by IM YOUNG · 1980 · Cited by 1523 — HUMAN STUDIES 3, 137-156 (1980). Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment. Motility and Spatiality*. IRIS MARION YOUNG.
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HUMAN STUDIES 3, 137-156 (1980) Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment Motility and Spatiality* IRIS MARION YOUNG Department of Philosophy, Miami University In discussing the fundamental significance of lateral space, which is one of the unique spatial dimensions generated by the human upright posture, Erwin S traus (1966) pauses at “the remarkable difference in the manner of throwing of the two sexes”! [p. 157]. Citing a study and photographs of young boys and girls, he (Straus, 1966) describes the difference as follows: The girl of five does not make any use of lateral space. She does not stretch her arm sideward; she does not twist her trunk; she does not move her legs, which remain side by side. All she does in preparation for throwing is to lift her right arm forward to the horizontal and to bend the forearm backward in a pronate position . The ball is released without force, speed, or accurate aim . A boy oftbe same age, when preparing to throw, stretches his right arm sideward and backward; supinatcs the forearm; twists, turns and bends his trunk; and moves his tight foot backward. From this stance, he can support his throwing almost with the full strength of his total motorium . The ball leaves the hand with considerable acceleration; it moves toward its goal in a long flat curve [p. 157-158]. 2 *This paper was first presented at a meeting of the mid-west division of the Society for Women in Philosophy (SWIP) in October 1977. Versions of the paper were subsequently presented at a session sponsored by SWIP at the Western Division meetings of the American Philosophical Association, April 1978; and at the Third Annual Merleau-Ponty Circle meeting, Duquesne University, September 1978. Many people in discussions at those meetings contributed gratifying and helpful responses. I am particularly grateful to Professors Sandra Bartky, Claudia Card, Margaret Simons, J. Davidson Alexander, and William McBride for their criticisms and suggestions. Final revisions of the paper were complete while I was a fellow in the National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship in Residence for College Teachers program at the University of Chicago. KErwin W. Straus, The Uptight Posture, in Phenomenological Psychology (New York: Basic Books, 1966), pp. 137-165. References to particular pages are indicated in the text. 2Studies continue to be performed which arrive at similar observations. See, for example, Lolas E. Kalverson, Mary Ann Robertson, M. Joanne Safrit, andThomas W. Roberts, Effect of Guided Practice on Overhand Throw Ball Velocities of Kindergarten Children, Research Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 2, May 1977, pp. 311-318. The study found that boys had significantly greater velocities than girls. See also F. J. J. Buytendijk’s remarks in WomarL” A Contemporary View (New York: Newman Press, 1968), pp. 144-115. In raising the example of throwing, Buytendijk is concerned to stress, as am 1 in this paper, that the important thing to investigate is not the strictly physical phenomena, but rather the manner in which each sex projects her or his Being-in-the-world through movement. 137
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138 YOUNG Though he does not stop to trouble himself with the problem for long, Straus makes a few remarks in the attempt to explain this “remarkable difference.” Since the difference is observed at such an early age, he says, it seems to be “the manifestation of a biological, not an acquired, difference”[p. 157]. He is somewhat at a loss, however, to specify the source of the difference. Since the feminine style of throwing is observed in young children, it cannot result from the development of the breast. Straus (1966) provides further evidence against the breast by pointing out that “it seems certain” that the Amazons, who cut off their right breast, “threw a ball just like our Betty’s, Mary’s and Susan’s” [p. 158]. Having thus dismissed the breast, Straus considers the weaker muscle power of the girl as an explanation of the difference, but concludes that the girl should be expected to compensate for such relative weakness with the added preparation of reaching around and back. Straus explains the difference in style of throwing by referring to a “feminine attitude” in relation to the world and to space. The difference for him is biologically based, but he denies that it is specifically anatomical. Girls throw in a way different from boys because girls are “feminine.” What is even more amazing than this “explanation” is the fact that a perspective which takes body comportment and movement as definitive for the structure and meaning of human lived experience devotes no more