Riots, Identity and Pathology: Females and COVID-19 restrictions

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


The conceit of Andrea Long Chu’s Females (2019) is that ‘everyone is female, and everyone hates it’. To be female, or to be feminised, as Chu describes it, is to learn that one’s own body is a liability that comes with a sense of responsibility to the social systems that police it. To be female, after Chu, is to prioritise the needs or will of others, or of community over one’s own. The experience, as it is described, is long familiar to those people (of all genders) whose bodies are routinely socially pathologised, who have been trained to consider their bodies as weak and unreliable, their boundaries easily breached, and their excretions diseased. During the COVID-19 pandemic, people who have not historically been subject to, or necessarily conscious of, this kind of physical vulnerability and pathologisation were forced to consider their bodies, others and boundaries, reframed in relation to threat, as containing pathological potential. At the same time, those populations were also asked to prioritise the needs of others over their own freedoms and what they imagined to be their own invulnerability.

In other words, the chit of the social contract materialised for groups of people unaccustomed to it being called. This prompted the emergence of a reactive, largely masculinist and white supremacist anti-vaxx opposition to public health measures, enacted through refusal to adhere to public health regulations, to wear protective equipment, and take measures to avoid infection (of one’s own body, or that of another). This reflects a desire to refuse even the suggestion of having a permeable or vulnerable body, in other words, the possibility of ‘being female’. In this paper, I analyse this phenomenon with reference to anti-vaxx riots that occurred in Melbourne (and around the world) during this time, to consider the mediated experience of embodiment as interactions between bodies are reframed as being embedded with pathological potential. The logic of protecting and policing physical boundaries implies permeability, feminizing all bodies (and everybody hates it).
Period14 Feb 2024
Event title8th International In Sickness and In Health Conference
Event typeConference
Conference number8
LocationAuckland, New ZealandShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational