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Feminism & the Female Body: Liberating the Amazon Within

Shirley Castelnuovo and Sharon R. Guthrie
ISBN: 978-1-55587-439-1
1998/182 pages/LC: 97-49323
Gender and Political Theory
“[A] theoretically and empirically engaging account of feminist liberation as both a mental and a physical phenomenon.”—Toska Olson, SIGNS


This book is about women’s willingness and desire to empower themselves not just mentally, but also physically—and about helping to transform domination related to gender, race, class, age, disability, and sexual orientation.

While recognizing that feminism has been responsible for changing both the ways that society perceives women and how women perceive themselves, Castelnuovo and Guthrie challenge the emphasis on mind that characterizes much feminist theory. Because the ideals of Western feminine beauty are not just mental constructs, they argue, but are embodied in postures and gestures associated with physical vulnerability, freedom from patriarchal oppression requires empowerment at the bodily level as well. Their theoretical framework, emphasizing a mind-body approach, illuminates their empirical work with women bodybuilders and martial artists.

Castelnuovo and Guthrie examine the feminist fascination with the female bodybuilder, who is seen variously as an icon of resistance and a reflection of patriarchal dominance. They are particularly interested in the differences between individually motivated empowerment, as exemplified  by most of the bodybuilders they interviewed, and the collective feminist resistance demonstrated by the martial artists. They also devote a chapter to the topic of disability. Their final chapter explores whether coalition building among diversely identified women is possible in this era of identity politics.


Shirley Castelnuovo is professor of political science emeritus at Northeastern Illinois University and adjunct professor of political science at Saddleback College. Sharon Guthrie is associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education at California State University, Long Beach.


  • Introduction.
  • The Feminist Wars.
  • The Problem of Dualism and the Physically Powerful Female Body.
  • Elite Female Bodybuilders:  Models of Resistance or Compliance?
  • The Thousand Waves Experience: Intersecting Feminism and the Martial Arts.
  • Female Sporting Bodies.
  • Women With Disabilities: Transgressive Challenges to the Normative Body.
  • Identity Politics and Coalition-Building. Appendices.