Oppression, Privilege, & Aesthetics: The use of the aesthetic in theories of race, gender, and sexuality, and the role of race, gender, and sexuality in philosophical aesthetics Abstract

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Oppression, Privilege, & Aesthetics:

The use of the aesthetic in theories of race, gender, and sexuality, and the role of race, gender, and sexuality in philosophical aesthetics
Abstract: Gender, race, and sexuality are not just identities; they are also systems of social organization—i.e., systems of privilege and oppression. This article addresses two main ways privilege and oppression (e.g., racism, misogyny, heteronormativity) are relevant topics in and for philosophical aesthetics: (1) the role of the aesthetic in privilege and oppression, and (2) the role of philosophical aesthetics, as a discipline and a body of texts, in constructing and naturalizing relations of privilege and oppression (i.e., white heteropatriarchy). The first part addresses how systems of privilege and oppression use the aesthetic. I will discuss various ways race, gender, and sexuality, as both embodied identities and broader social institutions, work with and through “the aesthetic”. The second part addresses racism and (hetero)sexism in the discipline of aesthetics. Both in its history and its present practice aesthetics’ apparent neutrality on questions of privilege and oppression is actually evidence of its investment in systems of privilege and oppression.
1. Introduction

Traditionally, privilege and oppression are topics associated with political philosophy. This article focuses on two ways in which privilege and oppression are relevant topics in and for philosophical aesthetics: (1) the role of the aesthetic in privilege and oppression, and (2) the role of philosophical aesthetics in constructing and naturalizing systems of social/political privilege and oppression. First, I will argue that aesthetics and the concept of “the aesthetic” can be used to theorize and analyze privilege and oppression. This is possible because “the aesthetic” is a medium for the construction and maintenance of socio-political privilege and oppression. Though some philosophers—especially philosophers of race, gender, and sexuality—account for the political significance of the aesthetic, this issue has had a greater impact in fields outside philosophy (e.g., cultural studies, gender studies). The first section below is in part an attempt to include philosophy in an already-existent and productive interdisciplinary conversation. Second, I turn from political philosophy to philosophical aesthetics, specifically, its history and key concepts. Examining both the canon and current practices, I show a few ways philosophical aesthetics contributes to the construction and naturalization of white heteropatriarchy.1 Taken together, both these lines of inquiry demonstrate that aesthetics is one of the primary domains or contexts in which systems of privilege and oppression both establish themselves, and are critiqued and resisted. Neither of these lines of inquiry conflates politics and aesthetics, nor find them reducible to one another. Rather, they maintain that (a) what is often at stake in aesthetic values are systems of privilege and marginalization (race, gender, sexuality), and (b) that social identities like race and gender are learned, lived, and perceived in broadly aesthetic media/means. This article is a relatively broad overview of some of the ways systems of privilege and oppression and aesthetics/the aesthetic bear upon one another.

Before I begin, I’d like to clarify my approach to the topic, and to define some terms. First, though my work in aesthetics, feminism, and critical race theory is philosophically pluralist, my background is in continental philosophy, so this article reflects my continentally-leaning pluralism. Second, though this article’s subject shares affinities with subjects like feminist aesthetics and black aesthetics, it does not focus on a specific identity (like women or blacks), but on the broader interlocking systems of patriarchy, whiteness, and heteronormativity. As I explain below, I treat privilege and oppression as “systems”—they are ways of organizing things (societies, languages, musical cadences, etc.), not just identities (i.e., properties, features, or qualities of bodies or of cultures). So while identity-centric frameworks are more focused on the what, my systematic approach is more interested in the how. By “how” I mean: In what ways do systems of privilege and oppression organize society? How do they create and maintain hierarchies of gender, race, and sexuality? I should also clarify that though privilege, oppression, and aesthetics are by no means limited to the West/Global North/etc., I am limiting my discussion to systems of privilege, oppression, and aesthetic theorizing within the West. My claims here are context-specific, and not generalizable beyond the Western philosophical tradition…a tradition still in need of this sort of self-critique. Moreover, race, gender, and sexuality are context-specific (they organize different societies in different ways), so my discussion of white heteropatriarchy will reflect the European and North American contexts assumed in the philosophical literature this journal primarily covers.

Next, I want to establish what I mean by “privilege,” “oppression,” and a “system” of privilege/oppression. Especially in Western liberal democracies, laypeople tend to think of oppression as the result of individual cognitive or moral flaws and biases: racism is the result of ignorance, bigotry, or selfishness, for example. In this view, oppression is the result of individuals’ conscious attitudes and actions; thus, oppression can be eliminated by changing individuals’ knowledge and/or attitudes. Many philosophers who study social inequality think this account of oppression is insufficient, because it overlooks the fact that privilege and oppression are deeply embedded in social structures, epistemologies, and values. They are features of our systems for perceiving, organizing, and evaluating the world and our experiences of it.2 The term “privilege” is used as supplement to this lay understanding: privilege and oppression are qualities of individual actions or attitudes because they are broader, more fundamental elements of society—they are embedded in our ontology, our metaphysics, our epistemology, our ethics, and, of course, our aesthetics. This embeddedness is what makes privilege and oppression a “system.”

Traditional identity-centric views of privilege and oppression focus on people: people, as the bearers of specific identities, are objects or agents of oppression, recipients or givers of privilege. A systematic understanding of privilege and oppression focuses on norms, assumptions, and hegemonies.3 The systematic account doesn’t ignore people, but considers them as participants in these broader “systems.” Individuals both influence and are influenced by these systems. In other words, the systematic account of privilege and oppression treats individual people as necessary, but not sufficient, causes of social inequality. In systematic accounts, people experience privilege and/or oppression (frequently both, in some combination) because of the implicit biases assumed in or normalized by superficially neutral institutions or practices—institutions and practices that individual people actively shape and maintain. For example, traditional, identity-focused critiques worry about men as agents of patriarchy and recipients of patriarchal privilege. A systematic view considers normative masculinity as something that all individual people (men, women, and genderqueers) have to negotiate because it is both assumed and reinforced by concepts, social structures, official institutions, cultural values, and other apparently gender-neutral phenomena.

