Probably Being Too Cynical (Again)…   3 comments

At the bottom of page 188, Wells explains that, when the collective faced the terminology of modern medicalization, “their first tactic was to learn it.”

I question whether the use of medical terminology by the feminist movement was really a victory over the medical terminology or whether it was a victory *of* the medical terminology. By using medical terminology, are not the women themselves becoming a part of the establishment they are trying so desperately to fight?

As I read examples and quotes from the versions of the book published in the 1930s and 1940s, I was astonished by how approachable the text became. As a read examples in this chapter from the versions of the book published in 1984, I am surprised how much it reads like a medical textbook. I understand that any familiarity with medical terminology helps a woman deal with the medical establishment and her potentially unsupportive practitioner; however, I think the medical terminology may be setting Our Bodies, Ourselves apart from its intended audience.

Perhaps the difference in tone is the result of the changing function of the book: in the 30s and 40s, OBO was used to bring women into the feminist movement. In the 1980s, it was used to empower women to better care for themselves and to better present themselves in a doctor’s office.

I don’t at all mean to question the importance and the influence of this text; I just can’t help get the phrase “I have seen the enemy, and it is me” out of my mind. Are women by way of this text actually able to rise above the disempowerment presented by the medical establishment, or is OBO just being used to force women to accept that power hierarchy?

Posted October 12, 2010 by Chris Friend in Uncategorized

3 responses to “Probably Being Too Cynical (Again)…

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  1. I was thinking something similar since I often find it hard to walk that line in my classes. I want to empower students, but the only way to do so is to teach them the “academic” way of organizing and presenting their thoughts. I tell myself that this is the only way to do it, that they will have to work in this system, and if I have them write self-reflective journal pieces, I’m not helping them to navigate the already intimidating world of academia.

    Sometimes, though, I do worry that I am snuffing out their natural voice, by acknowledging that this is a “new” way of speaking that the will come to believe that it is a “better” way of speaking. I don’t know that I have an answer to that or a solution, only that the benefits of introducing them to this discourse outweigh those risks. After all, without this introduction to the discourse, they might not have a voice at all.

  2. So young, yet so cynical:

    When a person’s power is related to language, the best way to claim some of that power is to learn the language.
    Imagine being in a foreign country at the mercy of gesturing and the clumsy use of a dictionary. Or, when a mechanic tells us the car needs new struts. Struts? If I don’t know the language, I can’t argue or ask an intelligent question.

    Wells addresses the “first tactic was to learn it” with a quote from the collective on the top of page 189.

    Reading this, I can see the doctor’s face as he is hit with the realization that he can’t give a pat answer and walk away; this one is going to demand more. This realization changes the dynamic of the relationship. It redistributes the power.


    • Gotcha. So it’s a case of using the learning of a specialized language as a form of empowerment: by becoming, in a sense, a part of the hegemonic institution, the women are causing the difference between them and that institution to evaporate.

      I see this now as being a puppet/puppeteer stance. The doctors used the language of medicine to control the actions and decisions of “pretty little girls” who needn’t worry about such things as health; the women of OBO grabbed the strings of the puppeteer and pulled back upon them, getting attention through awareness and manipulation.

      Thanks, Elle. That helped.

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