Stay Feminist and Study Your Body by Lay Sion Ng

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Image by Elisabeth Fredriksson

How well do you understand your body?

Do you think your body can change your mind?

Or it is only our minds that can change our bodies?

Throughout history there have been many different definitions as to what constitutes our bodies. Some theorists of the social body regarded physical bodies as objects that need to be “trained, manipulated, cajoled, organized and in general disciplined” (Turner 15). Similarly, some considered the body as “a play of forces, a surface of intensities, pure simulacra without originals” (Braidotti 21).

This thinking becomes a problem as it conceptualizes the body as simply a biological object that is apart from rational faculties and furthermore, a gender biased object, which leads to a conception that “[w]omen are somehow more biological, more corporeal, and more natural than men” (Grosz 14). As a result, women become relegated to being apart from reason and culture and their bodies are conceptualized as passive objects for others. In addition, this thinking enforces a false belief in which the true essence of human nature is information and that human bodies are limited and thus, humans can be still human by uploading their consciousnesses to a vast computer network.

Can this transhumanist utopianism be achieved?

Can we still call ourselves humans when our minds and bodies are separated?

            In order to answer these questions, I would like to introduce some materialist feminists’ thoughts. Refusing to see our bodies as passive objects, Claire Clorebrook calls for thinking of our bodies as a form of “positive difference” (71). Moreover, Karen Barad introduces a concept called “agential realism,” in which she sees matter or the natural world as a “substance in its intra-active becoming—not a thing, but a doing, a congealing of agency” and that all bodies “come to matter through the world’s interactive intra-activity” (139, 141). Barad further encourages us to dismiss the inherent difference between human and non-human, subject and object, mind and body, discourse and matter through emphasizing that “we are of the world” (147). Similar to Barad, Donna Haraway attempts to blur the boundaries between man/woman, machine/organism, culture/nature, and representation/real that have been enforced by modern scientific thought through using the cyborg as a hybrid tool (1991: 149-150).

            All these modern feminist thinkers are tying to tell us that our bodies are active agents and thus they should not be neglected when we are talking about our mind. More specifically, mind and body should not be separated because they are a “collective.” In fact, there are evidences showing that our bodies can actually change our minds and therefore, shape our future. In 2012, Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy gave a speech at Ted Talk about how our bodies could shape our minds. In the talk, she claimed that our bodies actually hold the power to change our minds and “our minds can change our behavior and our behavior can change our outcomes.” But how? She then told her personal experience about her “change” and further suggested a small experiment: do some powerful postures—stretch your arms or spread your legs—for two minutes whenever you are nervous. For instance, right before a stressful job interview. Does this really help? It does! Because when you are in a high-power pose condition your bodily hormone does actually change—the decrease of cortisol or stress hormone—and therefore you feel more powerful afterward. Cuddy concluded her talk by emphasizing that we could fake it until we become it; “do it enough until you actually become it and internalize.”

            To sum up, Cuddy’s study and those material feminists’ not only come to deconstruct the thinking that privileges minds over bodies but also deliver an important message to us, which is our bodies are our future.

 

 

References

Barad, Karen. “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter,” in Material Feminisms. ed. Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2009. Print. 120-154.

Braidotti, Rosi. Metamorphoses: Towards a Feminist Theory of Becoming. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002. Print.

Colebrook, Claire. “On Not Becoming Man: The Materialist Politics of Unactualized Potential,” in Material Feminisms. ed. Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2009. Print. 52-84.

Cuddy, Amy. “How Body Language May Shape Who You Are.” Ted Global. June 2012. https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are/transcript.

Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print. 149-181.

Turner, B. Regulating Bodies: Essays in Medical Sociology. London: Routledge, 1992. Print.

 

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2017 Fall Reading List by Jordannah Elizabeth

I’m literally sitting writing this reading list in a Hugo Boss jacket that’s a bit too large for my small feminine frame. I found it barely worn in freshly dry cleaned in a “giveaway” box in my neighborhood. Everyone in the neighborhood leaves books, clothes and appliances out to share and trade. Some neighbors are a bit more well off than others. It’s not uncommon to find a wealthy student’s small collection of hand-me-downs that are clean, expensive and barely a year old. I almost like men’s jackets more than I like books, but as the season begins to change, and Fall makes chills the air crisp and chill, I can enjoy both at the same time. No need to choose.

