The Genders of Waves
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Seeing the sea as a feminine force and flux has a storied history in the crosscurrents of Judeo-Christian thought, Enlightenment philosophy, and natural scientific epistemology. The ocean has been motherly amnion, fluid matrix, seductive siren, and unruly tide, with these castings opposing such putatively heteromasculine principles as monogenetic procreative power, ordering rationality, self-securing independence, and dominion over the biophysical world (see Bachelard 1983; Irigaray 1985; Theweleit 1987; Grosz 1994). At other moments, the ocean has been masculine, the embodiment of Poseidon or Yahweh, or of the virile power of storms and vigorous hydrotherapy. This essay examines how ocean waves—icons of rhythmic and predictable motion as well as of chaos and destruction—have been similarly gendered, and asks particularly after descriptions of waves as women. It also flips that inquiry, questioning not only the gyno(and anthro- and zoo-) morphism of wave symbolism but also how the wave metaphor has configured narrations of women's social history, especially [End Page 29] in the case of waves of feminism in the United States. I suggest that rhetorical relays between "waves" and "women" have animated and naturalized a shifting store of gendered symbolisms.
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Anthropology Program; Massachusetts Institute of Technology. School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly
Johns Hopkins University Press
Helmreich, Stefan. “The Genders of Waves.” WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol. 45, no. 1–2, 2017, pp. 29–51.
Author's final manuscript