Foucault and Feminism: Power, Gender and the Self by Lois McNay

By Lois McNay

This booklet bargains a scientific try to discover the purpose of convergance among feminist idea and the paintings of Michel Foucault.

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Sample text

Patricia O’Brien claims that the problem with Foucault’s analysis of prison regimes in Discipline and Punish, is that he does not consider how the treatment of male and female prisoners differed and how these differences related to dominant constructions of masculinity and femininity. For Foucault, the prisoner’s body, indeed the disciplined body in general, is often implicitly assumed to be male. O’Brien acknowledges that, in certain respects, there was a close congruence in age, social background and occupation between prisoners of different sexes.

However, in The History of Sexuality, where it is introduced, this concept remains unelaborated and no attempt is made in Discipline and Punish to explore how the regulation of the body of the female prisoner intersects with conceptions of female sexuality dominant in other realms. To put it another way, it is necessary to explore how meanings, particularly representations of gender, are mobilized within the operations of power to produce asymmetrical relations amongst subjects. In the analysis of institutional regimes, such as the prison, it is important to show how and why women do not relate to these institutions in the same way as men.

As a consequence, women are placed outside, or in a position of innocence, vis-à-vis the male-defined social realm. For example, at various points in her article, Bartky seems to make the problematic assumption that women are simply passive victims of systems of patriarchal domination. She argues that the disciplinary techniques which invade the female body are‘total’,‘perpetual’ and‘exhaustive’. At times, women have offered resistance to this system of domination, but resistance has always failed and this very failure further strengthens the inexorable hold of disciplinary techniques upon the body: ‘As women (albeit a small minority of women) begin to realise an unprecedented political, economic, and sexual self-determination, they fall ever more completely under the dominating gaze of patriarchy’ (Bartky 1988: 82–3).

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