Starving and Hungry: Anorexia and the Female Body Politic
Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 04:27PM
Dr. Harriet Fraad

Published In Class Struggle on the Home Front. Ed. Graham Cassano. New York: Palgrave. 2009


Marxism's tools were originally designed to chisel meaning out of the military industrial blocks of society. They were rarely rigorously applied to the intimate arena of private life. Because class was considered by many Marxists to be the determining essence of social understanding, Marxian tools could not easily be applied to areas such as gender, emotion, personal life and race without rendering them secondary. However, the Marxian theory utilized in this book views class, gender, personal life and race as each having a unique impact on people and society with no one of them more important than any other.  Each particular process operates in its own ways. This approach permits us to combine Marxian understandings of class theory with feminist conceptions of gender, psychoanalytic ideas of psychology, social constructions of personal life and new Marxian theories of race. All of these different understandings may be interpreted so as to complement each other and create unique windows of meaning within a non-essentialist methodology. The result is a kind of Marxism that considers class, race, gender, sociological, psychological and an infinite variety of other processes as distinct strands in a complex tapestry each transforming and transformed by all the other strands in the tapestry.

In chapter one we brought our analysis to bear on one intimate area, the household.  Here, I explore a different intimate site, that of the female body. On the one hand, I attempt to integrate class, gender, and race with the psychoanalytic theory that traditionally neglects them. On the other, I attempt to integrate race, gender, psychological, social and sexual processes with the Marxian theory in which they have been neglected. The female body is a site on which these different processes reinforce and contradict each other while they mutually shape one another. In the previous chapter, we argued that household class, and gender processes combine with other processes in this period of revolutionary transformation in the household. Here I trace those revolutionary transformations as they shape the current epidemic of eating disorders  playing themselves out on the stage of women's bodies.

Each person can be thought of as a unique site, a special cross section of particular biological, cultural, political, economic, and psychological processes.  At certain historical moments, these processes interact so as to create disorders of epidemic proportions such as hysteria in Freud's time, and eating disorders in our time.  In both cases the female body is the theater, the stage on which contradictory social, biological and unconscious forces play.  It is my contention that eating disorders are one way that women express the impossibility of managing our contradictions within and between the profoundly and rapidly changing class, race and gender processes which shape our lives.

Feminist theorists (Ohrbach (1986), Lorber 2005, Lupton (1996), Bordo (1989), Fallon et al. (1994), Treasure et al. (2003), Gonzalez (2007, Srikameswaren (2006), and Spignesi 1983) have explored and illuminated the powerful role of traditional gender ideology and its psychological and sexual consequences in the genesis of Anorexia. It is feminists who connected Anorexia to contemporary demands on women to be simultaneously traditional housewives and glamorous, slender, liberated sex objects.  Feminists are pioneers in an endeavor to understand Anorexia in order to stop the suffering it expresses. I add overdeterminist Marxian theory to feminist theory to present a way of understanding Anorexia as a means of coping with complex contradictions produced by the wide range of processes in which women participate. In particular while developing an understanding of gender and sexual processes in the tradition of feminist work on the subject, I introduce some new understandings of psychological processes, and a new analysis of the relevance of racial and class processes to Anorexia. As a result, Anorexia, a woman's eating disorder, is understood to be constituted not only from effects emanating from gender, sexual, and psychological processes, but also by effects flowing from class and racial processes as well. In particular, the yet unexplored class aspect of North American life- the production, appropriation, and distribution of surplus labor- play a unique role in helping to produce this modern disorder.

Eating disorders are psycho-physiological symptoms. They are a system of signs of an unconscious disturbance that is unspoken and is therefore expressed in symptomatic behavior. There are three main kinds of eating disorders: Anorexia, bulimia, and obesity. Each expresses a different kind of adjustment to society's contradictory demands on women.

Anorexia Nervosa, or Anorexia is the relentless pursuit of thinness, and, at the same time, a delusional denial of thinness (Bruch 1973). The anorectic is a living proof that all perception is interpretation. She may weigh sixty pounds and be a living skeleton but nonetheless she appears to herself as fat and needing to lose weight. Anorexia is controlled rejection of all but meager amounts of food often combined with uncontrollable urges to gorge followed by self-induced purging. It is an obsession with food and diets accompanied by planning rituals related to which foods and what quantities one can consume at which intervals. It may include compulsive preparation of food for others. An anorectic may plan a daily intake of three hundred calories. This might involve eating an apple and two eggs divided into quarters and eaten in total secrecy every three and one-half hours with water, and a few ounces of yogurt eaten at two other intervals. These foods are often eaten only in particular locations and in complete privacy. Food controls may be combined with another form of body control, compulsive exercise. Anorexia literally means without appetite, but anorectics have appetites which they rigidly control. Eating disorders are variations on one theme, a compulsive preoccupation with food. They involve obesity or "obesophobia" (Brumberg 1988, 32, Harvey et al. 2002), a terror of becoming fat.

