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Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  607 ratings  ·  91 reviews
The accomplishments of pioneering doctors such as John Peter Mettauer, James Marion Sims, and Nathan Bozeman are well documented. It is also no secret that these nineteenth-century gynecologists performed experimental caesarean sections, ovariotomies, and obstetric fistula repairs primarily on poor and powerless women. Medical Bondage breaks new ground by exploring how and ...more
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Published November 15th 2017 by University of Georgia Press
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Krystal
Oct 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is an extraordinary statement on how the personal is always political, as enslaved black woman are finally given their rightful place in history as the mothers of American gynaecology!
Siria
An important if often grim read, Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology explores the development of gynaecology as a field in the nineteenth-century U.S.A. Deirdre Cooper Owens argues that this aspect of medical history can only be fully understood through an examination of how white male physicians and surgeons exploited the bodies of women who were socially marked as inferior because of their race and class: in this instance, Black (and often enslaved) women and ...more
Monica
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I finally finished reading this brilliantly-researched and brilliantly-written book. It took me so long because it does not flinch from telling painful truths about just how terribly black women were treated as patients during the birth of gynecology in the nineteenth century. However, it also emphasizes how important many of these women were as nurses, midwives, and as sources of knowledge regarding women’s bodies and childbirth. Difficult but important reading.
Bridget
Dec 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant and important. Belongs in the canon of anti racist works. Especially important for folks dealing with gynecology. A must read.
Leah Rachel von Essen
An excellent book and a must-read for those interested in the history of bias against Black women's bodies and the biased history and present of the medical system. Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology outlines how the birth of gynecology as a field came through the hypocrisy and clear contradictions of doctors who both demeaned and disrespected Black women while also using their bodies objectified to further medical research. Medical writing contributed to the s ...more
Anna Bella
Aug 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I am a Registered Nurse with 25 years of experience. Sadly, I have witnessed some of the atrocities inflicted upon black / brown women during the Antebellum Era during the course of my career. I enjoyed this book for the knowledge and truths told. It broke my heart though, to see that very little has changed from the 1800 to 2020.
Rebecca McPhedran
A thoroughly researched book about the fraught history of gynecology and the black super body. Owens does an amazing job of looking at intersection of race, medicine and body autonomy. She tells heartbreaking truths about how bond women and slaves were used for medical experimentation because they were thought to be less than human.

It is appalling to think about how these women were treated, and how their lives and autonomy meant nothing to the doctors who where using them for medical experimen
...more
Smileitsjoy (JoyMelody)
This book is so very important and should be a must read for everyone, especially Black women.
The way Dr. Cooper Owens writes this history creates a narrative that I wish was taught in medical schools.
It addresses the grotesque history of Sims and other medical experiments done on enslaved women all in the name of science and to further modern medicine.
There isn't a chapter that I wasn't just sitting there with my mouth ajar.

This book was also written in a very accessible way.
...more
Jennifer Hall
Oct 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A must read for any history student, especially those interested in past medical practices.
Never Without a Book
Wow, mind blown!
Jessica
Nov 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Medical Bondage is primarily a history of gender and medicine but its implications flow out and touch everything we thought we knew about American history. In under two hundred pages, Deirdre Cooper Owens asks us to reconsider historical approaches to and traditional understandings of medicine, slavery, race, sectionalism and capitalism—to name a few. Cooper Owens joins the body of literature on antebellum slavery but by using medicine, specifically gynecology, as her framing device, she disting ...more
Bre Franklin
Jan 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I have had this book for a long time, and I've been grappling a lot for what it means for me to be a Black woman entering medicine. My interest in gynecology stemmed from my own understanding of the events I and Black women in my family have had to endure during regular gynecological exams or even childbirth.

Owens explicitly centers her work on rejecting the "socio-medical histories that do not question the veracity of top-down histories about 'great white medical men'" (9), and she does exactl
...more
Kelly Akemann
Oct 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
An interesting peek into gynecology and the race issue that no one really talks about (within the topic). A nice difference from the books I have been reading and had me thinking about it after I was done.
Jennifer
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book discussed the history of the field of gynaecology and how it relates to race and gender. Obviously the field of gynaecology affects the female gender due to its very nature but adding race to the mix reveals some ugly truths about the field itself. Many people ( including myself) consider the field of gynaecology itself to be behind in knowledge in comparison to other medical specialities and this book contributes to that theory by showing its dark origins. I am not a fan of feminist o ...more
Justin Goodman
Sep 17, 2020 rated it liked it
The Afterword cements my overall feeling about Medical Bondage: This needed structural editing. There's a lot going on in this book - medical science's (i.e. gynecology's) collaboration in upholding and justifying race/gender/class myths, the story and legacy "the Father of Gynecology" J Marion Sims, acknowledging the literal and metaphorical labor of the enslaved black women Sims taught to nurse, experimented on, and raped, the ways in which these practices mutated when dealing with Irish immig ...more
Caitlin
Aug 11, 2019 rated it liked it
This book was interesting and informative but repetitive. It seems it would have made a better paper than full book. As a full book, it could have been enriched by more connections to contemporary health. The author does a little of this in talking about her personal experience with fertility treatment, but there is not much in the way of broader connection. For instance, she makes much of the fact that it was thought Black women did not feel pain as white women did, which justified operating on ...more
Rick Elinson
This book feels like a doctoral thesis, and given the horrific subject matter, it is hard to say "I like it". Nonetheless, it provides very useful context for 19th century male gynecologists, in particular James Marion Sims, whose statue was recently removed from its place of honor along Central Park in New York. Sims is now reviled for operating on enslaved black women without anesthesia, based not on their consent but on their owner's request. As Cooper Owens details, an enslaved women with a ...more
Hannah
Apr 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Not for the faint of heart - the topic is heavy and the writing is fairly academic in style, somewhat like a modified dissertation. Very important and worthwhile read for anyone in the health care field as it deals with the largely unacknowledged history of gynecology. The writing can be a bit repetitive.
Am
I really wish this book wasn't classified as a textbook. I think this is something everyone should be familiar with, especially women and especially black women. The history of gynecology plays a role in how modern gynecology treats women, as the author points out in her own experience. ...more
JC
As Easter very much is a religious festival derived from and observed in reference to Jewish Passover, I thought reading about the experiences of slave women would be appropriate for this time of year. As Passover is a festival of liberation from slavery, and Easter formed in its cast, I think slavery, human subjugation, and a future of liberation forms a central part of spiritual contemplation for those who engage in faith traditions who hold the Exodus as a part of their spiritual narrative. A ...more
Sophia
Jan 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology
by Deirdre Cooper Owens Published November 15, 2017
#bgrtreadingchallenge 2021 ~ A book featuring an obscure historical event
BOOK#58 OF #100𝓫𝓸𝓸𝓴𝓬𝓱𝓪𝓵𝓵𝓮𝓷𝓰𝓮

