Angela King


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.

Author Biography

Angela King was a mature student at the University of North London (now London Metropolitan University) and graduated in 2002 with a First Class BA Joint Honours Degree in Critical Theory and Film Studies. Although not a Women’s Studies student, Angela has always had a profound interest in feminism, gender and sexual politics. This essay is an edited extract from her undergraduate dissertation of the same title. Since graduating Angela has worked for the antipoverty charity War on Want and divides her time between political activism and designing promotional material for the not-for-profit sector.