Anorexia Nervosa
Eating disorders have become an epidemic among American women and Anorexia is a woman's disorder.. As many as 20% of college women have some form of Anorexia or bulimia ( Chiara, 1997, Reichgott 2008). Most American women are in some way obsessively obesophobic. Many diet compulsively. Food is women's "normative obsession"(Wolf 1989,  Seid,1994, 3-16, Nasser et al. 2001). The overwhelming majority of American women have some kind of eating phobia which although subclinical, is a significant disorder ( Seid 1994, 3-16,  Hesse-Biber 1996, Perlick and Silverstein 1994 77-93, Harvey 2002, Giordano 2007, Nasser and Katzman, 2003 139-150).This chapter focuses on Anorexia because it is the most dramatic of eating disorders, it can be fatal.  Like all disorders, Anorexia represents a difference of degree, not of kind. It is an exaggerated example of the torment experienced by most contemporary women.
Whom does it strike? The profile of "a typical anorectic" is changing. White prosperous women were previously considered the prime candidates for the disorder. However that was in part the result of prejudiced research. Researchers “assumed” that since the aesthetic for female bodies is more accepting of greater weight in communities of color and Hispanic communities, women of color and Hispanic women could not have eating disorders like Anorexia. Therefore Hispanic women and women of color suffered from Anorexia without recognition or help (Thompson 1992, 1994, Nasser and Katzman 2003, 139-150) Brodey 2005). Ignorance of sociocultural theory allowed researchers to ignore the influence of hegemonic white capitalist culture on women of all colors and nationalities. Now many researchers acknowledge that Anorexia moves across income and color lines to afflict all kinds of women who wish to advance themselves within our culture (van Hoeken et al. 2003, 11). Anorexia usually strikes women from the ages of fifteen to twenty four. It takes root in women preparing to become "modern women", moving out of traditional female household gender roles It strikes high school students, usually with excellent records, college age women facing a changed female environment at college, women entering professions or competing in what were once male professional spheres, and older women returning to school or the job market. Anorexia often afflicts women who have ambitious educational plans or accomplishments  (Martin 2007, Giordano 2007,13-27, 65-72).
Anorexia is a disorder that captures and acts out for its victim the contradictions of modern women's social position. It is a disorder whose symptoms are paralytic and wildly contradictory. North American women are in a period of class and gender transition. For women with employed husbands current conditions permit neither our former full-time domestic positions in the male supported household nor our new positions in the household and the marketplace simultaneously. For women without employed spouses, this dilemma is deepened by the absence of supports from the now weakened extended families and neighborhood friendship networks which once made it  more possible for single women to manage the double burdens of mothering and jobs outside of the home. For white women and women of color, career expectations have risen without the social underpinnings that make those expectations reasonable.

Anorexia is a disorder that permits its sufferer to express dramatic contradictions. The anorectic rejects her body's needs. She rejects "input", "hunger", desire for or dependence on other things such as food and, ultimately, other people. Anorexia is a desire to be in total control of the female body and totally autonomous. Yet, it is a control that is out of control: a control that renders its victim so debilitated and helpless that she is forced into the hospital dependent on the care of others, to be fed like an embryo through an intravenous tube. It is a disorder of women who often become demanding and controlling. They "demand their space." They "throw their weight around". Yet they "reduce" themselves until they have no weight to throw and occupy very little space. It is a disorder of women who are often obsessed by physical fitness and yet become totally weak.

Anorexia, like other psychological disorders, meets simultaneous, contradictory needs. It is an obsession with food and a powerful rejection of food. It is a disorder of a woman who asserts her will power and mastery over her needs and yet becomes anything but strong and autonomous. Anorectics are women desperate to "measure up" who radically "reduce" themselves. They follow the current maxim for women, "One can never be too thin or too rich" to the point of parody.

