Tag Archives: Abjection

Reclaiming the Abject Female Body and Writing Against Mainstream Perceptions of Hygiene, Medicine and Sexuality; PART ONE by Aimee Bea

The flows of the female body have long been burdened with connotations and associations of disorder, impurity, defilement and danger, their disregard for social and cultural policing of bodily boundaries causes them to be loaded with significations of castration and entrapment. ‘It’s stickiness is a trap, it clings like a leech; it attacks the boundary between myself and it.[1]

The fear of being dragged unwillingly beyond the boundaries of the self by the contaminating viscosity and unrivalled stickiness of the female bodily flows stems from an inherent fear of abjection.  In Powers of Horror, Julia Kristeva’s 1941 essay on abjection, she describes the seemingly uncontrollable reaction of horror of that which flows from the body female or otherwise as a fear of the abject. According to Kristeva boundaries are put in place around the body and the self in order to protect from the indefinable, or that which exists outside of recognizable realms of signification. Fear of abjection shields the human conscious from facing the ultimate unknown, death and the cadaver, causing us to distance ourselves and our bodies from their natural flows, constructing social and cultural boundaries in order to discourage a decline into abjection or abject behavior.

The notion of the abject and its associations with danger are markedly more applicable to women. The biological flows of the female body are closely conflated with her social conduct. Perhaps the most obvious example of this are the behavioral connotations affiliated with a woman’s pre-menstrual state. In modern day western- society, it is not exclusively bodily flows that women are socially and culturally obliged to both conceal and remain in full control of at all times. Mainstream ideologies that inform ever-evolving standards for personal hygiene and beautification mean that the female body is caught in a constant flux over which they have little control. The continuous pressure for women to comply to such standards enforced and supported by mainstream media and the medical institution eludes to the attempted construction of an easily controllable female body that benefits phallocentric society. As the pressure of the restraints and conformities around the female body begin to infringe further onto the self, incorporating new standards for sexuality, internal and external bodily control, self-preservation and presentation, it is of little surprise that texts begin to surface from within feminist sub-cultures.

Charlotte Roche’s controversial novel Wetlands provides a shocking and excessive approach to the female body and sexuality. From the outset protagonist sixteen year-old Helen Memel challenges exactly what defines a socially clean and proper woman, ‘as far back as I can remember, I’ve had hemorrhoids. For many, many years I thought I couldn’t tell anyone. After all, only grandfathers get hemorrhoids. I always thought they were very unladylike.’[2] Wetlands draws attention to the similarly excessive and unnecessary modern day standards of hygiene, beauty and sexuality

According to Elizabeth Grosz’s study, Volatile Bodies, the role of female flows in heterosexual sexual activity are ‘merely preparatory, the media or conduits for male sexual flow[3]’. Suggesting that complex attributes of female sexuality are overlooked by consideration of their functionality in regards to accommodating the male. Within masculine ideology the finalizing act of male ejaculation and the seminal fluid that it produces is representative of both male and female orgasm; Grosz comments on the performativity of male ejaculation, ‘his sexual specificity is not the object of the gaze but remains a mirror or rather a displacement of her pleasure (or at least his fantasy of her pleasure)[4]’. The routine and order that is imposed by male ejaculation suggests that men are able to exercise a degree of control over their bodily flows, unlike that of the female, whose inherent representation of the self and social behaviors causes these flows to appear disorderly and contaminating. This element of overriding control that the transmission of seminal fluids is dependent on, causes women’s bodies to be conceived as simply ‘receptacles of men’s body fluids and the nesting place of their product- the fetus.[5]’ Within Wetlands Roche rejects the reduction of female sexuality to it’s purely functional, reproductive means as Helen embraces the possession and release of seminal fluids,

The same can be done, of course, with cum that ends up in the pussy. Just don’t wash it away with a bidet! Instead, carry it proudly. To school for instance. Hours after sex it’ll ooze nice and warm out of your pussy- a little treat.[6]

By retaining and re-releasing semen from her vagina away from a sexualized male presence, Helen physically rejects the idea that female sexuality is purely reproductive. Helen’s release signified her re-claiming the finality of the male orgasm. The private control that Helen exercises over the ultimate release of the semen acts as a reminder of the ability within the female sexual organ for multiple orgasms.

… PART TWO COMING SOON!

By Aimee Bea Ballinger. 


[1] Purity and Danger (douglas 1980:38) look up reference.

