A comprehensive introductory work on the medicalization of childbirth in America. Rothman occasionally overstates her case, but she convincingly argue...moreA comprehensive introductory work on the medicalization of childbirth in America. Rothman occasionally overstates her case, but she convincingly argues that hospital births in the U.S. are characterized by over-medicalization, routine and unnecessary technological interventions, inadequate attention to and support for the laboring mother, and a dramatic imbalance of power in favor of doctors (as opposed to mothers). In short, pregnancy and childbirth are treated by medical professionals as a disease and a medical emergency, respectively. Definitely worth a read for couples who are expecting.(less)
Caton's recap of the major events in the recent history of childbirth pain management is more or less accurate. His interpretation, however, leaves qu...moreCaton's recap of the major events in the recent history of childbirth pain management is more or less accurate. His interpretation, however, leaves quite a lot to be desired. His training is as an anesthesiologist, not a historian, and unfortunately his lack of training is fairly evident in the book. His analysis is a haphazard mix of historical facts, literary quotes, pop culture references and highly subjective interpretation thoroughly colored by his medical perspective and his presentist orientation. Worse, there's no unifying organizing principle to make sense of it all. His chapters on the early and the contemporary natural childbirth movements are the most egregious; he makes it very clear that he has no real understanding of the values, ideologies and perspectives that motivate natural childbirth advocates.(less)
This is a very good introduction to second wave feminism from a historical perspective - that is, if one is willing to overlook its significant limita...moreThis is a very good introduction to second wave feminism from a historical perspective - that is, if one is willing to overlook its significant limitations. Rosen focuses almost exclusively on white, middle-class feminism and has very little to say about black or Chicana women's movements. Minority women's experiences and movements are relegated to a few cursory paragraphs inserted (in what at times seems a random fashion) into a narrative mainly concerned with white feminism.
To be honest, I didn't really expect Rosen to say much of substance about minority women's movements, but it would have been nice to see her acknowledge in a more explicit fashion that she is approaching the history of the second wave from a particular angle. More troubling was the fact that, in the one chapter in which Rosen does discuss race at length, she does so from an overwhelmingly white perspective. This is particularly odd given that she is discussing white women's experiences of sexism as members SNCC, a mostly black student activist organization. To discuss black male sexism in a black organization only from the perspective of white women, without giving much of a voice to black female members of the organization, and without giving any voice at all to the black male members, seems to me to be an odd and problematic approach.
Long story short, if you're interested in learning more about minority women's movements in the sixties and seventies, this is not the book for you. In other respects, however, this is an excellent book. Rosen does a fantastic job of explaining the severe cultural anxieties and tensions over gender roles that characterized white middle class society in the fifties and sixties, the generational gap between baby boomers and their parents which led to the rise of the New Left, women's increasing disillusionment with men in the New Left and the formation of a separate women's movement, and the impact of the women's movement in American homes and workplaces. If nothing else it is a compelling account of how the women's movement dramatically changed American culture to the degree that subsequent generations of women find it difficult to imagine just how restrictive life before the movement was for their mothers and grandmothers. So I would recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about the women's movement, with the caveat that it offers a limited perspective on the movement.(less)
Originally finished this book in June 2008. Reread it in May 2014. Not as impressive the second time around, and I've docked my rating of it by a star...moreOriginally finished this book in June 2008. Reread it in May 2014. Not as impressive the second time around, and I've docked my rating of it by a star. I'll be writing more about it, but the short version of why: whooooo boy there is a whole lot of white second wave feminism all up in this book and it is a PROBLEM. One maybe shouldn't title a book "Writing a Woman's Life" if it's only about white middle and upper class women. A thought.
Even if only a fraction of Jessop's account of her life in the FLDS is accurate, she's survived, and escaped, unbelievable and beyond criminal levels...moreEven if only a fraction of Jessop's account of her life in the FLDS is accurate, she's survived, and escaped, unbelievable and beyond criminal levels of abuse. Not only did she grow up in a highly secretive, isolated, extremely misogynist cult; she was also married to an emotionally, physically, and sexually abusive sociopath who literally didn't give a crap if she or her children were in danger or harm or even death. Really stomach-churning to read, but I think it's important that Americans know that things like this are going on right in our own country, not just in the FLDS but in lots of patriarchal Christian traditions - and that they are not, as we'd like to think, totally out of keeping with American culture or values, but are in their own way very American.