In the remainder of this chapter I hope to begin to answer a set of questions about Anorexia. Why Anorexia now? Why does Anorexia almost exclusively affect women?  Given that the disorder has been recorded as early as the Middle Ages (Brumberg 1988, Bell 1985), why is it currently part of an epidemic of eating disorders? Why is it, with other eating disorders, a mass phenomenon, paralleling hysteria in Freud's time? What social conditions in modern North America foster Anorexia as an epidemic? Most particularly how do class, race, psychological and gender processes interact, reinforce, and contradict each other in ways that contribute to an Anorexia epidemic?

Gender Processes As Conditions of Existence for Anorexia

Gender processes are ways of representing women to ourselves, to each other and to men. Gender processes are, as argued in chapter one, ways of producing the socially contrived facts of "women" and "men", and, thus, of their differences from one another. One of Anorexia's cultural conditions of existence is a particular kind of gender ideology that represents women as the sex objects in and of society. Such an ideology acts upon us as a kind of Foucauldian discipline (Bordo 1988). It helps to create us. We tweeze the hair in our eyebrows, shave our underarms and legs, or use hot wax to rip them out by the roots; we apply hot curling or straightening irons to our hair; we painstakingly apply creams and make-up to our faces and eyes; on continuous diets, we starve our selves and push our bodies to slenderness with strenuous exercise or conceal our flesh in tight confining underwear. We endure painful plastic surgeries to reduce, or fat to augment our breasts, and eliminate our wrinkles and sags when we age. These are disciplines for whose infractions the very real punishment is personal, social and sexual rejection. The woman who will not wear make-up, or shave her legs, or be slender, may sometimes maintain or regain her job when threatened, but she may nonetheless lose friendship social acceptance, and the approval of both men and women. Our bodies are usurped through a thousand Lilliputian disciplines typically presented as harmless routines of “self-care.” Thus our desire to please others is confused with our need to care for ourselves. Our fear of rejection is enmeshed with our desire for self pride.

Consider the following description of our lives: "Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves" (Berger 1972,47). Women in our culture learn to experience our bodies as if we were the male spectators to ourselves. "The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object - and most particularly an object of vision; a sight" (Berger 1972,47). We learn via television, movies, magazines, and advertisements what we should look like rather than how to feel and know the sensations of our bodies (Kilbourne 1994, 395-418). We are dependent upon external reinforcement for being attractive and sexy.  Attractiveness is verified by those one attracts. Women's own sexuality, our own desire, is not cultivated as our own experience, but the experience of being desirable to someone else. "Women are there to feed an appetite, not to have any of their own"(Berger 1972, 55).  Food does not experience its own consumption. Thus food may become a medium that represents our alienated situation. Food, like female sexuality, may become something consumed by others, not by a woman for herself. Our appetite for approval as desirable women contributes to our shaping ourselves as objects to be consumed by others' hungers rather than subjects to experience our own desire.
On the one hand anorectics refuse food to reject the role of "object for another". They are literally fed up with being objects of consumption (Manton 1999). Craving for status as a body for male consumption is seen by the anorectic as an abandonment of her independent self. In the words of an anorexic girl, "I can at the same time be choosing to live as the self and choosing to die as the body" (MacLeod 1981,88). Anorexia is thus a deeply contradictory relation to food: controlling and rejecting it both to fulfill the stereotype of the attractive woman and simultaneously to deny and denounce that stereotype.
Women's work on creating "delectable" external images is often understood as narcissism. To this author, it is rather a hopeless attempt to reconnect with a personal sense of physical self and sexuality by imagining oneself as one's own consumer. Because attractiveness depends on others, one can never be sure of one's looks. The resulting sense of insecurity makes women particularly vulnerable to social standards of beauty including external standards for slenderness (Tolman and Debold 1994, 301- 317, Levin and Kilbourne 2008).

The culture’s idealized images of women's bodies are plastered everywhere. Women's bodies sell everything from cars to cigarettes. The idealized omnipresent images are all slim; they have no cellulite. Many female models appear androgynous with bodies resembling the bodies of adolescent males. Their already striking images are further artificially corrected and perfected in photographic studios. They present standards that women can never actually achieve. Nonetheless, they present the objective standard for female beauty. There are considerable social pressures to conform to requirements for female success and sexiness by achieving and maintaining slenderness. Fat is failure as a woman (Weiner 2006).

Trying desperately to regain control of their own bodies from which they as women are alienated, anorectics act out their contradictory relationship to food. They become parodies of the social demand for slenderness by becoming hideously slender while they ostensibly strive to be perfectly beautiful. They strive for a body image as a way to experience personal power and social acceptance yet their Anorexia debilitates and isolates them. They often exercise compulsively, partly trying to feel in command of bodies with which they are out of touch and partly trying to convert their bodies into ideals of fit slenderness. At the same time, Anorexia undermines their physical strength. Anorexics mimic yet they also mock the media's impossible standards for them.

