The politics of the marked body: An examination of female genital cutting and breast implantation

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Title: The politics of the marked body: An examination of female genital cutting and breast implantation
Author: Smith, Courtney Paige, 1979-
Abstract: This project is a critical and comparative investigation of Western and non-Western practices of body modification. Situated in the realm of feminist political theory, the project engages the literature and debates concerning embodiment, or the symbolic and concrete meanings of women's bodies. I specifically explore two examples of the physical construction of women's bodies: breast implantation in the United States and female genital cutting (FGC) in Senegal. I demonstrate that each of the practices molds bodies into preexisting naturalized forms. For this project, I conducted eighty in-depth, open-ended, and semi-structured interviews with women and men in twelve different locations in Senegal. Then, I carried out sixty-five in-depth, open-ended, and semi-structured interviews with American men and women from twenty-one different cities. I argue that the information that emerges from looking at body normalization comparatively allows me to make two important claims. The first is that the material that originates from interviews in this comparative study disrupts existing hegemonic discourse on sex-based body modifications. In particular, the comparative findings challenge the viewpoint that espouses a "Western women are free, African women are oppressed" binary. Second, examining FGC in Senegal alongside breast implantation in the US can uncover normalization that is invisible within social fields, or in the lives of women and men. Normalization is hard to see when in it, but easier to see if an individual steps outside of herself, her context, and her patriarchy. Thus, though many women do not recognize the normalizing structures within their own lives, they often are able to see these hegemonic structures in the lives of others. Women stepping outside of their own contexts can provide fresh, critical eyes that recognize embedded normalizations and oppression in other contexts. Further, this realization also can push them to return that critical gaze onto their own environment, which is the beginning of locating mechanisms of control within their own field. The construction of sex and the imprinting of gender norms upon bodies are manifestations of regulation and normalization that occur within socio-cultural contexts, and which individuals can potentially locate through a comparative conversation of this type.
Description: xiv, 246 p. : ill. A print copy of this thesis is available through the UO Libraries. Search the library catalog for the location and call number.
Date: 2009-06

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