Another difference between identity-centric accounts and systematic accounts is that the former treats race, gender, and sexuality primarily as attributes of human bodies and/or psyches. As systems of social organization, white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity use race, gender, and sexuality to organize identities, bodies, and a whole lot of other things, from hairstyles to access to health care. White supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity collaboratively organize society to funnel benefits to things (people, institutions) that participate in whiteness, masculinity, and heterosexuality.4 To be privileged is thus to participate in a society that funnels benefits disproportionately to (and harm away from) people in your position/situation. To be oppressed is to participate in a society that funnels benefits disproportionately away from (and harm to) people in your position or situation.5 I want to emphasize that privilege and oppression are not just things that happen to people—we actively participate in maintaining the systems of social organization that dole out benefits and harms. Thus, in this article, “white heteropatriarchy” refers to any system of social organization that assumes white hetero-masculinity as a norm, and compels us to distribute privilege and oppression according to this norm.

In this systematic approach, privilege and oppression to operate beyond what liberalism frames as “the political” or “the public sphere.” Privilege and oppression work and manifest in ways that are not usually considered political—for example, via aesthetic norms—and penetrate deeply into “the private” and micropolitical spheres. With this systematic understanding of privilege and oppression in mind, I will now review some of the ways contemporary political philosophers use aesthetics and “the aesthetic” to examine systems of privilege and oppression.
2. What Is The Role Of The Aesthetic In Privilege and Oppression?

Patriarchy, white privilege, and heteronormativity are interlocking systems of privilege and oppression.6 These systems are deeply embedded the West’s most abstract reaches (e.g., philosophical concepts) and its most concrete, material realities (e.g., human bodies). The aesthetic is a particularly charged point of transfer between the “abstract” and “concrete” aspects of systematic privilege and oppression. Thus, both “the aesthetic” as such, and specific concepts from aesthetics (e.g., the visual, disgust, or beauty), can be used to examine the relationship between patriarchy, white privilege, and heteronormativity as systems, on the one hand, and gendered, raced, sexually-oriented bodies, on the other.7 But what is that relationship? What is the role of the aesthetic in privilege and oppression? As I will show below, attention to the aesthetic helps us understand how systems of privilege/oppression work.

In this section I will discuss some of the most prominent recent responses to these questions; my account here is far from exhaustive. I begin in part A with the work of Jacques Rancière, who argues that the aesthetic is what systems of social organization organize; he argues that the aesthetic is the primary medium in which privilege is maintained and oppression is resisted. It is also possible to claim that the aesthetic is part of what systems of social organization organize, and that the aesthetic is an important concept for political philosophy even if it is not, as Rancière thinks, the primary medium of social organization. In part B I consider the more limited claim that white heteropatriarchy uses the aesthetic to organize domains of experience that are implicit to propositional knowledge. This approach is increasingly prominent in feminist, critical-race, and queer phenomenology. Finally, in section C, I narrow the focus even further, examining one specific way that “the aesthetic” can serve as the “stuff” that systems of privilege organize. As Monique Roelofs’ work on aesthetics and racialization demonstrates, this is not a one-way street: white supremacy organizes the aesthetic, which in turn affects patterns of everyday social relations.

  1. Political Privilege and Oppression Work Primarily Through The Aesthetic

One way to answer the question, “What is the relationship between the aesthetic and systems of privilege and oppression?” is to argue that systems of privilege and oppression operate primarily through the aesthetic. Which is to say: systems of privilege and oppression use the aesthetic as the main vehicle or medium to organize society. French philosopher Jacques Rancière holds this view. He thinks systems of political organization are grounded in the aesthetic. “Politics, he argues, “is first of all a battle about perceptible/sensible material” (Rancière LPA 11; emphasis mine). The aesthetic, for Rancière, is the primary means or medium through which relations of privilege and oppression are maintained and/or changed. Before explaining this claim, I want to define Rancière’s specialized use of the term “aesthetic.” 8 The aesthetic, according to Rancière, is what is “perceptible.”9 Preferring the term “the sensible” over “the aesthetic,” Rancière draws on the original meaning of the “aesthetic”: it was derived from the Greek aesthesis, i.e., having to do with sensation and sense perception.10 Systems of social organization “partition” (D 57) the aesthetic; they use the aesthetic as the instrument by which they organize society. In his framework, aesthetics, or “the sensible,” is what gets organized or reorganized (e.g., in the “battles” he refers to in the quote above). In (re)organizing the aesthetic, society itself is (re)organized. Re-organizing events, though rare, can take place primarily through the aesthetic, so if we want to change society, if we want a more just society, we have to use and engage the aesthetic.

This “battle” is a contest over “what is seen and what can be said about it, around who has the ability to see and the talent to speak” (Rancière, PA 13). Systems of social organization (e.g., patriarchy) use the aesthetic to determine the boundaries of society (what it is we have in common that constitutes us as a group) and who counts as a credible, authoritative member of society. For example, the French emphasize language as central to national identity and culture, and as use linguistic mastery as an index of legitimate citizenship. In Black Skin White Masks, Frantz Fanon explains how perceived linguistic mastery is “distributed” along racial lines: even though his French is more technically correct than some (many) white French citizens, his racial (black) and national (Martinicianquean) identity causes others to perceive him as less linguistically skilled.11 His technical and stylistic skills are used as evidence or justification for his marginal status in French society, when in fact it is his marginal status in French society that leads his speech to be judged as deficient. The logic is circular: relations of privilege and oppression influence the “distribution” of the sensible, just as distributions of sensibility influence relations of privilege and oppression. Rancière’s point is that advantage and disadvantage are distributed primarily via the sensible/aesthetic. In this example, race doles out not only perceived linguistic mastery, but, more importantly, relative access to social goods, in the case of privilege, or lack of access and increased vulnerability, in the case of oppression. Moreover, relative whiteness is manifest in “aesthetic” experiences, like speaking style and linguistic useageusage.

