Health History

Complaints and Disorders: The Sexual Politics of Sickness

Complaints and Disorders:
The Sexual Politics of
Barbara Ehrenreich,
Deirdre English
The Feminist Press1973

In this exciting sequel to their underground bestseller, Witches, Midwives, and Nurses, Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English document the tradition of American sexism in medicine before and after the turn of the century. Citing vivid examples, including numerous “treatments” and “rest cures” perpetrated on women through the decades, the authors analyze the biomedical rationale used to justify the wholesale sex discrimination throughout our culture-in education, in jobs, and in public life. Ever since Hippocrates, male medics have treated women as the “weaker” sex. By the late 19th century, when the authority of religious documents had waned, the ultimate rationale for sex discrimination became solely biomedical. In this intriguing pamphlet, the authors raise the difficult question: “How sick-or well-are women today?” They assert that feminists today want more than “more”: “We want a new style, and we want a new substance of medical practice as it relates to women.”

Gynaecological Exam / Complaints and Disorders / page 4

Table of Contents:

Introduction: A Perspective on the Social Role of Medicine
Women and Medicine in the Late nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries: The Historical Setting
The “Sick” Women of the Upper Class
… The Cult of Female Invalidism
… The Doctor’s Stake in Women’s Illness
… The “Scientific” Explanation of Female Frailty
… The Psychology of the Ovary
… Medical Treatments
… Subverting the Sick Role
The “Sickening” Women of the Working Class
… Biological Class Warfare
… The Special Danger of Working-Class Women
… Prostitutes and Venereal Disease
… The Middle-Class Offensive: Public Health
… The Middle-Class Offensive: Birth Control
… Women “Uplift” Women
Notes on the Situation Today
From Here On: Concluding Thoughts