Violet Spinning Apple

2005 Bodies, pregnant bodies

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lecture two for gender and bodies class
see readings attached below the lecture

lecture notes

 

1.     Introduction

Focus on SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION of gender

Gender is not inevitable, natural, timeless, unchanging

Gender is figment of our imagination.

 We create gender in our minds

                              In our actions

                              In our relationships with others

 

“woman doctor is just like a man doctor,

a woman lawyer is just like a man lawyer,

a woman teacher is just like a man teacher,

a woman student is just like a man student,

a pregnant woman is just like a

 

Pregnant women create an interesting subject

Topic of today is pregnancy

 

2. Story of Baby M

Tell story

 

3.  Writing prompt: What should the judge decide?

Who should get the baby?

Why?

 

4. Summarize ideas (who and why)

 

5. What did the real judge decide?

Contract irrelevant

Child was product of two equal parts: sperm from father and egg from mother

Therefore father and mother equal right to custody

Decision on basis of who had material resources

 

6. What does this decision imply about gender and men and women?

The only contribution made by a female to producing a child that was recognized as valid was the contribution that was parallel to the contribution made by a male.

The contribution that only the female could make of pregnancy, labor and delivery was invisible it did not count.

 

Barbara Katz Rothman argues that the female’s contribution should be made visible and therefore the female has greater “rights” to the child at birth.

 

7. Simone DeBeauvoir

Woman as Other

Masculine normativity

Men are normal, women are deviant. 

Everything should be measured in terms of men.

In the case of Baby M. men’s bodies and their contribution to reproduction was normal and the measure while women’s contribution was deviant and only what could be measured against men could count.

 

8. Other examples of male normativity:

Men’s career patterns.

Men go to college, get a job, build a career, retire at 65.

Women go to college, get a job, stop and have children, build a career, don’t need to retire until later because they live longer.

But are judged as professionals along the way in terms of how they are following men’s career pattern.  Seen as “sacrificing” professional lives if they stop to have children. And need to retire early even though live longer.    

 

 baby m case

Plaintiffs: William and Elizabeth Stern

Defendant: Mary Beth Whitehead

Chief Lawyers for Defendant: Harold Cassidy and Randy Wolf

Chief Lawyers for Plaintiffs: Frank Donahue and Gary Skoloff

Plaintiffs' Claim: That Mary Beth Whitehead should surrender the child she conceived via artificial insemination with William Stern's sperm, in compliance with the terms of a "Surrogate Parenting Agreement" made between Whitehead and Stern prior to the child's conception

Justices: Robert Clifford, Marie L. Garibaldi, Alan B. Handler, Daniel O'Horn, Stewart G. Pollock, Gary S. Stein, and Chief Justice Robert N. Wilentz

Place: Trenton, New Jersey

Date of Decision: February 3, 1988

Verdict: Mary Beth Whitehead's parental rights were terminated and Elizabeth Stern was granted the right to immediately adopt William Stern's and Whitehead's daughter. The New Jersey Supreme Court overturned this verdict in part on February 2, 1988, when it restored Whitehead's parental rights and invalidated Elizabeth Stern's adoption, but granted William Stern custody of the infant.

Significance: This was the first widely followed trial to wrestle with the ethical questions raised by "reproductive technology."

Melissa Stern's conception took place under an agreement signed at Noel Keane's Infertility Center of New York on February 5, 1985. There were three parties to the agreement: Richard Whitehead gave his consent to the contract's "purposes, intents, and provisions" and to the insemination of Mary Beth Whitehead, his wife, with the sperm of William Stern. In addition, since any child born to Mary Beth Whitehead would legally be the child of her husband, he agreed that he would "surrender immediate custody of the child" and "terminate his parental rights."

Mary Beth Whitehead agreed to be artificially inseminated and to form no "parent-child relationship" with the baby. She agreed that she would, upon delivery of the child, surrender her parental rights to William Stern; and she acknowledged that she would, during the term of the pregnancy, relinquish her right to make a decision about an abortion. She was permitted to seek an abortion only if the fetus was "physiologically abnormal" or if the inseminating physician agreed an abortion was required to insure her "physical health." Whitehead then agreed that it was William Stern's right to require amniocentesis testing and that she would "abort the fetus upon demand of William Stern should a congenital or genetic abnormality be diagnosed." Despite the limitation of Whitehead's right to seek an abortion, the contract allocated to Stern responsibility for the child in the event that Whitehead refused to fulfill this part of her agreement: "If Mary Beth Whitehead refuses to abort the fetus upon demand of William Stern, his obligations as stated in this Agreement shall cease forthwith, except as to obligations of paternity imposed by statute." Finally, the Whiteheads "agree[d] to assume all risks, including the risk of death, which are incidental to conception, pregnancy, [and] childbirth."

Stern agreed to pay $10,000 to Whitehead. Although the $10,000 was described as "compensation for services and expenses" and the contract specifically states that the fee should "in no way be construed as a fee for termination of parental rights or a payment in exchange for a consent to surrender the child for adoption," it was payable only upon surrender of a live infant. If Whitehead suffered a miscarriage prior to the fifth month of pregnancy, she would receive no compensation; if the "child is miscarried, dies or is stillborn subsequent to the fourth month of pregnancy and said child does not survive," Stern agreed to pay Whitehead $1,000. He also paid $10,000 to Noel Keane, for his services in arranging the surrogacy agreement.

Stern's wife, Elizabeth, was not a party to the agreement, nor was she mentioned by name. The contract referred to her only as Stern's wife. The first such reference is the statement that the contract's "sole purpose . . . is to enable William Stern and his infertile wife to have a child which is biologically related to William Stern."' The other reference states, "In the event of the death of William Stern, prior or subsequent to the birth of said child, it is hereby understood and agreed by Mary Beth Whitehead, Surrogate, and Richard Whitehead, her husband, that the child will be placed in the custody of William Stern's wife.''

Events did not go according to the contractual script. On March 27, 1986, Whitehead gave birth to a daughter. She named the infant "Sara Elizabeth Whitehead," took her home, and turned down the $10,000. On Easter Sunday, March 30, the Sterns took the infant to their home. The baby was back at the Whitehead home on March 31; in the second week of April, Whitehead told the Sterns she would never be able to give up her daughter. The Sterns responded by hiring attorney Gary Skoloff to fight for the contract's enforcement. The police arrived to remove "Melissa Elizabeth Stern" from the Whitehead's custody; shown the birth certificate for "Sara Elizabeth Whitehead," they left. When the police returned, Whitehead passed her daughter through an open window to her husband and pleaded with him to make a run for it.

The Trial Begins
The trial commenced on
January 5, 1987, by which time a representative had been appointed for the child, known as "Baby M," which stood for Melissa. The Sterns had received temporary custody. Whitehead, who had been ordered by Judge Harvey Sorkow to discontinue breast-feeding the child, had been temporarily awarded two one-hour visits each week, "strictly supervised under constant surveillance . . . in a sequestered, supervised setting to prevent flight or harm."

Skoloff framed the "issue to be decided" as "whether a promise to make the gift of life should be enforced." He stated that "Mary Beth Whitehead agreed to give Bill Stern a child of his own flesh and blood" and emphasized that Elizabeth Stern's multiple sclerosis "rendered her, as a practical matter, infertile . . . because she could not carry a baby without significant risk to her health."

Harold Cassidy, the attorney for Whitehead, offered an alternative view in his own opening remarks: "The only reason that the Sterns did not attempt to conceive a child was . . . because Mrs. Stern had a career that had to be advanced. . . . What Mrs. Stern has is [multiple sclerosis] diagnosed as the mildest form. She was never even diagnosed until after we deposed her in this case. . . . We're here," Cassidy summed up, "not because Betsy Stern is infertile but because one woman stood up and said there are some things that money can't buy." A neurologist affiliated with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine testified that Elizabeth Stern was afflicted with "a very, very, very slight case of MS, if any."

When the issue of custody was brought up, Skoloff stated that contract law and the infant's best interests dictated that exclusive custody should be awarded to the Sterns: "If there is one case in the United States, where joint custody will not work, where visitation rights will not work, where maintaining parental rights will not work, this is it." He addressed Sorkow directly: "Your Honor, under both the contract theory and the best-interest theory, you must terminate the rights of Mary Beth Whitehead and allow Bill Stern and Betsy Stern to be Melissa's mother and father."

