Controlling Bodies, Constructing Minds: (Post-)Feminist Identity Politics in the Biomedical Age

Johanna Heil's picture
Type: 
Call for Publications
Date: 
February 28, 2017
Subject Fields: 
American History / Studies, Cultural History / Studies, Health and Health Care, Women's & Gender History / Studies

The relationship of feminist criticism to science has been ambivalent since the early stages of the feminist movement, when learned wo*men and activists such as Margaret Fuller aspired to rival “men of science.” Condemned as the “master’s tools” by some, science and technology have also been praised for their potential to liberate wo*men, especially from reproductive responsibilities and from the Western origin myths associated with biological functions. But although birth control and other medical innovations have helped to challenge the idea that anatomy is destiny and many feminist artists, writers and theorists playfully use “malestream” science and appropriate its tools for subversive ends, questions of sex, gender and the materiality of the body remain at the heart of wo*men’s social and body politics. In the current era of postfeminist identity politics and neoliberal biomedicalization, wo*men are given more opportunities than ever to transform their bodies and identities. Since the rise of postmodern technoscience, ideologies of normality and exclusion have been replaced by the principles of difference and niche marketing. An ever growing variety of self-help books, celebrity blogs, self-tracking devices, apps and other health and fitness services promises to transform wo*men of all shapes, ages, sexual orientations, and ethnic backgrounds into their “best selves.” Whether these assertions of choice and self-rule further the project of wo*men’s liberation from disciplinary regimes and structural discrimination or provide a new means to keep wo*men in their place is an ongoing debate. What seems to be beyond question is that the relationship between science and the female* body has undergone a fundamental change: as some scholars have argued, the tools of patriarchal discourse no longer exert power from without; instead, they have been widely distributed among the target group. Wo*men are encouraged to embrace and internalize the all-consuming body politics of the biomedical age because, unlike the kitchen and drug supplies for the “happy housewife heroine” of the 1950s (Friedan), they seem to offer limitless opportunities for self-improvement and the prospect of “having it all.”

The coevolution and intersection of biomedical science and postfeminist identity politics raise a number of significant questions: What happens when science and medicine turn once again towards the bodies of wo*men in order to optimize their lifestyle, career and health? What are the chances that this will result in a more equal society? What are the challenges to wo*men’s self-determination? Which practices of screening, monitoring, and enhancing of wo*men’s bodies liberate and which ones control? What knowledges about wo*men’s bodies compete with one another? What role do neoliberal economies play in contemporary discourses on lived realities of wo*men’s bodies and health. And what acts of resistance have arisen and are arising to counter the new scientific and optimizing gazes?

 

Investigating current biopolitical and cultural trends employed to monitor and reshape wo*men’s bodies, this essay collection seeks to put critical discussions of postfeminist identity politics into conversation with feminist science studies. The editors welcome contributions that concentrate on cultural representations as well as theoretical, interdisciplinary, and autoethnographic explorations of the issues sketched above. Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • reproduction and its (dis-)contents: pregnancy, abortion, birth, breast-feeding, surrogate motherhood, etc.;
  • cancer and body images, including issues such as mammography, preventive surgery, reconstruction surgery, etc.;
  • (post-)feminist identity politics, fitness, compulsory health, and ableism;
  • biotechnologies, risk, and the female body;
  • science, (individual) medicine, and inequities of gender, race and class;
  • science, medicine, and intersectional configurations of wo*manhood (trans, cis, sista, etc.);
  • science and (post-)feminist literature (utopia, science fiction, life writing, poetry, etc.);
  • science and (post-)feminist visual and performance arts.

 

* The asterisk is used to draw attention to the constructedness of the binary categories man/woman and to counteract (hetero-)normative understandings of these terms; it makes visible the gap that is left by this conceptual binary.

 

Please send a 400-word abstract and a brief CV to johanna.heil@uni-marburg.de and amthiemann@wwu.de. The deadline for proposals is February 28, 2017. Decisions on acceptance will be communicated by March 31, 2017.