So what’s the point of thinking that systems of social/political (re)organization are primarily aesthetic? Why is this an interesting or important claim? According to Rancière, mainstream political philosophy focuses on the content of political relations to the exclusion of their form (e.g., on what is said rather than who is speaking or in what manner discussion proceeds).12 Rancière’s focus on the “speech situation”—what is up for discussion, and who counts as a discussant—shows that the “form” of political relations is where most of the “politics” actually happens. Advantage and disadvantage aren’t what gets acted out on the stage; they are doled out in the setting of the stage itself.13 Put differently, privilege and oppression are instituted in “the choice of the very measuring rod” (D, 5) itself. The aesthetic, according to Rancière, gives us access to that “measuring rod” because it is that rod. To use one of Rancière’s examples from Disagreement, ancient Greek political philosophy framed the distinction between citizen and non-citizen in terms of qualitatively different kinds of vocal expressions: citizens could “speak,” but non-citizens could only groan and moan inarticulately.14 So, the aesthetic distinction between speech and groaning, between logically composed expression and mere noise, is what is appealed to when determining someone’s political status. Mainstream political philosophy, in overlooking these “behind-the-scenes” maneuvers, in failing to reflect on the “measuring rod” itself, naturalizes the very systems of privilege and oppression its authors imagine themselves to be critiquing (D, xii).15 In order to critique systems of privilege and oppression, we have to analyze the “measuring rod,” not overlook it. The aesthetic, according to Rancière, gives us access to that “measuring rod” because it is that rod. So, in Rancière’s view, mainstream political philosophy’s ignorance of the aesthetic leads it to be complicit with hegemony. If political philosophy wants to be critical of domination, it must, as Rancière argues, attend to the “the perceptible organization” (D 40) that legitimates specific actions and agents as political ones.

In a Rancièrian account, white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity ares political because they are aesthetic. Some scholars, mostly outside philosophy proper, are beginning to explore this avenue of inquiry.16 The relevance for or role of white heteropatriarchy in what he calls the aesthetic regime is not something Rancière really discusses, but it is a topic that the secondary literature ought to address.

  1. The Aesthetic and Implicit Understanding

The aesthetic does not have to be the primary medium of or location for political privilege and oppression. The aesthetic can be one among many tools in white heteropatriarchy’s kit. The aesthetic is proving to be particularly productive for analyzing and critiquing implicit bias, or, the impact of white heteropatriarchy on implicit understanding. According to Alexis Shotwell, epistemologies are “implicit” when they are ontologically or contextually non-propositional.17 Implicit understanding is not stored or transmitted verbally, but corporeally and affectively. Thus, as Shotwell argues, as epistemologists shift the study of knowledge from the traditional domain of mind and brain to the corporeal-sensorial, the aesthetic is a particularly productive avenue for examining bias. This approach complements the more general trend among feminist, critical race, and queer theorists to re-frame issues of privilege and oppression as epistemological phenomena (e.g., “epistemologies of ignorance”) above and beyond their more conventionally-understood manifestations as moral and political issues.18 Privilege and oppression organize epistemic systems, not just (strictly) political ones, and the aesthetic is particularly useful in analyzing and critiquing those epistemic dimensions of privilege and oppression that cannot be captured by more “traditional”—i.e., propositional—philosophical methods. While Shotwell explicitly connects the aesthetic to implicit understanding, this connection is, if you will, implicit in Linda Alcoff’s and Sara Ahmed’s critical-race feminist phenomenologies.19 In order to reaffirm and expand on Shotwell’s argument for the value of aesthetics and the aesthetic in studying and reworking implicit understanding, I will briefly review the significance of the aesthetic for Alcoff’s concept of “interpretive horizon” and Ahmed’s notion of “orientation.”

Though Linda Martin Alcoff’s and Sara Ahmed’s works are not explicitly about aesthetics, their work on race, gender, and sexuality focuses on the epistemic and political implications of aesthesis and aesthetic experience. In her book Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self, Alcoff argues that race and gender function as social identities—visible indices of group membership—because they exist more fundamentally as “interpretive horizons.” Similarly, Ahmed’s book Queer Phenomenology examines race and sexuality as corporeal, phenomenological, and political “orientations.” Building upon traditional phenomenological accounts of “horizon,” Alcoff and Ahmed treat race, gender, and sexuality as non-thematized, corporeal knowledges—the kinds of habits and capacities transmitted through aesthesis and aesthetic experience. Alcoff defines interpretive horizon as “that nonlinguistic imaginary position of the body that manifests its imagined relation to its environment and to other bodies” (106). More simply, an “interpretive horizon” is the bodily “position” or sensory/epistemic “perspective” from which one thinks, perceives, and acts. It is the experiential baseline that calibrates our various faculties of perception and cognition; everything we sense or think gets compared to this baseline, and what is consistent with it is accepted and noticed, and what is inconsistent with it is rejected, often preconsciously. “Orientation,” Ahmed explains, “is commonly described as a bodily spatial awareness (as the ‘sixth sense’) and is related to proprioception and kinesthetics” (181n1). Interpretive horizons and orientations are corporeal, but they are not biologically determined: they are learned, habitual comportments, the “background, framing assumptions” (Alcoff 95) that we acquire by living in specific sociohistorical relationships.20 We are acculturated to the sensus communis of whatever communities or “worlds” we inhabit; in this way, Alcoff and Ahmed can be read as broadening Kant’s idea of sensus communis (common or community sense) beyond aesthetics to systems of social/political privilege and oppression.

There are several ways interpretive horizons and orientations use the “aesthetic” to open out issues of privilege and oppression. (1) Because they are “nonlinguistic” and non-propositional, we can and oftentimes do learn horizons/orientations through encounters with works of art: by watching film and television, by listening to music, by dancing, etc. Aesthetic norms are “pedagogies” of privilege and oppression. For example, many music scholars have argued that the disco backlash common among working-class white males in the 1970s was fueled by anxieties over the genre’s associations with queerness.21 Born in black queer subcultures, disco was gay. In this situation, distaste for disco was evidence of a properly hetero white masculinity. Moreover, by actively performing this rejection of disco (e.g., at the infamous “Disco Demolition” rally at Comiskey Park), one performatively learned how to be what one’s culture considered a “real” man.22 (2) Similarly, because horizons and orientations are ways of organizing perception and sensation, aesthetic norms are a model for understanding systems of privilege and oppression more generally. Feminists have long used narrative form as a way of understanding patriarchy, specifically, the necessary but subordinate role of women/femininity in patriarchy. Film theorist Laura Mulvey and musicologist Susan McClary both argue that Hollywood cinema and tonal harmony use women characters and/or “feminized” formal elements to generate the conflict that male characters/masculinized formal elements must domesticate in order to create a sense of resolution or closure.23 For example, the Odyssey wouldn’t be interesting without conflict (e.g., the Sirens or Circe), but ultimately Odysseus has to conquer these challenges and return home to his rightful place. Similarly, patriarchy needs women and femininity, but only as instruments for the development, enrichment, and fulfillment of men and masculinity. In art objects and aesthetic practices, we have more explicit access to norms and knowledges that are usually implicit. (3) The aesthetic, (e.g., proprioception and kinesthetics) is what is orientated by race or gender. As systems of oppression and privilege, race and gender “operat[e] preconsciously on spoken and unspoken interaction, gesture, affect, and stance” (Alcoff 184). In turn, as identities, “racial and sexual difference [are] manifest precisely in bodily comportment, in habit, feeling, and perceptual orientation” (Alcoff 126). For example, as Iris Young has famously argued, bodily comportment is gendered in specific ways: women treat their bodies as impediments in need of discipline, whereas men treat their bodies as means for accomplishing their goals. This difference explains why men and women throw baseballs differently, sit differently, and inhabit space differently. Men and women are also supposed to dance differently, at least according to the instructions provided by rappers Terror Squad and Fat Joe, and singer Shakira. In the song “Lean Back,” Fat Joe tells his audience—who, as the video indicates, are presumably men of color—that they ought to move only their shoulders along to the music, and not involve the rest of their bodies.24 While men’s dancing is limited to what is above the waist, women’s dancing is focused specifically on the waist and hips. Shakira’s song “Hips Don’t Lie” suggests that a (Latin) woman’s hips are the windows to her soul.25 The gendered difference between Fat Joe’s and Shakira’s dance instruction is another example of the way race and gender organize aesthetic orientations and interpretive horizons.

