As lives leads to a decrease in women’s control

            As years passed by, the human body
which was once the concern of the priest, is now the responsibility of the doctor.
“The influence of professional medicine
has changed the body from an arena of sacred forces to the mundane reality of
diet, cosmetic, exercise, and preventative medicine” (Turner, 1984, p.
216).

As
claimed by the Western medical stereotype, menstruation is a disease, pregnancy
is a disease, childbirth is a disease, menopause is a disease, and even
something as minor as Premenstrual syndrome is now classified as a disease.
According to this stereotype, it seems to me as though being a woman is also a
disease.

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In
recent times, we have witnessed many in-depth efforts to transform or portray
normal human social and physiologic behaviours into diseases that require
medical treatment and attention.

            “Medicalization
refers to the process whereby an activity or a condition becomes defines by
society at large as an illness (either physical or psychological) and is
thereby moved into the sphere of control of the medical profession.” (Zola,
1972, 1975)

Nowadays,
medicalization is increasing rapidly especially when it comes to women and
their sexuality. Female sexual dysfunction is now regarded as abnormal,
aberrant, deviant and critically in need of medical intervention.

Before
now, health of common women were not important to doctors. Health needs,
pregnancy and childbirth were handled by other women (midwives) in the
community. However, with the emergence of modern medicine, interest in health
of women is increasing frequently, and the other women’s method of treatment
are being discarded. Instead, male doctors have taken over the roles of this
healers and midwives in dealing with women’s health and medical treatment.

            “The
result of this successful poaching operation is that male doctors became
society’s accepted experts on the subject of women and had power to define what
counted as health and illness.” (Lorber, 2000)

The
need to take control over women, especially their physical appearance, health
and sexuality has become a base of the patriarchal system. A woman’s body
system is no longer examined based on the norms but in comparison to the male’s
system. Therefore, hormones that do not conform to the male’s system are referred
to as deviant.

            Medicalization of women’s bodies and
lives leads to a decrease in women’s control over their own lives as pointed
out by feminists. Thereby giving power to medical science to define women’s
needs and problems.

Let’s examine
how women’s lives have been medicalized in the following three aspects; menstruation, women’s appearance and women’s
sexuality.  

            “When
we recognize that the universal male body has been taken by researchers as the
standard for what is normal and healthy,” (Travis, 1992) it’s no wonder
that women’s bodies are now medicalized based on male model system. Thus,
making the female reproductive body a subject for unfair medical classifications
and scrutiny from a masculine medical perspective.

“According to 19th century
medical doctrine, menstruation was regarded as a physically debilitating and
pathological condition best dealt with by rest, in order to revitalize the
woman’s reproductive capacities.” (Ratcliff, 2002, p.151)

During
that period, menstruating women were made to quit any form of activity or work
that could be strenuous, as they were viewed as frail and delicate. So, women
who worked in public offices –even though they were a few, were made to hand
over their responsibilities to “non-menstruating” male colleagues. This also
gave room for exclusion of women from higher education, business and politics,
which could be validated by the medicalized debate around menstruation.  

Men
were viewed as protectors of women, and women were delicate objects that were
in need of men’s protection.

People
would often say that a woman’s place was in the home, as a homemaker, wife and
mother. A “good” woman was a bashful woman – reserved, timid, and submissive to
her husband.

However,
in the past century, there has been a drastic change in the lives of women and
their participation in public affairs and activities. More and more women have
risen up to fight for equality. The notion of women being homemakers has become
null and void.

“The weak fragile 19th century
woman has been replaced by a 21st century super woman who can
presumably have it all.” (Nelson, 2006, p. 255)

One
might assume that the 19th century theories of women’s bodies being
weak and fragile would no longer be applicable to the modern medical
discourses. However, when we analyze the medical tags and involvement in menstruation
over the 20th – 21st century, we notice that today’s
menstruating woman is more medicalized than the 19th century
counterpart.

Yes,
things are different; technology and modern sciences emerged. However, the
appearance of these factors is what gives more room for the medicalization of
menstruating woman. Now, extensive labelling of women as fragile due to their menstruation
is over.  

            Nonetheless, there seems to be a new
medical discovery of a disorder connected with menstruation, the Pre-Menstrual
Syndrome; another phenomenon of modern medicine is the medicalization of mood
variations in the menstrual cycle. The menstrual period may have become a topic
of little or no importance medically, but the discovery of Pre-Menstrual Syndrome
has prompted a new period of “disease” for women.

There
is no doubt that instability in hormone levels can lead to fluctuations in mood
and behaviour. But now, these changes in mood or behaviours has been classified
as a disease. The effects of male hormones are much less studied and attended
to in comparison to that of the female. There could be a link between hormonal
changes in testosterone in adolescent boys and their tendency to become
rebellious. However, any attempt made to study this would be labelled as
castrating. Whereas, the treatment of Pre-Menstrual Syndrome is growing rapidly.
This so called “disease” is possibly the only psychological disorder that
possesses more claimant than victims.

            “While
this psychiatric labelling may serve some women, concerns about the labelling
of all menstruating women as potentially mentally ill abound amongst feminists
critics.” (Figert, 1996; Tavris, 1992)

It has
become nearly impossible for women to show feelings of irritation, anger, or
sadness in our society without blaming these emotions on their hormones. The medicalization
of these emotions is one of modern science ways to hide women’s dissatisfaction
or resentment under a medical label instead of examining the larger context of
her life in which her emotions may be comprehended.

           

“Contemporary gendered biomedical
discourse currently dominates attitudes toward body shapes and sizes,”
(Bordo, 1995)

Naturally,
there is a variety in the human figure and what is perceived as beautiful
differs from cultures and times. However, modern medicine debate on body weight
and size tends to diagnose fatness as a “pervasive” disease, and labels it as “obesity.”
Even the modern media relentlessly continues to advertise highly gendered
unrealistic and shallow beauty ideals. Instead of encouraging women to accept
their various figures and celebrate diversity, the media emphasizes on having
specific body proportions. This so called stereotypes promoted by the modern
mainstream media are more concerned with women than men. At every period of a
woman’s life, from adolescence, to post- pregnancy, to aging, women are
inundated with messages on how to look their “best selves” and how to attain
this.

In
accordance with this, medical sciences and technology have invented ways to
make women look their “best selves” – cosmetic surgery.

            “For
feminists’ scholars, the willingness, even enthusiasm of women to redesign
their bodies surgically or through fitness or diet regimes, does not disguise
their deep insecurity regarding their bodies, an insecurity underwritten by
medicine.” (MacNewn 1992, pp. 26-27)

Examining
just one aspect of a woman’s body (the breast) can show us how the woman’s
appearance has been medicalized. There are medical terms for small breasts
(micromastia), large breast (macromastia) and sagging breast (breast ptosis). Surprisingly,
these natural conditions have been turned into disorders that can be treated
medically or surgically.

            The final aspect to be considered is
the medicalization of women’s sexuality- drug treatment for female sexuality.
Modern medical science discourse defines the inability of a woman to experience
orgasm in intercourse as a medical disease or dysfunction. Just like the
medicalization of women’s appearance, the media also has a great influence on
the medicalization of women’s sexuality. Modern mainstream media tells us that
today’s woman is a sexually aware and adventurous as potrayed in the famous
movie “Sex and the City”. This woman explores her sexuality, knows how to have
an orgasm as well as ensure that whoever she has sex with provides her with
one.

As a
result of this, modern medicine make drugs that enhance sex and enables a women
to have an orgasm. Funnily enough, no one seems to be able to accurately define
“female sexual dysfunction” and the “disease” for which a pill might be
warranted.

Being
too tired for sex? Maybe all she needs is a weekend getaway or six full hours
of sleep, not some sex enhancing drug.

                        Women have become
victims of so much unnecessary medical and surgical intervention that it makes
them sick. They begin to think that whenever there is a minor or insignificant change
in their emotions, then they need to seek medical help.

Medicalization
continues to influence women’s activity and well-being today. As medical
knowledge continuously expands, it is crucial for women to be aware of how
medicalization can be a form of social control, and to look for opportunities
in personal, professional, and policymaking spheres to resist its influence.
Instead of constantly going in and out of the doctor’s office, why not just
accept these hormonal changes as natural?