Baby M.'s representative, Lorraine Abraham, took the stand to make her own recommendation. She told the court that she had relied, in part, upon the opinions of three experts in forming her own conclusion: psychologist Dr. David Brodzinsky; social worker Dr. Judith Brown Greif; and psychiatrist Dr. Marshall Schechter. Abraham stated that the experts "will . . . recommend to this court that custody be awarded to the Sterns and visitation denied at this time." Abraham, required to offer her own opinion as Baby M's representative, added that she was "compelled by the overwhelming weight of [the three experts'] investigation to join in their recommendation."

During Elizabeth Stern's testimony, she was asked by Randy Wolf, one of Whitehead's lawyers, "Were you concerned about what effect taking the baby away from Mary Beth Whitehead would have on the baby?"

Stern responded: "I knew it would be hard on Mary Beth and in Melissa's best interest."

Wolf then said: "Now, I believe you testified that if Mary Beth Whitehead receives custody of the baby, you don't want to visit."

Stern replied, "That is correct. I do not want to visit."

Skoloff next raised questions about Whitehead's fitness as a mother. Whitehead had hidden in Florida with Baby M shortly after the infant's birth, and Skoloff represented this as evidence of instability. He then played for the court a taped telephone conversation between Mary Beth Whitehead and William Stern:

Stern: I want my daughter back.
Whitehead: And I want her, too, so what do we do, cut her in half?
Stern: No, no, we don't cut her in half.
Whitehead: You want me, you want me to kill myself and the baby?
Stern: No, that's why I gave her to you in the first place, because I didn't want you to kill yourself.
Whitehead: I've been breast-feeding her for four months. She's bonded to me, Bill. I sleep in the same bed with her. She won't even sleep by herself. What are you going to do when you get this kid that's screaming and carrying on for her mother?
Stern: I'll be her father. I'll be a father to her. I am her father.
Stern: You made an agreement. You signed an agreement.
Whitehead: Forget it, Bill. I'll tell you right now I'd rather see me and her dead before you get her.

The following day, it was Mary Beth Whitehead's turn to testify. One of her attorneys asked, "If you don't get custody of Sara, do you want to see her?"

Whitehead replied:

Yes, I'm her mother, and whether this court only lets me see her two minutes a week, two hours a week, or two days, I'm her mother and I want to see her, no matter what.

Expert testimony followed. Dr. Lee Salk, the influential child psychologist, testified for the Sterns. Already termed a "third-party gestator" in court documents, Whitehead would now be called "a surrogate uterus." "The legal term that's been used is 'termination of parental rights,'" Salk began,

and I don't see that there were any "parental rights" that existed in the first place. . . . The agreement involved the provision of an ovum by Mrs. Whitehead for artificial insemination in exchange for $10,000 . . . and so my feeling is that in both structural and functional terms, Mr. and Mrs. Stern's role as parents was achieved by a surrogate uterus and not a surrogate mother.

Dr. Marshall Schechter testified, as predicted by Abraham, that he believed custody should be awarded to the Sterns. He declared that Whitehead suffered from a "borderline personality disorder" and that "handing the baby out of the window to Mr. Whitehead is an unpredictable, impulsive act that falls under this category." Then, citing (among other things) that Whitehead dyed her hair to conceal its premature whiteness, he added the diagnosis of "narcissistic personality disorder."

Boston psychiatric social worker Dr. Phyllis Silverman refuted Schechter's characterization of Whitehead's behavior as "crazy'':

Mrs. Whitehead's reaction is like that of other "birth mothers" who suffer pain, grief, and rage for as long as 30 years after giving up a child. The bond of a nursing mother with her child is very powerful.

"By These Standards, We Are All Unfit Mothers"
Outside the courtroom, 121 prominent women refuted Schechter's contentions and the "expert opinions" of Brodzinsky and Greif. On
March 12, 1987, they issued a document entitled "By These Standards, We Are All Unfit Mothers." The document quoted from each of the expert's testimony and included the New York Times' summary of what commentators called Dr. Schechter's "Patty Cake" test:

Dr. Schechter faulted Mrs. Whitehead for saying "Hooray!" when the baby played Patty Cake by clapping her hands together. The more appropriate response for Mrs. Whitehead, he said, was to imitate the child by clapping her hands together and saying "Patty Cake" to reinforce the child's behavior. He also criticized Mrs. Whitehead for having four pandas of various size available for Baby M to play with. Dr. Schechter said pots, pans and spoons would have been more suitable.

Signed by Andrea Dworkin, Nora Ephron, Marilyn French, Betty Friedan, Carly Simon, Susan Sontag, Gloria Steinem, Meryl Streep, Vera B. Williams, and others, the document concluded with the statement that "we strongly urge . . . legislators and jurists . . . to recognize that a mother need not be perfect to 'deserve' her child."

When Cassidy made the closing argument on behalf of Whitehead, he re-emphasized that Elizabeth Stern was not, as Whitehead had been told, infertile. He also stressed that termination of parental rights was permitted by law only in the event "of actual abandonment or abuse of the child." Finally, he warned that a ruling in favor of the contract's enforcement would lead to "one class of Americans . . . exploit[ing] another class. And it will always be the wife of the sanitation worker who must bear the children of the pediatrician."

Sorkow announced his verdict on March 31, 1987: "The parental rights of the defendant, Mary Beth Whitehead, are terminated. Mr. Stern is formally judged the father of Melissa Stern." Elizabeth Stern was then escorted into Sorkow's chambers, where she adopted Baby M.

New Jersey Supreme Court's Opinion
The Supreme Court of New Jersey overturned the lower court's ruling on
February 2, 1988. It invalidated the surrogacy contract, annulled Elizabeth Stern's adoption of Baby M, and restored the parental rights of Whitehead. Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice Robert N. Wilentz said:

We do not know of, and cannot conceive of, any other case where a perfectly fit mother was expected to surrender her newly born infant, perhaps forever, and was then told she was a bad mother because she did not.

The justices then dealt with the issue as a difference between "the natural father and the natural mother, [both of whose claims] are entitled to equal weight." Custody was awarded to William Stern and the trial court was instructed to set visitation for Mary Beth Whitehead.

The court awarded Whitehead visitation on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; every other weekend; and two weeks during the summer. (Holidays were also divided: the Sterns are entitled to Melissa's company on her birthday, Christmas Day, and Mother's Day, among other occasions.) Since Melissa is now in school during the week, and the Sterns live in New Jersey and Whitehead on Long Island, Whitehead reports that these circumstances have made it increasingly difficult for her to comply with the court-imposed schedule for visits with her daughter. In a recent interview, she said she would seek either a revision of the agreement's terms or to move the rest of her family closer to Melissa's other home in New Jersey.

The New Jersey Supreme Court decision prohibited additional surrogacy arrangements in that state unless "the surrogate mother volunteers, without any payment, to act as a surrogate and is given the right to change her mind and to assert her parental rights." Seventeen other states have since adopted similar guidelines.

This case elicited a divided response from feminists. Some asserted the primacy of a mother's claim to her child; others argued that any nullification of the contract would constitute a restriction upon a woman's right to control her own body.

For Further Reading
Brennan, Shawn, ed. Women's Information Directory.
Detroit: Gale Research, 1993.
Chesler, Phyllis. Sacred Bond: The Legacy of Baby M.
New York
: Times Books, 1988.
Cullen-DuPont, Kathryn. Encyclopedia of Women's History in
America. New York
: Facts on File, 1996.
Davis, Flora. Moving the Mountain: The Women's Movement in
America Since 1960. New York
: Simon & Schuster, 1991.
Evans, Sara M. Born for
Liberty: A History of Women in America. New York
: The Free Press, 1989.
Knappman, Edward, ed. Great American Trials.
Detroit
: Gale Research, 1994.
Sack, Kevin. "
New York is Urged to Outlaw Surrogate Parenting for Pay." New York Times, May 15, 1992
.
Squire, Susan. "Whatever Happened to Baby M?" Redbook, January 1994.
Whitehead, Mary Beth, with Loretta Schwartz-Nobel. A Mother's Story: The Truth About the Baby M Case.
New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.

