perceived differences between man and woman and show men that women were equally capable of undertaking those areas reserved for men in the society.
Events such as the creation of the American Birth Control League by Margaret Sanger in 1921, who advocated the right for women to take over their bodies and decide on whether they wanted to bear children, or not (Sanger, 1921). This sounds like an overrated statement today, but in her time, it was a bold was the move. Historically, a situation as such, that wanted women to understand they were part of the conception and they had control of their bodies was something never heard before.
This shows one of the first uses of the body and the adherence to the body as part of the womanhood in the feminist narrative. This sparked a wave of intends to make information about planned parenthood available for everybody in the country as a way for women to inform about their sexual health. Strictly speaking, the body refers not only to the sex, or the gender but to a social construction of what is ours, to where we belong.
However, despite their self-recognition of the female body the Government has been slow to recognize what women considered theirs rightfully. In the same way, not only the government tells women how they should do about their bodies, but the society tells them how they should feel. According to Simone de Beauvoir, the objectification of women by men by imposing stereotypes of clothing and bodies aimed to augment their incapacity and paralyzing them, thus rendering them an object; a man’s propriety (de Beauvoir, 1988).
Then, it was a women’s primary concern regaining the control over their bodies, which has sparked many demonstrations against the bans on abortion, considering that the right to have or not children is a right that any woman should have, and the government should not interfere. An important step in that direction came with Planned Parenthood v. Casey, where the supreme court confirmed the validity of a woman’s right to abortion.
Given the fact that aborting women were regarded as patients, they had to relinquish the control over their bodies to a physician. That is why in Pennsylvania the right to abortion remained largely a medical matter where the physician decided whether or not the abortion was necessary or desired (Daly, 1995). That way, a decision that affirmed the right of women to have a safe and healthy abortion became a capital victory over the women’s right to decide over their bodies.
The rhetorics of the body in the feminist narrative take many forms, but they all emphasize harnessing the power of the body as a way of self-recognition and awareness. The body is one of the main pillars of the identity in feminist discourse and is one of the most important issues in the movement’s agenda. On the other hand, while patriarchal oppression is still rampant in many areas, there have been many advances regarding the gender gap in the country. However, although the government backs and aids the feminist efforts in recovering their will and their power to decide in how they have sex, some bigotry still exists. Nevertheless, modern public is more prone to embrace and appreciate the differences and similitudes of both genders, rather than finding ways to uphold the patriarchal norm. However, there exists the inescapable situation of our sexes. People do not choose their sex, which makes some pitfalls and difficulties very hard to fix, or come around.
It seems the body as a social construction is the only way we have to assess our differences and to embrace them. However, the search for the women’s identity does not stop here; history has shown that humanity will always look for what they are and how they live.
Daly, E. “Reconsidering Abortion Law: Liberty Equality and the New Rhetoric of Planned Parenthood v. Casey.” The American University Law Review 45.77 (1995): 1-150. Digitalcommons. Web. 19 Sept. 2015. <http://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1417&context=aulr>.
De Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex;. London: Picador, 1988. Print.
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Truth, S. “Speech at Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio Quoted by Frances D. Gage.” History of Woman. Vol. 1. New York: Fowler & Wells, 1851.Print.