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Symposium on women's health

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By Lynne Hunt, Beverley McNamara

Published: 2004
ISBN: 978-1-921348-29-7
Pages: 108



Lynne Hunt
Edith Cowan University, WA

Beverley McNamara
University of Western Australia, WA

The modern, women's health movement emerged as part of second-wave feminism in the last quarter of the twentieth century. It was born of a desire for woman-friendly health services and the need to address health concerns defined as important by women themselves.

Scholars identified an uncritical adoption of patriarchal social values by mainstream health services as a key issue, giving rise to the movement. Dally (1991), for example, showed how, from its very inception, the medical profession confirmed prejudices about women and raised sexist judgments to the status of scientific propositions. In other words, society's disease with women was transformed into disease. So powerful had been the influence of sexist values on the development of medicine that Virchow, recognised as one of the greatest pathologists of the nineteenth century, concluded: 'Woman is a pair of ovaries with a human being attached; whereas man is a human being furnished with a pair of testes' (Dally 1991: 84). A woman was her uterus. In a process that Foucault (1978) described as the 'hysterisation' of women, nineteenth century doctors advanced the notion that the uterus was the controlling organ in women. It was understood to be connected to the nervous system thereby influencing women's physical and mental well-being. As a consequence, the term hysteria was coined to describe mental disturbance occasioned, it was argued, by the uterus.

The hysterisation of women has also inclined medical services to provide, somewhat narrowly, for women in terms of their reproductive health needs. Even today, it is not unusual to see identifiable women and children's clinics and hospitals in modern, Western countries. In contrast, the twentieth century women's health movement sought to re-conceptualise notions of women's health and to broaden the scope of women's health care. Issues such as domestic violence, sexual assault, mental and physical well-being and the health consequences of patriarchy were embraced as serious concerns affecting women's health and well-being. Yet, while these previously neglected issues were brought to light, a danger existed in essentialising women as a homogeneous group. Differences between women, and postmodernist notions of fractured identity, could be obscured by focussing attention too broadly on issues of gender, while ignoring the rich diversity of women's experiences. It is with the express purpose of highlighting the broad social canvas of women's experience that we present a selection of papers in this symposium that focus on diversity in women's health. This exploration of difference reveals, in sharp profile, the need to deconstruct received wisdom and research evidence about the category 'woman' as it is applied to health.

In exploring the intersection between gender and other key variables of social location, the papers in this symposium highlight a rich diversity between women, which contributes to their very different health experiences. Age, area of residence, traditional and Western social background, and refugee status are all explored with a gendered lens. This lens, honed through the rigours of both qualitative and quantitative research, magnifies and clarifies how women manage their unique health challenges, all the while navigating a health care system that still echoes of an entrenched patriarchy. While a broad sociological perspective is brought to the papers, gender per se remains fundamental to the analysis in each paper.

The high quality of research in this special edition reveals not only the well-being of the contemporary women's health movement but also the continuing need to challenge much of mainstream medical research, with its impoverished attitude to women and their health. The collection provides stimulating reading for health sociologists, social theorists, social workers and those developing health care policy.

Table of Contents

Jane Shoebridge, Eileen Willis

Guest Editorial
Lynne Hunt, Beverley McNamara

Heart Disease and Mid-Age Women: Focusing on gender and age
Marilys Guillemin

The Big Picture: The health and well-being of three generations of women in rural and remote areas of Australia
Penny Warner-Smith, Lois Bryson, Julie Ellen Byles

Education and the Resolution of Teenage Pregnancy in Australia
Ann Evans

'Thoroughly Modern Mothers': Maternal aspirations and declining mortality on Lihir Island, Papua New Guinea
Martha Macintyre

'There are Orphans in Africa Still Looking for My Hands': African women refugees and the sources of emotional distress
Farida Tilbury, Mark Rapley

'Now We Can Drink, Too': Changing drinking practices among Polish-Australian women
Barbara Wolska, Sherry Saggers, Lynne Hunt

Strategies for Teaching the Sociological Imagination to Medical Students: The role of embodiment
Simon Kitto

'Who Cares About Marx, Weber and Durkheim?': Social theory and the changing face of medicine
Clarissa Cook

Book Reviews

Meta-Study of Qualitative Health Research: A practical guide to meta-analysis and meta-synthesis
Barbara L Paterson, Sally E Thorne, Connie Canam, Carol Jillings
Reviewed by Sally Borbasi

Evaluating Research in Health and Social Care
Roger Gomm, Gill Needham and Anne Bullman (eds)
Reviewed by Carol F Grbich

Regulating the Health Professions
Judith Allsop & Mike Saks (eds)
Reviewed by Margaret M Hall

Welfare State and Welfare Change
Martin Powell and Martin Hewitt
Reviewed by Adam Jamrozik

Media and Health
Clive Seale
Reviewed by Deborah Lupton

Children, Welfare and the State
Barry Goldson, Michael Lavalette and Jim McKechnie (eds)
Reviewed by Elspeth McInnes

Postmodernism and Social Research
Mats Alvesson
Reviewed by Trudy Rudge

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