Source: Women's Rights on Trial, 1st Ed., Gale, 1997, p.312.

 


Page 1

Re-visiting Simone de Beauvoir:

Recognising feminist contributions to pluralism in organizational studies

by

Judi Marshall

Professor of Organizational Behaviour

Centre for Action Research in Professional Practice

School of Management

University of Bath

Bath BA2 7AY, UK

email: mnsjm@management.bath.ac.uk

in

Journal of Management Inquiry

2000 9 (2) 166-172


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Re-visiting Simone de Beauvoir:

Recognising feminist contributions to pluralism in organizational studies

1

This section’s collection of papers celebrates the 50th anniversary of the publication of

Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. It takes this work as an historically significant point of

departure for scholarship which theorises differences and is contributing to a growing pluralism

in organizational studies. It asks what returning to this source can offer now as we move into a

new millennium.

We shall focus on insights from feminism, their contributions to re-forming organizational

scholarship towards pluralism, and some current prospects and challenges. We appreciate that

there are other streams of thinking which develop notions of pluralism. These attend to

differences such as race, class and sexuality, and to multiple differences, and so are not all

appropriately described under the heading of feminism. We focus here on feminism to reach

back fifty years to Beauvoir’s work, but do so committed to and enjoying this wider array of

mutually relevant scholarship.

This introductory paper sets the scene for the remaining articles in the section by doing three

things. It firstly sketchs the background to this collection of papers, explicating some mutual

purposes and imagery. It then briefly reviews selected themes from The Second Sex which have

potential relevance for organizational studies. As it does this, it, thirdly, questions current

patterns of scholarship which may limit movements towards pluralism.

COLLECTING TOGETHER TO REVIEW BEAUVOIR’S WORK AND LEGACY

This collection of papers originated as a proposal for a Symposium at the American Academy

of Management Annual Meeting in Chicago in August 1999. Three core images inform it. The

first is the notion of journeys of change and development. Articulations of insight and

theoretical analyses are of their time and context. Feminism has been and is evolving, multiple,

often contradictory, often re-visioning previous orthodoxies. This sense of proliferation shows

the vitality of feminism as a genre of academic study, but it is challenging, and at times

1

AUTHORS' NOTE: The authors of this collection of papers thank the Divisions and Program Chairs who

sponsored the Symposium at the 1999 Academy of Management Meeting at which the papers were presented.

These are the Gender and Diversity in Organizations Division and Audrey Murrell, and the Managerial and

Organizational Cognition Division and Kathleen Sutcliffe. For their encouragement and help, we also thank Kim

Boal, Peter Frost and Paul Hirsch.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This article draws, with her kind permission, on Linda Krefting's Overview for the 1999

Academy of Management Symposium Proposal.


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disturbing, as a milieu in which to work, think, and live. It is therefore valuable to pause at

times, to review earlier reference points and evaluate where we have reached. This is a

significant intent of these papers.

The second image is that of pluralism. Often theorizing and associated action are reaching for

a next desired state. We may then discover that, realized or not, this becomes unsatisfactory,

open to critique in some way. One current formulation of this desired state is “pluralism” – at its

best applied to forms of knowing and acting as much as to being able to value an extensive range

of voices, qualities, chosen identities and so on. Pluralism is currently valued but somewhat un-

defined. This territory includes seeking to understand multiple differences such as race, class,

sexuality and gender alongside each other, and offering these as potentially relevant in all

organizational analyses. Scholars attempt to appreciate theoretically the shifting, multi-

dimensional landscape of differences, power and potential oppressions as dynamic processes

with implications for persons, patterns of interaction, institutions and other levels of analysis

(Collins, 1990; Segal, 1999). This section’s papers contribute to pluralist images, and provide

cautions about how pluralism’s more radical potential can be undermined.

The third image which is repeated in this collection of papers is that of Otherness. We look

back to Beauvoir’s posing of this notion and its personal and political implications. We explore

what is needed to move beyond ascriptions and dynamics of Otherness. (See below.)

Re-visiting Simone de Beauvoir, the many facets of her contribution become apparent. Her

published work spans fiction, autobiography, philosophical essays - including the extensive

seven part volume The Second Sex - and more. Her life as a woman in France, and how this

relates to her writing, is also of interest, and often paradoxical. How she defined herself and

how she has been responded to by others (for example as a woman writer and as writing overtly

about sex) offer further avenues for analysis (Fallaize, 1998).

Working with the images above in their own individual ways, the authors in this section

follow diverse paths, pushing selectively at different aspects of the rich territory opened by

Beauvoir and her successors. Several extend the journeys that departed from Beauvoir. Others

go back to Beauvoir and The Second Sex, finding insights from aspects of her life and from

neglected parts of her work.

BEAUVOIR AND THE SECOND SEX

Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex was published in France in 1949 and translated into

English in 1953. Before this she was known as a novelist and for her relationship with John Paul

Sartre. Her prominence contributed to the book’s early impact and circulation. The Second Sex

is widely credited for inspiring the contemporary women's movement. Beauvoir is regarded as

"surely the greatest feminist theorist of our time" (Moi, 1985, p.91) and "a spiritual godmother to

the women's movement" (Heller, 1998, A22). Fallaize (1998) notes: “Beauvoir’s influence has

been so widespread that it is impossible to draw up an exhaustive list of feminists indebted to


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her work.” (p.15) Her intellectual influence is apparent even when unacknowledged (Moi,

1985). Beauvoir has also been much criticised and ignored. Whilst her work remains widely

recognized, it has not been as widely cited, even in feminist scholarship. The fiftieth anniversary

of The Second Sex is prompting a reappraisal of her contributions.

Beauvoir transformed the women's movement through her application of the existential

philosophy Sartre articulated in Being and Nothingness (1943). Her analysis is extensive,

drawing on biology, psychoanalysis, history, anthropology, socialism and literature, and

incorporating a stage by stage critique of women’s lives. Her thesis was simple but profound:

throughout history, women have been reduced to objects for men: “woman” has been

construed as man's Other, denied the right to her own subjectivity and to responsibility

for her own actions (Moi, 1985, p.92).

A few quotations from The Second Sex (1988 edition) illustrate Beauvoir’s analysis:

man represents both the positive and the neutral... whereas woman represents only the

negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity. (p.15)

humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not

regarded as an autonomous being. (p.16)

She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to

her.... He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other. (p.16)

Whilst Otherness is a fundamental category of human thought in the creation of self as

subject, usually the Other can claim the consciousness of subject for themselves in reciprocal

relations. But, according to Beauvoir, woman never becomes the subject in this way and so

cannot reach the necessary consciousness for emancipation.

Beauvoir argued that this view of woman as man’s Other is the premise of all political and

social life and has been internalized by women themselves, who exist in a state of

"inauthenticity", enacting patriarchally prescribed roles. Thus Otherness is intra-psychic as well

as institutional. She rejected women's complicity as either legitimation of patriarchy or as

evidence of a female nature or essence. “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”

(Beauvoir, 1988, p.295) is the assertion for which she is most famous. Beauvoir's analysis of

woman as Other is historically important, looking beyond biological sex to the social

construction of gender. It established the groundwork for this conceptual frame of analysis.

Much of Beauvoir’s early influence was political. Consciousness-raising movements

encouraged women to explore for themselves - and to resist - the prevailing social views they

internalized to "become" woman. The inherent interconnectedness of the personal, political and

intellectual became apparent in this process. The challenging summary phrase "the personal is

political" emerged.


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However, when we look to The Second Sex to understand how to escape being positioned as

Other its messages are ambiguous. Beauvoir’s writing is contentious. She is accused of being

male-identified in her typing of desirable human characteristics, contrasting entrapping female

passivity and immanence with male transcendence, the existentialist route to freedom and

agency (Moi, 1994). She appears to believe in universal disgust at the female body and to

devalue motherhood (Fallaize, 1998). However, through her extended existentialist analysis she

also suggests that women are more ambiguously placed in the world than men and so more

thoroughly challenged to live fully the ambiguities of human existence (Moi, 1994). In this

Issue, David Knights engages in this territory, debating whether a concept of the autonomous

subject is necessary to the feminist project of development. He explores the dilemmas opened

by this questioning.

