Philosophy Faculty Publications


'A Woman’s Body is Like a Foreign Country': Thinking about National and Bodily Sovereignty

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Book Chapter

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Global Feminist Ethics: Feminist Ethics and Social Theory


Violations of national sovereignty and of bodily (especially sexual) sovereignty are routinely merged in rhetoric and metaphor: we speak of virgin territory, of Israeli troops penetrating deeper into Lebanon, of the rape of Iraq. Such connections, according to Jane Caputi, are "open secrets" within mainstream U.S. culture: "Nuclear warheads, chainsaws, handguns, SUVs, and space rockets: All are regularly and often visibly flaunted as invasive and destructive phalli. Everyone gets the joke, but lots of us are not laughing" (2004, 395).

Taking the metaphor in the other direction, actual rapes are often call ed invasions, and penises are described as weapons (both by those who celebrate, and by those who decry, their use as such). When those on opposite sides of the political and moral fence perceive similar connections -- as, for instance, with the sexualized metaphors commonly employed by both supporters and opponents of U.S. wars -- further investigation of those connections seems warranted. Thus, in this essay, I reflect on the overlapping and divergent meanings of national sovereignty and bodily sovereignty, particularly the bodily sovereignty of women.

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Citation information for the book: Whisnant, Rebecca, and Peggy DesAutels. 2008. Global Feminist Ethics. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield.


Rowman & Littlefield

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