Archive for January 7th, 2009

On Wednesdays, we exaggerate social markers of our femininity.

"On Wednesdays, we exaggerate social markers of our femininity."

– Habitus: The concept of habitus explains how social norms become embedded in individuals. An individual’s habitus develops in response to the social sphere in which the individual lives and acts: a space termed the “field”
– Field: The social sphere in which the individual lives and acts

“…As people respond to the circumstances within which they live, they become accustomed to those particular responses and, over time, repeat them with little to no conscious awareness or choice–whether or not the conditions that first made the response appropriate actually pertain. Bourdieu’s [cited author] preferred example is “the small, quick steps of some young women wearing trousers and flat heels” which have become habitual because they are required when wearing short skirts and high heels. In this way, the habitus prompts us to act in certain ways without needing to go via the mechanism of conscious thought and rational decision-making. Instead, the habitus operates through the mechanism of embodiment. We understand the norms we obey through acting them out. We do not think consciously about them, and consider on each occasion whether to comply with them. Rather, we comply as a result of prereflexive, habitualized action…what is at stake is whether we become certain sorts of people, how particular discourses construct our identities. Thus, MacKinnon quotes a woman coerced into pornography: “You do it, you do it, and you do it; then you become it.” …an individual’s range of possible actions is already suggested by her habitus. If her habitus and field are aligned, what an individual feels included to do will match the expectations of the field in which her action takes place. There will be compatibility¬† between action and expectation, and the individual is unlikely to be aware of, or consciously assess, her actions and dispositions. Individuals are thus very significantly influenced by the surroundings and structures in which they live. As individuals tend to remain in social contexts in which they feel comfortable, their habituses are reinforced and tend to remain constant [this is one possible explanation for Gloria’s preference of dressing “feminine” because she “just likes it”, I’m not saying that sardonically by the way]. It follows, moreover, that the social structures that influence an individual’s habitus will be strengthened over time as individuals act in ways that are suggested by, and serve to reinforce, those structures. In other words, in the absence of the kind of dissonance between habitus and field that can lead individuals to become conscious and questioning of their dispositions, systems of disadvantage are unlikely to be disrupted by those who are disadvantaged…”

From Pages 53-53 in Sex, Culture, and Justice: The Limits of Choice, by Clare Chambers

That was long.

My point is that I don’t have access to the kind of dissonance (other than online on this blog) between habitus and field that would help me become conscious of my own disposition. What do I really want to wear, or say, or do? I don’t know. I feel like I’m a product of my socialization, and without socialization, I would be nothing. So when I can’t help but wear makeup, for fear that others will judge me if I don’t appear “feminine,” it is because I don’t myself realize if I want to dress up or not. All I know is that many people appear to not take me seriously if I don’t. Sometimes it feels uncomfortable to dress up. Other times, it’s nice. I don’t know what I would naturally be disposed to wear or say or do, because it is impossible to find a dimension in which I can explore what is comfortable to me outside of what society dictates.

Maybe for certain individuals, the meaning of “comfortable” itself cannot be exclusive of societal dictates. I think perhaps I may be such an individual?

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