Bodily Subjects

Bodily Subjects: Essays on Gender and Health, 1800-2000

Tracy Penny Light
Barbara Brookes
Wendy Mitchinson
Copyright Date: 2014
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    Bodily Subjects
    Book Description:

    From the nineteenth-century British Poor Laws, to an early twentieth-century Aboriginal reserve in Queensland Australia, to AIDS activists on the streets of Toronto in the 1990s, Bodily Subjects explores the historical entanglement between gender and health to expose how ideas of health - a concept whose meanings we too often assume to understand - are embedded in assumptions about femininity and masculinity. These essays expand the conversation on health and gender by examining their intersection in different geo-political contexts and times. Constantly measured through ideals and judged by those in authority, healthy development has been construed differently for teenage girls, adult men and women, postpartum mothers, and those seeking cosmetic surgery. Over time, meanings of health have expanded from an able body signifying health in the nineteenth century to concepts of "well-being," a psychological and moral interpretation, which has dominated health discourse in Western countries since the late twentieth century. Through examinations of particular times and places, across two centuries and three continents, Bodily Subjects highlights the ways in which the body is both subjectively experienced and becomes a subject of inquiry. Contributors include Barbara Brookes (University of Otago), Brigitte Fuchs (University of Vienna), Catherine Gidney (St Thomas University), Mona Gleason (University of British Columbia), Natalie Gravelle (York University), Rebecca Godderis (Wilfrid Laurier University), Antje Kampf (Humboldt University of Berlin), Marjorie Levine-Clark (University of Denver), Wendy Mitchinson (University of Waterloo), Meg Parsons (University of Auckland), Tracy Penny Light (University of Waterloo), Patricia A. Reeve (Suffolk University), Anika Stafford (Simon Fraser University), and Thomas Wendelboe (University of Waterloo).

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9641-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-22)

    Constant good health is a chimera: the thing we all want, don’t notice when we have it, and mourn when we lose it. Being “healthy” is also something that women and men “do” in different ways.¹ The authors inBodily Subjectsall explore the historical entanglement between gender and health to expose how women and men “did” health in a variety of locations, from the nineteenth-century English Poor Law Union of Stourbridge, an early twentieth-century Aboriginal reserve in Queensland, Australia, to AIDS activists on the streets of Toronto in the 1990s. Our volume takes as its subject how gender is...


      (pp. 23-24)

      This section addresses the way governments in diverse settings rely on particular and historically specific conceptions of the body. The rights and duties of citizenship in the countries considered here were first granted to men. A study of working men in the northeastern United States in the early to mid-nineteenth century demonstrates how they claimed to exert “manly self-rule” through the body. Good health – represented by an able body – allowed them to exercise independence in pursuit of employment and thus gave them the ability to support their dependents. Those dependents, women and children, were denied citizenship in the American Republic,...

    • 1 The “Bone and Sinew of the Nation”: Antebellum Workingmen on Health and Sovereignty
      (pp. 25-52)

      Thirty-five years after American revolutionaries had risked all for freedom, white workingmen in the northeastern United States invoked that struggle to challenge the effects of industrialization on their health and independence. From the 1830s to the Civil War in the 1860s, male wage earners asserted their right to liberty and security of person in response to the increasing perils of their employment. As production intensified and employers neglected to mitigate the hazards of industrial workplaces, occupational injuries and fatalities occurred with growing frequency. Labourers imputed their endangerment to their employers’ reckless pursuit of profit and unbounded authority over employees. As...

    • 2 Gendered Roles, Gendered Welfare: Health and the English Poor Law, 1871–1911
      (pp. 53-73)

      Joseph Robinson applied for poor law assistance from the relieving officer of the Stourbridge Board of Guardians on 9 July 1891. He claimed a need for relief because his wife had injured herself falling down the stairs, and he was “not able,” being too aged and infirm, to provide the extra resources and care she would need. The record of Robinson’s application indicates that he was a 68-year-old blower (he probably worked a bellows in an ironworks or was a glass blower), but it seems unlikely that he was still employed at that point. An unspecified club gave his wife...

    • 3 Constructing Hygienic Subjects: The Regulation and Reformation of Aboriginal Bodies
      (pp. 74-99)

      The state, in the name of public health, is empowered to test, handle, move, and segregate people, especially those deemed physically or emotionally needy. In the twentieth century, as Alison Bashford has demonstrated, an emphasis on domestic and personal hygiene saw the formation of hygienic boundaries of rule, whereby populations were categorized and separated into those capable of self-care and those marked incapable.¹ In the state of Queensland, the convergence of popular and medical representations of Aboriginal people as incapable of performing the modern rituals of health and hygiene reinforced and justified the government’s decision to place the Aboriginal population...

    • 4 Shaping Student Bodies and Minds: The Redefinition of Self at English-Canadian Universities, 1900–60
      (pp. 100-120)

      Universities are typically associated with the shaping of young minds. Yet in the first half of the twentieth century, educators and health experts became increasingly concerned about the health of students’ bodies. At many institutions, administrators began to hire a host of experts – dieticians, nurses, doctors, and physical educators – to supervise students’ health. They frequently instituted compulsory medical examinations for all students and one to two hours of physical training a week for first-and second-year students.¹ They also set up infirmaries and provided access to doctors throughout the year, and by the 1920s they had introduced hospitalization insurance in some...


      (pp. 121-122)

      This section addresses the power of physicians to determine what bodily conditions are significant enough to attract medical interest and how to treat those conditions. Making these determinations has not always been straightforward because medical specialties have been in competition with each other, differing theories of causation have come out of those specialties, and perspectives have been contingent on who the “experts” were and who the patients were perceived to be. Certainly, specific diseases resonate with practitioners because of their challenge to the values of society. An in-depth study of late nineteenthcentury and early twentieth-century Austrian, Swiss, and German medical...

    • 5 Osteomalacia: Femininity and the “Softening of Bones” in Central European Medicine (1830–1920)
      (pp. 123-151)

      In 1913 the Dutch physician W. von der Scheer summarized more than half a century of research published in German on the porotic (porous) softening of bones in adults, which after 1860 was intensely discussed as a female disorder of unknown cause. In his words, “[t]oday, the notion of osteomalacia signifies a clinically as well as a pathologically-anatomically well-defined chronic disorder occurring usually among females in pregnancy or in the puerperium which is found in certain regions endemically.”¹ The present-day etiology of osteomalacia (and rickets) as a generalized condition of defective bone mineralization resulting from a deficiency (or resistance to...

    • 6 Disciplining Male Bodies: Infertility and Medicine in Germany in the Decades after the Second World War
      (pp. 152-177)

      Late-twentieth-century biomedical technologies that were intended to “treat” infertile men, along with recent popular debates about men’s health, have cast a light on male involvement in reproduction along with the cultural meanings attached to it. Concern over reproduction and health has traditionally been tied to women when infertile women have been understood to “bear the burden of blame and social scrutiny.”¹ Scholars have explored how women’s bodies have been medicalized and cast as deviant (as Rebecca Godderis also discusses in this volume; see chapter 12) from the supposedly normative, that is healthy, male body.² In this respect, men have been...

    • 7 “Cherishing Hopes of the Impossible”: Mothers, Fathers, and Disability at Birth in Mid-Twentieth-Century New Zealand
      (pp. 178-199)

      David Cameron, now the prime minister of Britain, said in 2004 that the realization that his eldest son, Ivan, was severely disabled hit him “almost like mourning – the loss of something – mourning the gap between your expectation and what has happened.”¹ The wealthy and highly educated Camerons were open about their son’s severe disability, Ohtahara syndrome (a combination of cerebral palsy and epilepsy). Sixyear-old Ivan’s death in 2009 was marked in the English Parliament and occasioned an outpouring of sympathy for the Cameron family. David Cameron’s willingness to acknowledge his son’s condition signalled a new era in the acknowledgement of...

    • 8 Breaking Down Barriers: Women in the Ontario HIV/AIDS Movement before the Advent of Antiretroviral Therapy
      (pp. 200-224)

      Before and shortly after the term acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) was coined in the summer of 1982, the mainstream press in Canada used terms such as gay cancer, gay-related immune deficiency, and gay plague to refer to the mysterious condition that was first noticed among young and previously healthy men presenting with Kaposi’s sarcoma or succumbing to a variety of opportunistic infections.¹ When the condition was seen in a greater number of people who did not report same-sex sexual activity, Canadian journalists emulated epidemiologists and made use of the terms “risk groups” and “groups at higher risk” when discussing...


      (pp. 225-226)

      This section complicates our understanding of health by exploring the ways that wider societal discourses prescribe certain norms and values for citizens. In doing so, the chapters in this section raise questions about the authority of medicine today, the power of patients to exercise their agency over how their health is defined, and the ways that an increasing focus on consumer capitalism in the Western world shapes our understanding of what it means to be healthy by identifying lifestyles and behaviours that allow us to live up to the norm in different time periods. These norms and values serve to...

    • 9 Referred for Special Services: Children, Youth, and the Production of Heteronormativity at Alexandra Neighbourhood House in Post-war Vancouver
      (pp. 227-244)

      Alexandra Neighbourhood House (ANH) in Vancouver, British Columbia, began to run age-based programs for children and young teenagers referred to them by various social services in the community in the 1920s. By the 1940s, these programs also had strong ties with the University of British Columbia’s School of Social Work. Staff, including social work students who were placed at ANH for practicum experience, had extensive discussions about the youngsters enrolled and often drew up reports based on their observations of individual participants. In these reports, social workers were particularly preoccupied with the gender roles and sexual identity of the youngsters...

    • 10 The Heterosexual Nature of Health and Hygiene Advertisements in the Cold War Era
      (pp. 245-267)

      Since the middle of the twentieth century, the idealized female body has been shrinking. Marilyn Monroe was a size eight when her idolized figure adorned the inaugural issue ofPlayboymagazine in 1953. Five decades later, men’s magazineMaximawarded Christina Aguilera, a petite size two, the top spot in their “Hot 100” list of the most de sirable women.¹ According to scholars, popular culture’s crusade for shrinking waistlines and dwindling dress sizes created an idealized body exploited by marketers to sell products promising thinner, more attractive, and ultimately more sexually desirable bodies. In deconstructing advertisements, psychologists, sociologists, historians, and...

    • 11 Educating Doctors about Obesity: The Gendered Use of Pharmaceutical Advertisements
      (pp. 268-302)

      The photo is of a friendly doctor and a well-dressed overweight woman sharing a laugh, part of an advertisement for Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine), an appetite suppressant used as a diet aid in the control of obesity. It is a subdued ad in that it does not portray the “patient” as a supplicant. She could be any woman. But the text makes clear that the patient does have legitimate needs – for the “encouragement” of her physician and the “help” of Dexedrine. The drug will not only control her appetite for the entire day but also help her overcome the “lethargy” often seen...

    • 12 Motherhood Gone Mad? The Rise of Postpartum Depression in the United States during the 1980s
      (pp. 303-318)

      On a September afternoon in 1983, Jeff Thompson arrived at his home in Sacramento, California, to find that his infant son had been murdered by his wife, Angela. She had placed the baby in a box beside the house, scattered the box with mothballs and covered it with a towel. Angela believed the mothballs were rosary beads, that her nine-month-old son was the devil, and that her husband was Christ, who would raise the baby from the dead within three days to rid the world of evil. Originally charged with first-degree murder, Angela Thompson was acquitted of the crime by...

    • 13 From Fixing to Enhancing Bodies: Shifting Ideals of Health and Gender in the Medical Discourse on Cosmetic Surgery in Twentieth-Century Canada
      (pp. 319-346)

      At the forty-fifth annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons held in the summer of 1991, there was a great deal of discussion about the ethics of cosmetic surgery. Controversy over the safety of breast implants was one driver of the conversation, and Dr Rob Cartotto, a resident in plastic surgery at the University of Toronto, wondered whether a procedure that was “entirely elective for nonfunctional reasons” was ethical given that the long-term effects of implants were unknown.¹ Douglas Courtemanche, clinical professor of plastic surgery and associate dean of residency training at the University of British Columbia, noted...

  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 347-380)
  9. Contributors
    (pp. 381-384)
  10. Index
    (pp. 385-396)