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Embodied Resistance

Challenging the Norms, Breaking the Rules

Edited by Chris Bobel and Samantha Kwan

Publication Year: 2011

Embodied Resistance engages the rich and complex range of society’s contemporary “body outlaws”—people from many social locations who violate norms about the private, the repellent, or the forbidden. This collection ventures beyond the conventional focus on the “disciplined body” and instead, examines conformity from the perspective of resisters. By balancing accessibly written original ethnographic research with personal narratives, Embodied Resistance provides a window into the everyday lives of those who defy or violate socially constructed body rules and conventions.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Title Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xii

In 1968, at the age of sixteen, I talked two of my girlfriends into wearing slacks rather than skirts to school one frigid winter day. At the time, I knew nothing of the nascent feminist movement—let alone of “embodied resistance”—but at a truly visceral level it seemed unfair that only girls should have to suffer the cold and seemed wrong not to protest that unfairness. Unfortunately, I also knew nothing about creating effective ...

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pp. xiii

Assembling this collection has been a humbling experience that has made clear the necessity of intellectual community. If it weren’t for the eager readers of e-mail lists, newsletters, and blogs, this book would not exist. While we are aware that interrogation of embodied resistance is limited and partial, we cannot deny the rich and vibrant scholarship that is emerging and that we had the privilege of engaging as we ...

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pp. 1-10

Few classroom discussions generate as much enthusiasm as those about the body. Circumcision. Childhood vaccinations. Preschool beauty pageants. Steroids and sports. Designer vaginas. Hair straightening. Drag queens and kings. Burkas. Eyelid surgery. Sexual dysfunction. End-of-life care. ...

I. Rewriting Gender Scripts

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1. The Specter of Excess: Race, Class, and Gender in Women's Body Hair Narratives

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pp. 13-25

... Women face these accusations when they choose not to shave, because traditional gender roles have made the body a source of political contention. One recent study states, “Far from being the inevitable outcome of a biological imperative, femininity is produced through a range of practices, including normative body-altering work such as routine hair removal. The very normativity of such practices obscures their ...

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2. "Is That Any Way to Treat a Lady?": The Dominatrix's Dungeon

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pp. 26-36

Sitting inside a café in downtown Manhattan, a woman in her early forties describes what she calls her “dungeon protocol”: “In my sessions, I insist that I be called ‘Mistress’ or ‘Ma’am,’” she explains, dipping her fork into her vegetarian entrée.1 “But it’s not just about protocol; it’s about manners. It’s about respect. If they don’t follow the rules for my dungeon, I will ask them, ‘Is that any way to treat a lady?’” ...

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3. "Cruising for a Bruisin'": Women's Flat Track Roller Derby

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pp. 37-47

At a large indoor sports complex, an all-female flat track roller derby league prepares for the evening’s game. Wearing shirts emblazoned with their derby names, the skaters rush around the complex hanging signs, testing electrical equipment, and taping down the track. As audience members pour into the stadium seating, the skaters pull on their protective gear and padding, scrawl their numbers on their arms with permanent ...

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4. Becoming a Female-to-Male Transgender (FTM) in South Korea

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pp. 48-57

“Are you a man or a woman?” This question has followed Youn-Woo ever since he entered college in South Korea in 1998.1 At five feet three inches, with a medium build and short hair, Youn-Woo could be seen as either a teenage boy or a masculine woman. Youn-Woo was always taken aback by this very personal question and was unable to provide an easy answer. At the time, Youn-Woo did not yet identify as a transgender ...

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Living Resistance: From Rapunzel to G.I. Jane

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pp. 58-60

Remember that fairy tale of a young maiden with long, beautiful hair who, when caught talking to a prince, is punished by a witch who holds her captive? The witch cuts off Rapunzel’s silken locks and banishes her into the wilderness. One could say that the plot of this tale has been the story of my life over the past year. ...

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Living Resistance: Funnel as Phallus

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pp. 61-63

I’ve been an avid boater since age sixteen. There is something mystical about skimming the water under power or sail while watching for fish, dolphins, sea birds, stingrays, manatees, and sea turtles. As a young transplant to South Florida, I was initially unaccustomed to subtropical waters, beaches, and sun, but after my teenage years spent around boats, I came to love anything that floats. Once you experience time ...

