Cradle to Grave Lecture 12

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Women, Medicine and Life Cycle. Themes. Emergence of research area – women and medicine/history of gender/patients’ view. Sex difference and fixed fund of energy (revisited). Specialists fields - gynaecology and psychiatry. ID: 459284 Download Presentation

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Cradle to Grave Lecture 12

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Cradle to Grave Lecture 12

Women, Medicine and Life Cycle



Emergence of research area – women and medicine/history of gender/patients’ view

Sex difference and fixed fund of energy (revisited)

Specialists fields - gynaecology and psychiatry

puerperal insanity and hysteria

Women and agency

Women treating women



century women’s health

Feminism and health – women’s health movement

Related to: midwifery and occupational health also focus on women’s health (birth control, adolescence, infant and maternal welfare)


Women, health and medicine

Huge literature, huge amount of interest

Influence in 1970s of feminist studies – social history of medicine, sociology, gender and literary studies (


and English,

Witches, Midwives and Nurses


Joan Scott’s influential article 1986 (‘Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis’,

American Historical Review

) – category of gender in considering systems of social or sexual relations (women and gender used interchangeably) – often focus on repression (male power/female patient), emphasis on childbirth, gynaecology and psychiatry

Dovetailed with idea of doing history from below/patients’ view (Roy Porter)

Women depicted as prone to ideologically driven interventions – ideals of domesticity and patriarchal society 19


C and imperatives of state, nation and scientific motherhood 20




Oppression and agency



cautioned against interpretations based around idea of one-dimensional construct aimed at oppression of women, which assumes ‘clear-cut power relations, takes a social relationship – in this case between men and women – and finds a basis for it in the distinction between nature and culture’ (see her

Sexual Visions: Images of Gender in Science and Medicine between the Eighteenth and Twentieth Centuries

, 1989)

Theory/rhetoric and practice – not necessarily the same

Women’s agency important – as carers, doctors and patients

Yet, strong association between female nature and dangerousness…. e.g. VD, midwives as ‘unclean’, pollution of menstruation and male doctors, scientists and thinkers spent much of 19


C attempting to prove women inferior to men, mentally, morally and physically (Cynthia Eagle



Sexual Science: The Victorian Construction of Womanhood



Two-sex model

Up to the Enlightenment, women appear to have been considered ‘inferior’ versions of men in medical terms – two different forms of one essential sex, represented by Thomas


‘one-sex’ model.

Women were understood to have same basic reproductive structures, tucked inside the body (vagina/penis, ovaries/testicles)

Around 18


C two sexes began to be seen as opposites – by late 18


C only male orgasm seen as essential to conception and active sexuality a masculine trait. ‘Normal’ women were not believed to have sexual desires and thus female sexual activity aberrant (in views of physicians, clergymen, novelists). Demarcation of two-sex model, where women inferior.


Fixed fund of energy

By third quarter of the 19


century, doctors (inspired by economist Herbert Spencer) had evolved ‘economic model’ to explain how women’s reproductive systems interacted with other parts of body, especially the brain.

Envisaged ‘the body as a closed system in which organs and mental faculties competed for a finite supply of physical or mental energy; thus depletion in one organ resulted in exhaustion or excitation in another part of the body’.

Associated with American physician, Edward Clarke (Harvard Professor) and prominent psychiatrist Dr Henry


in UK


Maudsley vs. Garrett Anderson


Maudsley vs. Garrett Anderson

Debate in

Fortnightly Review

(you can read this in its entirety in British Periodicals Collection) (1874) – centred around girls and education

‘Sex in Mind and in Education’


argued that overspending vital energy would cause menstrual disorders and mental breakdown and potentially destroy women’s capacity to bear healthy children.

Women should not attempt to run alongside men: ‘they cannot choose but to be women; cannot rebel successfully again the tyranny of their organisation’.

‘The important psychological change which takes place during puberty… may easily overstep its health limits, and pass into pathological change… nervous disorders of a minor kind, and even such serious disorders as chorea, epilepsy, insanity, are often connected with irregularities or suspension of these important functions’.


Victorian doctors!



‘Women’s Biological Straitjacket’)

Relationship between women and medicine not just tied to Victorian patriarchal society – as already by 1700 women depicted as frail and unstable, ‘medically unique but inferior… whose health was determined by her femininity’. These ideas gain resonance however from mid-19C onwards with growing professional interest in ‘diseases of women’ (emergence of






and psychiatry) and adoption of more political stance by individual doctors who invested in ideas of gender difference (connection to female education, suffrage, etc).

Women seen as important client group – in competitive medical marketplace

Gynaecology – horrors of gynaecological surgery

Yet gynaecology divided between conservatives and interventionists (






1884 ‘Arraign the uterus and you fix in the woman the arrow of hypochondria, it may be for ever’.


Obstetrics and Gynaeocology

Part of


and specialisation

New hospitals for women e.g. Birmingham Women’s Hospital, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, alongside maternity hospitals and wards treating women’s disorders.

‘Diseases of women’ become a special category – tied to both obstetrics and gynaecology

Increasing depicted women’s health as problematic and


and to a certain extent ‘inescapable’ – victim of weak female nature, body and mind, which endured throughout life cycle

Tied to challenge within midwifery posed by new male obstetric practitioners – both specialists obstetricians and GPs

Surgical interventions introduced e.g. for hysteria or unacceptable behaviour or pain or reproductive problems


extreme manifestation of dread of female sexuality, 1,000s of





and Hooper extracts)


Diseases of women

Thomas Laycock one of many authors on subject from mid-19thC onwards.He had special interest in hysteria and nervous disorders but other authors focused more on gynaecology and the difficulties of parturition/childbearing


Surgical approaches

‘Before the recent advances of gynaecology, women, sane and insane, had to suffer from ills, now known to be curable… [ovarian or uterine] diseases we know are apt to entail nervous disorders, and we have seen that nervous disorders, when complicating disease of the sexual organs, are frequently cured when the diseased organs are removed….’

Robert Barnes, ‘On the Correlations of the Sexual Functions and Mental Disorders of Women’,

British Gynaecological Journal

, 6 (1890-91).


Sex, Pathology and Psychiatry

Prostitution represented all that was ‘pathological’ about female sexuality – though prostitutes considered by some a ‘necessary evil’ (also became a public health problem, Contagious Diseases Acts of 1860s)

Also ‘


’ – wilful rejection of the ‘angel in the home’ ideal linked to mental instability

Hysteria linked to female sexual arousal, mania typified by overtly sexual behaviour, and nymphomania defined in late 19



‘Take, for example, the irritation of ovaries or uterus, which is sometimes the direct occasion of


– a disease by which the most chaste and modest woman is transformed into a raging fury of lust’. Henry



Body and Mind


Related to female instability and instability of reproductive organs


Women and psychiatry

Women’s relationship with psychiatry – idea of repressive control of women through psychiatry, concern about infringement of feminine behaviour

Growth of asylums in 19thC – many women patients; also interactions at home between male doctors and female patients

Recent work has suggested that gender played less of a role than suggested in psychiatric diagnosis and also looks increasing at masculinity and mental breakdown (



Asylum may have been a refuge for some women and also doctors saw female vulnerability to mental breakdown rooted in wide set of social, economic and circumstantial factors not just female life cycle and weakness/biological predisposition.

Women seen, however, as vulnerable from adolescence through to menopause (climatic insanity)


Puerperal insanity

First defined/labelled in 1820 – quickly taken up by obstetrics and gynaecology, into textbooks and case notes

Increased admissions to asylums – around 10% of female admissions and often more and many treated as private patients at home and occasionally in maternity hospitals

Contested between obstetricians and psychiatrists – both claimed expertise to cure

Seen as likely to reoccur and related not only to female biology and strains of childbirth, but also to worries about motherhood, poverty, domestic problems (insanity of lactation particularly associated with poor nutrition of mother, exhaustion and having too many children in quick succession)

Catch all – rich and poor (excessive luxury and poverty), young and old, first time mothers and those who had many children


Puerperal insanity

During that long process, or rather succession of processes, in which the sexual organs of the human female are employed in forming; lodging; expelling, and lastly feeding the offspring, there is no time at which the mind may not become disordered; but there are two periods at which this is chiefly likely to occur, the one soon after delivery, when the body is sustaining the effects of labour, the other several months afterwards, when the body is sustaining the effects of nursing’.

