Course:ANTH213/2024/The Body and Control

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"Body" refers to the human physical form. While bodies are an innate part of the human experience, their meaning is not stagnant nor inherent. The conceptualization of body has been constructed in a variety of ways through different cultural contexts across time. Bodies have been a means of control, particularly in a colonial context. This page will provide an overview of some of the ways in which bodies are controlled on a societal level in both historical and contemporary contexts. The first section focuses on the relationship between the body and land within a colonial context. In having the authority and power to place strict regulations on the human body (especially women's bodies) as a means to control it simultaneously means having domination over the land and culture they belong to.

Diverse factors, from medical models to societal norms, shape health and well-being. This second section delves into key themes: determinants of a healthy body, medicalization of society, reproductive rights and bodily autonomy, and gender identity and transgender healthcare. Western healthcare often favors the biomedical model, emphasizing biological factors and individualistic approaches. Conversely, the biopsychosocial model considers social and psychological elements, advocating for holistic health perspectives. Medicalization, while sometimes beneficial, raises ethical concerns and can perpetuate inequalities. Reproductive rights, encompassing access to healthcare and contraception, face ongoing challenges globally. Similarly, gender identity issues prompt evolving definitions and highlight barriers to gender-affirming healthcare. Together, these themes reflect the complex interplay of health, society, individual rights, and its impact on the body.

The third section focuses on the impacts of societal formed views of masculinity and femininity have on body standards for both men and women. Because of hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity these body standards are formed in a way that is unrealistic and lacks inclusivity of many, The body standards which are then formed unrealistically, impact both genders in negative, sometimes dangerous, forms. These forms vary from eating disorders and muscle dysmorphia, to the use of anabolic steroids and the undergo of cosmetic procedures. The fourth section deals with ideas relating to gender and body, specifically tackling how thinness has become a part of showing and performing the female gender. The last section discusses how bodies that do not fit within the gender binary are often excluded from spaces that claim to be inclusive and how discourses over who can and cannot enter certain spaces perpetuate colonial practices. The ways in which the body have been construed throughout time and space have created historical and modern ideas of the body being shaped around ideas of conflict and exclusion.

Body and Colonialism

Acquiring control over women’s bodies has been a central component to colonial strategies of power throughout history. With this in mind, this section will focus on the governance of women’s bodies within a colonial context and how that relates to the acquisition of land and power. This relationship was established on the conviction that to occupy the human body is to occupy the land and subsequently the culture they belong to. These incidents of violence that the body experiences are simultaneously experienced by the land within a co-dependent framework[1]. Throughout many colonial projects, there is a consistent overarching notion linking the body to land which can be demonstrated through the anthropological analysis of French colonial postcards of Algerian women, the domestic arrangement of concubinage, and the violation of reproductive rights in Palestine.

One example of this relationship between body and land is evident within the system of concubinage which involved the cohabitation of a coloniser man and colonised women outside the context of marriage[2]. This domestic practice allowed coloniser men access to colonised women’ sexuality, labour, as well as their legal rights to children. This system was established through the strict regulations of sexual relations between coloniser men and colonised women. Coloniser men were subsequently permitted the power to govern women’s lives to the most intimate level by occupying their living spaces and bodies. The sexual dominance that coloniser men had over women’s bodies created a significant amount of symbolic power as they achieved accessibility to the native community. This can be referred to by the phrase ‘going native’ which denotes this idea that having a better understanding and direct access to the culture can position you to govern that culture better. This arrangement is indicative of how concubinage relationships were constructed alongside the intersectional lines of discrimination and exploitation[3]. By having access to the intimate social world through the sexual domination of women’s bodies, led to an equal standing enabling colonial powers to dominate the native culture, customs, and land.

