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3/7/2016

BodyPoliticsFEMINISMAND,RACIALWomen,Bodies,Abortion,andPowerJRankArticles

BodyPoliticsFEMINISMAND,RACIAL
women

bodies

abortion

power

Thetermbodypoliticsreferstothepracticesandpoliciesthroughwhichpowersofsocietyregulatethehumanbody,aswell
asthestruggleoverthedegreeofindividualandsocialcontrolofthebody.Thepowersatplayinbodypoliticsinclude
institutionalpowerexpressedingovernmentandlaws,disciplinarypowerexactedineconomicproduction,discretionary
powerexercisedinconsumption,andpersonalpowernegotiatedinintimaterelations.Individualsandmovementsengagein
bodypoliticswhentheyseektoalleviatetheoppressiveeffectsofinstitutionalandinterpersonalpoweronthosewhosebodies
aremarkedasinferiororwhoaredeniedrightstocontroltheirownbodies.

FEMINISMANDBODYPOLITICS
Bodypoliticswasfirstusedinthissenseinthe1970s,duringthesecondwaveofthefeministmovementintheUnited
States.Itaroseoutoffeministpoliticsandtheabortiondebates.Bodypoliticsoriginallyinvolvedthefightagainst
objectificationofthefemalebody,andviolenceagainstwomenandgirls,andthecampaignforreproductiverightsfor
women.Thepersonalisthepoliticalbecameasloganthatcapturedthesensethatdomesticcontestsforequalrightsinthe
homeandwithinsexualrelationshipsarecrucialtothestruggleforequalrightsinthepublic.Thisformofbodypolitics
emphasizedawomanspowerandauthorityoverherownbody.Manyfeministsrejectedpracticesthatdrawattentionto
differencesbetweenmaleandfemalebodies,refusingtoshavetheirlegsandunderarmsandrejectingcosmeticsand
revealing,formfittingclothing.ThebookOurBodies,OurSelves,publishedin1973,aimedtowidenanddeepenwomens
knowledgeoftheworkingsofthefemalebody,thusallowingwomentobemoreactiveinpursuitoftheirsexualpleasureand
reproductivehealth.
Secondwavefeministbodypoliticspromotedbreakingthesilenceaboutrape,sexualabuse,andviolenceagainstwomenand
girls,whichmanyinterpretedasextremeexamplesofsociallysanctionedmalepower.Thefeministswhofollowedattheend
ofthetwentiethcenturyacceptedthisstanceonrapeandviolenceagainstwomenandgirls,buttheyfoundthegenderideals
ofsecondwavefeministstooconfining.Membersofthisgeneration,sometimescalledthirdwavefeministsorpostfeminists,
endorsearangeofbodymodificationandgenderpracticesthatincludebutchfemgenderroles,genderblending,transgender
lifestyles,transsexualsurgeries,bodypiercing,andtattoos.
Womensbodieswerethepoliticalbattlegroundoftheabortiondebates.Aprotractedstruggletoestablishawomansrightto
terminateherpregnancywaswonwhentheU.S.SupremeCourtupheldtherighttoabortioninthecaseofRoev.Wadein
1974.Almostimmediatelyafterthatdecision,antiabortion(alsocalledprolife)activistsbeganprotestingagainstthis
extensionofwomensreproductiverights.Antiabortionadvocateslikenedabortingafetustomurder,whileproabortion
advocates(alsocalledprochoice)pointedtothelegionofwomenwhohaddiedinillegalabortions,andtothemanymore
whowoulddoubtlesslyfollowthemifabortionweretobecomeillegalagain.Inthatadversariessquareoffovertheissueof
individualversussocialcontrolofawomanspregnancy,theabortiondebatesareprimeexamplesofbodypolitics.
Debatesaboutlawsandwomensbodiessparkedtheinterestsothergroupsofwomenwhofeltthatgovernmentor
institutionalpowerhadunfairlyexercisedcontrolovertheirbodiesorthatsocietyshouldtakegreaterresponsibilityforthe
careandprotectionofwomenandchildren.Notingthattheabortiondebateswereaboutwhetherornottohaveachild,
activistspointedtopoliciesandpracticesthatdeniedreproductiontowomeninminoritycommunities,especiallytheforced
sterilizationofNativeAmericans.Activistsfrombothsidesoftheabortiondebatesjoinedintopressforemploymentrights
forpregnantwomenandformaternityandpaternityleavefornewparents.Arguingthatthelawsandethicsgoverning
commercialsextransactionswereoutdated,organizationsofprostitutesarguedfordecriminalizationoftheirwork.

RACIALBODYPOLITICS
Theattributionofethical,moral,temperamental,andsocialcharacteristicstoindividualsorpopulationsbasedonskincolor,
facialfeatures,bodytypes,andsexualanatomyfigureprominentlyinracialbodypolitics.Thispracticeismostpronouncedin
theUnitedStatesinracismagainstAfricanAmericans.AsAfricanpeoplewereturnedintocommoditiesintheAtlanticslave
trade,westerncountriesusedbodilydifferencestojustifyAfricansubjugation.Accordingtoracistlogic,darkskinwasatthe
negativepoleinthedichotomyofwhiteandgoodversusblackandevil,broadfacialfeaturesdenotelicentiousnessandlackof
intelligence,andthebrawnybodiesofblackmenandwomencryoutforhardlabor.Thefabledsexualorgansofblackmen
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BodyPoliticsFEMINISMAND,RACIALWomen,Bodies,Abortion,andPowerJRankArticles

andwomenwerecreditedtobetheseatofexcessivesexuality,abeliefusedtoblamethebodiesofblackwomenandmenfor
theirbeingvictimsofrape,lynching,andcastration.Otherpopulationshavealsobeensubjecttonegativecharacterizations.
Forexample,thebodiesofMexicansaresupposedlybuiltlowforfarmlabor,whilethedelicate,nimblefingersofAsian
womensupposedlysuitthemforfineworksuchascomputerchipmanufacture.
Becausebodypoliticscoversthepowertocontrolbodiesontheonehand,andresistanceandprotestagainstsuchpowerson
theotherhand,bodypoliticscanbothupholdandchallengeracism.IntheUnitedStates,thecivilrightsmovementunseated
thepredominantracialbodypoliticsinabolishingJimCrowlawsandabatingracialsegregation.ThesloganBlackis
Beautifulheraldedamomentinthe1960swhenAfricanAmericanspointedlyattributedpositivevaluestoblackphysical
features.Bodypoliticsduringthattimeincludedwearinghairinanatural,unprocessedAfroanddonningAfricaninspired
clothing.Remnantsofthispoliticsremaininthosewhoattributepositivesocialandpsychologicalqualitiestomelanin,the
pigmentthatcausesdarkskin.

AdditionalTopics
CROSSCULTURALREACTIONSTOANDSTUDIESOFBODYPOLITICS
Amajorchallengetoracialbodypoliticscamefromwithinthefeministmovement.Inthe1970s,Black,Latina,NativeAmerican,andAsianfeministsinsistedthatan
inclusivefeminismexamineandredressthehistoricevaluationsofbodilydifferencethatstructuredoppressionofwomenaccordingtorace.Womenofcolorobjected
tothenarrowconstructionofgenderpoliticsbywhitefeminists,andt

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