Author Archives: Matthew Hall

Breast augmentation and female sexuality

The Daily Star and Daily Mail recently ran articles speculating whether Coleen Rooney had had a ‘boob job’. According to the Daily Star, apparently ‘Wayne splashed out £10,000 for his wife to have a breast enlargement as a present in the wake of allegations about him sleeping with prostitutes’. Whether Mrs Rooney has had cosmetic surgery on her breasts or not, breast augmentation tells us something about contemporary gender relations and specifically notions of femininity and female sexuality.

According to Bordo (1999: 283) the pornographisation of culture and changing media representations of girls’ and women’s bodies, since the 1950s, has meant that both girls/boys and wo/men have become socialized to expect to see female breasts as ‘glorious globes standing at attention even when supine’. She goes on to point out that ‘real breasts are the anomaly in visual culture today; it’s rather a shock when a naked actress lies down and her breasts flop off to the side. It doesn’t look right anymore’. What Bordo is arguing, is that the contemporary ‘idealised’ and ‘sexualised’ female body is one that doesn’t have ‘natural’ breasts, and as such, results in many girls and women being dissatisfied with their bodies. For some women at least, such dissatisfaction leads to breast augmentation. Indeed, statistics on plastic surgery in the UK (see link below) show many more women than men undergoing the surgeon’s knife, especially for breast enlargement.

Coleen’s £10k Boob Job

Plastic surgery in the UK

Cosmetic surgery

Are we free to ink?

Apparently 1 in every 5 British adults has been ‘inked’ (Guardian 2010). But is the evident popularity of tattooing a result of multiple individual expressions of free will and agency devoid of cultural influence?

According to Woody, the tattoo artist interviewed by the Guardian, this form of body modification is much more than mere fashion ‘A tattoo gives you something to live for…Why do you get up in the morning? To wear grey, to have your life ruled by train timetables? A tattoo offers you something personal and fun and exciting in a world that can be drab and grey.’

Academics such as Pitts (2000) and Sullivan (2004) would agree that the decision to ‘ink’, along with other forms of body modification (e.g. piercing) is an act by an empowered individual making his/her own intentional and uninfluenced choice. Sullivan (2004) goes as far as to argue that the search for meaning in tattooing is pointless because it is more than an intentional act. It is ‘an integral aspect of the inter-subjective and/or inter-textual character of what we might call existence and existences’ (2004: 3).

One of the issue with arguing that people make autonomous/uninfluenced choices is that it is complicit with neoliberal discourses which position individuals as rational, calculating and self-regulating; ascribing them full responsibility for their life biography regardless of the constraints upon their actions (Walkerdine et al., 2001).

Gill (2007: 73) argues that if tattooing, or any other fashion item, ‘were simply a freedom of choice and not cultural influence then why is the ‘look’ so similar? If it were the outcome of peoples’ individual idiosyncratic preferences, then surely there would be greater diversity?’ She argues that the choice to body modify or consume any other fashion item, is arrived at anything but autonomously because choices have everything to do with the person’s daily exposure to cultural images that shape their tastes, desires and what they perceive as a beautiful body.

CNN on Long and ParrisThe rise and rise of the tattoo

CNN on Long and ParrisSocialization: Insights from Social Cognition

Gendering responsibility for child obesity

The Daily Mail’s recent article ‘Has feminism killed the art of home cooking?’ serves as an example of the mediated discourses which hold feminist values and therefore women, as responsible for the so-called child obesity epidemic (WHO, 2010). The argument centers on three discourses – morality, science and gender.

In contemporary societies the responsibility for health is increasingly that of the individual (Petersen 1997). That is, we are held morally responsible for the quality and quantity of food that passes our lips, the amount of exercise we take and so on. So weight gain is presumed to be a result of health-defeating practices. However unlike adults, children are clearly not able to self-regulate and manage their own health because children cannot be responsible for food production and consumption themselves. That responsibility, it is argued, resides with parents and specifically with mothers. Drawing on natural science discourses, advocates of this position argue that due to biology ‘women possess a greater nurturing instinct than men’. Therefore mothers are presumed to have primary responsibility for their children’s health. If children are overweight it is mothers and not fathers who are held accountable.

Maher, Fraser and Wright’s (2010) research on media representations of mothers has identified two ways in which they are held accountable. The first, like the Daily Mail, points to the increasing absence of the family meal. It suggests that if women didn’t follow feminist values and work so long or so hard, then they would have more time to spend at home creating nutritious meals. It is their absence from the home that is blamed as the reason children eat at junk food outlets far too often, survive on processed meals and eat too many snack foods. The second way mothers are held accountable is through pregnancy. Scientists argue that ‘diet, exercise and women’s attentiveness before and during pregnancy are linked to specific disabilities, to childhood health generally and, more recently, to childhood obesity’ (Maher, Fraser and Wright, 2010).

It is these mediated discourses that hold mothers specifically responsible for the battle of the bulge, but more generally they argue ‘it’s feminism we have to thank for the spread of fast-food chains and an epidemic of childhood obesity.’

Has feminism killed the art of home cooking?

Is it really women’s fault our kids are fat?

WHO – Obesity and overweight

Obesity

Are we what we eat?

Having read the previous post ‘Dining with death’ I thought I’d offer a short gendered perspective on vegetarianism.

It is no accident that in Western cultures the vast majority of vegetarians are women – only about 30% are men. One of the key reasons for this is that there is a strong link between the eating of animal flesh and maleness (Potts and Parry, 2010). So entrenched is this connection that men’s consumption of meat is seen as an exemplar of normative masculinity (Sobal, 2005). Indeed it is widely considered to be an essential sustenance for the healthy male body. Red meat in particular is seen as important for men because it consists of muscle (much like the prototypical image of the male body), which provides for strength, energy and virility. Red meat is frequently eaten in a semi-cooked or near raw state with signs of blood thereby symbolising vitality and strength (Potts and Parry, 2010).

Eating red meat in a more or less raw state also enables a power relationship to be formed between the slaughtered animal and the consumer that links to masculine power and domination over nature (Fiddes, 1991). A refusal to consume meat thereby signals the opposite of red-blooded masculinity – femininity. Such gendered notions are often expressed in the media by ‘hunter-gatherer’ metaphors (Gough, 2007). Not surprisingly then, fewer men than women are vegetarian. Vegetarian men typically come under more scrutiny than women and often bear the brunt of ridicule for their choice of food.

Vegetarianism

Masculinity