It's apparent that this connection between body and land was an important component to the development of colonial settlements through analysing colonial postcards produced during the French colonisation of Algeria. Colonial postcards were an ethnographic attempt to visually document different customs and ways of life. During this time, the first aspect of an Algerian women’s appearance that caught the foreign eye was the fact they were completely concealed from sight through veiling[4]. This concealment of Algerian women’s bodies created an initial feeling of frustration and disappointment for colonial photographers as the veil denies him access to women’s bodies. The veil can be seen as a form of rejection whereby Algerian women refuse the male gaze of the photographer and thus the colonial power they enforce. In contrast, this gaze is reversed where the photographer is placed as the object of the female gaze. Dissatisfaction also arises as the veil ‘belongs to the everyday, like a uniform’ [4] creating uniformity, rather than individuality. This lack of individuality creates a deficiency in creative expression and artistic freedom for the photographer. In response to this multifaceted irritation of the inability for the photographer to capture women, he unveils her in his studio. This action delineates a symbolic revenge on the entire society for denying him access to the intimate social world. By entering the harem space and unveiling women, he claims access to everything that was previously forbidden to him. This process of unveiling indicates the significance of dominating culture and land through having control of the intimacies of women’s bodies within colonial development.

This framework isn’t purely restricted to previous colonial projects, as it is still prevalent in contemporary issues such as within the context of Palestine. Palestine has been victim to colonial power for years, with a long history of colonial violence. Viewing Palestine as a critical feminist issue allows us to acknowledge and confront this colonial as well as systematic gendered violence[5]. We can see an extension of this colonial authority through contemporary reproductive violence enforced onto Palestinian women. Palestinian women are currently forced to endure a mental as well physically detrimental experience of forced childbirth at checkpoints. Due to the fact that ambulances aren’t permitted to pass through these checkpoints, it creates a significant deficiency in pre- and post-natal care due to the lack of medical equipment available to them. This horrific practice places strategic control on a particular body that will reproduce the next generation. Control over Palestinian reproduction can be tied together with the concept of stratified reproduction where some individual’s reproductive capacities are promoted and values, while other are actively supressed. A hierarchy is created of whose reproduction is valued and whose is not. It’s evident that Palestinian bodies are regulated through stratified reproduction as there is a desired demographic characterised by an increased Jewish population, while hindering Palestinian populations from growing or being maintained. This is legitimised by the constructed notion of reproducing ‘future terrorists’ which illustrates the ways in which reproductive medicine, politics and power are intertwined[6]. Palestinian bodies are subject to strict control through their reproduction under the argument that their reproductive capacities are inferior as well as criminalised. Similarly to past colonial projects, this policing of the body simultaneously establishes domination over the culture and land.

This co-dependent relationship between the body and the land has been a central component to the development of colonial settlements. Throughout history, it is apparent that the majority of colonial powers aimed to gain control and regulation of native communities’ bodies – especially women – as a means to establish authority over their culture, customs, and land. As demonstrated by these examples, the dominance over the body isn’t restricted to access to the body itself, but rather is more complex and multifaceted involving intersections of sexuality and reproduction. Although these examples mostly pertain to past colonial projects, it is important to acknowledge that this controlling of the body is not a phenomenon that solely applies to the past but also actively impacts many individuals within modern society.

Medicalization and its Impact on Different Bodies

Determinants of a Healthy Body

In Western healthcare settings, diverse models depict the notion of health. The prevalent biomedical model, favoured in most Western healthcare settings, emphasizes the absence of illness or infirmity as the primary indicator of health[7]. There are different approaches that can be applied to illness and health, such as the individualistic approach, the treatment imperative approach, and the neutral scientific process [7]. However, this model has faced criticism for its reductionist approach, primarily focusing on biological factors while neglecting social and environmental influences. Sexual medicine societies have advocated for a shift toward a multidimensional understanding of health, challenging the dominance of the biomedical model.

The biomedical model adopts an individualist approach, attributing ill health solely to the individual rather than considering broader societal factors [7]. The treatment imperative approach views medical interventions as the primary solution to health issues. Moreover, the biomedical model is rooted in a neutral scientific process, dissociating healthcare systems and agents from cultural and societal contexts[8].

Contrastingly, the biopsychosocial model, also known as the social model, offers a more comprehensive perspective on health. This model acknowledges the interplay between biological, psychological, environmental, and social determinants of health, including factors such as socioeconomic status, race, and gender[8]. Embracing the biopsychosocial model represents a paradigm shift toward a new public health approach, and advocation for the integration of psychological and social determinants alongside biomedical factors in healthcare decision-making processes [8]. This approach aims to expand the biomedical model, ensuring that patients receive holistic care that addresses both physical and psychosocial dimensions of health and illness.

