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For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts' Advice to Women
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For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts' Advice to Women

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  1,327 ratings  ·  97 reviews
First published in 1978, this classic history, now revised and updated, brilliantly exposes the constraints imposed on women in the name of science. Authors Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English have never lost faith in science itself, but insist that we hold those who interpret it to higher standards. Women are entering the medical and scientific professions in greater n ...more
Paperback, 410 pages
Published January 4th 2005 by Anchor (first published January 1st 1976)
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Ehrenreich and English look at what kind of advice we've been given for the last two hundred years. Although they provide a good deal of social, political, economic, and general background to the development and evolution of experts, the part I found most fascinating was on the creation of what we consider medical doctors. I hadn't realized how culturally specific, oft-changing, and purposefully created our modern conception of medicine is.

For instance, the cultural ancestors of modern doctors
Karen Powell
Ehrenreich put together a very comprehensive, well-researched book on the effect of "expert" advice on women over a two-hundred-year span. The chronicle is both hilarious and frightening. We see women being celebrated as frail, delicate creatures whose reproductive organs are the source of every illness... then later women are descended upon by psychologists and deemed too dangerous to run a family, having penis envy and ambition compelling them to kill their children. Mothers were considered th ...more

Occasionally as I'm reading a book I find myself talking about it relentlessly to my friends; the subject matter can sometimes seem so pressing that I feel that everyone needs to know about it, and I'll find ways to insinuate it into converstation following the most tenuous of connections. Such was the case with this book (sorry, anyone who had to talk to me back in June/July) by Deirdre English and one of my faves, Barbara Ehrenreich.

I loved the discussion of the shifting of women's roles and e
I absolutely loved Witches, Midwives and Nurses, so I thought this would be an expanded version of that. And it's true that For Her Own Good was full of interesting facts. But somehow, when I was done, I felt like I couldn't really summarize much of interest in a few words. In fact, I was quite relieved to be done so I could move on to some light fiction -- although the book was full of interesting, often shocking, facts, reading it almost felt like homework by the end.

I did dog-ear a couple of
For Her Own Good is a historical survey of the many ways in which women have been told what to do “for their own good” by experts (usually middle-class white men) over the past two hundred years. The book includes sections on medicine, female health and sickness, homemaking, and child-rearing, each one meticulously researched and extensively annotated. The authors' basic argument is that women have predominantly been viewed as incompetent to make their own decisions – even when it comes to their ...more
Mickey Schulz
Ok, as if being a woman in this society didn't already make you angry at the medical establishment and how they treat women and women's concerns, this book will infuriate you. However, it is highly useful to see where these attitudes come from that are still prevalent in how medical professionals today treat women. From being dismissed as hysteric, to branding something a syndrome without ever trying to get to the bottom of it, to pathologizing the experience of being a woman.

Great book, really
gender roles are social constructs.
Interesting history of the practice of medicine and treatment of women. As a result, "The Yellow Wallpaper" and "Mrs. Dalloway" have new meaning.

I know why we were constantly have tea parties in home ec class and more understanding for the airs put on by my teacher.

I always thought Freud was twisted.

The end is - the woman question really is - that the human values that women were assigned to preserve expand out of the confines of private life and become the organizing principles of socie
If you can stick out 300+ pages of historical analysis and if you are interested in issues raised in women studies and feminism, "For Her Own Good" is for you. I especially recommend Chapter Seven "Motherhood as Pathology" because it comes closest to grasping the historical reversal and blurring of gender and family roles in U.S. In this chapter Ehrenreich and English discuss "Momism" and American masculinity in depth; I believe in post-industrial/post WWII U.S. this is where gender and family s ...more
I enjoy Ehrenreich and her ideas about life and work. In this book she gives a research-filled history of how women were seen by medical doctors, psychologists, men, ad agencies, and employers. It's almost vulgar to think of of frailty and sickness were sought-after traits in an upper-class woman. It's fascinating to see how advice on things like femininity, child-bearing and child-rearing has changed. Expert "opinions" aimed at women have largely been based on false assumptions and quackery. Th ...more
Caitlin Jellybean
This book made me so very angry, which I think was the point. How can anyone read what was believed by experts a mere 40 years ago and not have a complete rage aneurysm, especially since so many people are convinced that sexism and misogyny are behind us, or perhaps never existed at all? It definitely focused on white, middle/upper middle class women, which is part the subject matter (the "experts" were probably most concerned with advising this group) but was also really distracting at times, s ...more
What an infuriating book! It was well-written and seemingly well-researched. The infuriation didn't come from the writing but by the crap that they unearthed and portrayed. The thesis of the book can be found in the afterward, essentially that the Women Question isn't what is wrong with us, or how should we deal with us/ourselves, but instead how can we change the society so the roles and norms for women don't constrain and appear to be so one-size fits all. What was interesting was that through ...more
I treated this book as an artifact of second wave feminism (originally published 1976) so I took it's perspective and all its lack of discussion of diversity with a grain of salt. A few glaring spelling errors (Johns Hopkins not John Hopkins) and some grammatical snafus aside, this was a three star book that I learned a lot from. I enjoyed the chapters on medicine more than those on domestic science but that is my own bias speaking.