Focusing on comportment and kinesthesis, that is, on what is non-verbal and non-visual, these phenomenological approaches depart from more traditional feminist approaches to bodily aesthetics. Body image and bodily attractiveness are common topics in women’s and gender studies classrooms, feminist media, and feminist scholarship. Body image and attractiveness are treated primarily as visual issues; while there are surely other sensory dimensions to bodily attractiveness, we think and talk about bodily attractiveness primarily in terms of how bodies look: lightness of complexion, thinness of frame, blueness of eyes, etc. Interpretive horizons and orientations, however, offer alternative epistemologies that emphasize affect over the visual. They focus not so much on how bodies look, but how a body kinesthetically senses itself. This re-orientation to the aesthetic focuses on what is implicit to occularcentric approaches to bodily aesthetics.

Treating race and gender as horizons or orientations foregrounds the role of the aesthetic. Because it is not strictly propositional, aesthetic experience is often implicit to traditional Western epistemologies. Alcoff and Ahmed use phenomenology to unpack the ways systems of privilege and oppression work in, on, and through broadly “aesthetic” experience. There are a number of ways philosophers can build on this work. Alcoff is an epistemologist and political philosopher whose work increasingly foregrounds the aesthetic; aestheticians can use her work to help highlight the role of political (and epistemic) privilege and oppression in both “aesthetics” and “the aesthetic.” Ahmed argues that philosophy is oriented by the particular objects, cases, and examples it analyzes—e.g., the writing table.26 Following her example, aestheticians might ask: What objects appear in aesthetics? (Paintings, performances, specific types of musical works) How are they “orienting devices”? What does aestheticians’ choice of art objects reveal about the orientation of aesthetics as a discipline? How might the orientation of aesthetics as a discipline parallel general Western orientations around whiteness, heteropatriarchy, and other systems of privilege and oppression? I will return to this question in the section three below.

  1. The aesthetic as technology of racialization

Another response to the question, “How do systems of privilege and oppression use the aesthetic?” considers the aesthetic as a technology of racialization, gendering, or sexualization. This strategy highlights the “how” of privilege and oppression; it emphasizes what race, gender, and sexuality do as technologies over and above what they are as identities. Monique Roelofs’s work on aesthetics as a technology of racialization is a particularly strong example of this approach. Roelofs argues that the aesthetic is a medium in which systems of racial organization are experienced, reinforced, and contested. Including both “admirable traits such as sensory delightfulness…and elegance,” and “problematic characteristics such as sensory overbearingness,” the aesthetic “serves as a racial border patrolling technology and institutes racial boundaries” (Roelofs 2009b). Let me illustrate this claim with an example. In the US, people commonly claim that a particular musical genre, performance, or gesture “sounds black” or “sounds white.” For example, musicologist Ingrid Monson’s book Freedom Sounds examines the slippages between racial claims and musical claims in mid-20th century debates about jazz aesthetics.27 “Many of these arguments were about race and racism, even when the ostensible subject of discussion was something else, like harmonic choices or swinging” (Monson, 5). Musical elements like harmony and rhythm do not communicate via explicit, propositional content. While these musical elements are not overtly about race, specific stylistic conventions have become racially coded. Aesthetic properties in mid-century jazz function racially to distinguish between “white” and “black” sounds. However, these racialized sounds are shifting targets. Blue notes and swung rhythms originally signaled both aesthetic and racial “unruliness”: compared to white musical aesthetics of the time, blue notes sounded a little too flat, and swung rhythms were imprecise. Blue notes and swung rhythms were associated with blackness because their aesthetic unruliness (compared to European ideals) paralleled blacks’ racial unruliness (vis-à-vis white supremacist society). However, blue notes and swung rhythms soon came to be associated with white jazz—i.e., “swing.” As jazz was appropriated by white pop culture, blue notes and swung rhythms were no longer aesthetically unruly. Compared to mainstream white swing, the dissonant, abstract styles of bop and hard bop “sounded black.” Hard bop’s aesthetic unruliness translated directly into racial unruliness (blackness in a white supremacist society). This example shows not only how the aesthetic “serves as a racial border patrolling technology,” but also how aesthetic unruliness (i.e., the lack of taste) serves as an index of racial subalternity (what Falguni Sheth calls “racial unruliness”).28 This is just one way the aesthetic functions as the “stuff” in and through which the “how” of racial privilege and oppression occurs. Roelofs’s concept of “racialized aesthetic nationalism” is another way. This concept describes the fact that “aesthetic normativity” is itself a mode and manifestation of privilege.29 Believing one’s aesthetic preferences do and ought to coincide with the general aesthetic norms of one’s culture (i.e., ought to be common sense or sensus communis) is a form of privilege.30 So, while philosophers have often viewed aesthetic concepts like taste or disinterestedness as modes of expressing and enacting identities, Roelofs’s work demonstrates that aesthetic concepts, and “the aesthetic” more generally, function as technologies of race. Her work helps us move our comprehension of aesthetics and race from “what”-relationships to “how”-relationships.