Medicalization of Society

Medicalization is a complex phenomenon that involves defining social issues in medical terms and employing medical interventions for their treatment. This process, described by sociologist Peter Conrad [9], can have both positive and negative implications depending on its application. While medicalization has led to significant advancements in specific medical practices, it may also result in the overmedicalization of normal human experiences and behaviours.

Medicalization draws upon both the biomedical model, which emphasizes biological factors in health and illness, and the social model, which considers broader social determinants. This combination of approaches underscores the multifaceted nature of medicalization, which is influenced by cultural and social determinants [9]. For instance, medical decisions regarding intersex infants in the USA are influenced not only by medical professionals and families but also by societal attitudes and advancements in surgical techniques [10].

Furthermore, medicalization extends beyond individual healthcare interactions to impact broader societal structures and norms. In elite athletic competitions, such as the case of Caster Semenya, medicalization influences how athletes are judged and treated, raising ethical considerations within sports[11]. This highlights the pervasive influence of medicalization across various domains and its implications for policies and decision-making processes.

Viewed through a broader lens, medicalization can be understood as a societal phenomenon shaped by diverse actors, including societal forces, institutional rules, and stakeholder interests[12]. This perspective emphasizes the complex interplay of factors that contribute to the medicalization of social issues and underscores the need for critical examination of its effects on individuals and societies.

Reproductive Rights and Bodily Autonomy

Reproductive rights encompass a broad spectrum of rights related to reproduction and bodily autonomy, These rights, as defined by organizations like Amnesty International USA [13], include freedom from coerced sterilization and contraception, the right to quality reproductive health care, access to abortion and birth control, and the right to education and access.

The aim of reproductive rights is to uphold the autonomy of individuals and couples in deciding how many children they want and when to have them. This principle was articulated in the non-binding Proclamation of Tehran during the United Nations Conference on Human Rights in 1968[14]. However, despite international recognition, some reproductive rights have yet to be legally binding, limiting their enforcement and protection[15].

Reproductive rights are highly contested issues globally, transcending socioeconomic backgrounds, cultures, and religions. For example, debates over abortion rights have sparked intense social movements and activism, as seen in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization[16]. This activism often aligns with the principles of reproductive justice, a framework coined by a group of black women in 1994 known as “Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice” [17].

Stratified reproduction is a social scientific concept that examines who is encouraged or discouraged from reproducing . It highlights how factors such as race, socioeconomic status, and mental health can intersect to shape reproductive experience. For instance, underserved communities, people with mental illnesses, and marginalized groups such as black, Latino and LGBTQ+ individuals often have barriers to reproductive healthcare access. Western media’s portrayal of infertility tends to focus on middle-class white women, neglecting the reproductive challenges faced by these marginalized communities[18]. The disparity underscores the role of race and ethnicity in perpetuating reproductive inequities and injustices.

Despite advancements in reproductive technologies, stratified reproduction persists, limiting access to reproductive healthcare for marginalized groups [18]. Barriers include inadequate healthcare infrastructure, restrictive laws or policies, lack of transportation, and limited autonomy to make reproductive decisions[18].

Gender Identity and Transgender Healthcare

Gender dysphoria, characterized by distress related to a misalignment between one’s gender identity and sex assigned at birth, has evolved in its conceptualization over time. It was initially defined by the 1st Standards of Care (SOC) as dissatisfaction with one’s sex and a desire for hormonal and surgical sex reassignment and then shifted in 2011 to focus on distress resulting from the discrepancy between gender identity and assigned sex[19]. This change reflects input from transgender individuals, human rights movements, and the evolving societal perspective on gender[19].

Historically labeled as “gender identity disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, the pathologizing term has been critiqued for framing gender diversity as a disorder[19]. Access to gender-affirming healthcare remains a critical issue for transgender and gender-diverse populations, who face numerous mental health disparities. Challenges include the lack of culturally responsive healthcare providers, affordability issues, stigma, and fear of discrimination within care settings as well as distrust of mental health professionals[20].

