This week’s readings by Foucault and Bartky definitely furthered my understanding of the role of discipline in the forming of gendered bodies. The idea of the Panopticon structure was something I am familiar with due to my previous women’s and gender studies classes. Prior to this reading, the simplified concept of the Panopticon represented the fact that humans walk around as if they are always under surveillance. After the readings the role of discipline and how this affects gender roles became more complex.
I believe that Foucault’s description and Bartky’s interpretation of the binary of good v. bad as well as the development of ‘Norms’ offered a good explanation of how gender is often perceived. Women and men are expected to perform gender roles that are appropriate for their biological sex. When the genders reflect societies gender expectations they receive positive sanctions, even if these are informal. If one is to go beyond these gender expectations, they are often punished. Foucault writes about discipline, “It introduces, through this ‘value-giving’ measure, the constraint of a conformity that must be achieved.” Although these norms are problematic to those they are pushed upon, they work to perpetuate ‘normalization’ and therefore benefit the dominate group. To me it seems that the development of norms works as a way for others to self-regulate themselves and others without the need for formal punishment. As Foucault writes, “normalization becomes one of the great instruments of power…”
Barkty’s essay which brings us to more modern forms of discipline in the formation of the “docile body,” left me with many questions and concerns. One being, Bartky describes several practices that are carried out by women such as exercising, the way one sits, etc. as acts that are reflections of women’s femininity. With the idea of surveillance and discipline and I thought, how can a women do something without questioning if it was her own will or the performance of her gender, and wouldn’t this questioning lead to constant critical self surveillance of oneself? I also felt that Bartky was a little rough when it came to explaining the false justification of makeup as self-expression and that her putting restrictions on femininity for women can be as harmful as giving them high expectations. I have often had to defend my feminism due to the fact I enjoy several practices that are associated with the feminine such as fashion and makeup and I find it very problematic to judge in this way.
One last point that of Bartky’s that I felt was vague was her mentioning of women being less muscular than men making them vulnerable to physical abuse. Although, I feel this does enforce men’s dominance, I feel like this body dynamic is a problem for the gendering of males as much as it for women. Males have the gender expectation that they will be strong thus often leading to physical abuse.