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The Vulnerable Empowered Woman

The Vulnerable Empowered Woman: Feminism, Postfeminism, and Women's Health

Tasha N. Dubriwny
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The Vulnerable Empowered Woman
    Book Description:

    The feminist women's health movement of the 1960s and 1970s is credited with creating significant changes in the healthcare industry and bringing women's health issues to public attention. Decades later, women's health issues are more visible than ever before, but that visibility is made possible by a process of depoliticization

    The Vulnerable Empowered Womanassesses the state of women's healthcare today by analyzing popular media representations-television, print newspapers, websites, advertisements, blogs, and memoirs-in order to understand the ways in which breast cancer, postpartum depression, and cervical cancer are discussed in American public life. From narratives about prophylactic mastectomies to young girls receiving a vaccine for sexually transmitted disease, the representations of women's health today form a single restrictive identity: the vulnerable empowered woman. This identity defuses feminist notions of collective empowerment and social change by drawing from both postfeminist and neoliberal ideologies. The woman is vulnerable because of her very femininity and is empowered not to change the world, but to choose from among a limited set of medical treatments.The media's depiction of the vulnerable empowered woman's relationship with biomedicine promotes traditional gender roles and affirms women's unquestioning reliance on medical science for empowerment. The book concludes with a call to repoliticize women's health through narratives that can help us imagine women-and their relationship to medicine-differently.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5402-0
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: Public Discourse and the Representation of the Vulnerable Empowered Woman
    (pp. 1-12)

    In September 2009, the “Go Red for Women” campaign, sponsored by the American Heart Association, aired an hour-long prime-time event on national television. The show, “Go Red for Women Presents: Choose to Live,” varied little from the “Go Red” campaign’s main message since its inception earlier in the decade: heart disease is not a man’s disease; rather, it is the number-one killer of women. With scores of celebrity advocates and a trendy logo (the image of a flowing red dress), “Go Red” has succeeded in making heart disease a very visible women’s health issue.¹ Indeed, “Go Red” has entered the...

  5. Chapter 1 Theorizing Postfeminist Health: Risk and the Postfeminist Subject
    (pp. 13-32)

    One of my primary arguments throughout this book is that contemporary representations of women’s health have been disarticulated from feminism and that this disarticulation has significant ramifications for women. In this chapter, I offer a brief discussion of the women’s health movement and the activist feminist approach to women’s health that developed through the activism, publications, and theorizing of some segments of movement. It is precisely a feminist politics like the activist feminist perspective that is missing from current discussions of women’s health in mainstream public discourse. I also offer a theorization of the current status of women’s health discourse,...

  6. Chapter 2 Genetic Risk: Prophylactic Mastectomies and the Pursuit of Cancer-Free Life
    (pp. 33-68)

    For the week of September 15, 2008, bothTimeandNewsweekpublished extensive articles about the war on cancer. Both articles argued that while Americans have been actively engaged in the war on cancer for almost four decades, the war is not even close to being won.¹ As the title of theNewsweekarticle declares, “We fought cancer . . . and cancer won.”² TheNewsweekandTimecoverage suggests that cancer, now more than ever, is a constant part of public consciousness. Breast cancer stands out even within this coverage as being particularly visible: theNewsweekarticle, for example,...

  7. Chapter 3 Postfeminist Risky Mothers and Postpartum Depression
    (pp. 69-106)

    In her landmark 1976 bookOf Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, Adrienne Rich describes motherhood as an institution that works—through a series of organizational structures and cultural belief systems—to restrain women’s agency by reducing their lives to the domestic sphere. The institution of motherhood ensures that women’s potential relationship with the “powers of reproduction” remains “under male control.”¹ Rich writes, “It [the institution] has withheld over one-half the human species from the decisions affecting their lives; it exonerates men from fatherhood in any authentic sense; it creates the dangerous schism between ‘private’ and ‘public’ life; it...

  8. Chapter 4 The Postfeminist Concession: Young Women, Sex, and Paternalism
    (pp. 107-142)

    In the spring of 2007, headlines across the United States noted an emerging women’s health controversy. ANew York Timesheadline declared “Furor on Rush to Require Cervical Cancer Vaccine,” and theDallas Morning Newsoffered this depiction of the issue: “Preventing Cancer or Promoting Sex?”¹ Most articles focused on the question at the heart of the controversy: Should the newly approved and heavily marketed “cervical cancer vaccine,” Gardasil, be mandated for adolescent girls even though it also protects against human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease? The state of Texas led the campaign for mandatory vaccination, under a direct...

  9. Chapter 5 Feminist Women’s Health Activism in the Twenty-first Century
    (pp. 143-182)

    In this chapter, I offer one possible vision for a feminist women’s health politics in the twenty-first century that attempts to answer some of the substantial problems with the postfeminist narratives about women’s health that circulate in mainstream public discourse. In the conclusion of their 1999 edited volumeRevisioning Women, Health and Healing,Virginia Olesen and Adele Clarke refuse to support a specific agenda for feminist health activists, instead suggesting that a more pragmatic move is to “embrace agendas of problematizing, reconceptualizing, retheorizing, and revisioning any and all topics within women, health, and healing, especially those that derive from and...

  10. Afterword: From Margin to Center
    (pp. 183-188)

    I care deeply about women’s health. As I was writing the preceding chapters, I reflected on the many ways my life—my happiness, security, and well-being—rests upon the health and well-being of the women around me. Perhaps more than anyone else, my mother’s experiences have guided my interests and my passion—her memories of an unexpected postpartum hemorrhage after my birth, the surprise of finding a lump in her breast a few short months after a clean mammogram, and the experience of breast cancer from surgery to chemotherapy to radiation and beyond—but other women are central as well....

  11. Notes
    (pp. 189-216)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 217-230)
  13. Index
    (pp. 231-236)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 237-240)