Addressing these disparities requires the establishment of individual mental health providers and healthcare systems equipped to support the unique needs of transgender individuals. Culturally competent care, affordability, and destigmatization efforts are essential to ensure access to quality healthcare for transgender and gender-diverse populations[20]. Additionally, addressing systemic barriers such as transportation and economic disparities is crucial for promoting equitable access to gender-affirming healthcare and improving the overall well-being of transgender individuals

Body and Societal Standards of Masculinity and Feminity

Unrealistic and unattainable beauty standards that are forced upon women

The harsh impacts and effects of body standards are due to the deeply rooted concepts of hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity within our society. Emphasized femininity and hegemonic masculinity impact society’s standards of the body which then lead to an unrealistic expectation of bodies within our society, leading to potentially damaging consequences. This section discusses female and male body standards formed by the idea of societally created gender norms, the harmful mental and physical effects that these standards have to the body, and how the concepts of hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity play a role in creating these body standards.

The unrealistic standards that society forms around the idea of masculinity subject men to forms of body dysmorphia, exercise addiction, a focus on muscularity, anabolic steroid use and much more. Much of the reasoning behind these body standards for men is due to the theory of hegemonic masculinity and how it has helped to shape and mold the view of masculinity and male bodies within our society. R.W. Connell describes hegemonic masculinity as “...the form of masculinity that is most highly valued in a society and is rooted in the social dominance of men over women and nonhegemonic men (particularly homosexual men)."[21] Due to this societal idea of men being dominant, or in other words strong, a body dysmorphic disorder, muscle dysmorphia, is especially common in men. Muscle dysmorphia can be described as “pathological dissatisfaction with one’s perceived amount of muscle mass.”[22] Several factors in society lead to this increase that is being seen of muscle dysmorphia within men. One of those factors is due to the way that the media represents men within a position of power or superiority. In today’s age many famous film stars, superheroes more specifically, represent a more dramatized muscularity than those in the past. Another key factor of an extreme representation of muscularity in the media can be action figure dolls and even professional sports players or wrestlers.[22] Because of this highly represented notion of muscularity within media, men, especially young children, are set to believe this is the body standard they must live up to. “Davis, Karvinen, and McCreary (2005) found that anxiousness, self-oriented perfectionism, and the focus on appearance were directly related to a drive for muscularity in men.”[22] This displays that muscularity is not necessarily just another trend or something that is health driven but is due to societal and mental factors. Another element that impacts men due to societal male body standards is the use of anabolic steroids. Because it is difficult to obtain these standards of muscularity, anabolic steroid use has become more prevalent.[22] According to a study done of 500 men who use steroids, building overall strength, adapting their physical looks, and increasing their muscle size were all significant factors for the use of anabolic steroids.[23] The high interest in gaining muscularity through body building can have several harmful effects on the body such as food restriction and binging, injuries and the overall impact of the use of steroids on general health.[22] The reason that these factors of body standards and identity are less heard about in males as opposed to in females is due to the research that confirms that is it a lot more unlikely for men to discuss or seek assistance for these problems that they are facing.[24]

Society creates unrealistic body standards for women leading to harmful consequences such as cosmetic procedures, eating disorders, and an overall decline of mental health and body satisfaction. Emphasized femininity is a concept that can be described by R.W. Connell as “. . . the pattern of femininity which is given most cultural and ideological support . . . patterns such as sociability . . . compliance . . . [and] sexual receptivity [to men]”.[21] Because of emphasized femininity, many women feel the need to fit the ideal body standards from the view of the male gaze. Cosmetic procedures are one way in which women alter their body and physical appearance in order to fulfill the unrealistic body standards displayed within society. Both media and the industry of beauty have impacted and spread ideal Western beauty standards. Women are often times expected to fit beauty ideals such as a slim figure, symmetrical face, and a perfect complexion.[25] This leads women into partaking in body altering procedures such as breast augmentations, fat removal surgeries, and botox injections. These can be dangerous both to one’s self-image and physical body. The sexualization of female bodies is due to the female body standards created by society. In Malek Alloula’s The Colonial Harem, Djamila, an Arab woman, who had been part of the Algerian revolution, had drifted from the rather traditional and Western view of the Arab women.[4] As described by author, Malek Alloula within The Colonial Harem, “Her face and hair are exposed. The veil is gone and has been replaced by Western clothes. The makeup, however, and the short skirt have, paradoxically, become part of the Algerian resistance to French colonialism.”[4] The act of removing the veil is a way for Algerian women to resist French colonization which had sexualized and hid female bodies. Because of this sexualization, when females tend to have traits that are considered to be more “masculine”, they are often criticized by society. A key example of this comes from “Out of Bounds? A Critique of the New Policies on Hyperandrogenism in Elite Female Athletes. The American Journal of Bioethics” by Karkazis et al. The case of Caster Semenya, a professional South African runner, who had her sex questioned by other competitors due to her successful win and physique.[11] Because of Caster Semenya’s hyperandrogenism, “the excessive presence of the male sex hormones testosterone, androsterone and androstenedione in women[26], she had been accused of illegally competing as a female.[11] Because Caster Semenya didn’t fit into society’s standards of feminism she had to go through the horrific process of sex testing resulting in Semenya going into hiding. Semenya’s muscularity, height and lack of makeup led people to question her illegibility to compete as a female.[11] This clearly shows the affect that female body standards formed to sexual women, impact those who do not conform to those standards completely in negative ways. The expectation for a woman to be “feminine” and “sexy” as an athlete is due to the unrealistic body standards created within our society.[11] Overall, there are more studies needed to confirm that these body standards for both genders are due to societal views of masculinity and femininity as a whole.