3 stars for the writing - it's not awful, but it's just, I don't know. Odd. Lots of strange metaphors and weird-sounding sentences. A gripping story nonetheless.(less)
Argh I had most of a review written and then I lost it! Highlights: This is a bit of a choppy read. Not that a nonfiction book has to be just one thin...moreArgh I had most of a review written and then I lost it! Highlights: This is a bit of a choppy read. Not that a nonfiction book has to be just one thing, but it tries to be a history of trans and intersex people, a history of research on transgender and intersex conditions, a discussion of the current science of gender, a work of advocacy for both trans civil rights and the need for more research into biological causes of gender identity, AND a collection of interviews with trans people. The pieces don't really gel well together. But, each piece is worth reading, particularly the parts that focus on trans and intersex personal and social histories, and the interviews, which are very illuminating and quite touching. These really drive home how marginalized trans people are and how much widespread ignorance about gender variance perpetuates staggering levels of discrimination and violence against the trans community. The more sciency parts often get bogged down with frankly uninteresting technical details and in-depth histories of the "great men" pioneers of gender science and gender reassignment surgery.(less)
Valenti makes a number of good arguments in _The Purity Myth_: that it's dangerous and damaging to teach young women that their morality or lack there...moreValenti makes a number of good arguments in _The Purity Myth_: that it's dangerous and damaging to teach young women that their morality or lack thereof hinges on whether or not they have sex, rather than whether or not they are kind people living ethical lives; that obsession with sexual purity infantilizes women; that the virgin-whore dichotomy enables the abuse and marginalization of women, and pushes a view of masculinity that is toxic to both women and men. Valenti is right on the mark in calling for an understanding of female sexuality that respects female autonomy and encourages sex-positivity.
However, the book is mostly for the converted. I doubt anyone who doesn't already have serious reservations about the abstinence-only movement would find this book convincing. There's a real need for books and other media that address young women raised in the abstinence movement where they are, with arguments that take their beliefs seriously and come from people who understand those beliefs.
Valenti's tone also veers into the casual and even flippant a bit too often for my tastes. The book at times reads like a long form blog post, which is not surprising given that Valenti is a blogger, but it would have been nice if she had taken some time to polish her prose a bit. Again, I don't think this is particularly conducive to reaching an audience that takes teachings on abstinence so seriously that they're literally a matter of life and death.
ETA: Forgot to mention that the book uses some interesting sources, and the footnotes/bibliography seem like a good place to start to compile a reading list on contemporary issues around female sexuality. I plan to go back through the footnotes to find more stuff to read.(less)
Hillman is a queer intersex woman with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), which can lead to ambiguous genitalia and secondary sex characteristics -...moreHillman is a queer intersex woman with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), which can lead to ambiguous genitalia and secondary sex characteristics - but not for Hillman, whose CAH was caught and medicated early on. _Intersex_ is a collection of intimate, evocative essays looking at her own and her family's struggles to come to terms with intersex, and her identity and experiences in intersecting queer, trans, and intersex communities. The most successful essays reflect on the complexities and ambiguities of sex, gender, and sexuality, e.g., exploring her confusion over the relationship between her queer sexuality and more masculine gender expression and her intersex status (over 40% of CAH women are lesbians), and her questions about whether she has the right to call herself intersex or not, given that she appears "normal" and has never been subjected to misguided "corrective" surgery as many people with ambiguous genitalia have been. Hillman frequently discusses her sexual history and experiences in quite explicit terms; in most essays this illuminates some aspect of her personality or identity. There are a few essays that read to me as pure erotica, which isn't really my thing; I found them gratuitous and not all that interesting. For the most part, though, this is a beautifully written, evocative, and thought-provoking collection. Highly recommended.(less)