Beauvoir identified one way forward from oppression toward eventual freedom as the life of

“the independent woman” (1988, p.689), finding economic and social autonomy through paid

professional roles and reciprocity in relationships with those men who are able to relate without

domination. She also explored the myriad impediments to this happening. Politically, Beauvoir

sought equality with men, regarding herself, for much of her life, as a socialist rather than a

feminist because, in her estimation, class struggle would more successfully improve the position

of women than would independent advocacy of women's rights. Moi (1994) argues that she

“seriously underestimates the strategic value of a politics of difference” (p.212) – a matter of

continuing debate - instead depicting “women’s struggle for liberation... as a slow and

contradictory process” (p.208).

We might ask whether understanding the social construction of gender and other differences

gives individuals and societies sufficient tools to escape the extreme shaping of consciousness

that Beauvoir described and the associated dynamics of Otherness. Sometimes it certainly does

not. The territory of choice - for identities, interaction patterns and so on - is largely shaped by

binary oppositions which encode differences and power, a challenge reflected in Beauvoir’s own

theorising. Much feminist work has focused on this dilemma (Segal, 1999) and on trying to

escape it. Thus as we seek to deconstruct dominant thinking we challenge established

epistemologies. It is therefore worth pondering what those of us who think of ourselves as

“diverse”, as scholars living outside the mainstream, have simultaneously internalised from

prevailing world views. I see these as currently challenging issues, as some people achieve the

relative comfort of apparent acceptance into dominant academic cultures for their representations

of difference. Are we both enabled and disabled by this positioning (as Moi, 1994, suggests

Beauvoir was by hers)? How do we conduct ourselves and what identities do we create? The

work of consciousness-raising seems to need repeated renewal.

Following Beauvoir, much scholarship has concentrated on the social construction of gender,

limiting other kinds of analysis based on difference. In this Issue, Linda Krefting argues that

emerging evidence from biology and evolutionary psychology can complement explanations of

gender differences grounded in social construction. Mindful of the historical use of "essential"

biological differences to exclude people designated Other that concerned Beauvoir, she

considers strategies to counter the risks. Can pluralism allow a more subtle, multi-dimensional

framing? And what forms might it take? How can we account for, rather than deny,

embodiment in our theorising, as Beauvoir sought also to do?


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Beauvoir's existential analysis of a universal woman as man's Other has given way to more

complex interpretations (Fallaize, 1998; Moi, 1985, 1987). Later French feminists added the

perspectives of Lacanian psychoanalysis to the concept of Otherness. Many other developments

have enlarged or moderated the ideas Beauvoir offered. Her concerns are now recognized as

historically-culturally situated: those of a bourgeois, white, Parisian woman at mid-twentieth

century rather than of a universal woman. Feminism's interest in Otherness has been extended

beyond affluent white women to other voices, including to women of color and to men, and has

combined with interests in identity. Examining processes through which Others have been

marginalized and excluded requires new theory and methods of research because existing

scholarship is part of the process through which Otherness, identity, and pluralism are obscured

(e.g., Harding, 1990). These journeys of change continue.

In this Issue, Marta Calįs and Linda Smircich argue however, that, despite developments, we

have not yet “transcended” Beauvoir and they return to her for inspiration. They review ideas

which have seldom been figural in analyses of Beauvoir’s work and present them anew for our

consideration. Playing with "good reasons", they explain why there have been good reasons for

North American feminists to overlook Beauvoir and why deeper reading of her treatments of

reason and of good provide good reasons for remembering her work. They offer these “re-

readings” of Beauvoir to engage/interrogate contemporary organizational literature on gender

and social identity.

PARADOXES OF THE SCHOLAR’S LIFE – MIRRORING ONE’S THEORISING

Beauvoir’s work and analyses repeatedly remind us that the personal, professional and

intellectual are interwoven. The Second Sex emerged because she set out to write autobiography

and realized that she had first to ask herself the question “What has it meant to me to be a

woman?” (Fallaize, 1998, p.3). She wrote instead “an onslaught on contemporary ideas about

women” (p.3). Commentators look to Beauvoir’s life to understand her ideas and contribution.

The interplay of memberships and marginalities in her story present especially interesting

conundrums. Moi (1994) identifies Beauvoir as “an intellectual woman”, a pioneering woman

of her time, entering previously all-male institutions of education.

Given her unique opportunity to develop herself fully as an intellectual in a country and

at a time when intellectuals were considered important members of society, Simone de

Beauvoir became more purely an intellectual, as it were, than any other woman of her

era. (p.1)

Yet Beauvoir could also identify woman as Other in the male-defined world in which she

lived. She experienced the ambiguities of such a placing, wanting to be taken seriously as an

intellectual and also to achieve love, and emotional and sexual happiness. The resulting tensions

permeate her writing and theorising. Evans (1996) adds a valuable cautionary note to this theme

of analysis, “to ask exactly what (and indeed who) intellectual women are, and what non-

intellectual woman are like.” (p.120) Thus, describing Beauvoir as “intellectual” is both

illuminating and poses further questions. It paradoxically counters disparagement of women’s

intelligence; yet it is also referring to historically and situationally defined membership of an


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elite rather than to a universal attribution of value. With many other academics, I would

advocate appreciating a range of forms of knowing, not privileging propositional knowledge

above all others.

It has been troubling for some feminists that Beauvoir seemed to devalue her own creativity.

She placed herself second to Sartre, and also initially chose a different realm of writing – fiction

- as her territory, rather than philosophy (Moi, 1994). Scholars now debate the traditional

positioning of Beauvoir as a disciple of Sartre, and affirm her influence on his work and her own

independent contributions (see Calįs and Smircich this Issue).

There are several strands of interest here for current scholars. The tenacious mindset of

needing to prove someone “independent” in order to value their work is open to critique. What

does or would it mean to have a more relationally appreciative model of academic life? An

opposite concern is how aspects of someone’s contribution can be obscured, overlooked, if they

are interpreted as disciple. There is also value in taking seriously the work Beauvoir did as

novelist, autobiographer and biographer. She was engaging in forms of inquiry and scholarship

which have their own epistemological and methodological richness and challenges. Falaize

(1998) notes that she was criticised by some for being unfeeling (for example in her accounts of

her mother’s and Sartre’s deaths), “never parted from her notebook at the most emotional or

delicate moments”. (Fallaize, 1998 p.5.) I find this interesting. Does her work, and that of a

similarly interwoven kind, breach academic “good taste”? For me it points to the challenging

territory of conducting self-reflective sense-making with appropriate practices of quality

(Marshall, in press). However well we believe Beauvoir did this, her work extends the realm

which should be accounted for, appreciating the personal, professional and intellectual as

companion strands in scholarship.

In this Issue, Ella Bell reflects on the relevance of the intertwined journeys in Beauvoir's life

to those of a Black feminist scholar fifty years later. Despite differences, she finds meaning in

the borderlands where plural identities engage. She finds Beauvoir’s questions and challenges

relevant to her own life.

BEAUVOIR AND PLURALISM IN MANAGEMENT

The influence of Beauvoir's epochal work on organizational scholarship has been indirect,

but substantial nonetheless. The Second Sex was a point of departure for significant change and

development journeys which have enhanced pluralism in management scholarship over the last

half century.

Feminist scholarship in management addresses ways to incorporate pluralism and discontinue

the silencing of Otherness. It has gained recognition among the critical perspectives featured in

special issues of established major journals and those specifically seeking new approaches (e.g.,

Fletcher, 1998; Martin, Knopoff & Beckman, 1998; Meyerson & Scully, 1995; Mumby &

Putnam, 1992). Following Beauvoir's precedent, feminism enriches organizational research by

importing theory and method from other disciplines (e.g., Martin, 1990; Calįs & Smircich, 1991;


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Fondas, 1997). The United States tends to dominate mainstream management knowledge-

making internationally (Jacques, 1996). Scholarship on gender has been a point of entry for

non-US perspectives (e.g., Alvesson & Billing, 1997; Collinson & Hearn, 1996; Gherardi, 1995;

Hearn, et al., 1989; Marshall, 1995; Mills & Tancred, 1992; Wajcman, 1998). These

developments have the potential to enhance pluralism in form, content and method.

