What research already exists on corporeal feminism?
The representation of body parts in literature is not new. During English Renaissance, anatomies became the subject of study and in 16th and 17th century Europe, the symbolic practices of “piecing out the body” by punitive dismemberment, pictorial isolation, poetic emblazoning, satirical fragmentation and medical anatomizing became very common. The female racialized body is often seen as geographical territory for exploration, discovery and conquest during colonial history and has been one of the popular tropes from Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian man, Rembrandt’s theatrical paintings of dissections, to Shakespeare, Defoe, Swift Coetzee or even in films such as Fantastic Voyage. Infact, Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queeneis a good example of seeing the castle as the anatomical atlas of human body. However, anatomy texts place unfair emphasis on the male body not only because anatomists and surgeons were men at that time but also women’s bodies were not considered worthy to be studied. The corporeal awareness in women’s writing especially in terms of anatomical structures became significant from 20th century onward and the tension between the metaphoric and metonymic or autonomy and dependence between the whole body and the body parts became powerfully inescapable.
The issue of subjectivity, identity and corporeality became a central issue in feminist theory from late twentieth century onward. While Alcoff, Ahmed, Gilman, Gooding-Williams looked at corporeality from critical race perspectives, Inahara, Garland Thompson, Thomas, Wendell and Shildrick approach the discourse of body from disability studies perspectives. In the last two centuries, corporeal feminism has increasingly challenged masculinist traditions of subverting female body. Emily Martin has revealed how for centuries biology has been used to establish the superiority of the chivalrous heroic sperm in contrast to the passivity of the female egg. Elizabeth Grosz, who first introduced the term ‘corporeal feminism’ in her book Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism (1994) claims that human biology is inherently social and has no pure or natural “origin” outside of culture and what Freud, Lacan, Merleau-Ponty, Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida have discussed on body is simply male corporeality. Beginning with decentering the Enlightenment philosophy of reason as ‘masculine’ and untrustworthy senses as ‘feminine’ that has privileged male “culture” over female “nature”, feminists like Susan Bordo have resisted such misogynist act of pushing women to internalize sexism and indulge in self-objectification resulting in body shame, appearance anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Though Martha Nussbaum recently problematized objectification and decentered the locus of the patriarchal “gaze” but the discriminatory politics of human anatomy continue to privilege the heterosexual male anatomy.