Political philosophers can turn to aesthetics and the aesthetic as productive locations in and approaches with which to examine and critique systems of privilege and oppression. This does not mean that aesthetics is itself innocent of racism, heterosexism, and other forms of privilege and oppression. In the next section, I review some of the ways philosophical aesthetics—in its history, and in some of its dominant concepts, ideas, and assumptions—has and continues to maintain white heteropatriarchy.

3. The Role of Aesthetics in constructing and naturalizing systems of privilege and oppression

While the previous section examined the role of the aesthetic in politics, this section focuses instead on the role of privilege and oppression in aesthetics—specifically, the implicit and explicit ways philosophical aesthetics participates in white heteropatriarchy. I’m moving from “the aesthetic” to aesthetics as a discipline, and I treat aesthetics as both a discourse organized by white heteropatriarchy, and one of its instruments for organization. I will focus on two main “roles” that philosophical aesthetics takes in constructing and naturalizing systems of privilege and oppression: the history of aesthetics, and aesthetic concepts.

A. History of aesthetics

Historically, philosophical aesthetics emerged contemporaneously with the idea of race, and with the liberal notion of “social identity” in general. As Christine Battersby argues and Emmanuel Eze’s reader on race and the Enlightenment demonstrates, philosophical aesthetics and the idea of race were developed together. It is possible that the relationship between aesthetics and race is not just correlative but causal, and that race plays a fundamental—if often disavowed—role in philosophical aesthetics.31 For example, Eze’s Race and Enlightenment reader, which traces the origins of the concept “race” in Western philosophy, includes several texts and authors in the aesthetics “canon.”32 “Aesthetic discourse,” argues Meg Armstrong, “was integral to…growing discourses of difference in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” (213); race is one such discourse. For example, in Kant’s Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, he articulates the different types of the sublime by means of a taxonomy of racial groups’ varying capacities to experience sublimity. Racial and aesthetic concepts were defined through and in terms of one another. This archive, though not sufficient for understanding the history of the philosophical idea of race, is a necessary component, and should not be overlooked.

How necessary is it? Minimally, we can’t fully understand the history of aesthetics, or the idea of race, without accounting for their common origins; this view takes the causal relationship between aesthetics and race to be a consequence of their historical correlation. But, the causal relationship could be stronger. For example, Battersby proposes that the theories of aestheticians like Kant rely, to some extent, on both the idea of race and Eurocentric, white-supremacist racial hierarchies. 33 Stronger still is Eze’s claim that you can’t just “subtract the racism” and use a cleaned-up, politically-correct version. They both think that Kant’s aesthetic theory relies so fundamentally on race/racism that it is incoherent without its racist assumptions and/or logic. While I find their arguments convincing, other readers of Kant contest this claim. Though Kant’s philosophy is commonly (if debatably) cited as an example of an irreparably racist (and misogynist) theory, other aestheticians’ work may be more “salvageable.”34 It is important for aestheticians to interrogate the extent to which our canonical texts rely on racist, sexist, heterosexist, ableist, etc., assumptions. When we subtract the X-ism, does a particular theory still work? Or, when we subtract the X-ism, what parts work and what parts don’t?

Feminist aestheticians have compellingly argued that gender plays a similarly fundamental role in the history (and current practice) of philosophical aesthetics. Battersby, Carolyn Korsmeyer, and art historians like Griselda Pollock and Rozsika Parker show how gender, as a system of social organization, organizes and orients aesthetic concepts, themes, and problems such as genius, taste, and the fine art/craft hierarchy.35 Aesthetic arguments gain legitimacy, consistency, and credibility by participating in gendered (or raced or sexualized) systems of organization. A theory of beauty consistent with broader cultural logics of gender and race is granted greater credibility and plausibility than one that is inconsistent with white heteropatirarchalpatriarchal norms. While there is general agreement among feminist aestheticians that gender is necessary to understanding the history of aesthetic theory, the question of how necessary is contested. Eaton covers much of this territory in her Compass article, so I will not go into specifics here. I do want to note that though Battersby’s more recent work, and many of the authors in Roelofs’s special issue of Contemporary Aesthetics do adopt a more intersectional perspective than most of the feminist literature on aesthetics, feminist aesthetics in general would benefit from more thorough attention to the ways that gender works with and through other systems of privilege and oppression. Such analyses would give us more nuanced understandings of how aesthetics is influenced by and reinforces white heteropatriarchy.

Less well-established is the role of sexuality in aesthetics; created in the 19th century, “sexuality” (and thus homo- and hetero- sexuality), was not a concept available to the first century of aestheticians.36 Though there is currently a robust and growing study of sexuality and queer aesthetics in other fields, these issues are rarely addressed by philosophers.37 Whitney Davis’s book Queer Beauty is one of the few texts in this area. Similarly, the relationship between dis/ability and aesthetics is receiving increasing attention outside philosophy (e.g., Tobin Sieber’s book Disability Aesthetics), but is rarely studied by philosophers.

Even if normative whiteness, Eurocentrism, and heteropatriarchy are inextricable from history of aesthetics in general, we can only determine the “salvageability” of individual theorists’ works on a case-by-case basis. I suggest that historians of philosophy and feminist, queer, and critical race theorists would find aesthetics a productive avenue of inquiry in their attempts to determine the extent to which a particular philosopher’s project relies on racist, heteropatriarchal norms and assumptions. While non-ideal theory has been a productive avenue for feminist and critical-race critiques of ethics and political philosophy, this lens has yet to be applied to the history of aesthetics.38 It could be a productive avenue for future critical scholarship in aesthetics.

B. Aesthetic Concepts

It’s not surprising that 18th and 19th century aestheticians were racist and (hetero)sexist. But what about current disciplinary norms? In this section, I examine the role of specific aesthetic concepts in the construction and naturalization of white heteropatriarchy. The field is still far from innocent regarding privilege and oppression. While none of these concepts are inherently or necessarily raced, gendered, etc., disciplinary norms continue to favor aesthetic concepts that assume and reinforce white heteromasculinity.