One of many long prevalent female gender processes is the creation and dissemination of the definition of woman as nurturer. Women feed men and children. Women's' bodies sustain children in the womb and our breasts nourish people when they emerge. Beginning in infancy, memories of food and feeding are attached to women. The household kitchen is defined as women's sphere. For family events, and holidays women shop, cook, and serve food, and then clean up its remains. Women are the overwhelming majority of parents who feed as well as low-level professional food service workers. Not surprisingly, women are society's symbolic nurturers as well. They "feed" people through mothering, teaching young children, social work, and nursing, to list but a small selection among women's careers as nurturers. One part of the female feeder role is being the one who gives, while not demanding to be sustained in return.In times of food scarcity, women tend to feed their families, while they themselves go hungry (Edwards 1987, Wolf 1989).

On the one hand, the anorectic rebels against such gender processes by starving herself to the point where she loses female characteristics. On the other hand, the anorectic so identifies with the plight of women that her emaciated form may represent the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual starvation of women driven to extremes in nurturing and serving others (Spignesi 1983). Anorexia is at once a reflection of the contradictions involved in being female today and an attempt, also contradictory, to cope with them.
Another established gender process defines a particular kind of "womanly behavior. Women should be the ones who absorb family tensions while they do the emotional labor involved in caring and obligingly take orders. Anorectics usually start out life as extraordinarily obedient, "sweet" girls (Martin 2007). They take what is "dished out" to them, including food, and "swallow" it without complaint. Anorexia is in part a rebellion against compliance. Anorectics refuse any more "input" from others. They are fed up with external controls. They eat their meager portion only in circumstances under their own control. When they break discipline, they often reject and purge that food. It is as if they can no longer "swallow" or "stomach" submission. They enact in the realm of food the impossible cultural demand on women, that they sustain ("feed") others and are not themselves sustained. They obediently follow the gender rule that "has them by the throat"; they “keep their mouths shut”. At the same time their starvation is a hunger strike against such restrictions.

Another gender process stereotypes women's realm as the body, the flesh, and not the mind or soul. This is an aspect of femaleness that anorexics strenuously reject. The anorexic is not  (to use the significant vernacular) a "dish, peach, chick or tomato or a piece of meat" to be served up for sexual consumption. The anorectic's starved body is a rejection of female sexuality. As she fasts, the anorexic is obsessed by food and fear of the flesh to the point where she can think of nothing else. Her escape route from woman as flesh leads her right back to the flesh.

Anorexia is a rejection of the gender process that defines the relationship between male and female bodies to be one in which agency and desire are allocated to masculinity and receptivity and passivity to femininity. Anorexia is an unconscious rejection of being the sex that Jacques Lacan refers to as "that sex which is not one." Lacan presents the woman as a kind of female impersonator acting out male fantasies of the mysterious "other" to men. In herself, she is no one (Lacan 1975 138-48, and 162-171).  The belief that women are somehow not fully human, and resemble the characters in males' fantasy lives, not only robs women of our own agency, but also sets the stage for men to dominate women in ways that one can only do if one considers the victim not human, but "other". Anorexia is a rebellion against those gender and power processes which express themselves socially in male control of women's bodies in rape, incest, pornography, and prostitution  Anorectics are particularly pained by their status as potential sexual victims because many anorexic women are victims of sex abuse.  Their bodies have been used against their will. Anorexia, for them may be a way to take back control of their abused bodies (Wooley 1994, 171-211).

When a painfully thin woman looks at her reflection in the mirror and mourns over her fat, she sees and grieves over the body of a fat woman because for her to be a woman is to be fleshy, fat, and thus needy, passive, and helpless. She is possessed by a wish to be active and in control, wishes she often considers male. The inner voice that commands anorexic women to drive themselves and starve is described by them as a male voice: "The little man who objects when I eat"(Bruch 1978 55), "the little man inside me who says 'No!' "(Bruch 1988 124-125)." Here the anorectic rebels against male power while submitting to it. She is at the same time rejecting the role of passive flesh, to be consumed by active men and actively destroying her female body.