II. Challenging Marginalization

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5. "Give Me a Boa and Some Bling!": Red Hat Society Members Commanding Visibility in the Public Sphere

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pp. 67-77

At seventy-four, Frances waits in her car in the parking lot outside the restaurant, feeling like a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl all over again. She sits looking around for her friends. With a new red pillbox hat on the seat beside her, she worries that no one else will show up in their signature Red Hat Society (RHS) dress—red hat, purple dress, sparkly jewelry, and feather boa. But slowly, the cars pull up and Frances spots her ...

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6. Fat. Hairy. Sexy: Contesting Standards of Beauty and Sexuality in the Gay Community

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pp. 78-87

Alex’s jaw practically dropped into his lap when Dr. Nelson told him he was gay. It’s not that Alex is ignorant about homosexuality. In fact, he identifies as gay himself. He had come to Dr. Nelson’s office hours to discuss a research project relating to sexual orientation and had casually sought information about another professor’s sexual identity because he was looking for a gay mentor. Alex asked, “Is Professor ...

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7. Belly Dancing Mommas: Challenging Cultural Discourses of Maternity

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pp. 88-98

These were my thoughts during my last public performance before delivering my daughter. I had been belly dancing semiprofessionally for more than six years at the time I learned I was pregnant. It was the one form of exercise-recreation I maintained throughout my pregnancy, and it was the first such activity I resumed postpartum. While belly dance is a highly expressive and creative genre (Shay and Sellers-Young 2003, 2005), the public typically views it as a form of erotic entertainment, on par ...

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8. "It's Important to Show Your Colors": Counter-Heteronormativity in a Metropolitan Community Church

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pp. 99-110

The regulation of human bodies is central to organized religion, though it has received little academic attention (Smith 2008). Religious traditions have rich histories of controlling, for example, what we eat, what we wear, how we move our bodies, how we sing, and with whom we have sex. Religious leaders seem to understand the importance the body has in marking one as a member of a religious culture. Because ...

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Living Resistance: An Accidental Education

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pp. 111-113

While pursuing a Ph.D. in a perfectly respectable humanities discipline at a perfectly respectable New England university, I chose to channel my activist energies into a perfectly disreputable side project, a fat-positive feminist ’zine about fat and sex. While the ’zine, Zaftig!, was well received, within the narrow band of folks who came into contact with such things, I certainly didn’t set out with any plans to write the first ...

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Living Resistance: The Pickup

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pp. 114-116

There wasn’t any place to park, so Ed drove the van around the block while I ran in to get sushi at our favorite Japanese restaurant and a movie from the video place next door. Back at his house, I started the film—Prelude to a Kiss—and we ate in the living room: I on the sofa, he in his power wheelchair. ...

III. Defying Authoritative Knowledges and Conventional Wisdom

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9. Anorexia as a Choice: Constructing a New Community of Health and Beauty through Pro-Ana Websites

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pp. 119-129

The preceding quotation is from Ana’s Sanctuary, one of the many “pro-ana,” or proanorexia, websites that have proliferated in recent years. These websites portray the eating disorder anorexia in a positive light, as young women construct the sites in an attempt to create community around their redefinition of anorexia as a lifestyle rather than a disease. The mere existence of such websites alarms many people, including ...

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10. Public Mothers and Private Practices: Breastfeeding as Transgression

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pp. 130-142

Emily Gillette, a twenty-seven-year-old mother, was flying from Vermont to New York with her family. As the plane sat at the gate, Gillette sat in the window seat in the second-to-last row, discreetly breastfeeding her twenty-two-month-old daughter; her husband was seated next to her. According to Gillette, a flight attendant tried to hand her a blanket and told her to cover up, even though none of her breast was showing. ...

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11. "It's Hard to Say": Moving Beyond the Mystery of Female Genital Pain

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pp. 143-155

On a Friday evening in August 2009, I sat down to watch a special episode of the ABC news program 20/20 entitled “Medical Mysteries.” A friend had alerted me about the show because she’d heard that it was going to feature vulvar pain, a condition I had been researching for most of a decade. Though I have a background as a women’s health clinician, I study vulvar pain as an anthropologist, attending to the ways that culture shapes the emergence and the experience of symptoms. A major challenge ...