Body and Female Gender Performance

Weight lifting

In relation to the broader idea of ‘body,’ notions of physical thinness work to define womanhood. Standards of thinness for women have become incorporated into definitions of what it means to ‘be’ a woman. Thinness as the body standards for women is not universal across the globe, but it is common among a wide variety of cultures, specifically in the West. The cultivation of a thin body by women is a way to assert the female gender in a way that specifically complies with standards that have been created by socially dominant men.

Gender, specifically womanness, is an artificially created and cultivated attribute as opposed to a biological given. In “Gender Trouble” by Judith Butler, Butler posits that gender is not a stable identity, but rather a consistent performance: “gender is an identity tenuously constituted in time, instituted in an exterior space through a stylized repetition of acts”[27]. Butler argues that “The effect of gender is produced through the stylization of the body”[27]. A “stylization of the body” can refer to a variety of actions, like clothing, mannerisms, speech, but for the subject of thinness, this “stylization” can apply directly to the cultivation of a thin physical body as a part of performing/constructing the female gender. The ongoing pursuit of thinness is part of Butler’s defined “stylized repetition of acts” that serve the performance of gender. Butler also notes that if we understand gender to be based on acts, then gender “must be understood as the mundane way in which bodily gestures, movements, and styles of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self”[27]. In this way, I understand gender as a manufactured identity, revolving around one’s actions, i.e. the cultivation of a certain body type.

Emphasized femininity is defined in Danielle M. Currier’s paper, “Strategic Ambiguity: Protecting Emphasized Femininity and Hegemonic Masculinity in the Hookup Culture” as the "‘pattern of femininity which is given most cultural and ideological support patterns such as sociability… compliance… [and] sexual receptivity [to men]’"[21]. Emphasized femininity goes hand-in-hand with hegemonic masculinity, which refers to the socially dominant form of masculinity[21]. In the context of bodies, thinness is a way for women to exemplify the idea of emphasized femininity, by showing a physical compliance to male-founded body standards. The production of thinness as a way to produce gender is thus a part of the "multilayered processes of acting out gender publicly in culturally and socially accepted, defined, and appropriate ways (see West and Zimmermen 1987)"[21]. Cultivating a body that meets standards of male creation physically and metaphorically presents a capitulation to male hegemony.

“The Medical Construction of Gender: Case Management of Intersex Infants” by Suzanne J. Kessler investigates the idea of gender being defined by one’s physicality in the specific context of the medical treatment of intersex infants. In the paper, Kessler shows how the ‘fixing’ of intersex infants, that is, the surgical procedures that alter an intersex infant's body to fit a ‘male’ or ‘female’ genital body type, is telling of broader ideas that gender is represented by the physical body[10]. Kessler shows through her discussion of surgical decisions and actions, “the equation of gender with genitals,” displaying an intense focus on the body in relation to assigning and living a gender[10]. For physicians and parents in the case of intersex children, genitals are the most important factor in determining gender. Genitals being valued in decided gender over other factors, like hormones, shows a direct conflation of gender with genitals. In more general terms, this conflation represents the equation of gender with the physical body.

