Gendered embodiment and critical tourism - exploring Italian women's sensuality
This thesis is a study of Italian women’s sensual embodiment in leisure and tourism experiences (involving beautifying in the city and tanning at the beach) in, and around, the city of Rome. The central link in this thesis connects the field of tourism studies with social cultural theories of the ‘body’, placing this research within the most recent theoretical debates on the body. It is argued that in everyday life people take their bodies for granted, yet the body is absolutely crucial to the way we engage with the world and the people around us. Through analysing Italian women’s embodiment, this thesis seeks to gain in-depth understanding of Italian society and more particularly women’s position in society, thereby positioning the field of tourism studies as a means for analysing people’s quotidian cultural habits. Embracing the critical paradigm, this thesis takes a reflexive and embodied approach to research, challenging the all-pervasive hegemonic dominance of positivist, masculinist Western academic approaches. Through post feminist lenses, auto ethnography, in-depth interviewing and document analysis were used to carry out the field work, with the central aim of capturing and contextualising Italian women’s voices and embodiment. This research shows Italian society to be strongly patriarchal, reflecting gender inequity and inequality. Women are dominated in discourse (politics, senior management and television shows being predominantly male), pressured into family roles, and objectified in society through the media and the male gaze. Paradoxically, women are empowered through choosing to reproduce patriarchal values of beauty and objectification (the power of the agency), and to embody these in a sensual and sensuous way, thereby reversing power relations in their favour. Aiming to understand Italian society through exploring women’s sensual embodiment, this thesis contributes to a broader understanding of the gendered construction of social identity, and of patriarchy and power relations, from a woman’s perspective. It contributes to gender and body studies in the tourism field through bringing these separate fields together, through exploring the power of agency in embodiment, and through the critical research approach to the body.