Embodied Cognition: What it means to "Throw like a Girl"

By Jenn Lee

Jenn Laura Lee is a PhD candidate in neuroscience at New York University. Her scattered neuroethics projects involve advancing harms reduction policies for illicit drug use and re-evaluating the ethics of animal experimentation.
While I tell myself now that I’m just “not the athletic type,” the reality is that I might have been. Back in middle school, I recall actually really enjoying track and field, basketball, and soccer. But at just the age when girls reach peak athletic shape, a socially-imposed understanding of “femininity” begins to forge a new, contrived relationship between one’s self and one’s body.
The rehearsal of gendered social performances run deep enough to mould even our most basic bodily movements. In Throwing like a Girl, Iris Young dissects this phenomenon through the philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (who was, coincidentally, one of Simone de Beauvoir’s first romantic interests).

Many are familiar with de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, in which she describes some of the structural biological differences between men and women that have perhaps led to female oppression. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, also a preeminent phenomenologist of the 40’s and 50’s, argued mainly for the primacy of embodiment – meaning that any sweeping claims about the nature of the external universe must first take into account our physical bodies and how they move, perceive, sense, and interact with the outside world. He would argue that if we want to study consciousness, we can’t only study the brain – we must concurrently strive to understand the basic sensorimotor phenomena which feed the brain everything it knows.
The concept of embodied cognition is taking off in cognitive neuroscience.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.