Alongside the prevalent traditional gender processes which I have discussed are conflicting, modern, gender processes existing side by side with their opposites. Today's successful business woman or professional is hardly passively awaiting orders. She is supposed to be at the creative edge, innovating and initiating those programs that will offer her or her employer the competitive edge. Nurturance to her professional clients or her employer may well be in order, but compassionate help for her competitors will not be tolerated. She is to look out for herself and her employer only. Sacrifice for the company or her private clients may be encouraged if it is lucrative, but sacrifice of the client and the corporation to the needs of a husband and children will not be suffered. An asset of the "modern" woman is a slender body that is simultaneously sensual and severe in a stylish business suit. She should be sexual but not sexually needy or dependent. She should use her sex, which often counts against her, as a business asset. She should use her body like her head for the purpose of getting ahead.

Current gender processes inspire women as well as define women as capable of becoming the "head" of the corporation, rather than the humble wife who performs the daily labor that attends the bodily and emotional needs of her family. Modern women can be the spiritual leaders of the flock in those religions which permit women to be leaders. They may "head" the churches rather than remain in their traditional roles as the “body” of the faithful. These are roles that today's gender processes compel young anorectics to try to attain alongside of their traditional opposites.

Anorectics are trapped within contradictory feminine roles- defined by opposed and changing gender processes that they just can't "stomach". They are literally "fed up" with being women. Their outrage is expressed through a personal "hunger strike" (Ohrbach 1986). They are "sick to death" of the contradictory roles they see ahead of them. They are traumatized by having to be characterized as the body while they strive to get ahead and be the head of the company. They feel the need to be the desirable object and also the desiring subject. They agonize over their own desire to be passive and to be active, to be what was traditionally female and also what is male.

Political and Social Processes as Conditions of Existence for Anorexia

The Women's Liberation Movement starting in the late 1960s is a political development which provided certain conditions of existence for Anorexia. When women began to "throw their weight around", the campaign for thinness began. At that same time, women themselves began to want to lose the weight that marked them as women in a society in which women were considered socially and politically inferior. It was in the mid-1960s that the current androgynous ideal began to be celebrated. This ideal of the woman without those curves that mark her clearly as a female is taken to extremes in anorexic women.

Ironically enough, the women's liberation movement, which militated for expanded job possibilities for women, has suffered in part from many former activists and potential new feminists pouring their energy into career advancement for themselves at the expense of collective struggle. It is possible that the anorectic's private  protest against the future offered to her reflects the relative absence of the public, social protests that a militant women's movement had earlier made possible and even popular. The political processes that helped to dislodge women from our domestic oppression have changed, leaving us without an organized social or political voice in which to express collective protest.  Anorexia may have stepped into the void as an unconscious enactment of our outrage.

As explained in chapter one, the decline in the male wage, and men's' increasing inability and refusal to provide economic support to women and children, combined with a myriad of other processes to push women out of full time positions in feudal households and into exploitation both inside and outside of the household. The feminist movement was one of the political processes whose effect was to push women out of full time household labor and traditional gender roles.  Since the 1960s, the movement struggled to achieve women's economic, intellectual, and psychological equality with men. The feminist movement participated in increasing female political and economic power as well as some of the conditions of existence for women's exploitation in capitalist enterprises. We won the extension of women's job possibilities, some protection against discrimination in hiring, some small protection against sexual harassment on the job, and some greater means for women to control our own bodies through legislation concerning rape, birth control and abortion. Most importantly, the women's movement combined with the male rebellion against supporting families and with powerful economic pressures forcing women into the labor force. These combined changes transformed social and personal expectations for women.

Although the goals of the women's movement have been, at best, partially won, the scope and expectations for women's professional achievement have been dramatically extended, particularly among the ambitious, educated women who are typical candidates for Anorexia. The former roles of full time feudal housewife and mother are now often perceived as insufficient. In any case, they are financially impossible for most women. The goals for women have been extended far further than have the social and political supports enabling us to reach these goals. Requirements of women are staggering. We should successfully compete against men on the job and at the same time be feminine, non-competitive emotional nurturers, sexual objects, and feudal household serfs at home. We can no longer return to the familiar female role of feudal full time homemaker symbolized by food and the kitchen and yet are unable to assume all the different and often contradictory roles required of us. Demands on women are out of control. Anorexic women respond by taking control of the one thing in life they seem able to control, their own bodies.

