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Sexualized Bodies in Canadian Women's Short Fiction



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In this dissertation, I examine short stories by Canadian women writers from the 1970s to the 2000s to answer three overarching questions. First, I analyze, using various theories of corporeality, how bodies of female characters in these short stories perform a wide range of acquiescence and resistance to dominant Western ideals of female beauty. Second, I investigate the relationships between women characters’ gender, sexuality, social class, culture, and age, and their ability to engage in a variety of acts of compliance and defiance through such methods as food restriction, binge and purge, and surgical procedures. Third, I query the linguistic techniques and narrative devices of the short story genre that facilitate Canadian women writers in their exploration of the postmodern body’s fluctuating pleasure, distress, satisfaction, shame, and ultimate instability. The bodies of the female characters in these stories sometimes demonstrate the painfully strict and cumbersome social construction of the feminine body as mandated by Western hegemonic ideals. However, many of the characters devise and utilise specific stratagems to bypass or circumvent the restriction of their bodies, bodies that are perceived to be outside societal norms by the male characters or by society at large. The female characters’ bodily experiences, such as body modification, nudity, and abjection, demonstrate both the innate power of the corporeal, and the difficulty of controlling the message of their performances as understood by masculine watchers. The women resist dominant Western ideals of femaleness and sexuality through varied means, such as embracing an embodied and lived sexuality, making alterations to the appearance of their bodies, or accepting their bodies as unstable and ever changing. These same modes of resistance can and sometimes do hinder the characters’ capacities to inhabit their bodies. The fluidity of the body is both painful and exhilarating to the female characters as they seek bodies and gender performances that align with their life experiences of being both in and of the world.



short story, short fiction, Canadian women writers, female beauty, performing power, abject body, breasts, eating disorder, eating distress, masculine gaze, body canvas



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)






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