These books are a combination of favorites, like my friend China Martens epic zine anthology, Future Generation and the enthralling Womanist literary effort, Hope is in the Holler: A Womanist Theory and a collection of books I’ve compiled while preparing for my feminist lectures and writing workshops like “Masculinity Studies & Feminist Theory: New Directions.” I rummage through libraries and independent books stores like Red Emma’s Books to find just what I need for my never ending literary pursuits.

The fall season is perfect for learning new things and growing our minds and perspectives, especially since school is now in session.

Future Generation: The Zine-Book for Subculture Parents, Kids, Friends & Others
By China Martens

One Dimensional Woman
By Nina Power

Role Models
By John Waters

Listen Up: Voices From the Next Generation
By: Barbara Findlen

The Concept and Measurement of Violence Against Women and Men
By: Sylvia Walby, Jude Towers, Susan Balderston, Brian Francis

Eros and Ethics: Reading Jacques Lacan’s Seminar VII
By: Marc De Kesel

A Brighter Coming Day: A Frances Ellen Watkins Reader
Edited By: Frances Smith Foster

Listen Little Man
By: Wilhelm Reich

New Black Man
By: Mark Anthony Neal

Masculinity Studies & Feminist Theory: New Directions
By: Judith Kegan Gardiner

Sex, Drag, and Male Roles: Investigating Gender as Performance
By: Diane Torr and Stephen J. Bottoms

Hope in the Holler: A Womanist Theology
By: A. Elaine Brown Crawford

The Violence of Care: Rape Victims, Forensic Nurses, and Sexual Assault Intervention
By: Sameena Mulla

Sister Outsider
By: Audre Lorde

On the Pill: A Social History of Oral Contraceptives, 1950-1970
By Elizabeth Siegel Watkins

High Lonesome: New & Selected Stories, 1966–2006
By Joyce Carol Oates

Shotgun Seamstress Zine Collection: Six Zine by and for Black Punks
By: Osa Atoe

Freedom Challenge: African American Homeschoolers
By: Grace Llewellyn

Braving the Days: Political Ethics and the Desire to Heal by Jordannah Elizabeth

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Photo credit: Matej Michalik

“Our culture can starve and condemn one another in relationships.”

(Feminism and Intimacy)

How far do I go with judgement? How far do I go to use my best judgement? What does a “best judgement” look and feel like? How does it translate in relationships and my interaction with my external circumstances?

To be honest, I am learning judgment doesn’t have a place in my feminism or reality.  In my quest to heal emotional wounds I’ve obtained from past relationships with cis men, yet continuing to agree to interact with them in friendships and intimate partnerships, I found myself faced with an existential dilemma: making a choice between my ability to maintain relationship with imperfect people which of whom I care for, and maintaining my diligence as a feminist. I hadn’t had to make these choices until recently because I am not sure if my awareness and education was where it is today, but even more so, I believe I have protected myself from relationships that challenged me and my political comfortability.

Abstinence is a way to protect the comfortability of feminism, particularly reproductive health in one’s personal life. As soon as intimacy is brought into the mix, a female identified being with a womb has many more choices to make. This can also be said for  non-sexual close relationships with cis Western men. To look into a man’s thoughts and life, to be brought in, there is also a responsible to protect them and ensure safety. This is outside of the guise of patriarchy, a woman taking responsibility to acknowledge the trauma of men while balancing a radical feminist outlook.

To be impatient with a man’s unpacking and deconstructing of their own sexist behaviors and colonizing after agreeing to enter a  relationship is unproductive and can quickly become wounding, not to their ego, but to their hearts.

I’m learning.

I’m learning that I should not agree to a social contract with men if I am not willing to balance my feminist ethics with the compassion of a human being I chose to bond with.  Me, choosing grew into my work towards balancing my feminist politics and beliefs with my relationships with cis men.

I was asked to do a workshop some months ago about forgiveness after surviving sexual assault, and I deeply feared backlash from other feminists, feeling that I have become overly sympathetic to patriarchal patterns in intimate and close relationships. But I have to learn that I cannot live completely guarded behind my strict beliefs. It’s okay to open to people who I care for, even if they are imperfect, even if they are men, even if they make mistakes. I don’t believe this makes me a bad feminist, I believe it makes me a human being who is attempting to be well-rounded, compassionate, flexible and able to bring healing to relationships.

How can I ask a man to be my ally when I condemn him? He would certainly be justified in finding cracks in the feminist system of thought if I did not afford an ally the ability to learn and grow.