Natalya Busygina (Russia). Female Subjectivity: Discourses and Bodily Experience
The concept of feminine subjectivity entered the field of human and social studies relatively late, in the twentieth century, and was disseminated already after the Second World War. Its appearance is related to the global reconceptualization of the classical tradition of thinking based on the implicit admission of one imaginary construction of the subject – a whole, equal to oneself, rational subject Cogito, which, implicitly, was male, or, to be more exact, a subject conceived as universal and genderless, but, in reality, a subject of the male gender, which has appropriated the right to speak in the name of all. The ‘discovery’ of woman and of the female in feminist theory can be considered as an attempt to overcome the dominating construction, which as if speaks of the woman within its framework, but from which she is absent, because she is present only as the implicit other.
The present article raises several important issues, disclosing the peculiarities of female subjectivity within the context of contemporary culture. Turning to a gendered approach and the ideas of socially constructing the female gender, the article considers the question of the role of cultural discourses in generating and supporting female forms of experience.
There are different ways towards the conceptualisation of the feminine, but, in one form or another, they draw towards one of the two global approaches, which have distinct intellectual sources and which are concerned with processing the problematics that is somewhat dissimilar: the gendered approach and the sexual difference approach.
By disclosing a number of themes topical for feminist thinking, the article foregrounds one of the two above-signalled global approaches, that is, the gendered approach, which represents female subjectivity in perspective close to social criticism. The issues of discourse construction, visual representations, corporeality modes related to the female gender are raised by the followers of this approach in the context of the problem of domination/submission and unequal distribution of power in society. As we can see from the sample studies cited in the article, the analysis of the characteristics of the ‘production’ of the feminine aims here primarily at disclosing the mechanism of repression and reproduction of inequality that are behind gender subjectification. Female subjectivity as a result of the activity of repressive power mechanisms, executed on deep psychological levels constitutes the meta-subject of the studies oriented towards the methodology of critical gendered approach.
How is the female gender constructed on the level of the body? ‘Body as a surface’ is the dominant mode of women’s bodily functioning; albeit it defines a significant part of their experience of themselves and their body, nonetheless, it does not cover the entire range of female bodily experience. Attempts to resist the dominant mode of corporeality and the search for other forms of experience and expression of female bodily experience become one of the most topical themes of contemporary reflection on the feminine.
Female subjectivity as a derivative of the gendered order. The notion of gender emerges in social sciences in relation to socio-constructional criticism of biological determinism in forming distinctions between genders. Frequently, gender is defined as the social gender, distinguishing it from sex as a biological characteristic. However, in light of the notions of social constructionism, it would be more correct to speak of sex as having a social dimension, too. Gender is a powerful ideological device, and the creation of gender is always the creation of a structure of domination and submission. The category of the ‘female’ is associated with a lower status and lesser power.
Antagonistic discourses of femininity and psychological conflicts. The role of cultural-symbolic resources in forming and supporting certain types of femininity became the basic theme of a huge number of theoretical and empirical works. Discourse-analytic methodology facilitates the understanding of discourse device and interpretative repertories used for conceptualising and ‘formatting’ the individual experience. In the context of contemporary culture, feminine subjectivity is formed in the area of discourses with distinct directions. The conflicting internal ‘scene’ they engender is interpreted following the rules and precepts of the ‘psychological society’ – as an issue of predominantly psychological nature, which can be understood and described in psychological categories and addressed in many cases by professional psychologists.
Corporeality modes. Body as surface. Alongside discursive aspects of the construction of female subjectivity, the subject of feminist studies is often the body and bodily experience. From the perspective of social constructionism, the body appears included in discursive practices of signing and is formed in the field of social relations. It obtains its own ‘hermeneutics’ and ceases to be understood only as a natural given, a biological organism, becoming named and thus signed by the signs of culture, power and social status. At the same time, socio-constructional methodology loses the most important dimension of the body, articulated and conceptualised in philosophic phenomenology – body as ‘embodied conscience’, ‘ego-body’, ‘body-subject’ or ‘lived body’.
Corporeality mode, where the body appears as a contemplated surface offers a peculiar form of disciplining the body, which is at the basis of the social ‘production’ of the feminine gender. How total is the action of ideological demand? Can an individual escape the position prepared for him/her?
The richest material for analysing corporeality modes on the other side of body as surface is provided by the language of modern dance. The works of choreographers represent attempts at rethinking female corporeality and sexuality and offer the search of plastic forms for expressing them. Modern dance becomes literally a workshop of embodied female subjectivity. This can be illustrated by a play ‘Co(te)lette’ created in 2007 by choreographer Ann Van den Broek. By means of dance, Van den Broek creates a concept of female subjectivity similar to the ones authored by Irigaray, Braidotti and Kristeva.
It seems that the search for uniqueness of female corporeality, female sexuality, and female language, undertaken by the supporters of the sexual difference approach leads to indeterminacy of the concept of femininity itself. ‘Femininity’ seems to be not so much a property of a subject of the female gender as to be a fixator of the state of de-subjectivation, of an outside status or, to be more precise, of a status outside the gendered identity. This concept begins to be used for designating those mystery domains of subjectivity that are free of any forms of structural determinacy and exist in the state of absolute becoming.
Meanwhile, conceptualisation of the feminine requires to be considered separately. So far, it is represented in post-structural feminism in the form of philosophical meditation and artistic practices, and analysis of its consequences in the areas of psychology and psychotherapy still remains to be undertaken