The recent Handbook of Organization Studies (Clegg, Hardy & Nord, 1996) provides a not

atypical illustration of how appreciations of gender and diversity are currently placed in

organizational scholarship. The inclusion of women and diverse identities in separate Handbook

chapters (Calįs & Smircich, 1996; Nkomo & Cox, 1996, respectively) makes plural

representation visible. This is indicative of change. The editors shaped the Handbook to foster

pluralism generally, for example selecting contributions to provide “a panoramic vista” (p.xxi)

of different views, and using the metaphor of opening up conversations. But the form of

inclusion of diversity related issues also reflects a continued Otherness. Such issues are raised

but then marginalized by mainly separate consideration. The index of the Handbook suggests

that beyond the Introduction and Conclusion (which are thoughtful in these terms) there are few

references to diversity, ethnicity, feminism, gender, race, women and so on in other chapters.

There are substantial sections of mainstream “conversation” which focus their referencing on a

relatively small band of dominant scholars and do not incorporate pluralist appreciations. The

Handbook, as the editors recognize, reflects current organizational scholarship and

organizational practice. We may, then, achieve potential or apparent pluralism, but persist in

enacting many traditional forms of organizational theorizing.

What might we expect new genres of scholarship and representation, informed by pluralism in

form, process and content, to be like? They might, for example, place other voices so that they

challenge, fragment, supplant and stand alongside rather than “simply” add to the current

mainstream. Multiple, mutually informing and aware, contributions could be in the same arena,

within the same purview, rather than separately located. (The Handbook above moves in this

direction.) Should we develop scholarship of such form, the notion of mainstream might

dissolve altogether. Until it does any claims for radical pluralism are contentious.

In this Issue, Joanne Martin considers how mainstream organizational research continues to

present itself as gender-neutral despite abundant analyses to the contrary, and thus incorporates

blindspots and weaknesses. She selects a range of traditions of organizational scholarship –

including Weberian bureaucracy, stress, bounded rationality and institutional theory – and

employs a variety of analytic techniques to show their gendered assumptions and to present

alternative readings. She encourages others to engage in similar scholarship as a path to re-

visioning the field, moving beyond the marginalization of gender concerns and developing new

insights. She lists theories which might warrant such attention.


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OFFERING FEMINIST CONTRIBUTIONS

In this section I take the origination of this collection of papers and their subsequent

performance at the Chicago Academy of Management Meeting as an example of the interwoven

dynamics of change and resilience in cultures of organizational scholarship.

Changes towards greater incorporation of pluralism can be seen in the history and current

functioning of the Academy of Management (AOM), as in other institutions. It is a professional

association of management educators and practitioners, based in the United States but with

world-wide membership and influence. It is an important institution in terms of making

meaning in management scholarship. (Are there resonances here with the power of the

intellectual elite in mid-twentieth century France to which Beauvoir belonged?) Representation

of diversity has increased both in AOM membership and in leadership positions. Some years

ago, consciousness raising about gender issues influenced establishment of a Women in

Management Division. Mirroring growing recognition of diversities beyond gender this

Division recently chose to transform itself into Gender and Diversity in Organizations.

It is to the Academy of Management that the Symposium proposal from which these papers

are derived was made. Justifications were offered for the relevance of re-visiting Beauvoir’s The

Second Sex to organizational scholarship. They were accepted.

The AOM Annual Meeting Programme has a similar pattern in terms of incorporating

pluralism to that identified as currently typical above. Diverse representation is achieved, but

usually with continuing separation of most material to do with gender, race, diversity and

difference from ‘mainstream’ sessions. I shall not pursue this issue further, but turn to the

performative aspects of our Symposium.

A major intention of the Symposium proposal was that we should enact pluralism, allowing it

also to be engaged experientially rather than only discussed. This required taking a different

form for the session than that typically followed. Incorporating radical ideas into dominant

modes of scholarship and presentation dilutes or subverts their potential. Form can carry

conformity. Generating alternative forms, incorporating alternative foundational principles,

opens possibilities for change.

In practice, there were limits to our ability to innovate within the session. Two planned

elements were relinquished: that of speakers being positioned amongst the audience (because of

sound quality); and everyone incorporating their personal, political and intellectual journeys in

their presentations (because of time pressures). Other intentions were achieved: the designated

speakers kept strictly to their allotted times in order to free a significant space for the “audience”

and speakers then to meet in discussion groups, allowing expression to a plurality of voices.

There was thus a session facilitator (me) rather than allocated “expert” discussants. In the

closing phase of the Symposium some participants voiced their responses and thoughts. People

reported that the Symposium had provided a different experience from that of other sessions -


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more engaged, “a warm place in a chilly climate” - and that their own concerns had been

mirrored in the presentations.

It seems, then, that for some we did achieve a different, more dialogic, form of encounter –

engaging, reflective, offering resonant ideas, multiple – an alternative space, appropriately

transitory. And then we dispersed. I wonder whether we left any traces.

CLOSING REFLECTIONS

I have taken opportunities during the course of this paper to query the current state of

pluralism in organizational scholarship. It seems both to be developing and in some significant

ways constrained. I am left with concerns about how enactments of academic scholarship -

individually, interpersonally and institutionally - might be self-limiting, and with several

questions. What, then, does pluralism mean? How can this notion retain a radical, jarring edge

rather than become diluted, co-opted? Through what forms and dynamics can it be achieved?

Can analyses be suitably subtle, multi-faceted, complex, and yet vibrant? What does the praxis

of pluralist scholarship look like? How can responsibility for change and incorporation of

difference become more widely shared? Finally, if Beauvoir’s The Second Sex marked a

significant departure from prior scholarship in its time, I wonder what would be an equally

radical departure now, and how we would treat it.

REFERENCES

Alvesson, M., & Billing, Y. D. (1997). Understanding gender and organizations.

London:Sage.

Beauvoir, S. de. (1953/1988). The Second Sex (Trans. and edited by H. M. Parshley). London:

Picador.

Calįs, M. B. & Smircich, L. (1991). Voicing seduction to silence leadership. Organization

Studies, 12, 567-602.

Calįs, M., & Smircich, L. (1996). From "the woman's" point of view: Feminist approaches to

organization studies. In S. R. Clegg, C. Hardy, & W. R. Nord (Eds.), Handbook of

Organization Studies, 218-257. London: Sage.

Clegg, S.R., Hardy, C., & Nord, W. R.(Eds.) (1996). Handbook of Organization Studies.

London:Sage.

Collins, P.H. (1990). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of

empowerment. Boston: Unwin Hyman.

Collinson, D. L., & Hearn, J. (Eds.). 1996. Men as managers, managers as men. London: Sage.

Evans, M. (1996). Simone de Beauvoir. London: Sage.

Fallaize, E. (1998). Introduction. In E. Fallaize (Ed.), Simone de Beauvoir: A critical reader.

London: Routledge.

Fletcher, J. K. (1998). Relational practice: A feminist reconstruction of work. Journal of

Management Inquiry, 7, 163-186.

Fondas, N. (1997). Feminization unveiled: Management qualities in contemporary writings.

Academy of Management Review, 22, 257-282.


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Gherardi, S. (1995). Gender, symbolism, and organizational cultures. London: Sage.

Harding, S. (1990). Feminism, science, and the anti-enlightenment critiques. In L. Nicholson

(Ed.), Feminism/postmodernism, 83-106. New York: Routledge.

Hearn, J., Sheppard, D. L., Tancred-Sheriff, P., & Burrell, G. (Eds.) (1989). The sexuality of

organization. London: Sage.

Heller, S. 1998 (Sept. 4). Scholars seek to rank Simone de Beauvoir among leading 20th-

century philosophers. Chronicle of Higher Education, A22-23.

Jacques, Roy, 1996. Manufacturing the employee: Management knowledge from the 19th to 21

st

centuries. London: Sage.

Marshall, J. (1995). Women managers moving on: Exploring career and life choices. London:

International Thomson Publishing.

Marshall, J. (in press). Self-reflective inquiry practices. In P.Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds.),

Handbook of Action Research. London: Sage.

Martin, J. (1990). Deconstructing organizational taboos. Organization Science, 1, 1-21.

Martin, J., Knopoff, K., & Beckman, C. (1998). An alternative to bureaucratic impersonality at

The Body Shop. Administrative Science Quarterly, 43, 429-469.