[2] Charlotte Roche, Wetlands (London: Fourth Estate, 2009) p. 1

[3] Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies Toward a Corporeal Feminism (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1994) p.196

[4] Volatile Bodies, p.199

[5] Volatile Bodies, p.202

[6] Wetlands, p.21

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Top Five Favourite Feminist Books by Ruth-Eloise Lewis

This was a tricky list to narrow down, but here are my five favourite Feminist (or what I’d define as Feminist) books that I’d strongly recommend to anyone interested in reading around the subject.

1) WETLANDS by Charlotte Roche.

Reading Wetlands isn’t always a pleasant experience. It follows the mind and thoughts of 18-year-old Helen Memel as she lies in a hospital bed due to a nasty intimate shaving accident. Helen describes in graphic detail previously taboo subjects such as anal intercourse, hairy armpits, period blood and sexual pleasure. Julia Kristeva’s theory of Abjection states that the abject is an experience situated outside the concept of an object and the concept of the subject. Facing the abject can often be traumatic or uncomfortable, for example, coming face to face with a corpse, blood or vomit. This repulsion a natural response from being a subject, or a person. Roche’s descriptions, therefore, are not always comfortable or enjoyable but they do serve a strong purpose. Women, undeniably, deal with a huge pressure to be clean or ‘pure’, constantly maintaining their bodies, hair and faces in order to be seen as the purer sex. Yet, nothing is spoken of how it feels to actually live in these bodies, to deal with these everyday bodily functions such as blood and vomit. The smokescreen of purity and cleanliness in disseminated. However, despite the furore over the brutal depiction of these subjects, the protagonist remains like-able and vulnerable. She tries desperately hard to get her separated parents back together, showing a tender emotional side.  The book is graphic, yes, but most importantly breaks down taboos whilst remaining funny and touching.

2) THE WOMEN’S ROOM by Marilyn French

Fay Weldon said that The Women’s Room is “the kind of book that changes lives” and I would completely agree with that statement. The novel is set in 1950s America and follows the life of Mira Ward as a young and ‘conventional’ young woman in a traditional marriage stuck in the  sexist throes of suburbia. After years of unhappy marriage, her husband eventually files for divorce leaving Mira to gradually discover her own intelligence, Feminism and true love based on equality.  The novel describes the friendships between women in clear and wonderful detail whilst also dealing with more difficult subjects such as rape and violent protests.

3) HOW TO BE A WOMAN by Caitlin Moran

Feminism can be FUNNY. Big gasps. Women can be FUNNY. Shock face. How To Be A Woman is like having a chat with your best friend. You know the type that goes on until three in the morning over a bottle of wine, where you discuss adolescence, bras, pubic hair and celebrities. Feminism doesn’t have to be stuffy or academic but can discuss contemporary issues and daily experiences in an accessible and hilarious way. Nice one, Caitlin.

4) THE EQUALITY ILLUSION; THE TRUTH ABOUT MEN AND WOMEN TODAY by Kat Banyard

UK Feminista’s Kat Banyard reminds the world that there is still a long way to go before men and women are truly equal. Banyard starts by discusses appearance and eating disorders, the pressure young girls feel to wear make-up and been seen as attractive and fit to face the world. She also mentions the fact that the majority of pornography is heterosexual and degrading to women, creating a pressure during sexual relationships. Women are still regarded as bodies, or objects, rather than real people which leads to severe insecurity, sexual harrassment, domestic violence and abuse. Banyard also discusses other issues such as the fact that women are still a minority on Parliament and business companies in the first world.  This book is engaging and extremely easy to read and digest. Although many people today may not see the importance of Feminism as men and women are supposedly equal, Banyard reminds us that it is simply not so. All Feminism strives for is completely gender equality and the eradication of discrimination based on gender. Even though many young women I know wouldn’t necessarily call themselves Feminist, I wonder if after reading this book and discovering the stereotypes and expectations that affect both men and women, they would change their minds and join the fight for complete equality? I sure hope so.

5) INFIDEL by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

In 2005, Ayaan Hirsi Ali was named by Time magazine as one of the 1oo most influencial people in the world. Her memoir Infidel describes her youth in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya whilst going on to speak about her flight to the Netherlands and her eventual election to Parliament.  It deals with her own personal complexes of the Islam religion and her disgust at the common practice of female circumcision. The murder of Theo van Gogh is also mentioned, with whom she produced the short film Submission, which portrays four fictional characters wearing a a see-through veil, describing the abuse of Muslim women.

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