First, the definition of “art” is itself arguably a European idea which relies on already-existent cultural ideals to distinguish itself from other forms of production or cognition.39 Feminist art historians such as Linda Nochlin have comprehensively detailed the ways normative masculinity informs concepts such as “art” and “artist,” and feminist aestheticians have examined the ways art institutions are structured by patriarchy and normative masculinity.40 For example, similar to Simone de Beauvoir’s conclusion that “woman” is not a determinate feature or content, but a position in relation to power (the “Other” to the Patriarchal “Absolute”), Battersby’s account shows that “genius” (at least as it is defined in European philosophy) is not found in a specific trait, property, or behavior, but in the ability of privileged male artists to appropriate stereotypical femininity in ways that affirm their elite status among men.41 “Average” men are just masculine, but exceptional men augment masculinity—their intellect, their fortitude—with feminine qualities (emotional intuition, closeness to nature); these men are exceptional because their “feminine” qualities do not diminish, but compliment and strengthen their masculinity.

Feminist aestheticians and art historians have also given much consideration to fine art/craft and other high/low hierarchies. The best analyses of serious/pop hierarchies show that there is no objective feature of artworks or artists that universally or consistently distinguishes “high” from “low.” For example “simplicity” might be an attribute of low/pop works; however, mid-century avant-garde composers like Steve Reich wrote very simple pieces (Pendulum Music). What is consistent in high/low hierarchies is the gendering of the valued term as masculine and the devalued term as feminine. Musicologist Susan Cook labels this phenomenon “the feminized popular.”42 Similarly, both Battersby’s and Robert Gooding-Williams’ work on beauty and sublimity demonstrate that stereotypically feminized, “blackened” or otherwise racially exoticized traits are valued when they appear in white, male bodies (as evidence of their ability to experience complex affects like sublimity), but devalued when they appear in non-white, non-male bodies (as evidence of their inability to rise above mere beauty, ugliness, or other simple affect).43 The aesthetic value of a trait or behavior is not determined by an objective feature of a performance or creation, but by the gender and race of the creator. Because gender and race are the functional or organizational factors in high/low and beauty/sublimity distinctions, any analysis of these topics that overlooks gender and race will be flawed and incomplete. We will never have a complete account how aesthetic concepts work, and what exactly is accomplished by them, without attending to the ways they assume and reinforce white heteropatriarchy.44 Such an oversight not only perpetuates sexism in the discipline, it also diminishes our comprehension of the aesthetic issues themselves. This is just one example of how inattention to oppression produces both bad politics and bad scholarship. Attention to privilege and oppression makes us better aestheticians.

How might it do this? Take, for example, the concepts of beauty, sublimity, and taste. Because they each value a specific trait (e.g., delicacy) when it appears in privileged bodies, and treat it as evidence of the inferiority of oppressed people when it appears in oppressed individuals, limiting our analysis to the objective artistic/aesthetic features of these concepts cannot explain why the same objective feature is valued in some instances and not in others. Both Battersby’s and Gooding-Williams’s work on beauty and sublimity demonstrate that stereotypically feminized or racially exoticized traits are valued when they appear in white, male bodies (as evidence of their ability to experience complex affects like sublimity), but devalued when they appear in non-white, non-male bodies (as evidence of their inability to rise above mere beauty, ugliness, or other simple affect).45 Similarly, Carolyn Korsmeyer argues that “taste” was “considered to be an achievement of males only” because “taste implies refinement, and the development of sensitivities of the man of taste was understood to soften his rough edges and make his temperament more consonant with ‘feminine’ qualities” (2004, 46). The tasteful man was more “refined” or civilized than regular men. Women could not be “softened” by femininity because their femininity rendered them too “soft” (emotional, subjective) to make solid aesthetic judgments in the first place. In these cases, we cannot make rigorous philosophical sense of objective artistic/aesthetic properties without accounting for gender and race. Overlooking gender and race naturalizes and normalizes the white heteropatriarchal assumptions on which these aesthetic discourses rest.

Though aesthetic concepts may seem to be neutral with respect to race, gender, and sexuality, and have nothing to do with politics or inequality at all, they only appear neutral because they conform to hegemonic norms. In other words: aesthetics’ apparent neutrality is actually evidence of its centering of whiteness and heteromasculinity, to say nothing of bodily and cognitive “ability,” etc. Critical political approaches to aesthetics must thus de-center both the political and the apparently apolitical philosophical norms that have traditionally governed aesthetics. The resulting scholarship will seem, from the perspective of traditional, mainstream aesthetics, “skewed”—it may not seem like aesthetics at all. It may include methods, disciplinary approaches, topics, people, cultural practices and texts/artworks that are often explicitly rejected by philosophical aestheticians (e.g., cultural studies). However, to the extent that many aesthetic values are not actually objective judgments of art objects, but evaluations of a work’s or artists’ position in raced, hetero-gendered systems of social organization, such “skewed” aesthetics might actually be among the most straightforward of possible approaches to Western philosophical aesthetics. Especially as cognitive and neuroscience approaches are gaining increasing influence in aesthetics, and feminist, critical race, and queer aestheticians would benefit from working with critical science studies scholars to unpack the ways that white heteropatriarchy—to say nothing of ableism—is constructed and naturalized in these newer “cognitive”-centric approaches.46

4. Conclusion

Even though political philosophers are increasingly interested in the aesthetic, and race, gender, and sexuality are deeply embedded in the history of aesthetics, critical political philosophy continues to have relatively little (if growing) influence on mainstream analytic and mainstream continental approaches to aesthetics. Given political philosophers’ growing interest in the aesthetic, and the need for aesthetics to account for its own politics, I think oppression and privilege would be productive sites for interaction, conversation, and collaboration across aesthetics and (critical) political philosophy. I worry that political philosophers are making the “aesthetic turn” without aestheticians—to the detriment of both political philosophy and aesthetics. I worry that aesthetics, given its own marginalization in mainstream analytic and continental philosophy, attempts to prove its legitimacy and relevance to the discipline by appealing only to the most “tried and true” philosophical topics and methods. Attempting to be taken (more) seriously within philosophy, aestheticians work on “hard philosophy” topics like metaphysics, ontology, or cognition and neuroscience, but not on topics already devalued in the discipline, such as gender, race, and sexuality. Ironically, given critical political theorists’ growing interest in aesthetics, it is in these “riskier” issues of privilege and oppression where aestheticians’ work might have the greatest appeal and impact, both within and outside of philosophy “proper”.

1 I would include “queer” work in this list if there were a substantive body of literature in this area. While there is beginning to be some work on queer aesthetics outside philosophy, philosophical aesthetics has almost completely overlooked it. See Davis, 2010. The same is true for disability (see Siebers 2011).

2 See, for example, Beauvoir 2009, Mills 1997, Alcoff 2005, and Sheth 2009. See also Young 2005 5and Frye 1983. My thanks to one of my anonymous reviewers for suggesting the last two texts.