Meyerson, D. & Scully, M. (1995). Tempered radicalism and the politics of ambivalence and

change. Organization Science, 6, 585-600.

Mills, A. J., & Tancred, P. (1992). Gendering organizational analysis. Newbury Park: Sage.

Moi, T. (1985). Sexual/textual politics: Feminist literary theory. London: Routledge.

Moi, T. (Ed.). (1987). French feminist thought: A reader. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Moi, T. (1994). Simone de Beauvoir: The making of an intellectual woman. Oxford, UK:

Blackwell.

Mumby, D. K., & Putnam, L. L., (1992). The politics of emotion: A feminist reading of bounded

rationality. Academy of Management Review, 17, 465-487.

Nkomo, S. M., & Cox, T. (1996). Diverse identities in organizations. In S. R. Clegg, C.

Hardy, & W. R. Nord (Eds.), Handbook of Organization Studies, 338-356. London: Sage.

Segal, L. (1999) Why feminism? Cambridge: Polity Press.

Wacjman, J. (1998). Managing like a man: Women & men in corporate management.

University Park, PA: Penn State University Press.

 

Woman has been measured and judged against the norm of man, the essential human subject,

“the active, strong and moral half of a human whole” (Bailey 1993, p.99). Biological deviation

from the male standard marks women as biologically (and therefore ‘naturally’) inferior; as “victims

of a pathological physiology” (Balsamo 1996, p.42). Aristotle regarded the female as being

“afflicted with natural defectiveness”, St Thomas Aquinas saw woman as ‘imperfect man’ (de

Beauvoir 1988, p.16) and a ‘misbegotten male’ (Tseėlon, 1995, p.11). Women are the ‘other half’;

necessary evils for reproduction (Bailey op. cit. p.99) and the opposite against which the male can

compare himself favourably. The ‘one’ requires the category of the ‘other’ in order to be the ‘one’.

The idea of men and women as opposites is supported by polarized categories such as

mind/body, culture/nature, spirit/matter that have been inflected with gender ideologies. In the

mind/body dualism the body and mind are regarded as quite separate, the body is merely the crude

container of the mind. Mind and reason are superior to the emotions and senses and divorced from

one another. Man is mind and represents culture: the rational, unified, thinking subject; woman is

body and represents nature: irrational, emotional and driven by instinct and physical need.

Mind/culture/man must harness and control this potentially unruly body/nature/woman through the

application of knowledge and willpower.

Woman’s association with body/nature is strengthened by biological essentialist and

determinist paradigms which define woman according to her reproductive physiology. She is thus

feeble and passive, literally a receptacle for the desires of the male

4

and incubator for his offspring;

a creature driven by emotion and instinct; a slave to her reproductive organs/hormones. Man may

be able to transcend his biological materiality, but woman is entrenched in her physicality - “a thing

sunk deeply in its own immanence.” (de Beauvoir op. cit., p.189).

Woman as other is inferior but also unknowable, enigmatic and disquieting. She represents

that which must be investigated and dissected until her secrets are relinquished. Consequently the

female body has been subjected to the scrutinizing gaze of the human sciences far more than the

male. Every hint of abnormality has been thoroughly and enthusiastically ferreted out and classified

by numerous ‘experts’ eager to provide indisputable proof of its inherent pathology. Its

uncontrolled sexuality must be contained and inherent weakness of character exposed, particularly

as it is primarily a reproductive body.

Medical and scientific discourse has confirmed the pathology of female biology and

legitimated women’s subjugation, prescribing in the past what activities women should engage in,

what clothes they should wear to preserve appropriate ‘womanliness’, their moral obligation to

preserve their energy for child birth and so on. Catherine Kohler Riessman argues that since the mid

nineteenth century there has been an increasing ‘medicalization’ of women’s lives which has seen

more and more female ‘conditions’ identified in ways “that connote deviation from some ideal

biological standard” (Kohler Riessman 1992, p.132). The nineteenth century woman was diagnosed

as frigid, hysterical or neurasthenic with mental disorders put down to ‘disturbances’ in the womb,

4

The word vagina comes from the Latin word for sheath.


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while contemporary women suffer from vaginismus, pre menstrual tension, infertility, pre and post

natal depression, eating disorders and so on.

Of course, the processes that I have been relating - i.e. the role of discourse in producing and

determining social identity and as a form of social control - are close to Foucault’s theoretical heart.

Indeed, he succinctly refers to some of these issues in his description of ‘the hysterization of

women’s bodies’ (Foucault 1998, p.104). There are in fact many convergences between the feminist

account of power and the body and Foucault’s. Feminism has long been preoccupied with

theorising how power operates, particularly between the sexes. Like Foucault, many feminists had

engaged with Marxism but found its framework fell short. Foucault held particular disdain for

‘totalising’ theories that claimed to offer the ‘truth’ through ‘scientific’ explanations. Feminism was

similarly engaged with critiquing the notion of science (with particular regard to their

‘pathologising’ of the female body), its claims to objectivity and the idea of guaranteed truth. Both

of their projects seem to be primarily deconstructive: eager to expose the ‘discursive practice’

behind the natural and self-evident.

Foucault’s theories have been useful to feminism in their challenge to paradigms of western

thought taken for granted since the Enlightenment. He critiques the classical ways of thinking about

the subject as a rational, unified being with a fixed core or essence, arguing that: “Nothing in man -

not even his body - is sufficiently stable to serve as a basis for self recognition or for understanding

other men” (Foucault 1991, p.87-8). There is no ‘natural’ body or pre-discursive, essential human

subject who is “amputated, repressed, altered by our social order, it is rather that the individual is

carefully fabricated in it, according to a whole technique of forces and bodies” (Foucault 1977,

p.217). In fact, Foucault’s commentary of how subjectivity is produced calls to mind Simone de

Beauvoir’s now famous phrase that “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” (de Beauvoir

op. cit., p.295).

This anti-essentialist approach to the body has been a major attraction for many feminists.

For Lois McNay his work on the body “indicates to feminists a way of placing a notion of the body

at the centre of explanations of women’s oppression that does not fall back into essentialism or

biologism” (McNay op. cit., p.11). However, although he offers ammunition to tackle essentialist

ideas, (particularly with regard to sexuality which he argued was an historical construct and not a

‘natural given’ or ‘furtive reality’ (Foucault 1998, p.105)) his failure to address gender as itself a

discursive construct, as an “‘effect’ produced at the level of the body” (Balsamo op. cit., p.21), is

deeply problematic. Anne Balsamo rightly points out that it “contradicts his analytical intentions to

consider the system of differentiations that make the body meaningful.” (Ibid.), whilst McNay

argues that:

“If, as Foucault claims, there is no such thing as a ‘natural’ body and it is, therefore,

impossible to posit a pre-given natural sex difference, then he needs to elaborate on how the

systematic effect of sexual division is perpetuated by the techniques of gender that are

applied to the body.” (McNay op. cit., p.33)

Foucault did not address gender as a ‘technique’, so it appears he did regard something as a ‘natural

given’. The discourses I have been relating, as extreme and irrelevant as they may appear to us

today, have informed contemporary society - inflecting modern thought through philosophy,

medicine, law, the arts and so on - and entered into the popular consciousness as forms of self

evident truth. They have helped to create a chasm between men and women that appears natural and


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ineluctable - as banal as the cliché that women are from Venus and men from Mars.

Foucault’s apparent gender neutrality is problematic precisely because we live in a society

that is far from gender neutral and in fact constantly seeks to reiterate the polarization of the sexes

through these ‘techniques of gender’. Failing to be specific about just what kinds of bodies

(discursively constructed or not) he’s discussing implies that gender has no impact. His analysis

sidesteps how woman has been discursively identified with the body and downplays the

objectification that feminists argue this results in in order to argue for the subjectifying power of

discourse. The cultural insistence on a male/female binary that derogates the female body in

relation to the male inevitably leads to more intense policing of women’s bodies and specific

apparatuses of control. Therefore, treating the body ‘as one’ is not viable; his concept of power

cries out for gender specific analysis and in that analysis gender needs to be acknowledged as a

technology of the body in its own right; “a primary apparatus of scientific biopower that constructs

the body as an intelligible object” (Balsamo op. cit., p.22)

Many feminists have read his gender-neutrality as androcentrism; he doesn’t make gender

distinctions, particularly in Discipline and Punish, because he is not really treating the body ‘as one’

but as male and no distinction is necessary when dealing with the ‘genderless’ body of man - the

essential human subject. He seems to fall into the very modes of thought he sought to challenge.