Captures the sadness, loss, and dysfunction that a life of shame and repression inflicts, not only on an individual, but on everyone intimately connec...moreCaptures the sadness, loss, and dysfunction that a life of shame and repression inflicts, not only on an individual, but on everyone intimately connected with them. Wrenching and beautiful. I'd give it five stars if not for the fact that Bechdel's attempts to make sense of her father's inner life by superimposing literary narratives on it is occasionally excessive and overindulgent.(less)
I am torn. I enjoyed the book. Fey is clearly very smart, observant, thoughtful, and has an incisive and unexpected sense of humor. She seems very fun...moreI am torn. I enjoyed the book. Fey is clearly very smart, observant, thoughtful, and has an incisive and unexpected sense of humor. She seems very fun and endearingly normal in terms of her anxieties and preoccupations. But it's like _Bossypants_ is two books, one of which is crappy and the other of which is hilarious. Half of this book has the same problems that have made 30 Rock less and less funny with each season (we stopped watching after the live episode this past season? the season before? I can't even remember): racial humor by someone who obviously and quite wrongly thinks of herself as so tolerant and enlightened that she is incapable of writing racist jokes, and obsessive insecurity about Liz Lemon's - I mean Tina Fey's - supposed unattractiveness. I can understand being insecure about one's appearance given the business she's in, but I really don't want to read pages and pages of Tina Fey ragging on her looks. She's at her best when she's writing about her time at SNL, running a show, being a woman in the very sexist worlds of comedy and show business, and the banalities of life as a spouse and a mom (the chapters falling into that last category were probably my favorites). This is much more the focus of the second half of the book, and it's noticeably (at least to me) funnier. more enjoyable, and more thoughtful than the first half.(less)
Smith's account of the many, many ways state and societal violence have been and continue to be perpetrated against indigenous people (focusing mostly...moreSmith's account of the many, many ways state and societal violence have been and continue to be perpetrated against indigenous people (focusing mostly on the Americas) is a difficult but necessary read. Seriously, all non-indigenous Americans should read this book. Longer thoughts coming.
eta:Conquest starts with the observation that sexual and reproductive violence against Native women are forms of racial and colonial violence, unpacking the various ways in which sexual violence "serves the goals of colonialism," an examination that Smith argues "forces us to reconsider how we define sexual violence, as well as the strategies we employ to eradicate gender violence." In her analysis, environmental racism and exploitation, forced assimilation/cultural genocide, spiritual appropriation, medical discrimination, and colonialism/empire are all connected to sexual and reprodutive violence against Native people.
Examples: - Conquest pushes the definition of sexual violence to include reproductive violence and injustice. White/Western medicine has a long history of nonconsensual sterilization of and experimentation on Native bodies. Native women have been disproportionately exposed to more dangerous or experimental forms of birth control, often without their informed consent. Medical discrimination and systemic, racialized poverty mean that Native women and communities have less access to birth control, abortion, and maternal/family health services. - Smith also explores the impact of environmental racism and exploitation on reproductive and family health in Native communities (“women of color are suffering not only from environmental racism but environmental sexism” - p. 69). The burden of environmental pollution from toxic wastes, weapons testing, workplace exposure, and other sources disproportionately fall on people of color - e.g., reservations and other Native lands are frequent sites of waste dumps, mining for radioactive materials, and nuclear testing. These environmental injustices lead to higher rates of conditions like ovarian cancer, miscarriages and stillbirths, and birth anomalies in Native communities. - The long history of forced assimilation and cultural genocide through the boarding school system (Native children were taken from their communities to be “educated” into conforming to Christian/Western culture) meant Native youth were subjected to rampant abuses, including a high incidence of sexual abuse. The boarding school system also undermined the stability of Native families and communities, introduced patterns of gendered violence into these communities, and worked to displace traditions that provided Native women with positions of leadership with Western patriarchal norms. - Smith connects systemic appropriation of Native religious practices to the idea that Native bodies are inherently “rapable.” Appropriation of Native spiritualities is part of white/Western “taking [from Native people] without asking” that assumes the “needs of the taker are paramount and the needs of others are irrelevant, [mirroring] the rape culture of the dominant society” (126).
