Mind over body (matter)

I stumbled upon “Mind Over Body: The Pregnant Professional” by Robbie Davis-Floyd during readings for a different project, but I found Davis-Floyd’s work to have many intersections with what I’ve read so far of Sherry Turkle. Davis-Floyd argues in this essay that “body image not only mirrors social relationships but also worldview” (204). Interviewing 31 professional women, the author interrogates how they define their senses of self. Because of an (initially) unrelated study of home-birthers, Davis-Floyd also can draw some conclusions about the differences in how women define their selves.

The part that immediately struck me as being reminiscent of Turkle comes on the third page of the essay:

“I found it noteworthy that when I interviewed this women in their homes, they almost invariably would glance down at their casual sweats and tennis shoes and laughingly comments, ‘You are seeing my other self, my home self,’ but when I went to their offices they never said, ‘You are seeing my professional self.’ For most, the professional self was the primary self.” (206)

I wonder about that notion of “primary self.” It seemed to me at first that which self is primary would depend on context, and the author’s status as a scholar would make the women want to privilege their professional selves to her. But then Davis-Floyd points out that children and emotions do not enter these women’s offices, while paperwork and work calls often come into their homes.

Davis-Floyd theorizes pregnancy as a “violation of the professional/personal split” and proves that women understand and worry about this boundary breaking (although she also says those fears are rarely justified). They are aware that others see them as women rather than as professionals once the pregnancy becomes visible, and this forces a merger of selves much like the uncomfortable merging of windows I discussed in relation to Turkle’s “Who Am We?” article.

The author also complicates the separation of selves by introducing the idea of control. The professional women in her study spoke of a loss of control as the most undesirable aspect of pregnancy and embodiment. I wonder if there is a parallel between this loss of bodily control and the loss of control we experience when separating out a “self” for online use (or separate use in any other sense). There is something inherently frightening about acknowledging a self that does not adhere to the guidelines we (and others) have constructed for acceptable “selves.”

Finally, Davis-Floyd discusses technocratic life and compares the professional women in her study to home-birthers in another study she’s doing. While the home-birthers eschew reproductive technology as part of a oft-theorized technomedical takeover of women’s bodies, the professional women view technology as another means of control for their own use. The professional women “perceive the holism of the home-birthers … as frightening, irresponsible, limiting, and disempowering” (227). Both sets of women believe their method allows them more control.

So now I have to ask a series of questions that I don’t (yet) have answers for:

  • What role does control play in the mediation and construction of self/selves?
  • At what point is control no longer deemed desirable?
  • Can we talk about embodied control and virtual control in the same ways?
  • Is this need for control a gendered construct?

The essay discussed in this post comes from:

Sault, Nancy, ed. Many Mirrors: Body Image and Social Relations. New Brunswick, NJ: Rugers UP, 1994. Print.


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