Tag Archives: Elizabeth Grosz

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.


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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