for fashions are concerned with distinguishing part of the

for power relations is problematic, and then
examine the female body as a particular target for disciplinary power.


McNay argues that if Foucault theorises there
is no such thing as a ‘natural body’ then ‘he needs to elaborate on how the
systematic effect of sexual division is perpetuated by the techniques of gender
that are applied to the body’ (1992:33). Foucault’s gender neutrality is
problematic because we live in a society that is far from gender-blind and
consistently reiterates the polarisation of the belief that ‘men are from Mars
and women are from Venus’ (Gray, 1992) through discourse. Not identifying what bodies
he discusses implies that gender has no impact to his theoretical framework.
His analysis downplays the material consequences of the subordination of women
and the resulting policing of women’ bodies through structures of control. As a
result, Foucault’s gender-neutrality is androcentric (King, 2004) due to his
writing of the body as male. King argues ‘there is no distinction…necessary
when dealing with the ‘genderless’ body of man’, discursively produced as the
essential human subject. Therefore, Foucault’s critique becomes problematic
when considering he is promoting the discursive construction of the male as
essential, a concept he refutes consistently in his published work. Bartky argues
his work ‘reproduces that sexism which is endemic throughout western political
theory (1988:64). As Foucault’s main aim was to elaborate on how power produces
subjectivity by focusing on the ways it invests in the body, his own
reproduction of male essentialism through a particular use of the body within
his critique has had material discursive consequences for the treatment of

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fashion is a discursive example of disciplinary technique that reduces the
female body to an object and target of power’ (Foucault, 1977:136) through the separation
of male and female norms. Wilson argues that fashion is ‘obsessed’ with gender,
and serves to define the gender boundary (1985:117). Female fashions are
concerned with distinguishing part of the body by drawing attention to sites of
‘otherness’ such as the waist and hips which have been exaggerated by corsets
and bras. King (2004) notes the well documented’ discomfort, breathing
difficulties and internal organ displacement caused by the nineteenth century
corset’. This relates to Foucault’s writing on torture, which he asserts must ‘mark
the victim: it is intended, wither by the scar it leaves on the body, or by the
spectacle that accompanies it, to brand the victim with infamy’ (Foucault,
1977:34). This infamy is imperative in marking the ‘woman’ as other, a
discursive marking that continues to subject women to this bodily discipline.
The notion of women as pathological bodies requires pre-modern methods of
containment that brand them with the stereotypes of their gender. Bordo
observes the power of the corset as causing women actual physical harm whilst serving
‘as an emblem of the power of culture to impose its designs on the female body’
(1993:143). Techniques of discipline and manipulation are still practised on
the female body that employ Foucault’s attention and call for a recognition of
his analysis of the body as harmful through the implication that all bodies are
equal in gendered discourse. How he uses the body in his critique of power is


Foucault (1971: 153) the body is moulded by ‘a great many distinct regimes’. It
is an outcome of the play of power, and power ‘reaches into the very grain of individuals
and touches their bodies’. The body is a referent for the discourse of power that
Foucault sought to analyse. It is a sight of regulation for governance. A
particular focus on how discourse can be used to reinforce the body as
governable has been included in this essay as a way to demonstrate how the body
is central to many of Foucault’s concepts. Despite Foucault’s omission of the
body as an ‘object and target of power’, it is problematic for his series of
works to assume all bodies are equal targets of power. His gender-neutral
account contradicts his central aim to document an archaeology of power through
discourse. As Anne Balsamo argues, ‘gender is one of the primary effects of the
discursive construction of the human body’ (22). Therefore, Foucault’s neglect
to address gender in his studies has produced a partial discourse surrounding
the body and the discipline that shapes it. In turn, this implies that
historical power relations are equal between men and women, a fundamental issue
compromising the validity of his overall use of the body as a referent for the
discourse of power.

it is important to not only understand how the body is used within Foucault’s
critique but also to recognise how his conceptualisation of the body is
problematic to discourse itself. This is not to say that Foucault’s conceptual
framework should be abandoned. It is clear from the uptake within feminist
studies of his ideas of power that it holds an important key in furthering
academic debates within feminism. One such further course of action would be to
consider Foucault’s later conceptualisations of resistance as existing wherever
there is normalisation and domination in the context of gender relations and
the political intersectionality of race. In his discussions of power and the
body, the impact of racist discourses of women designed non-white would be a
further step in using Foucault’s conceptual framework to include those whom he
previously excluded.