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

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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 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 numbers but as recent research shows, experts continue to use pseudoscience to tell women how to live. This edition of For Her Own Good provides today's readers with an indispensable dose of informed skepticism.


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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 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 numbers but as recent research shows, experts continue to use pseudoscience to tell women how to live. This edition of For Her Own Good provides today's readers with an indispensable dose of informed skepticism.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nandakishore Mridula

    In January 2019, all hell broke loose in the state of Kerala in India because the Supreme Court allowed women of menstruating age to enter the Sabarimala Temple, which is supposedly a "men-only" club due to the fact that the deity is supposed to be ritually celibate. Among all the brouhaha, a video started doing the rounds, from a lady doctor of Indian origin from the US. This estimable person said, in a highly convincing way, that some temples were centres of "positive cosmic energy" which woul In January 2019, all hell broke loose in the state of Kerala in India because the Supreme Court allowed women of menstruating age to enter the Sabarimala Temple, which is supposedly a "men-only" club due to the fact that the deity is supposed to be ritually celibate. Among all the brouhaha, a video started doing the rounds, from a lady doctor of Indian origin from the US. This estimable person said, in a highly convincing way, that some temples were centres of "positive cosmic energy" which would play hell with menstrual cycles. She even cited visiting temples during their monthly periods (a strict no-no in Hindu culture) as one of the reasons for endometriosis among women! Of course, anyone with a modicum of common sense would understand that this was nothing but pure, unadulterated gobbledygook - but the "doctor" label of the speaker, and the mixture of New Age claptrap and "Hindu" spirituality, resulted in she being taken seriously by a lot of people. Why mention this here? Well, as I read this book, my eyes were opened to the fact that the so-called "experts" in the USA had survived for two centuries peddling similar type of bovine excrement, albeit without the spiritual tag. So much of conventional "wisdom" available there on the public domain is aimed at two things: the upkeep of the social status quo and the subjugation of women. *** Up till the Industrial Revolution, society was static. The old order was unitary,which means most people lived the same humdrum lives, generation to generation; the old order was patriarchal, with the power being vested in the elder males; but the old order was also gynocentric - the skills and work of women were indispensable to survival. With the triumph of the market, however, household productive labour was moved to the factory. While this freed women from the endless round of household productive labour, it also took away their skills and dignity: women were still confined to the home, but without the bargaining power of their contribution to existence. They were relegated to "sexual peonage" and the role of baby-producing machines. Patriarchy didn't change. Men still considered themselves lords of the manor. But with the work structures changing, they needed a way to redefine "woman" in order to keep her from getting out of the house and into factory workforce, from where it would be just a minor step to full equality. The authors approach this process from an intriguing angle which I must say I am not fully convinced about. They say that folk medicine and healing which were the traditional province of women, were attacked as witchcraft by the male-centric society: in fact, they see this as part of the male medical practitioner to eliminate the female healer. The same concept was carried over to America, and the medical profession became a sort of boys' club: women had no place there. Though I am a bit sceptical about the efficacy of traditional healing, the authors are spot on about the total unscientific outlook of professional medicine at its beginnings. In America, it was more about selling a commercial product than healing - and many of the "doctors" were worse than folk healers. Of course, then "scientism" (the worship of science) crept into the profession and methods and knowledge improved drastically: but women were out, by that time. Now, it's time for the medical experts to enter and "create" the female gender in the mould they want to. And it's from here that things get interesting. In the mid- and late- nineteenth century, many affluent women were affected with mysterious cases of hopeless invalidism. They just slipped into depression and a life confined to bed. The real reason for this was the suffocating atmosphere of domesticity, with nothing to do than stay home in perfect idleness; the women from the working class who were active were spared this strange malady. The "experts" diagnosed this as hysteria, a disease connected to the womb and ovaries. In the first attempt at defining the gender in the modern world, woman was seen as little more than her reproductive organs. She had no escape from this miserable existence: the only hope were "rest cures", where women simply withdrew to a vegetative life. They began to depend extensively on their personal physicians, which augured well for their business. But by the turn of the twentieth century, the invalid suddenly got out of her bed and started to run about on bicycles, organising charities, clubs and civic reform groups. But she was still not willing to abandon domesticity yet. So a new set of experts entered the scene - in the field of domestic science. Most of these were women, thwarted of their academic ambitions due to gender: so they created a discipline which was exclusive to their own - managing the home scientifically by battling against microbes, cooking healthy food, and dealing with economics in an intelligent manner. Feminism too embraced this new ideal. Of course, capitalist America had a heyday in inventing and marketing labour-saving devices (most of which we use today, also). The turn of the last century also put the child at the centre of the family - and child-raising also became a science, too important to be left to the whimsies of "unprofessional" mothers. The experts moved in with their advice. This was the era of the "industrial approach" to child-raising: the boys were to be moulded into efficient workers and the girls, perfect ladies. Mothers with their maternal emotions could never be trusted to do a proper job! This very soon took a 180-degree turn and the age of permissiveness started by mid-century. But even now, the mother with her irrational nature couldn't be expected to do a proper job without expert advice! Mothers had to forget all they had learned about "scientific" mothering and go for their instincts alone. Here too, the experts found "bad mothers" who had so many pathological reasons for rejecting, even wanting to kill, their own children. Soon, the mother was seen as the root cause of all the problems which haunted American manhood. For this, the solution was for dad to spend more time at the house to offset the effects of libidinal motherhood: he was to treat male and female children differently, to bring them up as ideal men and women, which a mother with her unconditional love would find impossible. This whole cult of permissiveness came a cropper against a generation of rebels. The boogeyman of communism from the Soviet Union, propped up by disciplined children moulded under state guidance was frightening while compared to America's supposed dissolution of a bunch of hippie kids protesting against capitalism and war-mongering. Now permissiveness was seen as subversion, and the experts were advocating a disciplinarian approach. In the words of the authors It is almost as if we had come full circle back to the days of “scientific motherhood,” when experts joined mothers to manufacture upright citizens out of unruly infants. But things never quite repeat themselves. Five decades of historical twists and turns—in the political atmosphere, the economy, and in the content of science—had warped the old mother-child expert triangle beyond all recognition. For one thing the experts had lost status. They had quarreled too often, and they had changed their minds too often in the memory of living women. First there was industrial-style behaviorism, then permissiveness, and finally the reaction against it in the fifties and sixties. “Science,” applied to child raising, began to look like a chameleon which could match any national mood or corporate need. Well, by now, women had had enough of masochistic motherhood. In the early sixties, the "single girl" burst out on the scene, who cared a hoot for marriage, domesticity or motherhood. She was just out to enjoy herself. Experts came in once again, riding on the wings of consumer society, to serve as pop psychologists of the singles culture. Permissiveness was taken up as a programme of universal liberation. Everyone was entitled, and the maximisation of personal pleasure was made an end in itself. Psychological ideology had swung 180 degrees from the neo-Freudian theories of libidinal motherhood and female masochism. From being the only source of fulfillment in a woman’s life children had become an obstacle to her freedom. From being a symbolic act of submission, sex had become a pleasurable commodity that women as well as men had a right to demand. But if the rules imposed by the old domestic ideology had denied women any future other than service to the family, the new psychology seemed to deny human bonds altogether—for women or for men. Pop psychology, which had begun with the effusive evocation of universal joy, ended up with the grim “realism” of the lifeboat strategy: not everyone can get on board, so survival depends on learning how to fight it out on the way to “getting yours.” Despite their radical break with the old domestic ideology, the experts of marketplace psychology ended up promoting an ideal of women’s nature that was no less distorted and limiting than the ideal that had once been advanced by nineteenth-century gynecology. With the coming of the women's liberation movement in the seventies, the whole concept of gender identity was challenged. Women simply refused to be what society wanted them to be: they defiantly declared that they are what they are. Of course, it is only a beginning. Women's problems after centuries of subjugation are not to be solved overnight; but the courage to take off the mask and look at the real face beneath is indeed the first bold step. *** Coming back to India: in our largely traditional society, gender is still culturally defined. However, the younger generation in the cities have started to break the shackles and fly away, and it has got the guardians of public morality worried. Hence the proliferation of experts like the doctor I mentioned above: and a plethora of women's magazines dishing out advice on everything from cookery to teenage love. I recommend this book to all and sundry. Please see the experts exposed in their conservative and consumerist agenda!

