Governing women's active leisure: The gendered effects of calculative rationalities within Australian health policy
As part of the World Health Organisation's emphasis on increasing physical activity, countries such as Australia have developed new public health campaigns aimed at reducing the prevalence of lifestyle diseases (e.g. obesity, heart disease, diabetes). In response the Australian Federal and State governments implemented the Active Australia campaign (1997-2002) with the objective of increasing men and women's participation in active leisure pursuits and incidental activity. Drawing on the governmentality literature (Foucault, 1991; Dean, 1999; Rose, 1999) this article develops a feminist analysis of the implications of this increasing emphasis on promoting active leisure to women as a 'sedentary' population. It analyses the health-promotion rationalities and universal healthy lifestyle norms that inform the Active Australia campaign's attempts to mobilize women into being active. Within these policy discourses gender has been construed as a 'variable' shaping leisure behaviours, rather than central to the contemporary experience of feminine subjectivity and women's sense of physicality. A calculative logic is evident within active living policies that employ the self-management techniques of measured activity and self-scrutiny ('30 minutes a day, on most days'). This sets up a relation to self that is steeped in a mind/body opposition which privileges embodied activity as a form of biomechanical movement. In this way health policies ignore the embodied pleasures, meaningful social relationships and joyful potential of movement that women have identified in relation to leisure (Wearing, 1998). In contrast with the calculative discourses of physical activity, a feminist ethics of active living is explored in relation to the possibility of generating health policy discourses that embrace the lived body and the significance of pleasure in everyday well-being.
Critical Public Health