Emily Blanzy The Relationship between Postfeminism and Power Politics Margaret Atwood’s, Bodily Harm, details the descent of a Canadian woman named Rennie from normalcy to physical, emotional and psychological disturbance. Rennie undergoes a partial mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer, suffers the disintegration of her romantic relationship with Jake and finds herself entrenched in the political upheaval of the Caribbean island St. Antoine. Rennie lives rather apathetically; she does not care about integrity in her work or about love in sexual relationships.
Perhaps unwittingly, Rennie consents to Gayle Greene’s definition of postfeminism, which asserts that women should “achieve in the workplace” but also “be sexy, seductive, deferential, dress fashionably, consume endlessly, and make themselves marketable”. Although Rennie subscribes to the ideology of postfeminism through her career and romantic relationship decisions, she eventually discovers the dangerous link between postfemism and the promotion of sadomasochistic power politics.
The slippery slope between postfeminism and power politics manifests itself through Rennie’s lack of integrity in her Journalistic areer and through her romantic relationships with Jake, Paul and Daniel. At the onset of Bodily Harm, Rennie describes her early college years. During her beginning career in academia and Journalism, the ideals of intellectual and professional honesty resonated deeply with Rennie. Essentially, Rennie aligned herself with the second wave feminist movement’s emphasis on the female mind instead of the female body. Rennie recalls her previous dedication: “once she had ambitions, which she now thinks of as illusions…
But that was 1970 and she was in college. She decided to specialize in abuses: honesty would be her policy. ” (Atwood 55) After facing rejection in the work force, Rennie settles for writing about fashion and lifestyle pieces. Rennie’s resignation of her dream symbolizes her acquiescence to the postfeminist belief that second wave feminism’s ideals are simply unattainable in practice. By abandoning her policy of honesty, Rennie inadvertently devalues the female mind. In turn, the devaluation of the female mind resituates the male gaze upon the female body.
Indeed, Rennie demeans her intellectual worth by ceding her spirations for frivolous Journalism pieces entitled “In and Out” or “Class: Who Has It, Who Doesn’t”. (Atwood 57) However, Rennie also consents to demoralizing behavior within her romantic relationships, most notably with Jake. Rennie’s long-term boyfriend Jake may care for her emotional well-being, but is mainly driven by his sexual compulsions for her. For instance, Jake blatantly expresses his admiration for Rennie’s body. During a sarcastic banter with Jake, Rennie inquires: “what about my mind?
Aren’t you going to tell me I have an interesting me? ” Jake mockingly replies: I’m not a mind man. I’m more interested in your body, if you emotional and mental self. Disturbingly, Rennie finds Jake’s body-centric thinking “refreshing” instead of degrading. This demonstrates Rennie’s superficiality in romantic relationships. However, after Rennie is diagnosed with breast cancer, she soon considers Jake’s body-centric perception of her unsettling. In a post-surgery sexual scene with Jake, Rennie senses their lack of intimacy: “he raised her arms, holding her wrists above her head. Fight me for it, he said.
Tell me you want it. This was his ritual, one of them, t had been hers too and now she could no longer perform it. ” (Atwood 190) When Rennie is faced with the impermanence of her body, the body-centric relationship with Jake unravels. After enduring a partial mastectomy, Rennie experiences an existential crisis. Faced with disease and the downfall of her dysfunctional relationship with Jake, Rennie decides that she is in dire need of a vacation. Rennie books a flight to St. Antoine, an obscure Caribbean island, to write a travel and leisure piece. At first, Rennie scrutinizes St.
Antoine for all of its inadequacies (sub-par ining and mosquito-ridden lodging). Only when the possibility of a romance with Paul presents itself does Rennie feel intrigued. Rennie’s relationship with Paul begins as a fling defined solely by sex. Rennie convinces herself that she is comfortable with casual sex. In spite of this, Rennie finds herself craving constancy rather than instability in romantic relationships. After Paul openly confesses to Rennie to not “expect too much” from him and their relationship, she feels dissatisfied. Rennie thinks to herself: she “didn’t know she was expecting anything until she was told not to.
Now they seem vast, sentimental, grandiose, technicolour, magical, ridiculous, her expectations. ” (Atwood 217) Despite past denial, Rennie yearns for men to acknowledge her mind over her body. Even as Rennie satisfies both Jake and Paul’s lust for her body, she also feels increasingly perturbed by their disregard of her mind. Because of this, Rennie feels emotionally neglected. Rennie’s interaction with her surgeon Daniel reveals her desire for mind-centric romance. Initially, Daniel’s colloquial kindness seems corny to Rennie. However, in time, Daniel’s transparency appeals to Rennie.
More importantly, Daniel speaks to Rennie earnestly. Daniel tries to appeal to Rennie’s mind and ignores her body. After the partial mastectomy, Rennie breaks down crying in Daniel’s office. Daniel attempts to console Rennie: “don’t be sorry, he said. You’re human… Think of your life as a clean page. You can write whatever you want on it. ” (Atwood 75) Daniel’s appreciation of Rennie’s mind over her body is demonstrated through his compassion. For Rennie, mindcentric romantic relationships become more enticing as body-centric romantic relationships consistently disappoint.
If Rennie is to overcome her unhappiness in both her career and romantic relationships, she must confront the reality of her participation in postfeminism, and thereby, the promotion of power politics. The link between postfeminism and power politics unfolds in an ominous display of gendered, political violence. Because postfeminism recklessly disregards second wave feminism’s emphasis on the importance of the female mind, the female body is treated as a sexualized spectacle for the male voyeuristic gaze. When women are seen as simply a Antoine, violence and power merge.
In the midst of all the chaos, Rennie observes St. Antoine’s soldiers with their weapons in hand: “each of them has a glass, each of them has a machine gun… There’s a woman with them, very drunk, she’s lying on the patio near them, in the broken glass, humming to herself, her skirt up over her thighs, opening and closing her legs. ” (Atwood 247) This scene, in particular, presents an image of men using their power to dehumanize women. St. Antoine’s men in power, namely soldiers, use their privileged position to inflict pain upon the defenseless, in particular women.
Margaret Atwood’s Bodily Harm uses the character Rennie as a vehicle to dramatically expose postfeminism’s unintentional compliance in the promotion of sadomasochistic power politics. In the beginning and throughout most of the novel, Rennie is blind to the risks postfeminism poses. Only until Lora, the bluecollar foil of Rennie’s character, is brutally beaten to death does she comprehend the reality of postfeminism’s connection to sadomasochistic power politics. Ultimately, Atwood’s Bodily Harm subverts the hypocrisy of postfeminism in order to highlight its adverse, societal consequences