than an incidental page to such a”remarkable difference” between masculine and feminine body comportment and style of movement. For throwing is by no means the only activity in which such a difference can be observed. If there are indeed typically “feminine” styles of body comportment and movement, then this should generate for the existential phenomenologist a concern to specify such a differentiation of the modalities of the lived body. Yet Straus is by no means alone in his failure to describe the modalities, meaning, and implications of the difference between “masculine” and “feminine” body comportment and movement. A virtue of Straus’ account of the typical difference of the sexes in throwing is that he does not explain this difference on the basis of physical attributes. Straus is convinced, however, that the early age at which the difference appears shows that it is not an acquired difference, and thus he is forced back onto a mysterious feminine essence in order to explain it. The feminist denial that the real differences in behavior and psychology between men and woman can be attributed to some natural and eternal “feminine essence” is perhaps most thoroughly and systematically expressed by de Beauvoir. Every human existence is defined by its situation; the particular existence of the female person is no less defined by the historical, cultural, social, and economic limits of her situation. We reduce women’s condition simply to unintelligibility if we “explain” it by appeal to some natural and ahistorical feminine essence. In denying such a feminine essence, however, we should not fall into that “nominalism” which denies the real differences in the behavior and
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THROWING LIKE A GIRL 139 experiences of men and women. Even though there is no eternal feminine essence, there is (de Beauvoir, 1974) “a common basis which underlies every individual female existence in the present state of education and custom. ”a The situation of women within a given socio-historical set of circumstances, despite the individual variation in each woman’s experience, opportunities, and possibilities, has a unity which can be described and made intelligible. It should be emphasized, however, that this unity is specific to a particular social formation during a particular historical epoch. De Beauvoir (1974) proceeds to give such an account of the situation of women with remarkable depth, clarity, and ingenuity. Yet she also to a large extent, fails to give a place to the status and orientation of the woman’s body as relating to its surroundings in living action. When de Beauvoir does talk about the woman’s bodily being and her physical relation to her surroundings, she tends to focus on the more evident facts of a woman’s physiology. She discusses how women experience the body as a burden, how the hormonal and physiological changes the body undergoes at puberty, during menstruation and pregnancy, are felt to be fearful and mysterious, and claims that these phenomena weigh down the woman’s existence by tying her to nature, immanence, and the requirements of the species at the expense of her own individuality. 4 By largely ignoring the situatedness of the woman’s actual bodily movement and orientation to its surroundings and its world, de Beauvoir tends to create the impression that it is woman’s anatomy and physiology as such which are at least in part determinative of her unfree status. 5 This paper seeks to begin to fill a gap that thus exists both in existential phenomenology and feminist theory. It traces in a provisional way some of the basic modalities of feminine body comportment, manner of moving, and relation in space. It brings intelligibility and significance to certain observable and rather ordinary ways in which women in our society typically comport themselves and move differently from the ways that men do. In accordance with the existentialist concern with the situatedness of human experience, I make no claim to the universality of this typicality of the bodily comportment of women and the phenonemological description based on it. The account developed here claims only to describe the modalities of feminine bodily ~Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (New York: Vintage Books, 1974), p. xxxv. CL Buytendijk, pp. 275-276. 4See Chapter I, The Date of Biology. ~Firestone claims that de Beauvoir’s account served as the basis of her own thesis that the oppression of women is rooted in nature, and thus requires the transcendence of nature itself to be overcome. See The Dialectic of Sex (New York: Bantom Books, 1970). De Beauvoir would claim that Firestone is guilty of desituating woman’s situation by pinning a source on nature as such. That Firestone would find inspiration for her thesis in de Beauvoir, however, indicates that perhaps de Beauvoir has not steered away from causes in *nature” as much as is desirable.