The foundation of the idea of gender based on ideas from Butler, Currier, and Kessler incorporates body as, first, the signifier of gender, second, the way in which people cultivate and display their gender, and third, specifically in relation to women, the use of thinness to perform emphasized femininity. “Redefining Womanhood (?): Gender, Power, and the ‘Religion of Thinness’” by Michelle Lelwica discusses the rigid standards of thinness in connection to forming a gender identity. Lelwica sees women’s participation in the pursuit of thinness as a reflection of “their collusion with conventional gender expectations, particularly those that define women’s value through their bodies (and especially through their physical appearance)”[28]. The connection between pursuit of a body type and conventional expectations directly corresponds with ideas in Kessler’s study of intersex infants, whose physicians and parents construct a certain kind of body in order to comply with a specific physical expectation for gender. In the context of gender, thinness, like genitals, is a way to comply with the “ruling codes of femininity”[28]. These “ruling codes” are defined by hegemonic masculinity, which lies at the top of the gender hierarchy. In connection with the idea of a gender hierarchy, emphasized femininity, when seen as a submissive tier to hegemonic masculinity, can be shown through a woman’s pursuit of thinness. If thinness is decided as acceptable and ideal for women by dominant males, then ‘good’ women, or women who comply to male dominance, are women who achieve thinness. Thus, pursuit and cultivation of a thin body renders “women more subservient – in Susan Bordo’s words, more ‘pliable’”[28].

In the book Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body by Susan Bordo, the chapter titled “The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity” examines how the pursuit of a desirable body type, which is thinness in Western culture, specifically cultivates the female gender. Bordo argues that the pursuit of the ideal of femininity (or emphasized femininity), renders female bodies “docile bodies–bodies whose forces and energies are habituated to external regulation, subjection, transformation, and ‘improvement’”[29]. Bordo sees thinness as not only a physical construction of gender, but also a more metaphorical representation of typical feminine traits, such as generosity, which “require that women learn to feed others, not the self, and to construe any desires for the self-nurturance and self-feeding as greedy and excessive”[29]. In Bordo’s representation, “The idea of slenderness, then, and the diet and exercise regime that have become inseparable from it offer the illusion of meeting, through the body, the contradictory demands of the contemporary ideology of femininity”[29]. Thinness not only asserts a woman as being physical female, but more generally shows that she is feminine ‘enough’ based on her body and the presumed strategies used in pursuit of that body.

The pursuit, production, and cultivation of thinness by women in the West, where thinness is the bodily standard of femininity, is a way in which women perform their feminine gender, specifically an emphasized femininity that conforms to and serves hegemonic masculinity and conventional, body-centric notions of gender. Bordo and Kessler expand on ideas in course papers by focusing on gender in the specific context of thinness and femininity, positing that the production of thinness is the production of womanhood, and specifically a display of subservient, conventional femininity.

Body and Exclusion

Hegemonic masculinity, a term first coined by R.W. Connell[21], is used to describe the form of masculinity that is most valued in a society. Common characteristics of hegemonic masculinity in Western cultures include aggressive behaviour, not showing emotions, and dominance over women and non-hegemonic men[21]. As a result, many women and non-hegemonic men – as well as gender non-conforming individuals – have tried to create communities and spaces where they are accepted and celebrated, particularly in queer communities. For example, with the increase in visibility for non-binary people, “women and non-binary” spaces have become more common. However, many of these spaces continue to exclude some trans and non-binary individuals on the basis that their bodies constitute a threat as those bodies are seen as visibly “male”. This has caused significant discussion in queer and feminist communities around who should be included and how that can be determined.

As greater understanding of transgender and non-binary identities has increased, so has the inclusion of trans people in spaces that are designed to be safe for self-expression. As trans and non-binary people still experience extremely high rates of discrimination[30], these spaces can mean the difference between life and death. However, invitation into these spaces is not always extended to everyone who wishes to belong.

Menstruation is often used by some feminist communities to relate to being a woman. Reproductive rights were a core principle of second-wave feminism in the 1960’s and 1970’s, meaning that the ability to menstruate and have children were integral to women’s rights issues at that time[31]. However, this alienated many women who were and still are unable to menstruate or give birth. This idea is exclusionary to trans women as, being born without uteruses, menstruation is impossible. It means that trans women are not considered to be real women in these spaces because of the bodies they were born with. However, by this same logic, the idea that menstruation inherently makes one a woman is exclusionary to many woman-born women who are unable to menstruate for various reasons such as menopause.