A political process that demands that women be treated as the equals of "ruggedly individualistic" men has driven many women to reject the realm of human need, and dependence on others. Instead of being acknowledged as the human condition, dependence is part of a half shameful private life assigned to women and children. Caught up in the ideology of individualism, the anorectic desperately denies her needs, most dramatically and symbolically, the need to eat. She would rather starve than need. Anorexia is a revolt against being relegated to the private world of regressive neediness. It is a protest against and a withdrawal from a society enabling males to pose publicly as without need while women are representatives and fulfillers of everyone's needs. It is a rebellion against and an expression of the impossible, thrice contradictory demands on women: the need to be "feminine", need-centered, and domestically focused in a society in which needs are an embarrassment; a demand to be simultaneously centered on competition and achievement in the social and political realms in which we operate at a disadvantage, and a requirement that we be sex centered and glamorous in a public world in which just such behavior is unsafe.

Anorexia is also, in part, a revolt against political and other social processes that push women into a sexually predatory public sphere. American females are increasingly subjected to sexual molestation and rape. Sexual assaults are increasing four times faster than the overall crime rate. The influential Playboy philosophy of appropriating women's sexuality without long-range commitments to support wives and children has enhanced women's sexual and economic vulnerability. Women are pushed to enter political and social life within a rape culture which sexually harasses us. The anorectic rejects the flesh that marks her as a target for sexual oppression.

Within their social positions as helpless children, many anorectics have experienced childhood sexual abuse fueling desires to escape the female bodies that have made them sexual prey (Bordo 1988, 88), Wooley 1997 171-211, Sanci, et al. 2008). The anorectic repossess the body that her childhood abuser usurped for his pleasure. She starves her body to the point where its sexuality is invisible to potential predators. Yet again, contradictorily, she joins her abusers by both abusing herself through starvation and "reducing herself" to a body by channeling all her desires and ambitions into her body.

Psychological Processes As Conditions of Existence for Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia is an exaggeration of the obesophobia experienced by most North American women. We may therefore look at the psychology of women to gauge some of the psychological conditions of existence of Anorexia. Women in our society are the primary and often almost exclusive care givers for young children. Children spend their earliest formative years in a virtual matriarchy presided over by mothers, female day-care workers, grandmothers, nurses and baby-sitters (Dinnerstein 1976). Because of the relative social isolation of US. families, mothers become awesomely powerful figures in this matriarchy. In order to be separate people, children need to differentiate themselves from their seemingly powerful and often overwhelming mothers. The project of separation is enhanced for boys by the realization that they are different from mother because they are a different sex (Chodorow 1978, Dinnerstein 1976). Parents tend to push their male children towards independence faster than they push their female children (Fraad 1985, 22-23, Stevens and Gardner 1994, Hyde and Jaffee 1998, Gurlan 2002 ). Different sex and child rearing norms help both boys and their mothers see males as distinct from mother and as separate people.

Girls do not have these opportunities to separate. Many girls try to turn to fathers as models, but that way out is often barred. Most families lack a genuinely involved father figure. Other families include involved fathers who are seductive (Chodorow 1987, Fraad 1996/97).. Closeness to these seductive fathers is often reasonably perceived by daughters as too dangerous to pursue. Another obstacle may be the presence of fathers whose male identity is a negative identity based upon not being female. Threatened by identification with their daughters, such fathers discourage their daughter's identification with them and encourage its opposite. They treat their girls as cute little creatures very different from themselves (Bernstein 1983). Girls' relationships with their mothers as both the same sex and the sex that is encouraged to be more dependent, tend to encourage empathy, merging, and continuity at the expense of individuality and independence (Chodorow 1978, Hyde and Jaffee 1998, Stevens and Gardner 1994, Martin 2007).  

It is also the case that mothers, particularly mothers who do not have satisfying independent lives in which they are needed at work and desired by their partners, i.e., most mothers, need their daughters to need them. Daughters enact their mothers' needs by staying dependent upon their mothers. Such unsatisfied mothers are rarely capable of articulating their own needs and asking that they be satisfied. Part of the daughter's identification (and often fusion) with the mother follows from the daughter's learning to intuit her mother's needs and becoming the voice for those needs. Often mothers are so fused with their daughters that they attribute their needs to their daughters and meet their own needs in the guise of caring for their daughter's needs. At the same time, daughters, following their mothers' leads, also confuse their mother's needs with their own.  What begins as the daughter's normal infantile need for maternal, nurturing connection symbolized as food becomes a dangerous fusion in which the daughter's need traps her into a confusion between her desires and her mother's. In addition daughters may feel guilty at seeking out lives their sacrificial mothers could not have. Between guilt and fusion, a daughter’s separate self feels as if it is starving.
Since mothers are markedly associated with food, feeding and love, women may try desperately to control suffocating neediness for their mothers or others that they love through rigidly controlling what they eat. Thus they may become anorexic. They act out their starvation as independent selves by literally starving themselves. The attempt at such total control represents a desperate attempt to break the dependency which may feel like a threat to the daughter's existence as a separate person. Ironically, literal starvation becomes a strategy for psychological survival.  