Balsamo argues that ultimately “Foucault ends up writing...from a site of power - male-centred

discourse” (Balsamo op. cit., p.22) while Bartky claims that his work “reproduces that sexism which

is endemic throughout western political theory” (Bartky op. cit., p.64).

I have tried to show that the notion of difference that is articulated by gender is itself a

discursive construction. Male and female are designations not as thoroughly opposed as the

discourses surrounding them suggest. The differences that do exist are, as McNay points out, “over-

determined in order to produce a systematic effect of sexual division” (McNay op. cit., p.22).

Though many people may experience gender as a natural expression of their biological sex, it is

important to recognise that, in Benhabib and Cornell’s words, “it is the way that anatomy is socially

invested that defines gender identity and not the body itself” (Benhabib and Cornell 1987, p.14).

Male and female should not be conflated with masculinity and femininity. They are

discursively produced identities that invest the body, producing certain characteristics that are taken

as evidence of a male and female essence and an ineluctable difference between them. The

‘naturalness’ of gender is constantly invoked, but masculinity and femininity are disciplines of the

body that require work. For Judith Butler gender is a performance, “an active style of living one’s

body in the world” (Butler in Benhabib and Cornell 1987, p.131). For McNay it is an ‘imaginary

signification’ of sex (McNay op. cit., p.22). Femininity in particular has been variously referred to

as a myth, a mystique, a masque, an artifice, an achievement (Bartky op. cit., p.64). Paradoxically,

while femininity is regarded as the most ‘natural’ of the genders (as women are biologically over-

determined) it also requires the most artifice to be considered successful, whilst those that are

unsuccessful or refuse to take part in it are regarded as ‘unnatural’.

I shall now go on to explore how the female body is manipulated, shaped and trained to bear

signs of its ‘natural’ femininity using the example of some fashion and beauty practices in order to

illustrate how women become practised and subjected in the discipline of the female gender.

The Spectacle of the Scaffold

Adorning and transforming the body with clothes, cosmetics and jewellery is associated with

femininity, even though it is well documented that men have been equally engaged in such practices.


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Male involvement in spectacular forms of adornment declined dramatically during the 18th century,

due no doubt in part to the identification and pathologising of homosexuality that occurred at the

time, and the subsequent need to avoid any suggestion of effeminacy. Sexual stereotyping in dress -

maintaining a visible distinction between the sexes by exaggerating existing physical differences or

constructing artificial ones - also became of overriding concern during this period. According to

Elizabeth Wilson fashion is ‘obsessed’ with gender, and serves to define and redefine the gender

boundary (Wilson 1985 p.117). This is evidenced by the anxiety aroused by ‘cross dressing’ the

very idea of which could not be possible if it were not for such rigid gender demarcations.

Female fashions, particularly since the Victorian era, seem to have been especially

concerned with marking difference spectacularly on the body by constantly drawing attention to

sites of ‘otherness’ such as the breasts, waist, buttocks and hips which have been exaggerated by

corsets, bustles and bras. Considering the well documented discomfort, breathing difficulties and

internal organ displacement caused by the 19th century corset in particular, it is possible to draw an

analogy with Foucault’s writing on torture, which he says must “mark the victim: it is intended,

either by the scar it leaves on the body, or by the spectacle that accompanies it, to brand the victim

with infamy” (Foucault 1977, p.34).

However, Foucault identified torture as a characteristic of pre-modern times, whereas for

women this form of spectacular discipline has extended well into the modern period. The advent of

modernity characterised by rationality sees a certain ‘rationality’ appear in men’s attire; women,

however, are not regarded as rational agents but as instinctual, inherently pathological bodies,

unaffected by culture, outside of modernity. Primitive and ‘uncivilisable’, these distinctly ‘pre-

modern’ bodies therefore require pre-modern methods of containment and control that

simultaneously brand them with the ‘infamy’ of their gender and the ‘irrational’ display that

becomes regarded as an inherently feminine trait.

Woman’s crime of being other - of embodying all that man fears and despises yet desires -

finds fitting ‘punishment’ in clothing that draws erotic attention to the body by simultaneously

constraining and ‘correcting’ it. According to de Beauvoir: “In woman dressed and adorned, nature

is present but under restraint, by human will moulded nearer to man’s desire” (de Beauvoir op. cit.,

p.191). By beating down upon and mastering the body punishment was also an emphatic affirmation

of power (Foucault 1977, p.49) and superior strength. As Susan Bordo observes, the corset caused

women actual physical incapacitation but it also “served as an emblem of the power of culture to

impose its designs on the female body.” (Bordo op. cit., p.143).

De Beauvoir argued that female costumes and styles have been designed to prevent activity:

“Chinese women with bound feet could scarcely walk, the polished fingernails of the Hollywood

star deprive her of her hands; high heels, corsets, panniers, farthingales, crinolines were intended

less to accentuate the curves of the feminine body than to augment its incapacity”. Paralysed by

either too little or too much weight, by inconvenient attire or the ‘rules of propriety’, woman’s body

could then “present the inert and passive qualities of an object” and “[seem] to man to be his

property, his thing.” (de Beauvoir op. cit., p.189-90). Thus containing the threat of the potentially

unruly, too-physical female body.

Whether or not one agrees with de Beauvoir’s comments, which seem to suggest some kind

of male conspiracy orchestrated against women that is at odds with Foucault’s theories, it must be

acknowledged that, although incapacitating corsets may be a thing of the past, certain degrees and

techniques of discipline, manipulation and discomfort are still practised on the female body.


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High heeled or stiletto shoes, for example, require practice to walk in; they affect balance and

restrict mobility, resulting in a particular posture and gait. ‘Feminine’ shoes bear little resemblance

to the shape of the human foot and squeezing one’s feet into narrow pointed shoes can cause

discomfort and deformity. Corsets and girdles have given way to new hi-tech stretch fabrics and

lingerie that claims to ‘control’ and ‘shape’ unruly parts of the body that would disturb the required

smooth, firm silhouette by compressing them with strategically placed ‘control panels’. In the last

ten years or so there has been a veritable explosion of bras aiming to transform the shape, size and

direction of one’s breasts in order to achieve the desired large, rounded bust-line with maximum

cleavage. To this end there are maximizers, plunge, push up and cleavage enhancing bras; ones with

removable padding, with liquid gel, even with inflatable sections. Breast implants have of course

become much more common in recent years and augmentation is now the second most requested

cosmetic surgery procedure (Bordo op. cit., p.25).

Bodily discipline doesn’t stop with the manipulation of the female flesh, however; the

texture and appearance of the skin also requires a profound amount of attention. According to

Sandra Lee Bartky a woman’s “skin must be soft, supple, hairless and smooth; ideally, it should

betray no sign of wear, experience, age, or deep thought.” (Bartky op. cit., p.68). To this end women

are exhorted to follow a detailed daily beauty regime and to choose the correct preparations, far too

numerous to list here, designed for ‘treating’ and transforming the skin on all parts of the body.

Then there are the numerous cosmetics applied with various instruments that women are expected to

master, not to mention false eyelashes, hair-pieces and nails. There are specific products and

processes designed for the removal of hair from different parts of the body; from the eyebrows,

upper lip, underarm, leg and ‘bikini’ by plucking, shaving, waxing, buffing and electrolysis. And as

for the hair that remains on the head, a myriad more treatments and products await.

Women are advised to avoid unnecessary exposure to the elements, such as wind, water and

‘damaging UV rays’ of the sun in order to keep skin ‘fresh and young looking’. Only youthful

bodies or bodies with the appearance of youth are considered beautiful and valued in our society, but

as Efrat Tseėlon points out: “While both sexes dread ageing, it is the woman who is expected to

prevent it.” (Tseėlon op. cit., p.82). The cosmetic industries capitalise on the fear of ageing by

offering products endorsed by scientific language that claim to prevent or reduce the signs of ageing,

which is discussed as though it were some kind of disease that it is every woman’s responsibility to

try to prevent.