Smith shows how both colonizing cultures and mainstream social justice movements rely on historical and cultural narrative that requires Native people to "play dead." That is, we systematically pretend that Native Americans are long gone, absent, or vanishing. Indigenous people are either living relics or imagined symbols of a mythical past, which we can then ignore or appropriate the “memory” of as convenient ("Kate Shanley notes that Native peoples are a permanent “present absence” in the U.S. colonial imagination, an “absence” that reinforces at every turn the conviction that Native peoples are indeed vanishing and that the conquest of Native lands is justified.")
This tendency to treat Native communities as "dead" is evident in modern social justice movements, for example, in how mainstream environmentalism doesn’t center Native communities or even form pro-environment alliances with them, instead allying with groups that often have racist, classist, and anti-immigrant agendas (dedicated to “reducing population growth of all peoples in theory and of people of color in reality” - 78). Alarmist rhetoric about overpopulation is often a thin veil for implicit or overt prejudice against communities of color and a desire to restrict their reproduction, growth, and even movements. At the time of the book's writing, e.g., prominent members of the Sierra Club were also members of the anti-immigrant group FAIR; Smith also documents attempts to pressure the Sierra Club into advocating anti-immigrant positions. Meanwhile, mostly white/non-indigenous environmentalist groups often push for land “protection” policies that are harmful to Native people actually living on/off the land in question.
The major example Smith gives of how mainstream activism expects Native women in particular to “play dead” is the failure of both anti-racists/indigenous activists and advocates against domestic violence to center Native women in their work. Conquest calls on activists in both communities to adopt intersectional and community-based approaches to combating racism and gender violence together.
Approaches to gendered violence that rely heavily on state/police intervention and the prison system only address violence after the fact and have limited use in preventing domestic violence or protecting survivors in general. For Native women, Smith argues, these approaches are actively harmful in a culture where Native women, other women of color, and people of color in general are disproportionately and often unjustly incarcerated, and in a culture where state violence (police brutality, racism and sexism in the prison system, etc) are a major cause of and contributor to gender violence in Native communities.
Instead, Smith calls for domestic violence prevention and survivor support strategies that are based in community accountability and redressing economic injustices that make women of color more vulnerable to abuse and less able to leave abusive homes or partners. This model means creating communities that are educated about domestic violence, intervene in abusive situations, hold abusers accountable, and materially support survivors. The long-term goal of such a model would be to build “communities where violence becomes unthinkable” by fostering real communal consequences for and responses to abuse.
One thing I really appreciated about Smith’s take on community-based responses to violence is that she acknowledges the the serious obstacles that exist to putting it into practice effectively:
Sometimes it is easy to underestimate the amount of intervention that is required before a perpetrator can really change his behavior. Often a perpetrator will subject her/himself to community accountability measures but eventuality will tire of them. If community members are not vigilant about holding the perpetrator accountable _for years_ and instead assume he or she is 'cured,' the perpetrator can turn a community of accountability into a community that enables abuse. (164)
In addition to this, so much of what allows abusers to get away with violence is community investment in preserving the group. Or rather, a particular understanding of group “safety” that often means that the safety of vulnerable members of the group - often women and children - is treated as less of a priority. What Smith argues for is a reversal of this mindset, to one where the wellbeing and safety of women and youth (rather than the protection of abusers) are seen as central to the health of the community. But this requires a pretty radical cultural shift for many communities. For this reason I have a lot of concerns about the effectiveness of community-based approaches in keeping survivors and vulnerable populations safe and keeping abusers to account (of course, the current system isn’t terribly effective, either).
All in all, Conquest is a great book, persuasively and clearly written. Some historians might be skeptical of how Smith works with chronology and geography, jumping back and forth between different periods and places. I think it's very effective at showing the continuities between the genocide and exploitation of indigenous peoples that we think of as being in the past and the present, global realities of state and interpersonal violence against indigenous people. Conquest raises a lot of thought-provoking questions that the mainstream feminist and anti-violence movements still haven’t started to grapple with, but really need to.(less)