In Sandra Barkty’s article “Foucault, Femininity, and Modernization of Patriarchal Power”, she takes Foucault’s idea of docile bodies that we studied in the last week, and performs a gendered analysis. She discusses Foucault’s idea of the panopticon, citing that “[t]he effect of this is ‘to induce in the inmate a state of consciousness and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power’; each becomes to himself his own jailer” (Bartky citing Foucault 1979, 18). Gendered roles in society are so embedded that not only does society at large work to surveil people’s behavior, but individuals also subconsciously surveil themselves. Thus, as we internalize our own surveillance, we become docile bodies (bodies that are “productive” and “obedient”, following bodily norms without a fight). Bartky argues that there are specific ways female bodies are constructed as feminine. While reading this gendered analysis, we began to wonder how Cinder’s body fit into this production. How did her body intervene in feminine scripts that construct the body as “natural” instead of “produced” or “political”? How does Cinder’s physicality as a cyborg intervene in her production of her feminine body? Has Cinder internalized the self-surveillance of her cyborg body in the same way an average woman would internalize femininity? Thus, using ideas from various sources analyzing Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, we argue that Cinder’s cyborg body both reifies and challenges feminine body norms and identity creation. We assert that studying YA fiction such as Cinder is critical in understanding the current cultural climate surrounding girlhood, as the disciplinary practices used to police femininity are incredibly violent to young adult women, as they hit puberty and are expected to transition from children into the “ideal woman”. For many young women, the anxiety around this is so great that the body becomes the self (Phillips 40). Finding alternative views of womanhood outside of dominant, hegemonic media becomes incredibly important as adolescent women seek to construct their own identities and how they inhabit femininity.
Firstly, using ideas from Leah Phillips article “Real Women Aren’t Shiny or Plastic”, Cinder’s identity as a cyborg intervenes in scripts about the “natural”/“ideal” female body by virtue of existence. Cinder is not fully able-bodied – rather her ability to be able-bodied is relied upon her cyborg elements, without which, we know she would not have a foot, an arm, and later a spine, or even a fully functioning heart. Thus, the audience, and the young adult female demographic the book is targeted at, learns about the multiplicity of bodies. Cinder’s body is stuck in limbo, not fully electronic and not fully human, mirroring the ways adolescent female bodies are liminal. She is made even more liminal at the end of the novel when it is revealed that she is not human at all – but rather Lunar, an alien with the power to change her appearance. Cinder’s body then becomes female yet changeable, and as such offers a different idea of being an adolescent girl (Phillips 41). Though much of society is built upon binaries (male/female, good/evil) and many fantasy stories rely on binaries with the heroic prince’s strength often being a key in success, this YA fiction has a female protagonist with an inherently unstable, changeable, injured body (Phillips 44), echoing the idea that YA fiction has evolved into a genre that takes on discussions of power often centred on the body, and in the case of our class, how the female identity and body intervene in discourses of power. It is important to note as well that though Cinder is based on Cinderella, the story does not give us a reiteration of the unreachable, delicate, homemaker femininity Cinderella depicts but rather exists in opposition to the able body required of Cinderella and adolescent women (Phillips 46). Thus, Cinder’s body offers the audience and young adult women a potential escape from the trap of reaching “perfect” womanhood with its depiction of Cinder as a strong, likeable, relatable protagonist that deviates from the “normal/natural” body and thus, the “natural/normal” self.
Further, Cinder’s cyborg identity interferes with her ability to discipline her body as feminine. As discussed in Jennifer Mitchell’s article, “‘A girl. A machine. A freak’: A Consideration of Contemporary Queer Composites”, “Cinder obsesses over the physical manifestations of her complicated humanity — her hybrid position. When she… contemplates a new gown for the ball, more pressing and specific concerns for skin grafts that would hide ‘her cyborg parts’ (Meyer 31) surface instead” (Mitchell 6). From her awareness of the need to conceal her otherness (as a cyborg) from both Prince Kai and the rest of the population, we know she performs self-surveillance and discipline. As displayed in contemplating acquiring a new gown for the ball, she has been conditioned by society to produce a feminine body. However, her inability to first conceal her identity as a cyborg renders her unable to produce the feminine body non-cyborg females strive towards, particularly in the context of the ball. She has, as such, internalized self-surveillance perhaps more than other humans, in the context of her otherness rather than her femininity. Her body has, indeed, become the self — it simply defies the gender binaries we are accustomed to dealing with.
As we have asserted, the cyborg body presents us with both a challenging and supportive embodiment of the feminine body and identity creation. The contradicting nature of Cinder’s identity allows us to escape the realities behind society’s conditioning of our bodies as docile, as requiring to police our own femininity. Despite having been conditioned to police our bodies and our femininity, we can find comfort in knowing that there are ways to escape the hegemonic rendering of the adolescent female body.
- Though Cinder is ashamed of her cyborg identity for much of the novel, at the end she must get over the inner critical voice that asserts that she is less than human in order to break out of her prison cell and start on her next quest. What does this say about self-surveillance? Does it mean you can conquer your own inner policing voice that has internalized negative views about your identity? Or is self-surveillance in our modern world too embedded for us to distinguish what are our own decisions and the decisions we’ve been conditioned to make?
- Cinder’s constant struggle between balancing her different identities — cyborg, female, orphan, mechanic, human, lunar — dictate the ways in which she must monitor both her body and her behaviour, so she may be accepted as a member of society. Are there other ways in which characters in Cinder must uphold a certain type of surveillance (such as Cinder’s monitoring of her identity as a cyborg) in order to function in society, before policing their bodies’ femininity?
Bartky, Sandra Lee. “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power”. Women’s Studies 1020E, Sections 001 & 002 UWO/570 & 571 Kings. Book No. 10711. London, Canada: The University of Western Ontario, 2013. pp. 15-36.
Meyer, Marissa. Cinder, vol. bk. 1, Feiwel & Friends, New York, 2012.
Mitchell, Jennifer. “”A Girl. A Machine. A Freak”: A Consideration of Contemporary Queer Composites.” Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature, vol. 52, no. 1, 2014., pp. 51-62.
Phillips, Leah. “Real Women Aren’t Shiny (Or Plastic): The Adolescent Female Body in YA Fantasy.” Girlhood Studies, vol. 8, no. 3, 2015., pp. 40-55.