Although cosmetics have been commonly associated with individual expression, indulgence

and even emancipation (particularly in the first decades of the twentieth century), the idea that it is a

woman’s ‘duty to be beautiful’ has been just as prevalent. Wilson observes that the rhetoric of the

beauty routine has at times suggested military ritual or a moral, even eugenic, obligation, (Wilson

op. cit., p.111) while Sandra Lee Bartky regards making-up the face as “a highly stylised activity

that gives little reign to self-expression” (Bartky op. cit., p.71). Writing in 1985, Wilson laments the

fact that cosmetics are now regarded as a necessity rather than as ‘daring display’ and suggests that

they are now worn like a “‘uniform’ in much the same spirit as most men wear ties - in order to look

‘dressed’, in order not to stand out from the crowd” (Wilson op. cit., p.114). Bartky concurs that “a

properly made-up face is, if not a card of entree, at least a badge of acceptability in most social and

professional contexts” (Bartky op. cit., p.71).

In more recent years of course, the measures I have been describing don’t go far enough for

the increasing number of people who choose (and can afford) to undergo cosmetic surgery, which is

fast becoming another necessity in the pursuit of an acceptable body. An ever-expanding range of


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procedures are on offer to correct more and more parts of the body to increasingly detailed criteria.

Though surgery continues to gain popularity amongst men, the vast majority of people trying to

‘correct’ themselves are women. Given the obsession in our culture with slenderness it is

unsurprising that liposuction is the most requested operation (Bordo op. cit., p.25) with women

outnumbering men nine to one (Tseėlon op. cit., p.81). Surgery is also promoted as being about

individual choice and self-determination, but the end results aimed for, especially by the most

popular procedures, seem to be profoundly normalizing

5

.

Turning woman into an ornamented surface requires an enormous amount of discipline and

can cause discomfort, not to mention untold feelings of inadequacy. It cements woman’s status as

body, confirming her role as primarily decorative. Female styles over the years have also served to

confirm myths about woman: as duplicitous, over-sexualised temptress; delicate and weak or

narcissistic, frivolous and obsessed with trivialities: “[l]ike fashion itself...ephemeral, changeable,

illusory and extravagant.” (Tseėlon op. cit., p.23).

Of course fashion and beauty practices can be about play and indulgence, but pressure to

conform to certain norms makes them more like a form of gruelling work (Wilson op. cit., p.122).

And, as Wilson observes, staying true to the old adage about women’s work, beauty care is

‘drudgery’; work that can never be done because an absolute, petrified state can never be achieved:

“it is a losing battle against the inevitable deterioration of the body...a struggle against life itself”

(Ibid. p.126).

Conclusion

According to Anne Balsamo “gender is one of the primary effects of the discursive

construction of the human body” (Balsamo op. cit., p.22). It is a pervasive and powerful method of

social control that both produces and restricts one’s mode of being. Therefore, by neglecting to

address gender in his studies Foucault can only have produced a partial account of the discourses

surrounding the body and the discipline that shapes it.

Woman’s historical association with the body has resulted in her being judged by and valued

for her appearance more than man, often above all else, and has also engendered the fear and dread

of otherness. Even in this supposedly equal, liberated and progressive society femaleness is still

disturbing enough to require supervision and containment by forms of discipline that men are not

subjected to

6

. The story of women’s emancipation and increasing self-determination is clouded by

the continuing presence of restrictive ideals of womanhood that Myra Macdonald claims

‘defensively reinvent’ themselves against the cultural and social changes in women’s lives

(MacDonald 1995, p.220).

However, just as Foucault did in his later work, I would like to stress that resistance is

possible. I’m not suggesting that all women clamber to conform to the ideals of femininity. There

have always been, and always will be, those who gleefully subvert or ignore the ‘rules’ or who enjoy

the pleasures of fashion and beauty without feeling them to be an obligation or a necessity. As

Wilson says, we can “acknowledge that dress is a powerful weapon of control and dominance, while

widening our view to encompass an understanding of its simultaneously subversive qualities”

5

Tseėlon argues that “the long term success of such operations seems to hinge on how sexually appealing, acceptable, or

marriageable a woman becomes” in Tseėlon, op. cit. p.83.

6

I acknowledge that men are being increasingly targeted as consumers to indulge in ‘male grooming’ products, though I

am inclined to think that this is because the market in women’s beauty treatments has been so saturated that companies

are having to seek out a new one.


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(Elizabeth Wilson quoted in MacDonald op. cit., p.212). Foucault claimed that resistance exists

wherever there is normalisation and domination. Power is never total, uniform or smooth but

shifting and unstable; if it is exerted on ‘micro levels’ it can be contested on micro levels; there is

“no single locus of great Refusal” but a “plurality of resistances” (Foucault 1998, p.95-6).


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In more recent years feminists have been attending to postmodern concepts of the plurality and

instability of identity. Foucault’s ‘docile body’, read by some as absolutely passive and manipulated

and leaving little room for agency, has been read another way: “not as passive, but as malleable, as a

contested and contestable site of power and knowledge” (Gedalof 1993, p.50). If our identities are

discursively constituted by power, and that power is shifting and unstable, then we must be also.

The more we challenge traditional dichotomous gender norms the less ‘normal’ they’ll

become. Then perhaps we can reject them in favour of a mode of embodiment based more on choice

and pleasure than on the desire for acceptance and paranoia about our inherent deficiency

7

. Of

course, not all women in our culture experience women’s situation as problematic, just as in the eras

of Wollstonecraft, the Pankhursts and de Beauvoir. Yet the fact that women of our era would find

past conditions intolerable signifies that gains have been made and will continue to be made. Unlike

Foucault, who described himself as a pessimist, I am cautiously optimistic; I believe that society can

change, but only with continuous struggle and engagement on all levels.

Bibliography

Bailey, M. E. (1993) ‘Foucauldian Feminism Contesting bodies, sexuality and identity’ in

Ramazanoglu, Caroline (ed.) Up Against Foucault: Explorations of some tensions between Foucault

and feminism Routledge: London

Balsamo, A. (1996) Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg Women Duke University

Press: London

Bartky, S. L. (1988) ‘Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power’ in I.

Diamond and L. Quinby (eds.) Feminism and Foucault: Reflections of Resistance Northeastern

University Press: Boston

de Beauvoir, Simone (1988) The Second Sex (trans. and ed. by H.M. Parshley) Picador: London

Benhabib, S. and Cornell, D. (eds.) (1987) Feminism as Critique: Essays on the Politics of Gender in

Late-Capitalist Societies Polity Press: London

Bordo, S. (1993) Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body University of

California Press: California

Diamond, I. and Quinby, L. (eds.) (1988) Feminism and Foucault: Reflections of Resistance

Northeastern University Press: Boston

Foucault, M. (1977) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (trans. Alan Sheridan) Allen

Lane: London

Foucault, M. (1998) The History of Sexuality Volume 1: The Will to Knowledge (Translated by

Robert Hurley, Random House 1978) Penguin: London

Foucault, M. (1991) “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” in P. Rabinow (ed.) The Foucault Reader: An

Introduction to Foucault’s Thought Penguin: London

Gedalof, I. (1993) “Habeas Corpus: Foucault, Feminist Theory and the Body” Unpublished MA

thesis

Kohler Riessman, C. (1992) “Women and Medicalization: A New Perspective” in G. Kirkup and L.

S. Keller (eds.) Inventing Women Polity Press: Cambridge

7

I’m not suggesting that this is an easy strategy of course. Women’s choices have always been constrained by

economic and social factors. See Naomi Wolf’s chapter ‘Work’ in The Beauty Myth (1990) where she discusses recent

cases where employers have discriminated against women on the basis of their appearance (and gotten away with it).


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MacDonald, M. (1995) Representing Women: Myths of Femininity in the Popular Media Arnold:

London

McNay, L. (1992) Foucault and Feminism: Power, Gender and the Self Polity Press: Cambridge

Ramazanoglu, C. (ed.) (1993) Up Against Foucault: Explorations of Some Tensions Between

Foucault and Feminism Routledge: London

Teėlon, E. (1995) The Masque of Femininity: The Presentation of Woman in Everyday Life Sage:

London

Wilson, E. (1985) Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity Virago: London

Wolf, N.(1990) The Beauty Myth (Chatto & Windus: London)