Making Loud Bodies “Feminine”: A Feminist-Phenomenological Analysis of Obstetric Violence

Human Studies 39 (2):231-247 (2016)
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Obstetric violence has been analyzed from various perspectives. Its psychological effects have been evaluated, and there have been several recent sociological and anthropological studies on the subject. But what I offer in this paper is a philosophical analysis of obstetric violence, particularly focused on how this violence is lived and experienced by women and why it is frequently described not only in terms of violence in general but specifically in terms of gender violence: as violence directed at women because they are women. For this purpose, I find feminist phenomenology most useful as a way to explain and account for the feelings that many victims of this violence experience and report, including feelings of embodied oppression, of the diminishment of self, of physical and emotional infantilization. I believe that the insights to be found in feminist phenomenology are crucial for explaining how and why this phenomenon is different in kind from other types of medical violence, objectification, and reification. Iris Marion Young’s description of feminine existence under patriarchy, as conformed by a perpetual oppressive “I cannot,” is at the center of my analysis. I argue that laboring bodies are at least potentially perceived as antithetical to the myth of femininity, undermining the feminine mode of bodily comportment under patriarchy and thereby seriously threatening the hegemonic powers. Violence, then, appears to be necessary in order to domesticate these bodies, to make them “feminine” again.



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