Other arguments for excluding transgender women from women-only spaces also explicitly use the body as a site for discrimination. The Transsexual Empire by Janice Raymond, written in 1979, highlights the way in which bodies are a central argument for trans-exclusionary feminists, stating that “all transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves”[32]. The wording of this statement is shocking and aggressive, meant to emulate the way in which trans women supposedly steal from “real” women by taking a female body and twisting it into something else and while Raymond’s writing is from over 40 years ago, the argument is still used by some feminists in present day[32].

These arguments are made to support the idea that gender is inherently tied to bodies and their physical differences. This is known as biological determinism. Certain characteristics are associated with a specific gender as if immutable. Associations not restricted to bodies and physical characteristics but also extend to preferences such as the idea that boys prefer the colour blue and girls prefer the colour pink. However, such preferences are not so rigid and, in fact, pink was the colour associated with boys until World War Two[33]. As discourses surrounding whether trans women should be allowed into women-only spaces continue, they perpetuate the idea that characteristics of the physical body determine gender.

Now that we have discussed the expectations regarding what a man or a woman “should” look like, it is important to include expectations placed on the bodies of non-binary people as well. As previously discussed, colonial powers have used gender and the body as a means of control both in historical and contemporary contexts so as to gain control over the local cultures and the land they occupy[2]. An easy way to achieve this control is by gendering bodies in such a way that it is possible to discern gender by sight alone. This flattening of gender into two visibly distinct categories does allow for simplified human interaction however, it then also allows for the oppression of certain people by using colonialist designations of what is allowable for either of those genders to exhibit[34].

Female athletes are expected to wear makeup and have long hair in order to appear “feminine” as well as publicly appear as good candidates for motherhood regardless of whether they want to have children[11]. Similar expectations are extended to non-binary people as well but in the sense that they should not look gendered at all. A German study in which participants were asked to categorize faces as male, female, or gender diverse found that “in general, participants categorized targets with ambiguous faces as nonbinary more often compared to targets with clearly feminine or masculine faces”[34]. This indicates an expectation for non-binary people to look androgynous, with no clear markers in their physical features in which to infer binary gender.

These expectations can also be found in queer spaces that advertise themselves as being for women and non-binary people only. The underlying message of naming these spaces as such is that they are for women and people who may not identify as women but look close enough. Biological determinism once again is a major factor in how non-binary bodies are viewed, even through a lens that is meant to be inclusive. Masculine non-binary people – particularly those who choose to retain a “male” appearance – are often turned away from such spaces as their bodies are determined to be too masculine to qualify as non-binary within a colonialist patriarchal society[35]. A thread on Reddit, posted to r/NonBinary, and titled AMAB Non-binary Struggles, highlights the difficulty that masculine presenting non-binary people face when trying to access spaces that are meant to be inclusive:

I get so frustrated because I feel like AMAB [assigned male at birth] non-binary are basically expected to be “woman lite” and that we feel like we are forced to say we’re trans woman or a very flamboyant gay cis man while people erase and invalidate us for who we are. I actually get kicked out from trans space quite often because I look like “a cis man”.[36]

This comment by the original poster of the thread points to an issue that is pervasive throughout the queer community. Bodies and their appearances are still being used to categorize and label people despite the widespread message of being an inclusive community. Despite attempting to create more inclusive spaces in society, particularly in queer communities, the requirements and restrictions around who can and cannot enter those spaces are are still contested. While hegemonic masculinity is generally considered to be the most valued form of masculinity in Western society, people associated with masculinity in any form are not welcome in certain spaces. Trans women and masculine non-binary people are often excluded from women and non-binary spaces because of their male bodies. The discourses surrounding who is welcome in which spaces continue to perpetuate the same hegemonic structures that they are trying to dismantle, causing queer communities to slide into biological determinism despite championing inclusivity.


The body has been constructed through society, time, and culture as a means of population control in a variety of ways, leading to "body" being a concept fraught with issue. Ideas of the body are formed around these issues of exclusion and conflict, with many modern understandings of body revolving around a certain pathologizing of the body in all its forms. Gender is an inextricable part of how bodies are seen, medicalized, and controlled despite evidence that there is no inherent relationship between the body and gender.


List of the references here.

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