Bodies Under Empire: The Territory of American Feminism
Exploring American feminist cultural productions as a space wherein the socially marked female body is used to expose and critique the oppressive rhetoric of culturally enforced female femininity, this dissertation examines art and poetry that critically and strategically uses women's corporeal bodies as violent or gruesome sites of resistance. In this kind of feminist art and literature, the physical body is sacrificed in the service of drawing attention to the violence of the rhetoric of female femininity and its connection to colonialism and notions of empire. Establishing a historical precedent for feminist cultural productions using the body as a site of resistance, this study links such projects to similar cultural phenomena in the colonial period of the Americas, analyzing each work in the context of the culturally relevant ideologies in which it was created. Thus it analyzes gender rhetoric as it relates to the colonial project during the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation, as well as examining contemporary ideologies of gender, including appetites and hunger, sexuality and sexual accessibility, domesticity, and beauty in both the colonial era and post-1900. Based on Foucault's notion of the heterotopia as an "other space" that exists outside of the cultural milieu with the purpose of reflecting and troubling social norms, I develop the term "rhetoritopia," implicating the body as a physical, political, and rhetorical "other space," a location used to communicate what systematic language and social conventions cannot: that rigid gender conventions are intrinsically linked to the violence of imperialism.