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Sculpting the Woman

Muscularity, Power and the Problem with Femininity


Jamilla Rosdahl

What is femininity?

Why does the idea of femininity not seem to «fit» with muscular women?

Why are muscular women the object of such controversy and skepticism?

Why do some women build muscle despite these strong cultural reactions?

Muscular women have long been the focus of public scrutiny, cultural contempt and fascination. Sculpting the Woman interrogates the protected status of femininity as it has been rendered irrelevant to the history, theory and politics of the muscular woman. This highly original and provocative work draws on important social thinkers including Michel Foucault and Judith Butler as well as recent theoretical developments on gender, identity and the body in poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, various feminisms and social and moral philosophy. This book offers a personal insight into one of the most threatening of cultural identities: the «muscular female». Through its analysis of femininity’s complex relationship with muscularity, it explores the larger question: «What is a woman?»

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Chapter 2: The Invention of the Muscular Woman as a Problem


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The Invention of the Muscular Woman as a Problem

This chapter explains the emergence of two dominant yet competing discourses on the study of the muscular woman. These approaches are examined within the context of a distinct shift in the theorising surrounding the female body and the categories of gender. It begins with a brief account of the emergence of western science and sports medicine and consider some of the major psychological arguments in the larger sex/role sex identity research on the muscular sporting woman. Central to this discourse is the notion that men and women have distinctly different bodies or sexes which correspond with masculine or feminine attributes that further support these oppositional categories. This paradigm is based on and driven by a search for fixed biological differences which correspond to ideas linked to the groups men and women. These understandings of sex and gender are regulated by a scientific discourse which states that maleness and femaleness can be traced back to some quantifiable essence derivative from the body’s own chromosomes or genes. From this perspective, the muscular woman is figured as having either too much masculinity or not enough femininity and is therefore conceptualised as different to that of ‘normal’ women. Next, the chapter explores the development of modern feminist theories on gender and sport by focusing on the important theoretical attempts to deconstruct the gender divide that positions males and females as two very distinct human categories....

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