vol 26 - 2000

In the early 1970s, at the height of Second Wave feminism, critiques of physicians and of gendered assumptions about illness and health flourished in popular as well as scholarly writings. Attempting to provide a countermodel of medical care, feminists in many Western industrial nations organized self-help health movements, women's clinics, and community-based programs for birthing, gynecological exams, abortion, and therapy outside the formal institutions of healthcare. Women bought plastic speculums; relied on herbs, health foods, vitamins, and other organic products rather than commercial medications; and gathered together to celebrate freedom of sexual expression and sexual pleasure and to lobby for legalized abortion, access to midwives, rape crisis centers, and wife-abuse shelters. This special issue on women's health revisits some of these earlier efforts, providing critical and historical perspectives on abortion rights, lesbian identity and psychoanalytic practices, the myth of vaginal orgasms, and the power relations that inhere in doctor-patient relations. But this issue also offers newer perspectives and different approaches to understanding the effects of illness and disability on women's bodies, minds, and sense of self.

Through personal narratives, paintings, poetry, and fiction, contributors to this volume provide interior explorations of medical crises. Written in an era when many women have, partly as a result of Second Wave feminism, greater access to knowledge about their conditions and control over their treatment, these essays illustrate the difficult negotiations that remain for women faced with strokes, arthritis, cancer, and other disabling conditions. Mary Lowenthal Felstiner's unsentimental account of life with rheumatoid arthritis and Saundra Murray Nettles's powerful reflections on how an undiagnosed brain tumor caused her to take up the all too familiar position of the woman academic who constantly doubts her mental abilities are timely and original contributions to the vast experiential literature on chronic illness. So, too, the shorter pieces by Jessica Rosenberg and Mae Scoby provide moving tales of the ways that daughters are affected by mothers caught in the grip of potentially deadly diseases. Resolutely rejecting the mythical identities that are commonly deployed in this genre—the heroine who courageously battles illness, the noble victim who silently suffers, the family who finds salvation through the mother's impending death—these authors teach us how to look at aging, disability, and serious illness with empathy and care but without melodrama. Understated prose and a persistent wit and humor even in the face of crippling emotional and physical pain are used in these "illness autobiographies" to lift the genre to a new level.


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Mary Lowenthal Felstiner
Casing My Joints: A Private and Public Story of
(Personal Narrative)

Anne Halsey
Grandmother's Stroke: July 1993 (Poetry)

Regina Morantz-Sanchez
Negotiating Power at the Bedside: Historical Perspectives on Nineteenth-Century Patients and Their Gynecologists

Faulkner Fox
Pregnant Perspective (Poetry)

Saundra Murray Nettles
You Are Different Now (Personal Narrative)

Leslie J. Reagan
Crossing the Border for Abortions: California Activists, Mexican Clinics, and the Creation of a Feminist Health Agency in the 1960s

Johanna Schoen
Reconceiving Abortion: Medical Practice, Women's Access, and Feminist Politics before and after Roe v. Wade (Review Essay)

Jessica Rosenberg
Snapshot (Personal Narrative)

Riva Lehrer
Circle Stories (Art Essay)

Janelle S. Taylor
Of Sonograms and Baby Prams:
Prenatal Diagnosis, Pregnancy, and Consumption

Mae Scoby
The Way We Hold Our Bodies (Personal Narrative)

Sonalde Desai
Maternal Education and Child Health: A Feminist Dilemma

Nancy Roberts
Deathwatch for Our Friend (Poetry)

Jane Gerhard
Revisiting "The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm":
The Female Orgasm in American Sexual Thought
and Second Wave Feminism

Evelyn Torton Beck Susan (Shanee) Stepakoff
Lesbians in Psychoanalytic Theory and Practice (Review Essay)

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