  2. 4 out of 5

    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 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 were just dudes who had enough money and class status to go to university and learn classical languages. They never learned anatomy or how to treat illnesses in any evidence-based manner. In fact, to maintain their status as "gentlemen," they didn't touch their patients (instead leaving the dispensing of medicines, bone-setting, childbirth, etc to others) or receive payment for their services (they were instead given "gifts"). But given that their medical knowledge was entirely based in classical literature, they were not particularly helpful. Instead, most people used what we now term folk-medicine (practiced by a healer in their area), which *was* mostly evidence-based and very much in line with modern conceptions of medicine (understandings of anatomy, palpating the lymph nodes, knowing what the patient ate, what their stools looked like, etc). But "regular" doctors had the rich on their side, so when science and the scientific method began to gain credence, they were able to lay claim to science first, while simultaneously suing to have all doctors who didn't go to their specific universities be considered criminals if they practiced medicine. It worked! Oh classism. And thus, for the next hundred years or so, the UK and US were left with doctors who had a very narrow understanding of what to look for to judge health. Mental state, nutrition, environment...all of this fell by the way-side. Ehrenreich and English also talk a bit about how various credentials came to be and the double-binds created by psychologists for women. And don't think women were martyred saints, either--white, middle and upper class women were instrumental in all sorts of bs movements to "improve" the poor and minority groups. Overall, a good read, with nuggets of biting sarcasm to match the facts and anecdotes.

