by Carolyn Herbst Lewis
I have a not-so-secret weakness for historical fiction series. I think, in some roundabout way, this is what started me on the path to studying history. I read the Little House on the Prairie books as a child, John Jakes' North and South series as a tween, and it's been my genre-of-choice ever since. But there is one series in particular that really is my favorite. Maybe even an obsession. I have no idea how many times I've read and reread the now eight volumes in the series. I've even considered going on one of those themed-vacations, where you visit sites featured in the books. It's that bad. My obsession, I mean. The books are simply that good.
When I say that I'm talking about the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, I imagine that most of you who have read the books will know what I am talking about. I say "most" because I have heard that there are people who have read the books and didn't like them. Seriously, what's not to like? There is adventure. There is drama. There is time travel. There is really great sex. Unlike so many other titles in this genre, the storyline and many of the characters are decidedly feminist. I could go on, but I think I've gushed enough to give you an idea of what I'm talking about. Here I actually want to focus on a particular facet of the series: Gabaldon's careful attention to the history of medicine.
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.
by Lara Freidenfelds
As we wait for the Supreme Court to render a decision on the Hobby Lobby contraception coverage case, I have been pondering the historical relationship between contraception and health care. Is it obvious that contraception should be considered part of “health care?” And would it be possible to decide that it isn’t, but still make it affordable and available? This case seems, to me, to rest largely on whether we think contraception counts as health care. The justices are wary of an outcome that would allow employers to decline to pay for blood transfusions or routine vaccinations, even if an employer might genuinely have religious reservations about those procedures. Those are clearly health care. Contraception, though, seems different. It is prescribed for healthy people, and it does not cure or prevent disease (at least not directly).
by Nicole Foti
You may have noticed the recent hype surrounding the “little pink pill” or “pink Viagra,” a pill used to treat female sexual dysfunction, or FSD, a condition affecting nearly 50 million women nationwide. The FDA’s latest rejection of the drug flibanserin has caught the attention of a number of media outlets and women’s groups, including the National Organization for Women (NOW), who are questioning the motives behind this decision. Why does the FDA refuse to approve any drugs for women with sexual dysfunction, while men have five to choose from, plus another nineteen generic brands of these drugs? After reading many articles indicating that FSD was, in fact, an epidemic affecting millions of women (possibly myself included) and that the FDA was being outright sexist in their reluctance to approve drugs to treat it, I decided to do a little research. Instead of finding answers though, I seem to be left with questions. One in particular is: what are we treating here anyways?
By Jenna Tucker
The Camp Gyno ad sparked debate this past fall in the feminist blogosphere about menstruation and feminine care products. When I watched the ad, it managed to evoke just about every contradictory emotion I could feel in relation to periods, gender, and feminism. I felt everything from shame to '90s girl-power pride to anti-capitalist rage. I'm a tiny arena in which contradictory personal and cultural history plays itself out.
By Lara Freidenfelds
Miscarriage rarely makes the news, except in tabloids. But last year, Virginia state Senator Mark Obenshain’s ill-advised attempt to require Virginia women to report all miscarriages to the police contributed to his failure to become Virginia’s state attorney general. The bill, introduced in 2009, haunted his race for the position. Obenshain was trying to demonstrate his moral outrage over the case of a frightened teenager who had given birth to a premature stillborn baby, and disposed of it in a dumpster. It was a tragic case, to all observers. But instead of asking how his state could better provide sex education and contraception, or provide support to teens who get pregnant, he wrote a bill aimed at surveillance and punishment. On penalty of up to a year in prison, women would be required to report all incidences of fetal demise occurring outside a physician’s supervision to the police. They were to report the pregnant woman’s name and the location of the remains, and would not be allowed to dispose of them without police supervision.
by Nicole Lock
I didn’t discover my clitoris until I was a freshman in high school. It may have been mentioned in some measly sexual education class, but it definitely failed to register as the only organ with a purely pleasurable function. If the teacher had mentioned that over 8,000 nerve endings exist on the clitoral glands alone, while the internal structure had bulbs and legs that were also sources of pleasure, my ears definitely would have perked up. The clitoris has a history of being glossed over, not just in sexual education courses, but also in medical research. It wasn’t until 1998, when urologist Helen O’Connell published her findings regarding the internal structure of the clitoris, that the medical world finally had a true understanding of its size and scope. The organ, so central to female pleasure, has endured a long history of cultural and social norms that have hindered its appreciation and understanding. The Western history of the clitoris has many lessons to teach us about the ways female sexuality has been misled, discounted, oppressed, and even enjoyed.
By Cara Jones
There is a problem with women’s health today. I’m not talking about breast cancer, menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, or menopause. I’m not even talking about violence against women, mental health, aging, or fitness and nutrition, some of the featured women’s health topics on womenshealth.gov. What I’m talking about is a language problem: the problem is that women’s health is called, well, women’s health. Don’t get me wrong. These are serious issues that require careful attention. And yet, I’m beginning to wonder if we should re-think the category of “women’s health” in general. There is something fundamentally flawed with the way “women’s health” issues are primarily sexual and reproductive, and centered around appearance and the home.
By Heather Munro Prescott
Periodically, we Yankees need a reminder that the term "southern feminist" is not an oxymoron. This past summer, we received an especially vivid one: Senator Wendy Davis's epic filibuster of SB-5, which sought to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, to regulate first-trimester abortion clinics as ambulatory surgical centers, and to restrict access to medication abortions.
By Elizabeth Reis
Thirty years ago I went to the Berkeley Women’s Health Collective to get fitted for a cervical cap. “What is that?” some of you might be wondering. The cervical cap is a barrier form of birth control, which fell out of favor when easier hormonal methods became more popular and more effective. It worked by inserting the cap before intercourse and removing it a few hours later. The cap blocked sperm from entering the cervix. And it had the advantage of not interfering with the spontaneity of sex because it could be inserted up to several hours before. I liked the method, but I didn’t like what I had to do in order to get fitted for it.