Genderless bodies: Stigma and the myth of womanhood

Ellen M Letizia, Marquette University


This study uses feminist body theory to interrogate representations of women whose physical bodies defy the standards of the archetypal literary heroine. The texts examined in this dissertation present physically flawed female characters in a manner that poses a challenge to the idealization of perfect bodies. Furthermore, they raise important questions concerning the destructiveness of our cultural practice of positioning the body as central to social- and self-identity. While this is by no means an exhaustive exploration of how portrayals of physically imperfect women function in fictional literature, this particular group of narratives represents an outcry against our culture's narrow definition of women and indicts the sexist hierarchy of embodiment that denies women "womanhood" if they fall below arbitrary standards of attractiveness. By bringing to light the constellation of myths that shape our lives, the portrayals of these imperfect women reveal the dehumanizing ideology underlying the stigmatization of bodily difference, and suggest that all of us--women and men--are harmed by the cultural conceptualization of embodiment that fosters this prejudice. Analysis of these texts proves that only by revising the myths that determine the basic beliefs at the core of our identity, a long and arduous process requiring the dissemination and exaltation of a wider range of popular female archetypes in literature, can we reform womanhood as we know it in our culture.

Recommended Citation

Letizia, Ellen M, "Genderless bodies: Stigma and the myth of womanhood" (2007). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3263814.