The afterword was the most disappointing part. Written in 2004
I read this as an undergraduate in college. Away from home and in the company of other women who were passionate about learning, I saw the world open up to me. Reading this book (alongside other books such as Barbara Walker's The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, Anything in Virginia Woolf's collection, Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, and others) I became extremely aware of the women who fought so hard so that someday I could have an education and the possibility of equality in m ...more
Cindy Dyson Eitelman
This turned out to be a dense, scholarly book. I enjoyed it immensely, but I'm not enough of an expert to comment on it. I think it's sound, quite sound. Some of the theories may lack support, but I took them as theories, not conclusions, and so was not perturbed.

I especially appreciated the author's determination to refrain from making snarky comments about the aburd, ridiculous or downright hateful nature of the experts' advice. Ninety-nine point nine percent of it was pure bullshit--in a cult
Jun 04, 2010 Paige rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone!
Shelves: favorites
OMG! Barbara Ehrenreich (and Dierdre English!!)!! If I had read this before Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, I don't know if I would have given that one 5 stars, knowing that you'd already done something like this! Excellent.
Sam Hilliard
As always Ehrenreich's research is as thorough as her rather disturbing exploration of unspoken legacy in American society: the history of professionals deliberately trying to dictate the behavior of women.

It’s a heavy subject, and best digested in parts. But if you can follow her elegant--yet very clear--reasoning, you might never see the medical profession the same way again.
ONTD Feminism
LJ user pachakuti's review:

One of those books that puts into stark reality how patronizing and riddled with errors and judgement the 'advice' given to women over two centuries of American history has been. They look at the medical industry as a whole as well as psychology and child-rearing as a whole.
Interesting look at male dominance (that includes oppression of course)over a centrury-plus. Some of the definitions and categories arae
flawed and over-baked. And there seems to be a reluctance to name Patriarchy for what it is as the corrupt root of "Western" culture.
I'm glad for the historical work which makes the book worth reading.
It was a little dry but reading some of the advice "experts" used to force on women was enraging. My first question for them would be "How long have you hated women?" Some of the advice from gynecologists from the 1950s and 60s is similar from what I have heard from one in the past 5 years. It's also the reason why I'm not her patient any more.
Re-read. Love it just as much as I did seven years ago.
Jaw dropping in the same way many topics exploring women's health often re, this really helped me understand my mother and grandmothers attitude toward doctors and health much better, and it opened my eyes to the many ways in which this kind of advice is still being dispensed today.
Six stars! This book was SO GOOD. The authors lay out the time line and stick the pin in right where we are. This is why you feel so confused. This is why it seems like things aren't quite right. An important read for every woman.
This book was written in the 1970s. Made me think about my upbringing and how history and my place in time has shaped who I am. The book reminds us that we do not exist in a vacuum.
This is an amazing book, that every woman should read. It's full of the sort of tidbits that make you want to laugh, then sob.
this just in: men have believed ridiculous things about women. did this book really need updating?
If you are a women and can get through this book without laughing "hysterically" (that's a joke folks) or hurling it across the room in disbelief, then you are a stronger person than I am. Good news is we've come a long way. Bad news is that we had our very own Taliban right here in the western world, as evidenced by this pithy quote from an "expert":

"Women beware. You are on the brink of destruction: You have hitherto been engaged in crushing your waists; now you are attempting to cultivate yo
Oraynab Mohamad
Barbara Ehrenreich shows how science and the medical field have repressed women. She makes a compelling argument through academic and literary sources. At times, the links she tries to make seem unfounded, although this is rare. Highly recommend the book, especially since it is impossible to think that advancement in medicine has hindered women's liberation. But Ehrenreich demonstrates how medical advice and prognoses managed to prescribe women to domestic and second-hand roles throughout histor ...more
I want to give this book a higher rating, because I think it makes a really compelling and interesting case that is still relevant today, a few decades after its initial publication. Plus, it's clear that an exhausting amount of research went in to its writing. That being said, though, the writing itself tends to be a bit dry. Also, while I feel there is no reason to doubt that the "experts" (generally male) have often been laughably off the mark when it comes to giving advice to women, I kept f ...more
Jul 26, 2012 Susan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in feminism
Another amazing book by Barbara Ehrenreich. I underlined pretty much half of the sentences as important, thought-provoking, or otherwise awesome. I feel like I have a much greater understanding of the struggle for women's empowerment over the past few centuries, and a lot more optimism for the progress that we've made. The author's do a fantastic job of tying together the economics, psychology, medicine, and culture of each period. This didn't warrant a five from me because some turns of the exp ...more
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Barbara Ehrenreich is the bestselling author of sixteen previous books, including the bestsellers Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. A frequent contributor to Harpers and The Nation, she has also been a columnist at The New York Times and Time Magazine.

More about Barbara Ehrenreich...
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything This Land Is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation

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