3 “Hegemony” is a technical term used by political philosophers. Antonio Gramsci describes hegemony as “common sense”—it is what everyone in a group (society, culture, nation, etc.) takes for granted as obviously and irrefutably true. Hegemonic ideas or ideologies are so ingrained in practice, tradition, and/or language that they “feel” or function as second nature. This taken-for-grantedness obscures its ultimate contingency and context-dependence. For example, binary, dimorphic sex is a hegemonic idea. We take it for granted that there are two sexes, male and female (even plants have two sexes, right?), even though this idea is empirically invalid (it overlooks intersex and trans bodies) and culturally specific (to Western science and social practice).

4 While white people or straight men do benefit from white heteropatriarchy, participation in white heteropatriarchy is not limited to straight white men. For example, women who buy into patriarchy can still secondarily or indirectly benefit from patriarchy: women who enforce patriarchal beauty standards are often rewarded with male attention, higher salaries, etc.

5 As Michael Monahan has argued, the language and discourse of “privilege” actually obscures the active participation of privileged people in the reproduction and maintenance of their privilege. In an unpublished paper based on his presentation at the 2011 California Roundtable on Philosophy and Race, Monahan argues: “We [whites] do not just happen, unfortunately through a misadventure of circumstance, to be privileged by racial oppression, we are active participants in it. The boundaries of exclusion require our ongoing maintenance. We are, in other words, the products and the ongoing producers of systems of racial domination.” (Monahan, 25; emphasis mine). I will often avoid the general term “privilege” and name the specific system of oppression—white heteropatriarchy—I’m discussing in the article. However, I chose to use the terms “privilege” and “oppression” in this article precisely because these are commonly (if problematically) used terms, precisely the terms someone unfamiliar with feminist, critical race, or queer theory might plug into a search engine. I am extremely grateful to Mike for his excellent paper, and for letting me cite a draft of it in this article.

6 There are many other systems of privilege and oppression, such as class or disability. All of these systems interlock or “intersect” with one another, and with race, gender, and sexuality. I’ve chosen to focus primarily on race, gender, and sexuality for several reasons. First, most of the literature focuses on these systems above others. Second, race, gender, and sexuality are very clearly interrelated because they function as systems of social organization largely, if not primarily, as embodied social identities. Finally, in order to narrow the scope of this article, I used the first two considerations to override ambiguities, complexities, and nuances that, ideally, should not be overlooked. I realize there is privilege involved in choosing to highlight some systems of privilege over others, but insofar as this article is intended as a review of existent literature, the choice of race, gender, and sexuality as “privileged” systems of privilege and oppressions should be read as both reflective of disciplinary norms, and as a call to make these norms less “normative.” There ought to be more research on disability, socioeconomic status, transnationalism, etc.

7 I am using a rather broad understanding of “the aesthetic” in this section, for two reasons: (1) philosophers use the term to refer to a range of sensory experiences, not just those limited to the production and reception of artworks; (2) this sense of the term is consistent both with its historical origins in the concept of aesthesis, and with its use in the literature I draw on.

8 Rancière intends “politics” in a similarly specific way: it is not a system of social organization (e.g., government, laws, institutions, the public sphere—what Todd May calls “politics as usual”), but the reconfiguration of such a system. May, in his Compass article on Rancièere, describes Rancièerain politics as “the activity of undermining any given police order.” (84). However, because I am using “system of social organization” in a way that includes both the maintenance of organization and reorganization, Rancière’s politics/police distinction is more confusing than helpful to my rather limited discussion here.

9 “Aesthetics can be understood,” he explains, “…as the system of a priori forms of determining what presents itself to sense experience” (Rancière, PA 13).

10 He will often use the language of “the sensible” to distinguish this specialized sense of “aesthetics” as “partition of the perceptible” from the more common use of the term to refer to the “discourse on the perceptible” (D 57). This “common” use is a historical term referring to a defined period in the philosophy of art; I call it “philosophical aesthetics,” and he labels it “the aesthetic regime of art.” In this way “aesthetics” is not unlike “classical music.” Though musicologists recognize a defined “classical” period in Western art music (roughly, the late 17th-very early 19th centuries), the term “classical music” is often used to refer to all Western art music.

11 “I must take great pains with my speech, because I shall be more or less judged by it. With great contempt they will say of me, ‘He doesn’t even know how to speak French’” (Fanon 20).

12 As Rancière explains, “It generally bears on the very situation in which speaking parties find themselves” (D, xi).

13 “Politics is primarily conflict over the existence of a common stage and over the existence and status of those present on it” (Rancière D 26).

14 Rancière reads ancient Greek political philosophy as arguing that “The possession of such an organ of expression marks the separation between two kinds of animals as the difference between two modes of access to experience…We could say that the difference is marked precisely in the logos that separates the discursive articulation of a grievance from the phonic articulation of a groan” (D 2; 5).

15 Rancière makes this claim more clearly here: “Justice as the basis of community has not yet come into play wherever the sole concern is with preventing individuals who live together from doing each other reciprocal wrongs and with reestablishing the balance of profits and losses whenever they do so. It only begins when what is at issue is what citizens have in common and when the main concern is with the way the forms of exercising and of controlling the exercising of this common capacity are divided up” (D 5).

16 Many essays in the borderlands special issue on Rancière and Queer Theory examine “queerness” as a form of Rancieèrian politics, and many articles in the Transformations issue on Rancièere: Politics, Art, and Sense use his concepts of “aesthetics” and “the sensible” to think about gender, race, and sexuality, as does the Communities of Sense collection edited by Hinderliter et al.

17 Arguing that “propositional knowledge is thoroughly enmeshed with other forms of understanding—feeling, somatic experience, skills and competencies, presuppositions and common sense” (x), Shotwell uses the term “implicit understanding” to describe these extra-propositional epistemologies. Contextually non-propositional knowledges, though presently non-propositional, are not necessarily non-propositional. They are potentially propositional, just not in the current context.

18 At the same time, scholars—largely outside the mainstream political philosophy, mainly in phenomenology and literary/cultural studies, have been giving increased attention to the corporeal and affective dimension of epistemology. John Protevi’s book is a good example of this.

19 Shotwell argues that “Because accounts of aesthetics attend to many layers of our experience, they produce a complex picture of implicit understanding in which the ‘pieces’ of it are seamlessly already of a piece…Aesthetic experience, as I have argued here, offers and important resource for political transformation. It does this through an immersive knowing that does not take the form of propositions” (70).

