New SEP entry: Feminist Perspectives on the Body

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has just published a new entry on the topic of “Feminist Perspectives on the Body,” written by Kathleen Lennon (University of Hull). To access the entry, please click here. Below is the introduction, followed by links to the various sections of the entry.

Feminist Perspectives on the Body

In terms of the history of western philosophy, the philosophy of embodiment is relatively recent. For much of this history the body has been conceptualised as simply one biological object among others, part of a biological nature which our rational faculties set us apart from, as well as an instrument to be directed and a possible source of disruption to be controlled. Problematically for feminists, the opposition between mind and body has also been correlated with an opposition between male and female, with the female regarded as enmeshed in her bodily existence in a way that makes attainment of rationality questionable. “Women are somehow more biological, more corporeal, and more natural than men” (Grosz 14). Such enmeshment in corporeality was also attributed to colonised bodies and those attributed to the lower classes (McClintock 1995, Alcoff 2006, 103). Challenging such assumptions required feminists to confront corporeality in order to elucidate and confront constructions of sexual difference.

In developing philosophical frameworks for making sense of sexual difference feminist philosophers have provided accounts of the relationship between subjectivity, corporeality and identity which are applicable to other aspects of our corporeal existence. As Margrit Shildrick and Janet Price comment “What is required, and what has emerged over subsequent years, is a theory of embodiment that could take account not simply of sexual difference but of racial difference, class difference and differences due to disability; in short the specific contextual materiality of the body” (Price and Shildrick 1999, 5). Feminist theorists are therefore currently in active conversation with critical race theorists (Alcoff, Gilman, Gooding-Williams), theorists of (dis)ability (Inahara, Garland Thompson, Thomas, Wendell), and theorists concerned with aging, health and illness (Mairs, Toombs). Their concerns have also required an engagement with the philosophy of biology, as naturalising reductions of embodiment have been resisted, while the distinctive materiality of our embodied situations in the world has nonetheless been respected (Bleier, Fausto-Sterling, Birke).

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