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140 YOUNG existence for women situated in contemporary advanced industrial, urban, and commercial society. Elements of the account developed here may or may not apply to the situation of woman in other societies and other epoch, but it is not the concern of this paper to determine to which, if any, other social circumstances this account applies. The scope of bodily existence and movement with which I am concerned here is also limited. I concentrate primarily on those sorts of bodily activities which relate to the comportment or orientation of the body as a whole, which entail gross movement, or which require the enlistment of strength and the confrontation of the body’s capacities and possibilities with the resistance and malleability of things. Primarily the kind of movement I am concerned with is movement in which the body aims at the accomplishment of a definite purpose or task. There are thus many aspects of feminine bodily existence which I leave out of account here. Most notable of these is the body in its sexual being. Another aspect of bodily existence, among others, which I leave unconsidered is structured body movement which does not have a particular aim–for example, dancing. Besides reasons of space, this limitation of subject is based on the conviction, derived primarily from Merleau-Ponty, that it is the ordinary purposive orientation of the body as a whole toward things and its environment which initially defines the relation of a subject to its world. Thus focus upon ways in which the feminine body frequently or typically conducts itself in such comportment or movement may be particularly revelatory of the structures of feminine existence. 6 Before entering the analysis, I should clarify what I mean here by “feminine” existence. In accordance with de Beauvoir’s understanding, I take “femininity” to designate not a mysterious quality or essence which all women have by virtue of their being biologically female. It is, rather, a set of structures and conditions which delimit the typical situation of being a woman in a particular society, as well as the typical way in which this situation is lived by the women themselves. Defined as such, it is not necessary that any women be “feminine”–that is, it is not necessary that there be distinctive structures and behavior typical of the situation of women. 7 This 6In his discussion of the “dynamics of feminine existence,” Buytendijk focuses precisely on those sorts of motions which are aimless. He claims that it is through these kinds of expressive movements–e.g., walking for the sake of walking–and not through action aimed at the accomplishment of particular purposes, that the pure image of masculine or feminine existence is manifest (pp. 278-9). Such an approach, however, contradicts the basic existentialist assumption that Being-in-the-world consists in projecting purposes and goals which structure one’s situatedness. While there is certainly something to be learned from reflecting upon feminine movement in noninstrumental activity, given that accomplishing tasks is basic to the structure of human existence, it serves as a better starting point for investigation of feminine motility. As I point out at the end of this paper, a full phenomenology of feminine existence must take account of this noninstrumental movement. 7It is not impossible, moreover, for men to be”feminine” in at least some respects, according to the above definition.
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THROWING LIKE A GIRL 141 understanding of “feminine” existence makes it possible to say that some women escape or transcend the typical situation and definition of women in various degrees and respects. I mention this primarily to indicate that the account offered here of the modalities of feminine bodily existence is not to be falsified by referring to some individual women to whom aspects of the account do not apply, or even to some individual men to whom they do. The account developed here combines the insights of the theory of the lived body as expressed by Merleau-Ponty and the theory of the situation of women as developed by de Bcauvoir (1974). I assume that at the most basic descriptive level, Merleau-Ponty’s account of the relation of the lived body to its world, as developed in the Phenomenology of Perception (1962), applies to any human existence in a general way. At a more specific level, however, there is a particular style of bodily comportment which is typical of feminine existence, and this style consists of particular modalities of the structures and conditions of the body’s existence in the world: As a framework for developing these modalities, I rely on de Bcauvoir’s account of woman’s existence in patriarchal society as defined by a basic tension between immanence and transcendence. 9 The culture and society in which the female person dwells defines woman as Other, as the inessential correlate to man, as mere object and immanence. Woman is thereby both culturally and socially denied by the subjectivity, autonomy, and creativity which are definitive of being human and which in patriarchal society are accorded the man. At the same time, however because she is a human existence, the female person necessarily is a subjectivity and transcendence and she knows herself to be. The female person who enacts the existence of women in patriarchal society must therefore live a contradiction: as human she is a free subject who participates in transcendence, but her situation as a woman denies her that subjectivity and transcendence. My suggestion is that the modalities of feminine bodily comportment, motility, and spatiality exhibit this same tension between transcendence and immanence, between subjectivity and being a mere object. Section I offers some specific observations about bodily comportment, physical engagement with things, ways of using the body in performing tasks, and bodily self-image, which I find typical of feminine existence. Section II gives a general phenomenological account of the modalities of feminine bodily comportment and motility. Section III develops these modalities further in terms of the spatiality generated by them. Finally, in Section IV, I draw out some of the implications of this account for an understanding of the 80n this level of specificity there also exist particular modalities of masculine motility, inasmuch as there is a particular style of movement more or less typical of men. I will not, however, be concerned with those in this paper. 9See de Beauvoir, Chapter XXI, Woman’s Situation and Character.
