Unwanted appearances and self-objectification: The phenomenology of alterity for women in leadership

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This paper introduces the concept of dys-appearance (Leder, 1990) as a way of conceptualising the lived experience of alterity (or Otherness) of women’s bodies in leadership. Drawing on an in-depth qualitative study (using interviews and photo-elicitation) it contributes towards growing bodies of literature that emphasise the corporeal and highlight the Othering of the female body in the masculine discourse of leadership. Contemporary leadership scholars have drawn on Merleau-Pontian phenomenology to conceptualise the fundamental reversibility of embodied perception between the leader and the follower, but this analysis has not extended to a consideration of the sexed and gendered body. By focusing on the subjective experiences of women leaders this paper demonstrates the phenomenon of dys-appearance (Leder, 1990) in which the female body, which signifies a socially problematic presence in this context, appears to the subject in a disruptive or unwanted manner within their self-perception. The self-objectification and dys-appearance of the recalcitrant body exerts a telic demand upon the self to rectify its problematic presence and return it to a state of undisruptive normality. This analysis contributes novel insights on the unique or different experiences of leadership for women, and the impact of the problematizing of the female body on their self-perceptions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)296-318
Number of pages23
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 26 Dec 2018


  • leadership
  • gender
  • embodiment
  • visibility
  • dys-appearance
  • reversibility
  • Merleau-Ponty
  • Leder
  • alterity
  • photo elicitation

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