Reflexive Embodiment

In this week’s study group we discussed object, subject and reflexivity. We are the object when seen and the subject when doing something. Crossley says when both the object and subject are the same, we have reflexivity.

An example of this is looking in the mirror or a selfie:

In this picture I am both the subject (I see somebody in the picture) but also the object (I am the person in the picture). So we have reflexive embodiment.

(I have an eye infection, hence the tiny eyes and no eye make up!)


The Body in Society – Heteronormativity

Heteronormativity is the belief that society is built on strict ideologies that heterosexuality is the norm. It is often also white heterosexuality that is promoted. Tanya McNeill studied sex education in the USA and argues that the government’s ‘promotion’ of heteronormativity in education policy and curricula legitimates homophobia in schools. A large number of schools only teach about heterosexual sex and relationships, and then only teaching the method of abstinence or abstinence until marriage. Arizona state code even prohibits schools from ‘promoting homosexuality’ in it’s sexual education curriculum, with a number of other states requiring that homosexuality is presented in a negative light.

From my own experience of sex education in England, I don’t remember being taught about anything other than heterosexuality. From reading the government’s ‘Sex and Relationship Education Guidance’ given to schools, it is clear to see that the UK’s sex education curriculum is much more inclusive of homosexuality than the USA’s, but still focuses on heterosexual sex and relationships, and preventing pregnancy. While the focus is mainly on abstinence, schools are also required to teach about other methods of contraception. I think it is important to include all sexualities within sex education, more than just heterosexuality and homosexuality, as I only learnt about others like asexuality from being a member of the blogging website Tumblr. It is unlikely that parents will teach their children about anything other than their own sexuality, if they discuss it at all. Therefore it is important that schools teach it, all-inclusive, not just ‘promoting’ heteronormativity.

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The Body in Society – Hegemony

Hegemony is the dominance of one social class over another using ideologies that are accepted as the norm, to prevent the lower classes revolting. Gramsci said that in the 20th Century, the bourgeoisie developed a hegemonic culture, which made up its own norms and values (ideologies), that would become the ‘common sense’ values of everyone in society.

By controlling norms and values, people’s bodies are being controlled. The norms ands values restrict what people do and say, and also affects what they wear and how they decorate their homes. It affects even businesses and cooperations, because they need and want to be seen as conforming to the ideologies of society. However, large companies are a part of the bourgeoisie (without the proletariat realising) and can also project new ideologies on society, e.g through advertising.

man on the moon
Screenshot from John Lewis Christmas advert 2015, ‘Man on the Moon’

A good example of this is the infamous and eagerly awaited John Lewis Christmas advert. It started off as a typical advert, showing products that they were selling within a Christmas setting; but over a few years it has developed into an emotional ‘storytelling’. The most recent one has also addressed the societal issue of the elderly being lonely at Christmas, imposing a feeling amongst those who watch it to go out and help the elderly. It also gives a good image of John Lewis, as it is saying that they care about the elderly at this time of year, which will persuade people to shop with them.

Kim Kardashian wearing Balmain at the 2014 MTV VMAs
Kim Kardashian wearing Balmain at the 2014 MTV VMAs

Hegemony affects the proletariat’s fashion choices and interior design choices because ideologies are imposed on them which they conform to through many different ways. The most significant one in the fashion world is designers and celebrities. When a celebrity wears a certain designer, they instantly make that designer more popular with their fans, and it is possible that the fans wouldn’t have even considered that label before their idol wore them. Celebrity culture is a great advertising tool for designers, and a recent example of this is the ‘Balmain X H&M’ collaboration between the Parisian fashion House of Balmain and the high street store H&M. It brings designer fashion down to affordable prices for the majority of society to enjoy, rather than being an exclusive club for those who can afford the expensive items, meaning that the proletariat feel as though they conform to the correct ideologies (within fashion). The Kardashians in particular wear a lot of Balmain, especially Kim. Olivier Rousteing, creative director of Balmain, said “I choose muses that are actually really different and modern – I chose them because they are contemporary, they are part of this new world”. By using Kardashian as one of his muses, he is getting his house to the forefront of the media, old and new, because of the Kardashian’s huge popularity and celebrity status; the ideologies of the House of Balmain are being projected onto the proletariat.

