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

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  2,229 ratings  ·  139 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 ...more
Paperback, 410 pages
Published January 4th 2005 by Anchor (first published January 1st 1976)
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Start your review of For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts' Advice to Women
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
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
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 ...more
Jul 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
gender roles are social constructs.
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
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
Carrie Kellenberger
An eye-opening and very informative account of how women have been treated over the past two centuries in the medical industry. Ehrenreich takes us through the history of the establishment of the medical industry, how to raise children, how feminism changed and adapted over the centuries, and up to modern society and how women are viewed.

There are sections on female health, the 'rise of sick and languishing women', how they were treated, the creation of home economics and its importance, how to
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.
Oct 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: feminist, history
Well documented history of how the medical industry has ignored, mismanaged and abused women. Relevant, this is still happening today! If I wasn't currently taking a Women's Studies course load I would have found the book more interesting. I found the writing stale, textbook style and cumbersome. I think it has a lot of important information and is a valuable read but it was dull in its presentation.
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 ...more
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.
Oct 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best, feminist
This book is from 2005, when I was 10 years old. 14 years later I can say that this is indispensable reading for understanding where women in society have come from, and where we’re hopefully going.

For Her Own Good documents the slow, agonizing fight of (white) women from traditional servant-wives to invalids to housewives to single women, providing direct quotes from the influential people at the time. Having this historical understanding of the “women question” is critical, because throughout
Oct 12, 2009 rated it liked it
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
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. ...more
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, ...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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Oct 08, 2007 rated it it was ok
this just in: men have believed ridiculous things about women. did this book really need updating?
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.
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.
Jan 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Re-read. Love it just as much as I did seven years ago.
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As usual, when Ehrenreich has anything to say about it, the subject is approached seriously but with enough humorous asides to leaven the mix, so that the reader doesn’t feel she is being bludgeoned by too much depressing detail.

Obviously this is a book all women should read as we still need to be able to stand up to the latest fads and fancies that manage, even now, to find a comfortable and profitable home in the medical profession; that unfortunately hasn’t changed much.

I have only one
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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.
“A man who is a good lover to his wife is his children’s best friend.… Child care is play to a woman who is happy. And only a man can make a woman happy. In deepest truth, a father’s first duty to his children is to make their mother feel fulfilled as a woman.” 1 likes
“It was doubtless true,” she later wrote “that I was ‘Weary of myself and sick of asking What I am and what I ought to be.” 0 likes
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