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Philosophy in the Contemporary World

Volume 11, Issue 1, Summer 2004

Feminist Apporoaches to the Body

Marla Morton-Brown
Pages 27-34
DOI: 10.5840/pcw20041114

Artificial Ef-femination
Female Bodybuilding and Gender Disruption

Many feminist and queer scholars believe that one way to fight racism, sexism and homophobia is to challenge identity labels---ideas of what it means to be “black,” “gay,” “white,” “woman,” “lesbian.” Biology, however, continues to thwart this political agenda; the Body---the biological reality of skin color and sex chromosomes---makes it difficult to propose the idea that identity labels are merely social constructs, not natural facts. Female bodybuilding is a performance that literalizes the body as a site of artificial construction, of intervention, modification. Furthermore, female bodybuilding is a performance of gender bending---women who construct hypermuscular bodies disrupt social norms of gender, performing a kind of self-styled hermaphroditism that begs the question, “why?” This essay explores how female body builders challenge identity labels of sex and gender because of the fact that their gender transgressions occur at the physiological level of the body. I argue that female bodybuilders parody dominant labeling philosophies of sex, gender, and sexual orientation, challenging our sex/gender paradigm in very unique ways.