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12. "What I Had to Do to Survive": Self-Injurers' Bodily Emotion Work

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pp. 156-166

Our bodies may be the material that enables symbolic interaction (Mead 1934) and the experience of emotionality (Cooley 1902). But as Kate, a twenty-one-year-old self-injurer, suggests in the preceding quotation, we can also strategically employ them to suppress and evoke feelings.1 In this chapter, we examine how self-injurers suppress distress and evoke authenticity and self-efficacy. As one interviewee put it, “This is ...

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Living Resistance: Intersex? Not My Problem

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pp. 167-169

My life changed completely when I was thirteen and was sent home from camp with abdominal pain. A pelvic exam revealed an imperforate hymen prohibiting the flow of menstrual fluid. I had surgery—my first of many—to open my hymen so I could menstruate. During the surgery, they found vaginal agenesis with a slight vaginal “dimple,” and no detectable uterus. I had secondary sex characteristics—body hair ...

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Living Resistance: Doula-Assisted Childbirth: Helping Her Birth Her Way

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pp. 170-172

Birth in the United States is a medical event. But it hasn’t always been that way. At the turn of the twentieth century, only a small percentage of women gave birth in hospitals. Today, nearly all women birth in the hospital and, while there, they are unlikely to experience a natural birth (Rooks 1997). For instance, over 75 percent of women in the United States give birth with epidural medication (Declercq et al. 2006), one in four ...

IV. Negotiating Boundaries and Meanings

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13. The Politics of the Stall: Transgender and Genderqueer Workers Negotiating "the Bathroom Question"

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pp. 175-185

On the promotional poster for the 2005 film Transamerica, a transwoman stands frozen between two bathroom doors. The symbol for Women and the outline of a stick figure in a dress marks one door. The corresponding Men symbol and a stick figure in pants marks the other. The poster is representative of the major theme of the film, which is one transwoman’s journey (literal and figurative) from man to woman. The ...

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14. The Everyday Resistance of Vegetarianism

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pp. 186-196

Are we really what we eat? What is the relationship between the things we consume and the politics we practice? For example, while vegetarianism may be connected to obvious ethical considerations such as animal cruelty, what is its relationship to seemingly unrelated systems of power such as gender conformity and consumerism? Addressing this question raises new ideas about how individuals embody ideologies and ...

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15. Menopausal and Misbehaving: When Women "Flash" in Front of Others

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pp. 197-208

Most of the time, the closest we come to seeing menopause in mainstream culture is in movies like Calendar Girls, a British comedy about a group of middle-aged women who decide to pose naked for a calendar, or Something’s Gotta Give, a romantic comedy about midlife relationships. These movies include many jokes and innuendos but few direct references to menopause. Unless we are lucky enough to view ...

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16. The Transformation of Bodily Practices among Religious Defectors

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pp. 209-219

Religions are inscribed on the bodies of their members. Religious communities require members to engage in a variety of bodily practices—rituals performed by and enacted on the body—that create, maintain, and display membership in the group. As children are socialized into a religious community, they come to embody the group’s rituals and corporeal rites by internalizing its norms, beliefs, practices, and values. ...

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Living Resistance: Crossing the Menstrual Line

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pp. 220-221

It all began with Prince Charles. In 1993 “Camillagate,” sparked by a surreptitiously recorded telephone conversation between the prince and his lover, Camilla Parker- Bowles, hit the international press. The two were heard engaging in sex talk, which included Charles’s gushing, “I’ll just live in your trousers or something. It would be much easier!” These words led to banter about Charles’s becoming a tampon and ...

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Living Resistance: Myself, Covered

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pp. 222-224

“Would you just look at that guy with all those tattoos on his arm? Why would he do that?” my father growled, scowling at the man seated across the restaurant. I stared into my bowl of oatmeal, waiting for the moment to pass. I was careful not to pull self-consciously on the sleeves of my shirt, aware that it might give me away. It was, after all, difficult to justify wearing long sleeves in the middle of summer, every ...

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pp. 225-226

What would it be like to be in a different body—for an hour, a day, a year, a lifetime? How much does the body you are (are in?) shape your life, your experiences? Some people play at this, create online personas, act “as if ” in another body—but that will give you everything but the embodied experience. ...

Classroom Resources

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pp. 227-249


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pp. 251-256


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pp. 257-268

E-ISBN-13: 9780826517883
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826517869

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Women -- Psychology.
  • Human body -- Social aspects.
  • Mind and body.
  • Manners and customs.
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  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access