Young and Feminine Comportment

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Iris Marion Young- Feminine Comportment

The aim of this essay is to evaluate and discuss Iris Marion Young’s account of feminine comportment. Much of her essay is based on theories and ideas expressed in the work of Merleau-Ponty and so to evaluate Young, this essay shall briefly discuss the work of Merleau-Ponty. The essay shall then turn to the overview of Young’s essay. The evaluation of this argument shall be clearly and concisely encapsulated in a short conclusion.

The first point that Young concerns herself with is that Erwin Strauss in his study of body comportment takes but a moment to discuss why young girls have the ineffective throwing style that they do. Strauss finds no conclusion as to why young girls awkwardly throw a ball and so puts it down to an “effeminate essence or feminine attitude”. However attitudes are built through socialization as in the blank paper socialization view- that perhaps seems the most possible if not rational. What is apparent is that attitudes are learnt- not acquired so where would a five year old girl have learnt of her “feminine essence”? In her own words Young seeks to “…fill a gap that thus exists both in existential phenomenology and feminist theory.” (Young. 1990, p 145) Young seeks to find out how the body completes a definite task and this is done through combining the works of Merleau-Ponty and Beauvoir who both tackle and formulate different ideas concerning movement.

Awareness of body is inherent- our bodies have the ability to “learn” where we are in relation to space. With practice our bodies can act without cognitive thought, the things that we practice with thus become an extension of ourselves- as with an experienced typist that no longer needs to look at a computers keyboard, Merleau-Ponty likens this to his typewriter where a “motor space” opens under his hands and he is able to type without thinking about finding the letters. This can be noticed in sports too, for example when a squash player’s racquet is an extension of the body. The player is aware of it, has an idea of where it is in relation to them and employs it as an extension of the body without much thought, in order to hit the ball. The same occurs in many other sports like hockey, competent practice for long enough turns the stick into an extension of the arms, the player is as aware of it as they are of a limb. When a ball is hit dangerously into a player’s body, instead of raising hands to catch it, the stick automatically comes up to block it. This is because the player has trained to do so and now gives the action no thought- it just happens. This could be likened to muscle memory- and even after not touching a stick or riding a bicycle, the person trying to do either would still be able to. This idea that we can so involve our bodies in the world around us should not be strange. Humans are too removed from their surroundings for the most part and this mechanism of acquired body movement should be perfectly natural as after all we control our bodies. Young also mentions Simone de Beauvoir’s study on feminine comportment. The problem with this study according to Young is that Beauvoir focuses on why women have always felt their body a burden- this mostly due to how carrying child and giving birth tends to create a earthy bond to nature that men do not experience. This in part oppresses women- also the fact that men don’t carry children seems to be part of the natural oppression that women feel. However this does not address the issue of “feminine essence”, as this has to do with a woman’s physiology and not with a mysterious essence. She starts with the basic movements- mapping the differences in stance while walking, standing and sitting and then moves to how things are carried and used in relation to the body. The general findings are that women try to protect themselves from harm; they do not believe themselves physically able to perform heavy tasks like men do. Also their actions...
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