Robert Gooch,

On some of the most important diseases peculiar to women

(1831), p.54.


Puerperal mania in 4 stages: Medical Times and Gazette, 1858



‘Daughters’ disease’Victorian period – heyday of hysteriaAssociated with young women of higher and middle classes and persons ‘easily excited to mental emotion’‘Social’ and ‘medical’ causesWas said to result from strains of female education and biological weaknessYet also used to negotiate role within families


Women’s agency

Culture of invalid e.g. Florence Nightingale – could be utilised by women

Birth control – many of its advocates women

Women’s move into medical practice as doctors, professional nurses, health visitors, etc – focus on women and children’s medicine, often advocate for women

Women direct household income, which for some meant exercised choice in who to employ as doctors

Some interventions beneficial e.g.


Women’s Hospital treated many women with severe gynaecological problems, problems of multiple births etc. – prolapsed womb, varicose veins, etc. Women also had real sufferings

Household medicine – women as medical activists or day to day practitioners and carers


Women doctors

Increased in number in late 19


– though only 25 in England and Wales 1881, 495 1911 – impact out of all proportion to numbers

Many were feminists – Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Sophia Jex-Blake and supported women and wished to educate them on health issues and work to improve health and medical treatment

Worked in obstetrics, paediatrics, public health, school medicine, birth control (in early 20


C) and private practice with women. Small number set up hospitals. Also produced health advice literature for women.


Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Sophia Jex-Blake


Medical Women

Fashionable dressed female doctor claims greater surgical competence than a male practitionerPunch, 14 September 1872


Women’s health in 20thC

Health disadvantage - class and gender combined, ethnicity growing factor too

Heavy burden (work/home), childbearing (Women’s Cooperative Guild)/ ‘double burden’

Women tended to have less access to health care

Yet also responsible for care of family, especially children –


, infant welfare, children’s health, nutrition and hygiene

Blamed for families’ ill health and their own – alleged ignorance on health and reluctance e.g. to attend clinics

Seen as vulnerable to mental illness and depression – continues into 20



E.g. Lucinda


– working class women’s health, literature on birth control, adolescence – next week we will look at midwifery


Interwar years

Medical Research Council (MRC) 1924 Report on miners and families – argued poverty had no impact on ill health but due to ‘failure’ of mothers (poor home care, hygiene, cooking) – likely however that poverty and malnutrition key factors (Celia Petty)

1935 Report on Maternal Morbidity in Scotland – 57% antenatal deaths due to women not following advice and failing to attend clinics

However, 1933 Women’s Health Inquiry Committee – explored experiences of 1,250 working-class women. Found enormous amount of ill health amongst married women. Illness often ‘hidden’ and took ill health for granted

This report recommended: higher wages, better social service provision for children, family allowances, improved maternal health services, subsidised housing, extension of NI for women, better education in home management, etc


more sympathetic to women’s plight

Background of Depression and housing shortage – feeding and clothing children remained main preoccupation of women


2nd WW and NHS

Dual burden continued for women – domestic labour and war work

Women’s role still regarded as wife and mother: William


maternity principle object of marriage and ‘housewives as mothers have vital work to do in ensuring the adequate continuance of the British race…’

Rationing improved diet in latter years of war – led to improved health, women’s wages often improved


of family

1945 Family Allowances introduced – end of long campaign

Women’s access to health care improves with introduction of NHS but still inequalities based on gender, class, locale and ethnicity


Feminist strategies

1970s onwards women’s health had higher profile inspired by women’s movement (influence of US)

E.g. refuges for women suffering domestic violence

Urged women to learn more about their bodies and exercise more control over their health – Well Women Clinics (


). Holistic approach, but also checked for female cancers, reproductive health matters. Advice to women –

Our Bodies, Ourselves

Much of women’s time though still dedicated to looking after others – women outlive men, but tend to be more unhealthy

Related to more contact with medical professionals, but also lingering assumptions about women’s health and capabilities: weaker sex (more mental health problems) and women more likely to express stress through illness.

Continuing impact of ‘double burden’.






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