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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 3: Truth, Power and Relations to Self


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Truth, Power and Relations to Self

History, Society and Human Experience as Processes of Study

In this chapter I propose that genealogy as a critical mode of inquiry into existing social and political orders surrounding the female body, presents the most productive positions available for a reinterpretation of the political relations between the modern muscular woman and femininity. Genealogy offers an intellectual rethinking of traditional dualist assumptions, totalising positions, and governing standards of theorising that promise an objective reasoning about nature, reason, truth, knowledge and the very meaning of self. These are instead recast as effects or results of relations of power. I begin by discussing the historicist nature of Foucault’s philosophical project before exploring the three domains of analysis open to a genealogical approach. This chapter draws attention to the significance of genealogy as a mode of critical inquiry and its value for feminism. A genealogy of the muscular woman is able to contribute to the historical production of thought relating to femininity and the development of knowledge surrounding the female body and the muscular woman.

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