As years passed by, the human bodywhich was once the concern of the priest, is now the responsibility of the doctor.
“The influence of professional medicinehas changed the body from an arena of sacred forces to the mundane reality ofdiet, cosmetic, exercise, and preventative medicine” (Turner, 1984, p.216).Asclaimed by the Western medical stereotype, menstruation is a disease, pregnancyis a disease, childbirth is a disease, menopause is a disease, and evensomething 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 adisease.Inrecent times, we have witnessed many in-depth efforts to transform or portraynormal human social and physiologic behaviours into diseases that requiremedical treatment and attention.
“Medicalizationrefers to the process whereby an activity or a condition becomes defines bysociety at large as an illness (either physical or psychological) and isthereby moved into the sphere of control of the medical profession.” (Zola,1972, 1975) Nowadays,medicalization is increasing rapidly especially when it comes to women andtheir sexuality. Female sexual dysfunction is now regarded as abnormal,aberrant, deviant and critically in need of medical intervention. Beforenow, health of common women were not important to doctors. Health needs,pregnancy and childbirth were handled by other women (midwives) in thecommunity. However, with the emergence of modern medicine, interest in healthof women is increasing frequently, and the other women’s method of treatmentare being discarded. Instead, male doctors have taken over the roles of thishealers and midwives in dealing with women’s health and medical treatment. “Theresult of this successful poaching operation is that male doctors becamesociety’s accepted experts on the subject of women and had power to define whatcounted as health and illness.
” (Lorber, 2000) Theneed to take control over women, especially their physical appearance, healthand sexuality has become a base of the patriarchal system. A woman’s bodysystem is no longer examined based on the norms but in comparison to the male’ssystem. Therefore, hormones that do not conform to the male’s system are referredto as deviant. Medicalization of women’s bodies andlives leads to a decrease in women’s control over their own lives as pointedout by feminists. Thereby giving power to medical science to define women’sneeds and problems.Let’s examinehow women’s lives have been medicalized in the following three aspects; menstruation, women’s appearance and women’ssexuality. “Whenwe recognize that the universal male body has been taken by researchers as thestandard for what is normal and healthy,” (Travis, 1992) it’s no wonderthat women’s bodies are now medicalized based on male model system. Thus,making the female reproductive body a subject for unfair medical classificationsand scrutiny from a masculine medical perspective.
“According to 19th centurymedical doctrine, menstruation was regarded as a physically debilitating andpathological condition best dealt with by rest, in order to revitalize thewoman’s reproductive capacities.” (Ratcliff, 2002, p.151) Duringthat period, menstruating women were made to quit any form of activity or workthat could be strenuous, as they were viewed as frail and delicate. So, womenwho worked in public offices –even though they were a few, were made to handover their responsibilities to “non-menstruating” male colleagues. This alsogave room for exclusion of women from higher education, business and politics,which could be validated by the medicalized debate around menstruation.
Menwere viewed as protectors of women, and women were delicate objects that werein need of men’s protection.Peoplewould often say that a woman’s place was in the home, as a homemaker, wife andmother. A “good” woman was a bashful woman – reserved, timid, and submissive toher husband.However,in the past century, there has been a drastic change in the lives of women andtheir participation in public affairs and activities. More and more women haverisen up to fight for equality. The notion of women being homemakers has becomenull and void.
“The weak fragile 19th centurywoman has been replaced by a 21st century super woman who canpresumably have it all.” (Nelson, 2006, p. 255) Onemight assume that the 19th century theories of women’s bodies beingweak and fragile would no longer be applicable to the modern medicaldiscourses. However, when we analyze the medical tags and involvement in menstruationover the 20th – 21st century, we notice that today’smenstruating woman is more medicalized than the 19th centurycounterpart. Yes,things are different; technology and modern sciences emerged. However, theappearance of these factors is what gives more room for the medicalization ofmenstruating woman.
