TLAG Leading Questions

The Lived Body and Gender Socialization:
Lessons from Young’s "Throwing Like a Girl"
Why Nike Doesn’t Market ‘Air Barbies’

"Throwing Like a Girl" by Iris Marion Young. Pp. 141-159 in Throwing Like a Girl and Other Essays in Feminist Philosophy and Social Theory. Bloomington: Indiana University Press (1990).

Leading Questions

These questions are meant both as review questions for after you’ve read the paper, and as "blazes" on the trail that might be helpful in finding your way as you read it to begin with. The class will be taught in a sort of Donahue-esque manner that combines lecture, discussion, and question and answer. You are encouraged to prepare for class by thinking about how you would respond to discussion questions like these.

  1. In the most general sense, how does this relate to the topics "gender, socialization, and the life course"? Keep this question in mind throughout.
  2. What was Erwin Straus’ observation? Why did he conclude that this was not to be explained on the basis of anatomical differences?
  3. What tenet of a feminist (and sociological) perspective makes Young dissatisfied with where Straus left the issue?
  4. What logic does Young borrow from Simone de Beauvoir?
  5. Beauvoir did write about the female body and meaning and existence in a patriarchically organized society, Young admits, but she thinks Beauvoir missed an explanatory opportunity because of the things she focused on. What did Beauvoir focus on and what does Young think her "mistake" was?
  6. This article isn’t about all bodily movements and functions and Young doesn’t claim that it applies to all eras or cultures. What IS the limit of her focus? To whom does it apply? What kinds of movement is it about?
  7. On page 144 we read "…the typical situation of being a woman…, as well as the typical way in which this situation is lived…. …the account offered here of the modalities of feminine bodily existence is not to be falsified by referring to some individual women to whom aspects of the account do not apply, or even to some individual men to whom they do." And on page 147 she writes "There is no inherent, mysterious connection between these sorts of typical comportments and being a female person." How is "typical" as a methodological concept different from "stereotypical" as a descriptive concept?
  8. Make a list of several of the activities Young describes in section I. Think about how you do them. Do you know other women who do them differently from you? Men? Can you describe a "feminine" or "masculine" way of doing these activities? Can you interpret them in terms such as those Young uses when she writes of "the way each sex uses the body in approaching tasks"? Remember, individual women and men may end up on either the "girls" or "boys" way of doing any particular activity.
  9. Give a short "definition" of "ambiguous transcendence," "inhibited intentionality," and "discontinuous unity" as used in section II.
  10. In section III, Young presents three modes of spatiality. Try to give a brief "definition" of what she means by "space as enclosed," space as "having a dual structure," and being "positioned in space." Then, try to describe the opposite of each of these. In other words, if these are the "feminine" modalities, what are the "not feminine" modalities like?
  11. In section IV, Young returns to "the real world." Where do the modalities of bodily comportment that she’s described come from? What sorts of concrete socialization practices does she claim contribute to the way children’s bodily self image gets "gendered" as they learn to be social beings? In what ways does thinking about socialization into social roles help us to avoid essentialist explanations, especially when we know exactly what we mean by "like a girl" or "like a boy"?
  12. What does it all mean? If something as "personal" as how you use your body to do things has social origins, is there anything one can do about it? What is the significance of the fact that this very basic gender attribute can be seen to be a product of socialization? Can subsequent socialization "undo" the effects described here? Will encouraging little girls to play sports overcome the effects of other forms of body comportment socialization?
  13. Think about other changes in bodily comportment that occur over the life course. Adults learn to be careful, worry about cholesterol, feel funny wearing shorts. Plenty of these are inspired by real physical changes, but are some things that we are socialized to expect of ourselves at certain ages? Does socialization for body comportment stop at some point in the life cycle? Even aside from origins (i.e., as social or anatomical) does the idea of fundamental differences in "modes of spatiality" help us to understand some of what it means to be "aged"? Do we learn to be "middle aged" or "old" in ways that go beyond "real" bodily changes? Even when changes are rooted in anatomy, do these ideas give us a new lens for looking at changes in how people relate to the world of physical objects through the life course.
  14. One might dismiss this entire approach, claiming it de-values "women’s ways" of doing things like throwing balls, opening pickle jars, or fording streams in favor of a better "men’s way." Thinking as a sociologist, would you credit such an argument in this case? If not, how to distinguish categories of behavior for which that criticism is valid (that is, where you would argue for recognition of equal value of a different "women’s way" of doing something) from those where it is not?