Racial Processes As Conditions of Existence for Anorexia

Following Gabriel (1990 69-78) we may consider racial processes as the systems of meaning attached to people of color. My argument here is that changes in these racial processes have interacted with changes in other social processes to enable minority women to join white women as anorexics  (Garfinkel and Garner 1982 102-103, Thompson 1994, Brodey 2005). From the mid-1950s to the end of the 1970s the civil rights movement helped to create some increased possibilities for Americans of color, particularly those whose economic privilege or extraordinary talent and tenacity permitted them access to an elite education. However, by the 1980s the energy for a broadly based civil rights movement had markedly decreased. As it was with women as a whole, just enough new opportunities combined with new raised expectations to place heavy pressure on minority women to add new social roles in addition to their traditional roles. Civil rights gains allowed new opportunities for women of color within the white world of achievement and ambition. A fashionably thin body helped women to achieve those ambitions.

Many minority women have always worked double shifts inside and outside of their homes. What has changed is that with a new window of opportunity came a powerful pressure on significant numbers of minority women to do more than sustain themselves and children. For ambitious educated women, there is now an additional imperative, to succeed in a high power, professional career in a white, male, capitalist, world while caring for children and doing the domestic labor for their own households. It is among those minority women who aspire to professional success that Anorexia strikes. Racial processes here combine with gender, class, psychological, political, and economic processes to push minority women to join their white sisters in anorexic disorders.

Economic Processes As Conditions of Existence for Anorexia

As we explained in Chapter One, the economic process of selling labor power yields for women systematically lower wages than men obtain. Although the gap between women's and men's earnings had, until recently, slowly decreased, we still have a long way to go before earning what men earn for full-time work. Women's overwhelming responsibility for childcare and our preponderance in the lowest paid labor, i.e., part time work without benefits, combine to induce us to attract men and their wages to escape poverty. Women who work full time earn 76.9 percent of what men earn (U.S. Women's Bureau and the National Committee on Pay Equity 2006).) One of four US women works part time (United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Women’s Bureau 2007). Most part time workers are wives and mothers (Kornbluh 2004; California Women’s Law Center 2006; Toscano 2006) working part time in order to fulfill our disproportionate responsibilities for childcare and housework. Women's attractiveness, defined in terms of slenderness, becomes a means to the greater economic security provided by male wages. Thus, economic considerations may contribute to women's quest for slenderness.

Both the legal and illegal pornography industries are multi-billion dollar industries (Sun 2008) devoted to portraying woman as bodies and desirable women as slim. The diet industry is a forty billion dollar industry (Reisner 2008) convincing women that happiness can be achieved through slenderness. The advertising industry is a multi-billion dollar industry feeding women's insecurities about our looks and bodies in order to sell products. Fashions are designed for slender women with the standard shapes that fit mass produced clothing styles. With sales in mind, the cosmetics industry seeks to convince women that our looks are crucial to future happiness. The fashion/ cosmetics/diet industries combine with the legal and illegal pornography industries to create a chorus of different voices extolling slenderness as female success and defining fat as failure. The anorectic takes the barrage of advertisement/ fashion/ cosmetics/ women's magazine and diet advice to heart. Believing that her problems will diminish with her flesh she is relentless in pursuit of that slenderness that will make her the person of her dreams

The economic processes that provide conditions of existence for Anorexia include certain class processes. Our first chapter described class processes in the household. To review briefly, in what we call "the feudal household", the husband, is the lord of the manor. He provides the home and the funds for cleaning agents, cooking, shopping, etc. His birth right as male gives him the right to compel his wife to provide housework and childcare. The housewife transforms raw materials into goods and services. She transforms cleansing agents into cleanliness and (more importantly for the anorexic), she transforms raw foods into meals. She produces more cleanliness and meals than she alone consumes. Some of her domestic production goes for her own sustenance (necessary labor), the rest, (the surplus labor), goes to her husband who distributes it to himself and/or others.

In other households, particularly households of women living alone or with roommates, domestic labor may fit the description of the ancient class process where women individually create their own domestic surplus and individually appropriate and distribute it, as do individual small business people or professionals who work for themselves. In households of groups that do their domestic labor together as equals, household labor may fit the description of the communal class process. It is important to note that none of the household class processes we have described is a capitalist class process. All take place outside of the capitalist marketplace. Capitalism requires the payment of a wage for workers who produce surplus labor, which is appropriated and distributed by others.

