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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

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  1,872 Ratings  ·  121 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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Wealhtheow
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
...more
Mickey Schulz
Dec 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
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
Zack
Nov 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing


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
...more
Seven
Jul 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
gender roles are social constructs.
Rebecca
Aug 23, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Kristen
Jun 22, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
...more
kat
Jun 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to kat by: Sasha Pixlee
Shelves: read-in-2017
Actually super interesting, if impossible to summarize to anyone who casually asks "so what are you reading?" without their eyes glazing over. A tour de force through the history of the medical establishment, capitalism, psychiatry, child-rearing, feminism and modern society in general that draws a lot of really interesting connections.
Kyle
Sep 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Judy
Oct 12, 2009 rated it liked it
Finally!
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
...more
Kate
Nov 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Lynn
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
...more
Adrienne
Mar 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
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
Caitlin
Dec 20, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Julie Mickens
A classic of women's history. Written in the 1970s, there's a wealth of fascinating information that's still too far from common knowledge. As both history and feminist advocacy, it stands up well today. Plus, Ehrenreich is just a great writer, one of our best at bridging the divide between academic and popular prose styles. She distills volumes of fact and theory into an entertaining and even funny narrative. Even so, Ehrenreich remains scholarly, never sloppy. And finally, unlike some works of ...more
Robynne
Jan 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
An excellent examination of advice literature on "the woman question" over the past two centuries. The focus is largely on white middle-class women, understandably in many ways because this was the group that was the focus of the literature examined. This revised edition (2005 vs. 1978) does try to consider race and class in some ways, but would have benefitted from a bit more focus on that. Even so, the strong feminist analysis and focussed feminist commentary in the afterward shine a light on ...more
Maggie
Oct 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, feminist
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.
Sam Hilliard
Apr 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
Paige
May 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
ONTD Feminism
Apr 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recommendations
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.
Erin
Apr 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Heather
May 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Though the title would more appropriately be For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of Experts' Advice to Middle and Upperclass White Women (and I think the authors would agree), this is still a great read. Really eye-opening.
Stephanie
Jan 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Sarah
Oct 08, 2007 rated it it was ok
this just in: men have believed ridiculous things about women. did this book really need updating?
Jccannon1
Aug 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Kirsty
Jan 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Re-read. Love it just as much as I did seven years ago.
Rose
Feb 14, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Magalys
Sep 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was well written given the amount of information it gives you. Obviously, a lot of research was done to create this book and it simultaneously gave the authors' own ideas.

My only complaint with this book that while reading this, I seem like it was very much a journey of a white woman's journey of feminism. The authors do recognize that women of color, specifically black women have and do suffer more but it was only brought up a handful of times, as a side note or parenthetical. So to
...more
Kayla Lords
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was both fascinated and horrified by this book. It's easy to think that what we know to be true today was 1) always like that and 2)began with good intentions even if the result isn't so great. Wrong! Much of what many women believe to be true about motherhood and marriage was perpetuated by rich doctors 200+ years ago who wanted prestige, money, and rich, white female patients. The book doesn't touch on every part of why we believe what we do about a woman's place in life but it's an excellen ...more
Melanie
While informative and often infuriating, the writing wasn't as engaging as one would expect for such an interesting topic.
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Barbara Ehrenreich is an American journalist and 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.

http://us.macmillan.com/author/barbar...
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