Power and resistance against patriarchal extractivism in Latin America: practicing the feminist perspective
From Firenze University Press Journal: Scienze del Territorio
Lorenza Perini, University of Padua
- At the origin of a concept: “mi cuerpo es mi territorio”
As analysed by Simone de Beauvoir, throughout history women have been bound to Nature, reproduction, immanence, i.e. to the body. “Humanity is male”, she wrote “and man defines woman, not in herself, but in relation to himself […]. And she is nothing other than what man decides […]. He is the Subject […]. She is the Other” (Beauvoir1949). Starting with the concept of woman as “the other”, her body is conceived as the representation of an inferior human being, according to the dominant male dis-course. Constrained into the body of reproduction, woman is her body, dehumanized and denied of her subjectivity, as defined by social and economic constructions of femininity, which treat women as object of desire, as mother, as caregiver.Historically, the association of woman and corporality has driven the conceptualization of women as the irrational part of human, subjugated to reason and inferior to male supremacy (Posada KuBissa 2015).
As a consequence, due to their affiliation with the body and the social construction of femininity, women have been relegated to a position of inferiority and a place of no relevance, made of irrationality and emotions, in contrast to the male nature associated with mind and rationality. Placed in hierarchized dichotomies, the body, conceived as the feminine, has become synonymous of the domestic private sphere and women have been excluded from public process-es, dominated by men.
According to Bourdieu, the naturalization and legitimization of male dominance pat-terns seem to be based on the social construction of the body as “a sexually defined reality” where “the biological difference between the sexes, i.e. between the male and female bodies […] can thus appear as the natural justification of the socially constructed difference between the genders” (Bourdieu 2001). On the basis of the fundamental studies of Joan Scott (1986; 2010) and then thanks to the works of Colombara (1995), Lamas (2000) and many others, the concept of gender can be extended beyond genetics, defining it clearly as the product of cultural ideas, representations, practices, and social interactions aimed at establishing the ‘masculine’ and the ‘feminine’. In a patriarchal culture, women and the body become thus object of power relations and expression of men’s dominance.
Foucault’s identification of the body and sexuality as cultural constructs and direct locus of social control, rather than natural entities, establishes the subordination of the body to mechanisms of power (Foucault 1976). Based on this assumption, poststructuralist feminist and political theorists have produced an analysis of male dominance and female oppression to criticize the patriarchal social structure that secure men’s power over women and the female body. Similarly, drawing from Foucault’s work, Bordo (2004) ascertains that the body is a practical direct locus of social control, expressed under the form of direct and material domination, that in some occasions reaches even women’s physical elimination, as in the case of witch hunting analysed by Silvia Federici (2004). As a result, the repression of the body is translated into the repression of the feminine and the demolition of women’s agency and subjectivity.While many first-wave feminisms have devalued or ignored the body in attempts to enhance women’s ability to reason as comparable to men’s, others have reclaimed “the body as a site of valuable knowledge production” (cleary 2016) and as “a site where power is contested and negotiated” (Brown,allenGershon 2017).
The body as a social, cultural and political entity has started being conceived as the point of intersection between the physical, the symbolic and the material (reverter Bañón 2001). The re-evaluation of feminine corporality has been a central focus of sexual difference theorists around the end of the 20th Century, especially Luce Irigaray. Based on the poststructuralist concept of difference, Irigaray (1997) believes that a woman, conceived as “the other” to the subject-man, has to reconfigure her full subjectivity and social existence. The ascription of femininity to the body is thus reviewed under a new positive light that claims for the re-evaluation of the body as a key place for the reaffirmation of the female subject. With this approach, the feminist thought wants to subvert the traditional social conceptualization of the female and feminized body and defend what was previously disregarded, in a process defined as “nostalgia de lo femenino” (Posada KuBissa 2015).
Women’s reproductive role, explicated in care activities, interdependency, and communitarian ties, as well as their assimilation to Nature, territory, immanence, and corporality, become thus objects of re-evaluation. The re-enhancement of the body requires a recovery of its linkages with nature and the communal and identity bonds that are ascribed to women’s corporality. In this framework, the anthropologist Maria Luz Esteban (2013) describes the body not as a mere social construction, but rather as an active agent, capable of generating alternative proposals. This re-conceptualization of the body transforms the female body into what can be defined as women’s first territory of resistance.
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