The work of Michel Foucault has been extremely influential amongst feminist scholars and for good reason; his meditations on discipline, power, sexuality and subjectivity are particularly pertinent to feminist analysis. Yet despite his preoccupation with power and its effects on the body, Foucault’s own analysis was curiously gender-neutral. Remarkably, there is no exploration or even acknowledgement of the extent to which gender determines the techniques and degrees of discipline exerted on the body. Although this exposes serious flaws in Foucault’s work, I don’t believe it negates his entire theoretical framework. Rather it can be adopted and adapted; his glaring omissions can be fruitfully exposed, explored and remedied.
In this essay I focus my analysis on Foucault’s Discipline and Punish – a prime example, in my opinion, of his failure to recognise the significance of gender in the play of power despite the obvious pertinence of his material. To illustrate this further I have appropriated a couple of Foucault’s subheadings, both in the spirit of homage: to acknowledge the validity of his framework, and satire: to expose how the female body exemplifies his arguments about discipline yet how conspicuous it is by its absence. In ‘The Body of the Condemned’ I explore why his gender blindness is so problematic, examining the polarisation of the sexes and the discursive construction of gender itself, and make my case for reading the female body as a particular target of disciplinary power. Then in ‘The Spectacle of the Scaffold’ I go on to examine how this disciplinary power manifests itself in modern society, taking as an example the ways in which some fashion and beauty practices manipulate, train and mark the female body. In short, I suggest that gender, specifically femininity, is a discipline that produces bodies and identities and operates as an effective form of social control.
"The Prisoner of Gender: Foucault and the Disciplining of the Female Body,"
Journal of International Women's Studies: Vol. 5:
2, Article 4.
Available at: https://vc.bridgew.edu/jiws/vol5/iss2/4