Now, extensive labelling of women as fragile due to their menstruationis over. Nonetheless, there seems to be a newmedical discovery of a disorder connected with menstruation, the Pre-MenstrualSyndrome; another phenomenon of modern medicine is the medicalization of moodvariations in the menstrual cycle. The menstrual period may have become a topicof little or no importance medically, but the discovery of Pre-Menstrual Syndromehas prompted a new period of “disease” for women. Thereis no doubt that instability in hormone levels can lead to fluctuations in moodand behaviour. But now, these changes in mood or behaviours has been classifiedas a disease. The effects of male hormones are much less studied and attendedto in comparison to that of the female.
There could be a link between hormonalchanges in testosterone in adolescent boys and their tendency to becomerebellious. However, any attempt made to study this would be labelled ascastrating. Whereas, the treatment of Pre-Menstrual Syndrome is growing rapidly.
This so called “disease” is possibly the only psychological disorder thatpossesses more claimant than victims. “Whilethis psychiatric labelling may serve some women, concerns about the labellingof all menstruating women as potentially mentally ill abound amongst feministscritics.” (Figert, 1996; Tavris, 1992) It hasbecome nearly impossible for women to show feelings of irritation, anger, orsadness in our society without blaming these emotions on their hormones. The medicalizationof these emotions is one of modern science ways to hide women’s dissatisfactionor resentment under a medical label instead of examining the larger context ofher life in which her emotions may be comprehended.
“Contemporary gendered biomedicaldiscourse currently dominates attitudes toward body shapes and sizes,”(Bordo, 1995)Naturally,there is a variety in the human figure and what is perceived as beautifuldiffers from cultures and times. However, modern medicine debate on body weightand size tends to diagnose fatness as a “pervasive” disease, and labels it as “obesity.”Even the modern media relentlessly continues to advertise highly genderedunrealistic and shallow beauty ideals.
Instead of encouraging women to accepttheir various figures and celebrate diversity, the media emphasizes on havingspecific body proportions. This so called stereotypes promoted by the modernmainstream media are more concerned with women than men. At every period of awoman’s life, from adolescence, to post- pregnancy, to aging, women areinundated with messages on how to look their “best selves” and how to attainthis. Inaccordance with this, medical sciences and technology have invented ways tomake women look their “best selves” – cosmetic surgery. “Forfeminists’ scholars, the willingness, even enthusiasm of women to redesigntheir bodies surgically or through fitness or diet regimes, does not disguisetheir deep insecurity regarding their bodies, an insecurity underwritten bymedicine.
” (MacNewn 1992, pp. 26-27) Examiningjust one aspect of a woman’s body (the breast) can show us how the woman’sappearance 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 treatedmedically or surgically. The final aspect to be considered isthe medicalization of women’s sexuality- drug treatment for female sexuality.Modern medical science discourse defines the inability of a woman to experienceorgasm in intercourse as a medical disease or dysfunction. Just like themedicalization of women’s appearance, the media also has a great influence onthe medicalization of women’s sexuality. Modern mainstream media tells us thattoday’s woman is a sexually aware and adventurous as potrayed in the famousmovie “Sex and the City”.
This woman explores her sexuality, knows how to havean orgasm as well as ensure that whoever she has sex with provides her withone. As aresult of this, modern medicine make drugs that enhance sex and enables a womento 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 bewarranted. Beingtoo tired for sex? Maybe all she needs is a weekend getaway or six full hoursof sleep, not some sex enhancing drug.
Women have becomevictims of so much unnecessary medical and surgical intervention that it makesthem sick. They begin to think that whenever there is a minor or insignificant changein their emotions, then they need to seek medical help. Medicalizationcontinues to influence women’s activity and well-being today. As medicalknowledge continuously expands, it is crucial for women to be aware of howmedicalization can be a form of social control, and to look for opportunitiesin personal, professional, and policymaking spheres to resist its influence.Instead of constantly going in and out of the doctor’s office, why not justaccept these hormonal changes as natural?