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142 YOUNG oppression of women, as well as raise some further questions about feminine Being-in-the-world which require further investigation. The basic difference which Straus observes between the way boys and girls throw is that girls do not bring their whole bodies into the motion as much as the boys. They do not reach back, twist, move backward, step, and lean forward. Rather, the girls tend to remain relatively immobile except for their arms, and even the arm is not extended as far as it could be. Throwing is not the only movement in which there is a typical difference in the way men and women use their bodies. Reflection on feminine comportment and body movement in other physical activities reveals that these also are frequently characterized, much as in the throwing case, by a failure to make full use of the body’s spatial and lateral potentialities. Even in the most simple body orientations of men and women as they sit, stand, and walk, one can observe a typical difference in body style and extension. Women generally are not as open with their bodies as men in their gait and stride. Typically, the masculine stride is longer proportional to a man’s body than is the feminine stride to a woman’s. The man typically swings his arms in a more open and loose fashion than does a woman and typically has more up and down rhythm in his step. Though we now wear pants more than we used to, and consequently do not have to restrict our sitting postures because of dress, women still tend to sit with their legs relatively close together and their arms across their bodies. When simply standing or leaning, men tend to keep their feet further apart than do woman, and we also tend more to keep our hands and arms touching or shielding our bodies. A final indicative difference is the way each carries books or parcels; girls and women most often carry books embraced to their chests, while boys and men swing them along their sides. The approach persons of each sex take to the performance of physical tasks that require force, strength, and muscular coordination is frequently different. There are indeed real physical differences between men and woman in the kind and limit of their physical strength. Many of the observed differences between men and women in the performance of tasks requiring coordinated strength, however, are due not so much to brute muscular strength, but to the way each sex uses the body in approaching tasks. Women often do not perceive themselves as capable of lifting and carrying heavy things, pushing and shoving with significant force, pulling, squeezing, grasping, or twisting with force. When we attempt such tasks, we frequently fail to summon the full possibilities of our muscular coordination, position, poise, and bearing. Women tend not to put their whole bodies into engagement in a physical task with the same ease and naturalness as men. For
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144 YOUNG done. Many times I have slowed a hiking party in which the men bounded across a harmless stream while I stood on the other side warily testing out my footing on various stones, holding on to overhanging branches. Though the others crossed with ease, I do not believe it is easy for me, even though once I take a committed step I am across in a flash. The other side of this tentativeness is, I suggest, a fear of getting hurt, which is greater in women than in men. Our attention is often divided between the aim to be realized in motion and the body that must accomplish it, while at the same time saving itself from harm. We often experience our bodies as a fragile encumberance, rather than the media for the enactment of our aims. We feel as though we must have our attention directed upon our body to make sure it is doingwhat we wish it to do, rather than paying attention to what we want to do through our bodies. All the above factors operate to produce in many women a greater or lesser feeling of incapacity, frustration, and self-consciousness. We have more of a tendency than men to greatly underestimate our bodily capacity. I~ We decide beforehand–usually mistakenly–that the task is beyond us, and thus give it less than our full effort. At such a half-hearted level, of course, we cannot perform the tasks, become frustrated, and fulfill our own prophecy. In entering a task we frequently are self-conscious about appearing awkward, and at the same time do not wish to appear too strong. Both worries contribute to our awkwardness and frustration. If we should finally release ourselves from this spiral and really give a physical task our best effort, we are greatly surprised indeed at what our bodies can accomplish. It has been found that women more often than men underestimate the level of achievement they have reached. 12 None of the observations which have been made thus far about the way women typically move and comport their bodies applies to all women all of the time. Nor do those women who manifest some aspect of this typicality do so in the same degree. There is no inherent, mysterious connection between these sorts of typical comportments and being a female person. Many of them result, as will be developed later, from lack of practice in using the body and performing tasks. Even given these qualifications, one can nevertheless sensibly speak of a general feminine style of body comportment and movement. The next section will develop a specific categorical description of the modalities of the comportment and movement. “See A. M. Gross, Estimated versus actual physical strength in three enthnic groups, Child Development, 39 (1968), pp. 283-90. In a test of children at several different ages, at all but the youngest age-level, girls rated themselves lower than boys and rated themselves on self-estimates of strength, and as the girls grow older, their self-estimates of strength become even lower. nSee Marguerite A. Cifton and Hope M_ Smith, Comparison of Expressed Self-Concept of Highly Skilled Males and Females Concerning Motor Performance, Pereeplual and Motor Skills, 16 (1963), pp. 199-201. Women consistently underestimated their level of acheivement in skiUs like running and jumping far more often than men did.
