Lydia Kokkola
Lydia Kokkola, Professor at Luleå University of Technology. Photo: Lars Andersson View original picture , opens in new tab/window

Feminist biographies and children's bodies theme of new research

Published: 25 September 2017

Children's bodies and an overview of feminist biographies are the theme of two newly released books by researchers Lydia Kokkola and Malin Lidström Brock, both active at Luleå University of Technology.

– My Book Writing Feminist Lives gives an overview of feminist attitudes to biography, a genre with a history informed by men's lives and conditions. In the book, I study the different shapes feminist biographies can take, and what you win and lose when you write a biography of a woman in a certain way. My answer to how a feminist biography should be written is that it largely depends on what you put in the word feminism, says Malin Lidström Brock, Senior Lecturer at Luleå University of Technology.

Colorful and controversial women

In the book, Lidström Brock focuses on biographies of four colorful and controversial women. Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer were leading figures in the modern American women’s movement in the 1960s and 1970s, while Simone de Beauvoir was a French philosopher who became involved with the French feminist movement during the same period.

– All four women have written feminist classics, where they include anecdotes from their own lives to communicate their feminist message. When biographers in the 1990s became interested in the lives of these women, they had to decide how to relate to these anecdotes and thus to the women's political ideas. Like all biographies, the biographers also had to decide what shape their stories should take, that is, what kind of biography they should write, as biography can take many different forms. What I discovered when I studied the biographies was that these choices were connected. How the biographers defined feminism shaped their attitude towards women's own life stories and politics, but also determined the design of the biography itself, said Malin Lidström Brock.

Tendency in Western thinking to overlook the body

Lydia Kokkola, professor at the university, has written the book The Embodied Child.

– The Embodied Child begins with a point so obvious you would have thought it unnecessary to state: children have bodies. The reason we need to state this is that there has been a tendency in Western thinking to overlook the body and focus on other aspects of childhood. The English word body captures this disparity: it stems from the Saxon word bodig meaning vessel: a carrier or container. Embedded within the etymology of the word are the ideas that the body is neutral and that what it contains—the soul, the spirit, mind, call it what you will—is both separate and of more value, Lydia Kokkola says. Her opinion is that many educators tend to focus only on children's minds and thus forget the bodily factors.

– Children’s bodies, to a more obvious extent than adult bodies, are changing. As they grow and mature, they learn ways to use their bodies to explore the world. From the first grasping of a new born baby to the sexual explorations of bodies in early adulthood, knowledge of the world comes through the body. As educators we know this, and yet many teaching practices, particularly in later years, tend to overlook the body and focus almost exclusively on the mind. This is particularly odd given the media climate. Children today are growing up surrounded by more bodily images than ever before. Our culture is saturated with these images, and there is constant pressure to take part in this culture by sharing one’s own body. We do not know how this will affect the way children will understand themselves, others and the world we share. 


Lydia Kokkola

Kokkola, Lydia - Chaired Professor

Organisation: Education, Language, and Teaching, Department of Arts, Communication and Education
Phone: +46 (0)920 493045
Room: A2209 - Luleå»

Lidström Brock, Malin - Senior Lecturer

Organisation: English, Specialization in Didactics, Education, Language, and Teaching, Department of Arts, Communication and Education
Phone: +46 (0)920 493048
Room: A2205 - Luleå»