- Paperback: 362 pages
- Publisher: University of California Press (March 15, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0520088832
- ISBN-13: 978-0520088832
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 22 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,778,783 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body
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From Publishers Weekly
Bordo explores women's obsessions with appearance, their struggles to control food and hunger, and the pressures brought on by a society that worships the ideal female figure.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
In dense, challenging, subtly argued philosophical essays, Bordo (Philosophy/LeMoyne College; The Flight to Objectivity, 1987- -not reviewed) offers a postmodern, poststructuralist feminist interpretation of the female body as a cultural construction in Western society, emphasizing eating disorders, reproductive issues, and the philosophical background. Many of the problems and ideas of contemporary Western society, says Bordo, derive from the ineluctable mind/body dualism of Plato, restated by Descartes. From the viewpoint of feminist theory (of which the author offers a useful history and critique), women have been identified with the body, which itself has been characterized as an alien, instinctual, threatening, passive, and false self in which the true self--the active and manly mind/soul- -is confined. In occasionally repetitive pieces--some a decade old, some revised from lectures--carrying titles like ``Are Mothers Persons?,'' ``Reading the Slender Body,'' and ``Material Girl,'' Bordo demonstrates how this identification is deployed in law, medicine, literature, art, popular culture, and, especially, advertising, which she perceptively decodes by showing how the most trivial detail (men eating hearty meals, women consuming bite-size candies) reveal cultural values and even pathologies. Following Foucault's archaeological technique, Bordo shows how the female body has migrated from nature to culture, where it can be controlled through dieting and altered through surgery--and where women are perpetually at war with it. A cerebral introduction to liberal feminist thinking that's humanized by the author's anecdotes of her own experience as a female body (e.g., confessing to the delights of making stuffed cabbage) and that demonstrates what it advocates: ``What the body does is immaterial, so long as the imagination is free.'' (Fifty- five b&w illustrations) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Bordo’s Foucault filter is supposed to shape her analysis, but I doubt it does. It seems that whenever she cites him, she invokes a dense, sophist, and pretentious language which is foreign to her effective and lucid prose, and certainly alien to the vast majority of her readers who, if anything like me, begin to experience rather intense frustration.
This dissonance must be more than compliance to academic writing.
What I think is at stake here is Bordo’s difficulty with radical feminism. She says she invokes Foucault for the complexity of his thought, something both he and she fine lacking in Second-wave feminism. At points in her essays and lectures (which constitute this book), she even directly instructs feminism via Foucault.
The question is: what feminism is she instructing, what feminism does she find simplistic? It must be the very feminism that she herself chiefly adopts--liberal feminism. Radical feminism, with its deeper analysis and political stances, are what she avoids. Thus her need for and reliance on the academic star, Michael Foucault (as in Freud of old)
But what Foucault acknowledges is that same liberal feminism, one which either rejects or compartmentalizes feminist issues. How can it begin to address the female body as a projection screen if it denies that culture is male, or that the powerfully projective male sexual institutions of pornography, prostitution, and rape exist-- or, if at all, exists outside of mainstream culture. Or how about the skirting of broadly influential cultural phenomena like the rise of sexology, the sexual revolution, and the onslaught of new reproductive technology.
This said, when Bordo speaks from herself, she often cannot help crossing the liberal-radical divide. And when she does, “Unbearable Weight” soars from brilliance and courage. And her partial exposes of post-modernism, in that same voice, are lucid and accurate.
But reader, as soon as you sport that Fou word, or maybe the phrase “the male gaze” you’re smack in the middle of liberal murk, so skip this verbiage--or run for the hills, where there are maple trees that make far more sense.