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THROWING LIKE A GIRL 145 II The three modalities of feminine motility are that feminine movement exhibits an ambiguous transcendence, an inhibited intentionality, and a discontinuous unity with its surroundings. A source of these contradictory modalities is the bodily self-reference of feminine comportment, which derives from the woman’s experience of her body as a thing at the same time that she experiences it as a capacity. 1. In his Phenomenology of Perception, 13 M erleau-Ponty (1962) takes as his task the articulation of the primordial structures of existence, which are prior to and the ground of all reflective relation to the world. In asking how there can be a world for a subject, Merleau-Ponty reorients the entire tradition of that questioning by locating subjectivity not in mind or consciousness, but in the body. Merleau-Ponty gives to the lived body the ontological status which Sartre, as well as “intellectualist” thinkers before him, attribute to consciousness alone: the status of transcendence as being- for-itself. It is the body in its orientation toward and action upon and within its surroundings which constitutes the initial meaning giving act (p. 121; pp. 146-147). The body is the first locus of intentionality, as pure presence to the world and openness upon its possibilities. The most primordial intentional act is the motion of the body orienting itself with respect to and moving within its surroundings. There is a world for a subject just insofar as the body as capacities by which it can approach, grasp, and appropriate its surroundings in the direction of its intentions. While feminine bodily existence is a transcendence and openness to the world, it is an ambiguous transcendence, a transcendence which is at the same time laden with immanence. Now once we take the locus of subjectivity and transcendence to be the lived body rather than pure consciousness, all transcendence is ambiguous because the body as natural and material is immanence. But it is not the ever present possibility of any lived body to be passive, to be touched as well as touching, to be grasped as well as grasping, which I am referring to here as the ambiguity of the transcendence of the feminine lived body. The transcendence of the lived body which Merleau- Ponty describes is a transcendence which moves out from the body in its immanence in an open and unbroken directedness upon the world in action. The lived body as transcendence is pure fluid action, the continuous calling forth of capacities, which are applied to the world. Rather than simply beginning in immanence, feminine bodily existence remains in immanence, or better is overlaid with immanence, even as it moves out toward the world in motions of grasping, manipulating, and so on. *JMaurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, Colin Smith, trans. (New York: Humanities Press, 1962). All references to this work are noted in parentheses within the text.
