Gendered Medical Science: Producing a Drug for Women

by Susan E. Bell, Published by: Feminist Studies, Inc.

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Gendered Medical Science: Producing a Drug for Women, by Susan E. Bell, Feminist Studies, 21, (3), 469-500, 1995.

With the publication of The Doctor’s Case against the Pill; Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers; and Complaints and Disorders: The Sexual Politics of Sickness, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, feminist scholars and activists began to examine ways in which medicine produces diagnoses and treatments that are harmful to women, depicts women in textbooks and scholarly reports in stereotypical and negative ways, and is not objective and value free. Along the way, feminists uncovered ways in which medicine has also been beneficial to women, introducing further complexity into our critique. More recently, feminists have explored how medicine itself is riven with tensions, contradictions, ambiguities, and uncertainties, even at the same time that it retains power in relation to women. Today, feminist scholars are exploring the extent to which medicine is not a monolithic enterprise, while they continue to analyse its consequences and resist those that are negative for women.

This article explores tension in one domain of medicine, It focuses on the links between transformations in medical science and cultural ideas about women using evidence drawn from medical discourse about the safety of the first synthetic oestrogen, DES (diethylstilbestrol). In the 1970s and 1980s, North American feminists undertook the research, political action, and litigation that made DES an infamous instance of medical intervention into women’s reproductive lives. Like the Dalkon Shield, DES initially appeared to be a benign and exciting reproductive technology but in the long run had profound and damaging consequences for women.

More DES DiEthylStilbestrol Resources

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