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The Body in Society – Binary

“There’s a real simple way to look at gender: Once upon a time, someone drew a line in the sands of a culture and proclaimed with great self-importance, “On this side, you are a man; on the other side, you are a woman.” It’s time for the winds of change to blow that line away. Simple.” – Kate Bornstein (1995)

Binary is the concept that people are put into groups, stay in those groups and do not gravitate towards the other. For example, gender. At birth, babies are assigned to either being a girl or a boy according to their physical sex. It is almost impossible to purchase baby clothes that are gender neutral, yet if the baby is just in a nappy, there is no way that you can tell their sex just by looking at them. As children are brought up, they are given gendered toys and are often taken to gendered hobbies. For example, boys are given toy cars and dinosaurs, whereas girls have pretend irons and kitchens. Boys go to football, whereas girls go to ballet. But as those children grow into adults, some feel that they do not belong to the gender that their parents; most likely unknowingly, have pushed them into being. Some transgender people say that they knew from childhood that they were ‘in the wrong body’. Transgender people are proof that people are not 100% in a binary group, from gender to sexuality, even down to cat and dog people. Continue reading The Body in Society – Binary

The Body in Society – Regulating Bodies, Power, Control and Why Men Don’t Wear Skirts

As human beings, we imagine we are free but we are actually subject to many rules which control us and our bodies. This can be anything from the way that we dress, to how we travel.

In the past, religion played a big part in controlling people. By suppressing both actual and sexual appetites, and the belief that too much of either was a sin as well as the concept that a ‘poor life’ would lead to rewards in heaven kept the poor from revolting.

Bentham’s Panoptican created a fear of being constantly watched into prisoners, even though there was no way possible that the guard could be watching every single inmate at once. It created an illusion, so they had to behave at all times. The same effect was hoped to have happened with CCTV, but people still commit crimes in front of them, so perhaps this idea does not work as well as it was originally thought.

Foucault argued that the idea of power over individuals is dispersed throughout society rather than in one location. These can be found in places like schools (bells between lessons, timetables, rules and uniform) and in healthcare (innoculations, screenings, health records and hospitalisation).

In a small group, we discussed how cars affect our bodies. We found that there are two ways that cars effect us: ‘societal’ and ‘bodily’. Examples of ‘societal’ are number plates, car tax and insurance, as these are things that link our car to us, so if you are caught speeding, we are easily found on a database. Also, the type of car that you own says something about your societal status, particularly with men. For example, someone who owns an estate car is very likely to be a businessman and someone who owns a Fiat 500 is quite likely to be a young woman who comes from a wealthy background. Examples of ‘bodily’ are that we rely on cars to get us to most destinations, particularly great distances, as our bodies can’t physically travel at 70 mph. Another is how cars are driven, it is one of the only activities that involves the entire body. We sit, use our legs and arms, sight and sometimes hearing. People also have a huge reliance on the cars to work, and your day can be ruined if they break down.

Gender expectations of dress has changed over time, as there was a time when women didn’t wear trousers in public. It was Coco Chanel that pioneered the wearing of trousers for women as well as slenderness and the suntan. So why don’t men wear skirts? In some cultural contexts they do, such as kilts, which used to be worn into battle, but are now worn for ceremonial purposes. Men do not wear skirts in everyday life, even if that is what they feel more comfortable in. This may be because it is not commonly seen, and they feel they may be judged for it. It crosses the boundaries of masculinity because they are only ever normally worn in situations where they are worn for humour, like stag dos. As well as this, a lot of people aren’t comfortable with seeing men in skirts, and I think until most people don’t mind it, it will not become a common sight.

The Body in Society – History of the body: Religion vs. Medicine

From the 5th to the 15th Century in the West, medicine was complex and based on guesswork, religion and ‘reason’, illnesses were believed to be ‘God given’ and cutting into bodies was not allowed. Medieval art often depicted a celestial woman with her child in religious scenes, with ‘normal’ people often non existent, suggesting celestial bodies were the most important.

Laqueur said that in the 18th and 19th Century, bodies were ‘ungendered’ and male bodies were the norm, and it was believed that the female sexual organs were the same as males, but internal. Bodies were a site of difference and oppression in the 19th Century, and it was thought that education would ’cause women’s wombs to wander’ and the removal of the womb was common to ‘cure’ hysteria. This was a way to control women using their bodies against them, with the threat of womb removal most likely scaring them into behaving.

From the 19th Century until now, discoveries and inventions meant there has been a massive advancement in science and medicine, with people living more than fifty years longer than those who lived in medieval times. We know a great deal more now on how to look after our bodies, making us more responsible for what we put in them and do to them because we have more control on what happens to us. But because we are living longer, does that mean that our quality of life is decreased?

Textiles has a strong relationship with the body, with many of the aspects related to the body. The most obvious one is fashion, where the whole industry is dedicated to enhancing and covering the body. Other aspects like textiles for interiors also have a relationship with the human body, for example all furniture is designed around the body and the easiest way for people to use it. Even surface pattern relates because it is designed to please the eye, a part of the body. Almost everything we touch is a type of textile, there is no getting away from it.