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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 6: The Victorian Strong Woman


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The Victorian Strong Woman

This chapter addresses the question of what femininity does and what it means in relation to the female muscular body as a form of critical historical and socio/cultural analysis. Put simply, the chapter asks, how does femininity inform our thinking about muscular women? And how does this domain of knowledge impact on women’s own experiences of their muscular bodies? In this, my concern is to consider how femininity can be used to rethink the knowledge, experiences and politics of women who build and sculpt muscle?

Genealogy as a form of questioning of how we have come to think and speak about the modern woman undertakes an analysis of the historically and socially situated meaning-making of femininity as a discursive device; it focuses on the way that woman is put into discourse. The question of the uneasy and fraught relationship between femininity and muscularity is grounded in the notion that it is inextricably bound up with a particular history of the development and the deployment of femininity as a specific interpretive, subjectifying and regulatory practice. Here I therefore want to address the question of femininity as a specific and historical development of attitude which has in a large part conditioned, limited and marginalised women’s capacities and the articulation of their bodies.

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