#WARNING: This will be a difficult to read. The inhumane practices were down right #incomprehensible, #inhumane #nauseating and #mindfucking~ These folks are savages! SMH

Well researched history on GYNECOLOGY Practice/Experimentation on enslaved and or poor women of color. Most
...more
Hannah
Aug 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is fantastic. It is a little repetitive at times, but overall worth the read.

This book is about black and poor women who were used, abused, and experimented on by masters and doctors to further their own selfish desires. Doctors used black bodies to pave the way in medical sciences and masters used black bodies to produce more “inventory.” Black women were prized for their reproductive organs and masters sought out harmful and sometimes deadly experimental surgeries to further their o
...more
Glendora
I picked up this book for professional interest (work on obstetric fistula), in looking for a text that addresses J. Marion Sims' complicated legacy. I found that Deirdre Cooper Owens had written an excellent op-ed on just this topic, which is what led me to her book-length treatment of Sims' patients and the context of the era in which he developed the surgical technique we still use today.

https://rewirenewsgroup.com/article/2...

Unfortunately, the 1500-word piece was drastically more interestin
...more
Courtney
Jun 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
3.5/4 stars

Owens promises to argue and convince the reader of many things in the introduction to her text, and initially I believed that I would listen/read (I did an audiobook) equal analysis of African/African American slave and Irish immigrant women in relation to the beginnings of American Gynecology. This was not the case.

Owens convincingly argues the destitute treatment and malpractice of white male “doctors” who meddled in female reproductive health on all accounts. She presents thorough
...more
Courtney Hatch
This will be in the running for my top nonfiction of 2021. There’s so much to digest here. Until my historian husband explained to me some of the history of American gynecology, I was ignorant of the fact the field began with doctors performing experimental surgeries on enslaved women. These doctors used the bodies of these women to further their medical careers, justifying this treatment by denying their humanity while also attributing superhuman pain thresholds to them. This was a grim read. A ...more
Alysa
I read this a part of a book club consisting of readers who have an interest in birth and reproduction, several of whom are currently training as doulas and/or midwives. Though all of us are familiar with the rather deplorable past of gynecology, there was a general feeling of shock and disgust when confronted with the details. (And a reminder that in our roles as birth attendants and medical professionals, we need to be sensitive to these histories, and we need to do better.)

One thing that stru
...more
Leigh
Feb 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I didn't realize until hearing the afterward of the book that the author is Black- which took this entire book to a whole other level. Here is a woman who was researching so much trauma that also directly impacted her life. In the 2010's, she was experiencing the remains of 19th century thought. TWO CENTURIES LATER.

This bo0k made me angry. For women, for women of color, for immigrants- basically for everyone who isn't a white man. It's another example in a long line of examples that show how wom
...more
Dea
Mar 10, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While listening to this book I kept thinking that this is a nice intro into the topic but nowhere near enough content to justify a whole book. But as I was nearing the conclusion it dawned on me that there might not be enough sources to flesh out the topic. There are no names listed anywhere of the women who were experimented on by Sims, nor is there any information about what happened to them after they went back to their homes. No one asked them about their experience. Similarly when the forme ...more
Anna Ivask
Apr 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
3.5 stars.

This is a very important and illuminating book. As a white woman, this helped me not only to gain an insight into race relations and their intersection with gender, but also to recognise the work and sacrifice that occurred so that I can have all the modern medicine that I have now. Gynecology is still very problematic, but I can't imagine our lives had these experiments not happened and the best methods of treatment not discovered.

I really loved the afterword, and the way that the au
...more
Akansha Das
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I was astounded by this book and the incredible amount of anecdotes and stories, emotion, and factual medical journal evidence Owens provides in just a short 120 pages. The way Owens describes the countless juxtapositions white male doctors held about black women - from their supposed intellectual inferiority (yet how many black women served as critical medical assistants during medical experimentation) to their belief that black women were biologically distinct from white women( and yet still u ...more
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Deirdre Cooper Owens is The Charles and Linda Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine and Director of the Humanities in Medicine program. She is also an Organization of American Historians’ (OAH) Distinguished Lecturer. A popular public speaker, she has published essays, book chapters, and blog pieces on a number of issues that concern African American experiences.

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