Guest Writer

Medicine, Modernity, and the Maternal Body

by Jodi Vandenberg-Daves

When I set out to write a synthesis of the history of motherhood in the U.S. back in 2008, I’d been teaching a course by that name for more than a decade. I didn’t anticipate that as I explored this history, I would soon witness a multi-faceted and partisan assault on reproductive rights. Perhaps this political context was part of the reason I found that, as I dug ever deeper into this scholarship, questions about the modernization of the maternal body and the various political tensions embedded within this process kept bubbling to the surface.

Talk, Touch, and Plan: Lessons on How We Die

by Karla Erickson

Some mornings I wake up very early with my son, Erik. In those quiet pre-dawn hours, I imagine that I can hear the human world awakening: a truck driver trudges out to his truck amidst the hissing of the engine; a farmer wakes before the roosters to spread feed for her chickens and goats; a coffee shop worker switches on the lights, grinds the beans, brews the coffee; parents like me who rock babies or stroke fevered foreheads, and all the people—children, spouses, home care workers and elder care workers—rise to care for the old and ailing. Chaplains sit with those who may not live until dawn, nurses’ aides who raise beds, pick out clothes, slide on shoes, offer water and coffee, and inquire “How did you sleep, Gloria? Was it a good night?” I think about the rustling of bodies, old and young, who are being helped lovingly and willfully to rest comfortably as the sun rises.

Female Sexual Dysfunction: “Pink Viagra,” A Dysfunctional Approach to Treatment

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?

Periods, Consumerism, and My Gentle Menstrual Activism

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.

Clitoral History: A Tale of Love, Loss, and Discovery

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.

Taking the Woman out of Women’s Health

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.

The Pregnant Body Beautiful

By Carrie Pitzulo

Sometime in the mid-1990s, I journeyed to see pop goddess Tina Turner in concert. Her opening act was the equally fabulous Cyndi Lauper. I assume, and hope, that Cyndi sang “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” and “Time After Time,” but I truly don’t remember the details, except for one. What I remember is that as one of the few out feminists in American entertainment, Cyndi preached to the crowd the necessity of acknowledging and respecting pregnant women. Indeed, even from my crummy seat, I could see that she was visibly pregnant. She bopped around the stage, and among the crowd, seemingly unhindered by her baby bump. I distinctly remember her insisting that we not force pregnant women “into the basement,” hidden from society’s view. To paraphrase, Cyndi told us that pregnant women should be able “to walk in the sun,” just like the characters in her biggest hit.

Pretty Women Use Birth Control

By Rebecca M. Bender

I recently came across this amazing vintage video “Family Planning,” produced by Disney in 1968. Do yourself a favor and take 10 minutes to watch it. In addition to the frivolous use of Donald Duck and the caricature of a “simple” heterosexual couple who appear clueless as to how babies are made, this short film provides us with a wealth of information regarding attitudes towards reproduction in the U.S., and abroad, during the late 1960s. After doing a bit of research, for example, I found out this film was produced for the Population Council, a non-profit organization created by John Rockefeller in 1952.

The Resurgence of the Horrific, Harsh, and Ugly Reality of Childhood Diseases: The Inevitable Risk of Forgoing Vaccinations

By Natisha Robb

In “When the Personal Really is Historical (and Scary!),” Jacqueline Antonovich, a gender and medicine historian, described her 21st-century experience with pertussis, a.k.a. whooping cough, an extremely contagious “good old-fashioned Oregon Trail disease” that recently reemerged since its near eradication in the 1970s. While Antonovich suggests a recent surge in the anti-vaccine movement, records unveil a history fraught with ongoing controversy. Before vaccinations became a childhood rite of passage, every family knew someone who lost a child to a now vaccine-preventable disease. Yet despite the magnitude of casualties from smallpox, measles, polio, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis in populations lacking herd immunity, vulnerable communities did not always welcome vaccination campaigns with open arms.

A Tale of Two Diseases: ADHD and Neurasthenia

Consider two diseases: Disease A and Disease B. Children with Disease A are described as being “excitable” and “precocious,” at risk of being “overstimulated.” Thus, they are unable to balance “academic, intellectual, and physical growth.” [Schuster, 116] Children suffering from Disease B, on the other hand, are “active, restless, and fidgety” and have difficulty “sustaining attention to tasks, persistence of effort, or vigilance.” [Barkley, 57] At first glance, the symptoms of the two diseases in children seem oddly similar. Yet these are two wildly unique diseases that have never overlapped in time.