Complaints and Disorders
The Sexual Politics of Sickness
Barbara Ehrenreich & Deirdre English 1973 48p 5.5 x 8.5
Though in someways dated, this ’70s text still has modern relevancy and a few timeless truths.
“The medical system is strategic for women’s liberation. It is the guardian of reproductive technology―birth control, abortion, and the means for safe childbirth. It holds the promise of freedom from hundreds of unspoken fears and complaints that have handicapped women throughout history. When we demand control over our own bodies, we are making that demand above all to the medical system. It is the keeper of the keys.
But the medical system is also strategic to women’s oppression. Medical science has been one of the most powerful sources of sexist ideology in our culture. Justifications for sexual discrimination―in education, in jobs, in public life―ultimately rest on the one thing that differentiates women from men: their bodies. Theories of male superiority ultimately rest on biology.
Medicine stands between biology and social policy, between the ‘mysterious’ world of the laboratory and everyday life. It makes public interpretations of biological theory; it dispenses the medical fruits of scientific advances. Biology discovers hormones; doctors make public judgments on whether ‘hormonal unbalances’ make women unfit for public office. More generally, biology traces the origins of disease; doctors pass judgment on who is sick and who is well.
Medicine’s prime contribution to sexist ideology has been to describe women as sick, and as potentially sickening to men.