20 This habituated bodily comportment is also discussed in Young 2005

21 See Dyer and Periano.

22 This was held in between a White Sox double-headder on July 12, 1979. See LaPointe.

23 See Mulvey and McClary.

24 The chorus goes, “Said my n***as don’t dance/We just pull up our pants/And do the roc-a-way/Now lean back, lean back, lean back, lean back.” Terror Squad feat. Fat Joe and Remmy Ma. “Lean Back”. Universal Records, July 6, 2004.

25 Shakira feat. Wyclef Jean. “Hips Don’t Lie.” Epic Records, 27 March 2006.

26 “This book thus considers how objects that appear in phenomenological writing function as ‘orientation devices.’” (Ahmed 3).

27 In the 1950s jazz scene, “So-called West Coast and cool jazz, with their preference for thinner timbres, relaxed time feels, and lyrical melodies have generally been taken as a ‘whiter’ sound, while hard bop and soul jazz, with their prioritization of heavier timbres, blues inflection, and hard, driving rhythmic feels have generally been cast as ‘blacker.’ Historians have long noted the ill fit of these categories” (Monson, 72).

28 See Sheth, particularly Chapter One.

29 According to Roelofs, “aesthetic forces” can have “racial productivity.” She argues: “aesthetic constructions of racial and national identity can draw for their disciplinary power on several fundamental characteristics of the aesthetic: its comprehensive reach, its dualist and integrative capacity to reproduce structures of hierarchy and domination, and its significance as a sensory form of cognition or ideation. The racial productivity of these aesthetic forces” (Roelofs 2009a).

30 Exhibiting “a variety of racialized aesthetic nationalism that expects to be able to organize the environment in accordance with its own taste…the driver appropriates another privilege that a racialized, nationalist aesthetic counts among the entitlements of the white cultural connoisseur.” (Roelofs 2009b)

31 See Eze and Battersby, Sublime Terror. Crispin Sartwell makes a similar argument in his contribution to the Contemporary Aesthetics special edition on Aesthetics and Race.

32 Eze’s reader includes significant portions of Kant’s essay “On the Origins of the Beautiful and the Sublime,” and Battersby devotes significant attention to this piece, because it is the place in Kant’s oeuvre where his underlying raced and gendered assumptions are most overt, explicit, and clear.

33 Thus, for instance, Battersby claims, “although Kant’s views on ethnicity and race are less deeply embedded in his system [than gender] (and often seem simply inconsistent), Kant’s refusal to allow all peoples access to the sublime will have serious consequences for those who look to Kant’s aesthetics for solutions for moral and political philosophy today” (14-5).

34 For example, Frank Kirkland’s paper at the 2010 California Roundtable on Philosophy and Race convincingly argued that with Hegel’s work, one could “subtract the racism” and still be left with a coherent philosophical system.

35 See Battersby Gender and Genius, Korsmeyer, Gender and Aesthetics, and Parker & Pollock, Old Misstresses.

36 See Halperin.

37 On November 29, 2011, I searched “queer aesthetics” and “queer aesthetic” in the Philosopher’s Index, and came up with nine results, only three of which actually had anything to do with aesthetics or the philosophy of art. None of these three results were in aesthetics journals. “Sexuality” was a more productive search, but the results were equally likely to treat heterosexuality as they were to treat LGBTQI themes. The “queer” search results were: Alfanso, Gutiérrez-albilla,,, and Walker.

38 Non-ideal theory is a bottom-up method of philosophizing; it begins from how things actually are (e.g., people are treated unfairly, some people are oppressed, others privileged). It is explicitly contrasted with ideal theory, a top-down method which begins from how things ought to be (e.g., everyone is treated fairly, no one is oppressed). Because it overlooks oppression, ideal theory naturalizes oppression: if we act as though there is a level playing field, when it is in fact massively skewed, we cannot account for the ways systematic biases impact individual performance. Women perform worse on math tests not because women are categorically less quantatitvely intelligent than men, but because a host of factors (including the socialization of girls in education, stereotype threat, etc.) create a culture in which women are encouraged to perform poorly in math. This is why it is important to practice non-ideal theory. See Mills 2005.

39 Taylor, in his Compass article, explains one way in which this is the case. He argues that philosophical aesthetics is performed in geographical, social, and institutional contexts “which have for most of their histories effectively insulated their institutions of knowledge production from black expressive cultures and from the people who might take those cultures seriously” (4).

40 See also Nochlin, Korsmeyer 2004 (especially Chapters 1 and 5) and Duncan...

41 See Beauvoir, 2009.

42 See Cook, 2001.

43 For example, emotional immediacy or corporeal facility are often prized characteristics of artistic geniuses, but cited as reasons why women or non-whites are incapable of true artistic accomplishment. When women artists are emotionally expressive, its treated as a “natural” consequence of their feminine disposition, not as a studied, practiced accomplishment. See Gooding-Williams, 2006.

44 Peg Brand’s Beauty Matters collection addresses a range of feminist approaches to “beauty;” while critical race and transnational perspectives are addressed, sexuality and/or queer approaches are sadly absent... Battersby argues that Kant’s gendering of the sublime/beautiful distinction informs and is informed by his views on the moral (non)personhood of women. Similarly, Robert Gooding-Williams argues that Nietzsche’s conception of sublimity turns on patriarchal gender norms. Further, as Taylor notes in his Compass article, and Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People reinforces, “beauty” was often appealed to as a criterion of racial difference.

45 Battersby 2007 and Gooding-Williams.

46 On the topic of disability studies and aesthetics, Tobin Siebers’s recently-published book, Disability Aesthetics, is one of the first texts in this very new area of study. I imagine this will be a fruitful area of inquiry, and I hope philosophical aestheticians join the conversation. Mairian Corker’s article “Sensing Disability” is another example of this sort of philosophical work in disability. I would also suggest that there is room in aesthetics for a related topic, Critical Fat Studies. As CFS scholars are increasingly agreed on the fact that there is no scientific evidence that “fat” or obesity cause health problems (which is different than claiming they correlate to health problems), normative body size appears to be primarily an aesthetic issue more than a medical one. Especially given feminist philosopher Susan Bordo’s pioneering work in Critical Fat Studies, feminist aestheticians would likely find this issue a productive one.
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