As young women develop in households they define themselves in terms of the values and behaviors they perceive. Most young women model themselves in part on the feudal, ancient or communal value systems their mothers adopt in relation to household class situations. These values often are a detriment to success in the capitalist marketplace. Young women are caught between their deep identification with their mothers, whose non-capitalist models they learned to follow as unconscious young children, and the demands made upon them to play capitalist roles for which they may be educated, but they are not emotionally prepared. They are unconsciously functioning within one set of psychological, gender and class processes, while they consciously try to live within a different set. They are wrenched between two worlds each with a different, contradictory set of values. One attempt to resolve this conflict is Anorexia.

Currently, ever more women in the United States work outside of feudal households. They function within different class structures at home and at work. Their adjustments to the different class processes in which they participate are overdetermined in part by the self-definitions and attitudes of the women involved. If a woman defines herself as what we call a feudal housewife, and sees her work outside the home as an extension of her work within it, she may define her capitalist job as a temporary family duty assumed until no longer necessary. In this case, she may work outside of the home without forming either a commitment to her job or any kind of deep identification as an extra-household worker. In such a case, the woman's self definition is not split by dual identification.

On the other hand, double demands are particularly contradictory in the case of the ambitious women who become anorexic. These are women whose identities are split between the demands for dependency, sacrifice, and nurture in feudal or other non-capitalist households and ruthless competition in the capitalist work world. It is these women who are expected to work both a psychological and a physical "second shift" . They expect themselves to compete successfully in the capitalist world of exchange value outside the home as well as to maintain their feudal, ancient, or communal, use value producing roles within the home.
The non- capitalist, and particularly the feudal world of women, its ties that both bind and choke are symbolized by food and its preparation.  Anorexics refuse the need for food and with it the need to belong to the non-capitalist world of the household. However Anorexia's victims obsess on the food they cannot have. In this way the disorder enacts the need for connection and continuity with a frequently feudal past symbolized by need, food and mothering. Anorexia also enacts the drive for personal independence and control in capitalist careers which have little tolerance for personal need. Anorexia denies and controls women's needs for two contradictory roles, each impossible to fully achieve or to relinquish.

To compete in the capitalist world in modern North America, women need to have vastly different characteristics from those needed within feudal, ancient or communal households. Career oriented, educated anorectics will be competing for executive roles like their male peers. For these roles they need to get others to serve them and their corporations. If they become industrial capitalists, they appropriate the surplus labor of others. If they become capitalist managers, they order others to produce surplus labor. They cannot be concerned that each person receive her or his due, but that the corporation may successfully exploit its laborers. In fact, their corporate executive success depends upon insuring that employees receive little of the surplus they create. Capitalist managers need to deny needs both to nurture and be nurtured while they foster their needs to exploit and compete.

Anorectics focus on controlling diet as a displacement for controlling the competing, contradictory foci within and between career advancement and feudal or communal nurture. In extreme cases, anorexic women end up so distracted and physically exhausted that they are forced to drop out of both class processes and to die. In this way they opt out of both controlling class systems, the one at home and the one at work.  They literally sacrifice their lives to gain control of themselves.

Anorexia has become an epidemic as the demands on women to perform as men in the capitalist work place have escalated without creating the social services that would relieve women of their role as nurturers in non-capitalist households. The seeming contradictions in anorexic behavior express the conflict between current expectations of women and a largely feudal past from which we are now breaking. For hundreds of years, women's primary labor has been socially defined as the production of household goods, services, and nurturing for men and children. Generations of women raised their daughters to fill their feudal household roles. Now women are expected to maintain their roles as homemakers while succeeding at labor in the market place all the while disciplining ourselves to fit media images of feminine attractiveness. Whereas formerly we had one feudal master, the male lord of the household, now we have three masters: men, bosses, and the media, all giving simultaneous contradictory directives. The radical break in ambitious, modern, women's three ring lives erupts in the form of eating disorders expressing the rupture between generations of daughters and their mothers whose non-capitalist home-circumscribed lives can no longer serve as viable models.

Anorexia is an expression of women's agony as we grapple painfully, and with few supports with the contradictions crowding in on our lives. Eating disorders are a social metaphor chosen as the stage on which we as women, defined as bodies, act out on the site of our own bodies the revolutionary transformations of our age.

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