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146 YOUNG In the previous section, I observed that a woman typically refrains from throwing her whole body into a motion, and rather concentrates motin in one part of the body alone while the rest of the body remains relatively immobile. Only a part of the body, that is, moves out toward a task while the rest remains rooted in immanence. I also observed earlier that a woman frequently does not trust the capacity of her body to engage itself in physical relation to things. Consequently, she often lives her body as a burden, which must be dragged and prodded along, and at the same time protected. 2. Merleau-Ponty locates intentionality in motility (pp. 110-112); the possibilities which are opened up in the world depend on the mode and limits of the bodily “I can” (p. 137, p. 148). Feminine existence, however, often does not enter bodily relation to possibilities by its own comportment toward its surroundings in an unambiguous and confident “I can.” For example, as noted earlier, women frequently tend to posit a task which would be accomplished relatively easily once attempted as beyond their capacities before they begin it. Typically, the feminine body underuses its real capacity, both as the potentiality of its physical size and strength and as the real skills and coordination which are available to it. Feminine bodily existence is an inhibited intentionality, which simultaneously reaches toward a projected end with an “I can” and withholds its full bodily commitment to that end in a self-imposed “I cannot. “14 An uninhibited intentionality projects the aim to be accomplished and connects the body’s motion toward that end in an unbroken directedness which organizes and unifies the body’s activity. The body’s capacity and motion structure its surroundings and project meaningful possibilities of movement and action, which in turn call the body’s motion forth to enact them (Merleau-Ponty, 1962): “To understand is to experience the harmony between what we aim at and what is given, between the intention and the performance “[p. 144; see also pp. 101,131-132]. Feminine motion often severs this mutually conditioning relation between aim and enactment. In those motions which when properly performed require the coordination and ~4Much of the work of Seymour Fisher on various aspects of sex differences in body image correlates suggestively with the phenomenological description developed here. It is difficult to use his conclusions as confirmation of that description, however, because there is something of a %peculative” aspect to his reasoning. Nevertheless, I shall refer to some of these findings, with that qualification in mind. One of his findings is that women have a greater anxiety about their legs than men, and he cites earlier studies which have come to the same results. Fisher interprets such leg-anxiety as anxiety about motility itself, because in body conception and body image it is the legs which are the body part most associated with motility. See Body Experience in Fantasy and Behavior (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1970), p. 537. If his findings and his interpretation are accurate, this tends to correlate with the sort of inhibition and timidity about movement which I am claiming is an aspect of feminine body comportment.
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THROWING LIKE A GIRL 147 directedness of the whole body upon some definite end, women frequently move in a contradictory way. Their bodies project an aim to be enacted, but at the same time stiffen against the performance of the task. In performing a physical task the woman’s body does carry her toward the intended aim, but often not easily and directly, but rather circuitously, with the wasted motion resulting from the effort of testing and reorientation, which is a frequent consequence of feminine hesitancy. For any lived body, the world appears as the system of possibilities which are correlative to its intentions (p. 131). For any lived body, moreover, the world also appears as populated with opacities and resistances correlative to its own limits and frustrations. For any bodily existence, that is, an”I cannot” may appear to set limits to the “I can.” To the extent that feminine bodily existence is an inhibited intentionality, however, the same set of possibilities which appears coorelative to its intentions also appears as a system of frustrations correlative to its hesitancies. By repressing or withholding its own motile energy, feminine bodily existence frequently projects an”I can” and an “I cannot” with respect to the very same end. When the woman enters a task with inhibited intentionality, she projects the possibilities of that task–thus projects an “I can”–but projects them merely as the possibilities of “someone,” and not truly her possibilities–and thus projects an “/cannot”. 3. Merleau-Ponty gives to the body the unifying and synthesizing function which Kant locates in transcendental subjectivity. By projecting an aim toward which it moves, the body brings unity to and unites itself with its surroundings; through the vectors of its projected possibilities it sets things in relation to one another and to itself. The body’s movement and orientation organizes the surrounding space as a continous extension of its own being (p. 143). Within the same act that the body synthesizes its surroundings, moreover, it synthesizes itself. The body synthesis is immediate and primordial. ~I do not bring together one by one the parts of my body; this translation and this unification are performed once and for all within me: they are my body itself” [p. 150]. The third modality of feminine bodily existence is that it stands in discontinuous unity with both itself and its surroundings. I remarked earlier that in many motions which require the active engagement and coordination of the body as a whole to be performed properly, women tend to locate their motion in a part of the body only, leaving the rest of the body relatively immobile. Motion such as this is discontinuous with itself. That part of the body which is transcending toward an aim is in relative disunity from those which remain immobile. The undirectedness and wasted motion which is often an aspect of feminine engagement in a task also manifests this lack of body unity. The character of the inhibited intentionality whereby feminine motion severs the connection between aim and enactment, between possibility in the world and capacity in the body, itself produces this discontinuous unity.
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