The Fantasy of pure resistance

Many times, people criticize those who participate in various political/social struggles, or identify with them, for failing to live up to a notion of a “full” or “complete” consciousness of resistance. If you criticize the beauty myth, for example, you are not expected to diet, to lose weight unintentionally, or to express dissatisfaction with your appearance. As a social activist, or a feminist, you are expected to demonstrate consistency that is not expected from those who are not involved with social struggles. Also, if you manage to gain from some form of existing social relations (for example, a feminist who receives support from a male partner) this discredits your other accomplishments.

I believe that the expectation to express a unitary resisting consciousness results from a specific conception of modernity, that ultimately serves to preserve the social order as it is. I have written about “the Fantasy of pure resistance” in one of my articles, which addresses the issue of fat acceptance in Israel:

…Alternative communities, as a collective, often display deep intolerance toward such ambivalence… When activists or scholars argue that individuals have absolute control over the value they assign to their identity, this can also be oppressive (Murray, 2005). Many activists feel that they are the only ones who are not able to practice complete self-acceptance. As a result, they are caught “in a new web of shame and guilt” (Cooper, 1998, p. 56)…

When a subject is embedded within an oppressive social context, a consciousness of pure resistance or pure self acceptance is neither possible nor necessary (Murray, 2005). Subjectivity is multivocal, plural, contradictory, and constantly changing, for those who practice fat acceptance, as much as for everyone else (Murray, 2005). The ambivalent nature of resistance is not a deformity or a deficiency, but rather emblematic of the inner dynamics by which resistance manifests itself over time. Accordingly, acts of subversion and resistance need not be considered antagonistic or mutually exclusive with acts of social conformity. The interplay between elements of conformity and resistance is continuously taking place.

You can read the full article here.

Why are we afraid of women competing with men in sports?

Lindsey Vonn, one of the most successful skiers the United States has ever produced, requested the opportunity to compete against men at the prestigious Lake Louise competition. The International Ski Federation rejected her request because “one gender is not entitled to participate in the races of the other.” If men are biologically stronger and faster than women, why is there a need to shelter them from competition with women? Skiing is not a contact sport – one races against the clock and the slope.

Professor Mark Stoddart from Memorial University of Newfoundland argues that skiing is charged with gender associations, as risk-taking and speed are associated with masculinity, whereas caution and control are interpreted as “feminine”.

This is hardly surprising: the belief that there are inborn, permanent and biological differences between genders is the foundation of social order, not only in relation to sports but also to sexuality, parenting, work and combat.

In this context, the gendered and sexual identities of women who excel in “masculine” professions often come under scrutiny. Just last year, it was decided that South-African middle-distance runner, Caster Semenya, must undergo a “gender verification test” before she can participate in the World Championship competition, a test which she eventually passed successfully.

Nonetheless, in marathons and golfing, women have already been permitted to compete against men, following legal action. This has not just changed the lives of women who practice these sports, but also these sports’ gender biases and masculine codes, and gradually, our society in general.

There are many ways to create gender-equitable sports contests, yet still match equivalent competitors, such as introducing an “open weight” category, and adding another gender-open competition, alongside the separate ones. These changes are a necessary and positive adaptation and manifestation of women’s gain in physical and social capital.

Women in the martial arts

My interest and experience in the sociology of the body, embodiment and gender and the body as a site of resistance has led me to undertake  a sociological inquiry into women’s involvement in martial arts. While women’s involvement in many sports has the potential to challenge normative gender roles, participation in martial arts is especially significant, as it confronts women with activities that are strongly associated with masculinity in Western societies (such as fighting or initiating physical contact).

My project relies on in-depth interviews with men and women who practice or teach martial arts, as well as my own experiences as a trainee.

Here is an excerpt from a recent proposal I wrote:

 I have been interested in gaining physical strength and in being able to protect myself for most of my adult life. Practicing weight training for several years, I became convinced that developing the size and strength of my muscles alone will not significantly enhance my ability to defend myself against the physical strength of others. The thought of practicing a full-contact sports in a mostly male group was at first inconceivable for me. As a fat child, gym classes, and the presence of others during physical activity became associated with teasing and embarrassment. Close physical contact with men seemed intimidating and uncomfortable as well. My experience with martial arts has significantly changed my own experience of gender embodiment. First, I have learned to feel comfortable with close physical contact with the men in my group. I experience the group as a space for forging physical relationship between men and women that is not based on sexuality or motherhood. Second, practicing martial arts has allowed me to express parts of my body (e.g. wide and forceful movements) and my personality (e.g. competitiveness and assertiveness) in ways that are not compatible with gender norms. Third, I learn, and am still learning, to accept my body’s limitations, usually through pain and injuries. Pain, I have come to learn, is one of the most difficult experiences for me to write about in ethnography.

Women and breasts in sports

Women in sports and their breasts. Is it a physical constraint of a social problem -the result of sexual objectification of women’s bodies? Is the male body perceived as the default and any deviation from it is necessarily perceived as an obstacle?

“The bigger my chest is, the more it gets in the way,” said Rousey in this week’s ESPN The Magazine, “Body Issue”. “It just creates space. It makes me much more efficient if I don’t have so much in the way between me and my opponent.”

More here.