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Collective Fat Awareness in 1950s America: Wishful Shrinkers or Cheerful Cherubs?

By Jessica Parr

I recently returned to New Zealand, the country where I grew up and met with a childhood friend for a long overdue catch over coffee. The conversation turned to my doctoral research and how my recent research trip to the Midwest had gone. As I recounted my archive adventures and my delight at finding such a wealth of popular literature concerning obesity from the late 1940s, my long-time friend looked up and exclaimed: was obesity a problem in the 1950s? This is not the first time this question has been posed to me with such surprise. We can be forgiven for assuming that widespread concern for weight management is a relatively recent phenomenon with World Health Organisation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheets presenting obesity as a health conundrum from the late twentieth century.

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The Hystericization of “Garbage Bag Diagnoses”

by Cara Jones

On April 24, 2014, radio and TV personality Dr. Drew Pinsky, a board-certified internist and Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Southern California, fielded a question on the syndicated radio show Loveline from a man named Kelan whose fiancée had what he called a “multitude of conditions:” endometriosis, Interstitial Cystitis, lactose intolerance, and “no stomach lining” (0:30:07 to 0:32:51). Before the caller could ask his question, Pinsky interjected:

These are what we call sort of functional disorders. Everything you mentioned,
everything you mentioned, are things that actually aren't discernibly pathological.
They're sort of — they're what we call "garbage bag diagnoses," when you can't think
of anything else, you go, "Eh, well it's that." So, it then makes me question why is she
so somatically preoccupied that she's visiting doctors all the time with pains and
urinary symptoms and pelvic symptoms, and then that makes me wonder, was she
sexually abused growing up?

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The Feminist Fork

By Renee Gross

Like so many people, I have a complicated relationship with food. I’ve eaten out of anger, sadness, or excitement. At times, food connects me with people and places. I’ve even gone so far as to have mistaken food for love. Other times, shame accompanies me while I eat and comments over what I ate, how I ate, and how much I ate. I’ve associated food with the monotony of daily life and then turned around and claimed food as the most joyous part of life: the part that makes life worth living. But that only seems to scratch the surface of what I’m trying to understand in my new podcast about the intersections of food and feminism.

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A Doula in Every Birthing Suite

By Paula A. Michaels

The question of the contraceptive mandate has garnered the lion’s share of attention regarding the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on women’s health services, most notably in the recent Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College decisions. As unquestionably important and pressing as these issues are, what has earned virtually no discussion is the opportunity that the ACA offers to improve the quality of care for women who choose to become pregnant. The potential for doulas—trained, experienced labor companions—to significantly improve health outcomes, raise patient satisfaction, and lower costs has not received the consideration it deserves.

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Healthy Advertising: Thin Body Sells

by Sophia Mantheakis

I called them bathroom-stall moments. Usually during morning break in high school, these were the moments that I would find myself on one side of a bathroom stall with my best friend on the other side in tears. High school was not fun--most people can share that sentiment. But, for my best friend (and myself to an extent), high school meant one of the most stressful periods of her life where she had to watch her every action. Homework was not the fear; she excelled in school. No, this fear, this demon was much simpler and always present. It was food.

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Natural Childbirth: A Communist Plot?

By Paula A. Michaels

When All in the Family’s Gloria and Michael Stivic attended childbirth preparation classes in 1975, the Lamaze method seemed as American as apple pie. Each week Mike and Gloria brought into our living rooms the values of the counterculture and second-wave feminism that were redefining middle-class American society. Reflecting these trends in the realm of childbirth, the Lamaze method enjoyed tremendous popularity. Though natural living and feminist empowerment are not so much at the forefront of our collective cultural conversation, four decades later what childbirth scene in an American television show or movie would be complete without the hee-hee-hee-hoo of Lamaze breathing? More surprising than the durability of this iconic image in our cultural landscape is the fact that, the Lamaze method was denounced in the 1950s by the founder of the natural childbirth movement as nothing less than a communist plot.

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On the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough?: Interpreting Mental Illness

By Mary Elene Wood

A highway patrol officer straddles a woman who lies on her back by the side of a highway. His arm lifts high into the air, then, with what looks like substantial force, he strikes her in the face with his clenched fist. He does this over and over again. Early in July, news programs around the country quickly spread the story of a California Highway Patrol officer caught on videotape violently beating Marlene Pinnock, a 51-year-old homeless, presumably mentally ill, woman, along the side of a freeway in Los Angeles. The California Highway Patrol claimed that the officer was only trying to stop the woman from walking out into traffic, yet journalists across the U.S. decried, in one writer’s words, “the lack of training given to law enforcement officers to handle such people, even though officers all too often are society’s frontline mental health care providers.”

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Marvel’s Fleeting Feminism

by Tony Lewis

The recent announcement of a new creative team for the comic book series Wonder Woman has stirred up some controversy, stemming mainly from an interview in which the artist, David Finch, proved wary of the term “feminist.” His hesitance clearly alarmed people who value the character’s status as an icon of feminism, especially as it came on the heels of Stevie St. John’s article in the Summer 2014 issue of Bitch Magazine that explained how the series’ current creators have undermined the feminist aspects of Wonder Woman’s mythology. What has received less attention is the fact that DC Comics has handed its 75-year-old franchise to Finch's wife, Meredith, a writer who has very little experience working in comics. But, as we shall see, this situation has a historical precedent.

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Excommunicating Feminism in the Mormon Church

By Amanda Hendrix-Komoto

On June 8th, 2014, Kate Kelly received a letter from her bishop telling her that she could be excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for asking that church leaders pray about the possibility of female ordination. She was invited to a council in which three men would deliberate on her fate. If she was excommunicated, she would no longer be allowed to speak in church, partake of the bread during the sacrament, or visit the temple. The act would also sever the ties Mormons believe hold families together in the afterlife. Instead of progressing eternally with her family and becoming more and more like God, Kelly would be barred from the Celestial Kingdom and cast into what Mormons call “outer darkness.” Although women could give testimony on her behalf, men, and only men, would determine whether she would be excommunicated for her actions. Kelly wrote a few days later that it was like “being invited to my own funeral.”

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The Burdens of Conscience: Thoughts on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

By Ronit Y. Stahl

In the late 1960s, two men refused to fulfill their military service obligations. One was a humanist and the other a Catholic, and both viewed Vietnam as an unjust war. However, they admitted they did not view all wars as unconscionable. This presented a problem because the Selective Service required men to certify that they objected to all war, in any form. They took to the courts in an attempt to make selective conscientious objection—that is, objection to specific wars—valid grounds for classification as conscientious objectors.

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