Bodies

I was reading an essay while invigilating the exam today (Mari Matsuda on the construction of masculinity), and I was struck by what she says about how the abstract individual of polity doesn’t have a body, except as something he needs in order to exist… here’s the actual quote, I can’t put it better than:

…the “abstract individual” exemplifies an absence of pregnancy and other female bodily characteristics that arguably play a major role for females in self- and social-identity formation, and in the formation of political interests, whereas in political theory the “individual” that emerges is monotonically singular, unreproductive, and apparently sexless. Moreover, the “individual” is sometimes theorised as a “rational” consciousness in a way that suggests disembodiment altogether, as the body never really appears except as a presumed material substratum. The body is certainly not the site of the drama of female bodily existence…”

The female body as a site of a drama of existence – that’s an idea that radical feminism has been largely concerned with. I don’t know who it was that said something about sexuality being central to women’s identity… 

When I first read that about sexuality being central to identity, it seemed rather abstract to me – not really relatable to experience. Maybe I relegated it to the back of my mind with a “makes sense in the context of queer studies” note.

But Matsuda’s passage above really brought it home to me how much it was about me. Those of you who know me will probably smile if I write that sexuality is central to my identity. Sitting in that exam hall today, however, I realised how much it was.

My body has been and is a site of struggle. A site of struggle between tradition and modernity, conservatism and liberalism. The conservatism of being part of the ‘arranged marriage set up’ and the modernity of arguing with my Mum that it’s okay for me to have male friends staying overnight. The traditional-ness of lighting a lamp every morning in prayer and the liberal-ness of not stopping when I’m menstruating. The conservatism of wearing a saree and the modernity of short hair. Each a struggle. Either about, or expressed through, my body.

It’s also been a site of struggle for control. Control over my body. Not forcible, or cruel. Not even conscious. Mostly born out of concern, love, even affection. Nevertheless a struggle to control my sexuality, my womb. Control that is more basic, even – the crisis* that puberty (and every menstrual period after it) sets off, and the resultant loss of control. The struggle to regain it. A struggle.

A site for struggle between emotion and reason.** Emotion that makes me respond to touch, to sound, even to a look – a response that is instinctive, sometimes physical. Reason that tells me to hide that response, or to ignore it, or to express it to achieve an end – and the hiding, ignoring, expression are all physical too.

I realised that my body was the site of struggle, and the struggle was about the expression of my identity, about my sexuality. That the two were central to each other.

*De beauvoir writes beautifully about this…

**The dichotomy that is the feminist nemesis – isn’t that weird? 

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2 Responses

  1. the abstract individual of polity doesn’t have a body

  2. You have to be a man to leave out “what she says about”…

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