The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Susan Bordo, from Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body,

Chapter 5, “The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity” (1989)

What is referred to in the title, “Unbearable Weight”? Why does Bordo believe that there is a need for “reconstructing feminist discourse on the body” (subtitle)?

How does Bordo’s tone and emphasis resemble or differ from that of Woolf and other feminists we have read?

To what do you attribute these similarities and differences? For example, how does a focus on “the body” rather than literature alter the emphasis of analysis?

What are features of Bordo’s style and language? Are these unusual for someone trained as a philosopher?

Does Bordo share any assumptions with Althusser? Are gender norms mediated through ideological state apparatuses?

What does she believe to be a major problem of contemporary women? (2063)

What forms of gender oppression, in Bordo’s view, seem to apply across all other variables (such as race and ethnicity)? Is this borne out by the examples she gives?

How in Bordo’s view should the insights of Foucault be used to modify the insights of earlier feminism? (2364, subject can collude with forces which sustain oppression)

Which three phenomena does she isolate as examples of internalized gender oppression? What do they share in common? (2365-2366, agoraphobia, hysteria, anorexia)

What does Bordo see as historical ironies of the fact that these appear in a time and culture in which women’s roles were being expanded? (women seek mastery of own bodies, 2368)

What interpretation does she give of the phenomenon of female hysteria? Of agoraphobia? Of anorexia? (2367, 2369)

Do you agree with her claim that the "androgynous ideal" ultimated exposes its internal contradiction and becomes a war that tears the subject in two" (2369)?

Are the forms of protest embodied in these forms of resistance successful? (2371, tragic in returning the subject to silence, reproduces rather than transforms)

On what grounds does Bordo differ with earlier Anglo-American and French feminists in their analyses of female protest and silencing?

What distinction does she make between the "aesthetic body" and the "useful body"? How may these be in conflict?

What example does she give of a then-current critical work which ignores the problems of actual women? (2376) Is this a fair criticism, do you think? What kind of literary criticism does she seem to envision?

What is the aim of Bordo’s critique? Are there grounds for hope in the future?

Could Bordo’s gender analysis also be applied to any of the practices and rituals of young men?

page numbers are from The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 2001, pp. 2362-76


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