In this article, I argue that many women lack the epistemic resources that would allow them to recognise the practice of vaginal examinations during childbirth as violent or as unnecessary and potentially declinable. I address vaginal examinations during childbirth as a special case of obstetric violence, in which women frequently lack the epistemic resources necessary to recognise the practice as violent not only because of the inherent difficulty of recognising violence that happens in an ‘essentially benevolent’ setting such as the (...) medical one, but also, and mainly, due to the pervasive sexual reification of women under patriarchy and the pervasive shame to which women are subjected. My argument is that the practice of vaginal examinations is indeed experienced – bodily apprehended – as violent by many women, but that full epistemic recognition of this violence is frequently obstructed because the experience perfectly coincides with the normal phenomenological situation of women within patriarchy and thus cannot really be framed as violent. A phenomenological analysis presenting the embodied experience of women under patriarchy as always already essentially tied to sexual availability and commodification, and to shame, will explain this epistemological impairment. A phenomenological take on Judith Butler’s distinction between ‘recognition’ and ‘apprehension’ informs my analysis: I deploy it to provide a richer, more nuanced response to the question of why vaginal examinations are not fully recognised and expressed as violent – even when they are, frequently, apprehended as such. Furthermore, Butler’s ideas about the epistemic ‘framings’ through which we make sense of different kinds of lives (grievable versus ungrievable) will help me to explain how the patriarchal sexual reification of women in fact already frames sexual violence as not-violence – which ultimately also prevents labouring women (and obstetrics staff) from recognising vaginal examinations during labour as violence. (shrink)
Obstetric violence – psychological and physical violence by medical staff towards women giving birth – has been described as structural violence, specifically as gender violence. Many women are affected by obstetric violence, with awful consequences. The phenomenon has so far been mainly investigated by the health and social sciences, yet fundamental theoretical and conceptual questions have gone unnoticed. Until now, the phenomenon of obstetric violence has been understood as one impeding autonomy and individual agency and control over the body. In (...) this article I will argue that the phenomenon of obstetric violence occurs in a specific state of embodied vulnerability and that might be destructive for subjectivity since it fails to recognize that state and instead disallows support and demolishes relationships and interdependence. This might introduce a conceptual shift and the phenomenon might be reconceptualized as a moment where vulnerability is misrecognized and ambiguity, relations and support are banned. In this case violence is recognized as cutting the original links to our bodies and the world that constitute our phenomenological condition, instead of as hurting the autonomous subject. Obstetric violence, thus, calls to be reflected upon through de Beauvoir’s ideas on ambiguity, the embodied and situated subject and the subject as essentially construed in relations. I believe that de Beauvoir’s conception of the authentic embodied subject as necessarily ambiguous – immanent and transcendent at the same time and ineludibly linked to the world and its others – will be extremely useful for construing this new understanding of how obstetric violence happens and of what precisely constitutes its damage. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
Ideal for advanced students across Philosophy, Women’s Studies, Anthropology, Sociology and more, this book focuses on emerging trends in feminist phenomenology. It covers foundational feminist issues in phenomenology, feminist phenomenological methods, and applied phenomenological work on the body, politics, ethics, and performance theory.
At healthcare facilities worldwide, women during childbirth undergo medical procedures they haven’t consented to and experience mistreatment and disrespect. This phenomenon is recognized as obstetric violence (OV), a distinct form of gender violence. The resulting trauma carries both immediate and long-term implications, making it vital to address for promoting women’s health. OV is partly shaped by a narrow, paternalistic conception of vulnerability. A flawed conception of the vulnerability of pregnant women and fetuses has opened the door to medical control and (...) coercion during childbirth. In this paper we examine what role notions of vulnerability play in perpetuating OV and consider recent attitudinal shifts in research ethics as a model for addressing it. (shrink)
One of the most important concepts in Simone de Beauvoir’s existentialist and phenomenological ethics is the concept of freedom. In this article, I would like to argue that Beauvoir’s concept of freedom is problematic in being strongly constrained by its essentially active character. This constraint contradicts some of Beauvoir’s major ideas, such as the one that considers the body as a situation, as a source of activity and of freedom in itself, as well as the idea of eroticism as one (...) of the most important expressions of authenticity. I will show that Beauvoir’s concept of freedom can appear to be less constrained by the necessity to be inherently active if we look at it through the ‘crack’ provided by her conception of the erotic body as already embodying freedom. Using this ‘crack’, I will attempt to shed new light on the aspects of Beauvoir’s idea of the erotic that are productive for her conceptions of ethics and of freedom. (shrink)
ABSTRACT This paper presents an analysis of motherhood as potentially ambiguous and empowering, using the Beauvoirian concept of the erotic. I argue that Beauvoir’s notion of the erotic can allow us to reevaluate “nonproductive,” repetitive, apparently immanent activities—such as going through pregnancy, giving birth, breastfeeding, and raising a child—as projects through which we disclose freedom, and, thus, as projects that possibly lead to transcendence.It is often argued that Beauvoir considered these experiences to be ways of embracing immanence and avoiding transcendence. (...) Yet even supposing Beauvoir’s argument was against not maternity per se, but the oppressive construction of the institution of motherhood under patriarchy, can maternal engagement be viewed as an existentialist, phenomenological project? I claim that Beauvoir’s own premises show that it must be so considered once motherhood is recognized as potentially joyful, ambiguously erotic, and creative. (shrink)
Using Beauvoir's existentialist and phenomenological ideas, this piece reflects on the embodied experience of childbirth, offering an alternative to the essentialist/postmodern dilemma concerning the feminist analysis of labor. When lived as an intense, embodied, painful experience, childbirth can be viewed as an empowering experience not in essentialist, but in phenomenological‐existentialist terms: an experience that (in Beauvoirian language) perfectly conjoins the immanent with the transcendent to create a “project of subjectivity.”.
2020 was a year of global crisis. During this time, I experienced crisis on a very personal level. For me this coincided with the beginning of the pandemic, when my older brother developed a kind of dementia. In this text, I briefly explore a few philosophical issues relating both to the spread of COVID-19 and to my brother’s disease. Reflecting on themes such as anxiety, uncertainty, grief, privilege, vulnerability, social distancing, and misfit bodies—mainly through critical phenomenology—I attempt to give sense (...) to the experience of personal crisis in times of global crisis. I conclude by embracing “misfit bodies” in a sincere attempt to recognize the pervasiveness of sickness and absurdity—but also in hope for solidarity and empathy to persist. (shrink)