  3. 5 out of 5

    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 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 informative, I highly recommend it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    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 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 the heart of the home for their childrearing powers, then considered too weak to raise their own sons. It's enough to make a woman never buy a self-help book again.[return][return]It's amazing to see how much the woman's role has changed in two centuries. Before machines became a way of life, women had a lot of work to do. Surprisingly, we learn that housecleaning was low on the list. It wasn't until the the 20th century where women's boredom and advertisers met to compel a frenzy for housecleaning. Early women were too busy making all their home's supplies. When all of women's traditional work was being taken over by factories, and their healing knowledge taken away by men, the Woman Question arrived. With so little to do, what was a woman's role in society? What was her contribution to her household? Early feminists argued that women were reduced to glorified prostitutes, with their skills and knowledge taken away. The Woman Question is one that was debated until the feminists exploded into the 1960s and '70s.[return][return]At this point, after the women's rights movement of the '70s, Ehrenreich falters a bit when describing the "Let's think about me, now" attitude of women who eschewed a husband and kids for a childfree life. She paints these as selfish people obsessed with money and free time. True, many women feeling stifled under the confines of traditional society would start thinking of their own needs in a manner considered "selfish" after centuries of thinking solely of their family's comfort. Ehrenreich seems to think that the advice of earlier "experts" who encouraged permissiveness went too far and made child-haters of these women. On the contrary, the childfree movement that stemmed from modern feminism is all about the choice to have children. Since Ehrenreich clearly approves of abortion in her writing, it is strange that she gets a little touchy over the choice to be a mother or not. Since the author is pro-choice, she may not have thought out the connection to those who abstain from childrearing entirely, and how they must fight charges of selfishness just as those who get an abortion fight charges of being a "murderer." I wonder if Ehrenreich, being a mother, is aghast at how feminism inspired future generations of women to live a childfree life.[return][return]Other than that criticism, I found the book a valuable source of information. I want to wave it under the nose of every person who thinks the feminist movement was a mistake. I want to yell at them, "Do you know where these doctors would put leeches on a woman because her husband could drag her in to a doctors office for an attitude adjustment? Think of a place only her gynecologist would see - that's where they put those leeches!" But, as Ehrenreich points out, there are many people who buy into the romance of the woman invalid, the lobotomized housewife, and sheltered female who never has to make an important decision. Some may find this a blissful life, but as history proves, it's not necessarily a healthy one for women.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Seven

    gender roles are social constructs.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    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 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 own bodies, their families, and their livelihoods – without the intervention of professional experts. Furthermore, these experts have relied on the authority of science to convince women that the experts' misogynistic prejudices are actually objective, proven fact. One of the most interesting sections in the book was about how, starting in the 1700s, men co-opted the practice of medicine from women, who, through their activities as midwives and lay healers, had been their families' and communities' primary healers for centuries – in fact, healing was viewed as part of the whole package of child-rearing and running a household. Then, with the rise of professionalization, distinct academic disciplines, the capitalist market, and other factors, men began to take over medicine as a gentlemanly, aristocratic profession. However, whereas the female lay healers had relied on the transmission of tried and true medical information from one generation to the next (such as folk wisdom concerning the healing properties of particular herbs and natural substances), the male professional doctors discredited this evidence-based tradition and began inflicting a variety of horrific, un-scientific, and dangerous “cures” on a gullible and trusting populace. In many cases, the so-called cure was far worse than the original disease, as in the case of a poison called calomel, which medical men commonly prescribed for ailments as minor as fever and stomachache and whose side effects included the erosion of the patient's teeth and jaw bone. Most disturbing of all, the doctors were usually aware that these “cures” were painful and ineffectual, but peddled them anyway as a money-making scheme. In order to keep the new medical profession selective and exclusive, the doctors went on a woman-bashing spree to discredit the much more liked and trusted female lay healers who saw healing as a community activity rather than a generator of wealth and who actually relied on observation and experiment to arrive at cures that truly worked. This was one of the most vivid instances of male “experts” (I use quotes because these medical men were mostly quacks and not experts in anything, but they saw themselves that way) telling women how things should be done, especially in a domain that had traditionally belonged to women to start with and which they had successfully managed without male intervention for generations. There is no doubt that the authors did their research while writing this book. In fact, I would say that the book read almost a bit too much like an academic paper and could have been made more accessible to the casual reader. Nearly every page was crammed with long quotes and references, and there were a few times when the authors dug so deep into a specific issue that I had to read the back cover to remind myself what the overall argument of the book was. The authors must have realized this when they made revisions for the latest edition of the book (the first edition was published in the 70s), because they added a new chapter that was a good summary of their argument and helped to give it some context, as well as some new information on how this trend has played out in the early 21st century. I also felt a little uncertain about the authors' thesis. I wholeheartedly agree that paternalistic, bigoted men have no business telling women how to live their lives, especially through the deception of passing off personal opinion or small-mindedness as scientific fact. However, the authors seemed to be anti-all-experts rather than anti-bad-experts. It was a bit hard to tell what the authors believed at all, since the book was only a historical review of these types of trends and not really their defense of a different point of view. They made a few comments that indicated they felt nostalgic for a time when women raised their children with the help of other knowledgeable and loving women -- mothers, grandmothers, sisters, neighbors, etc. -- and didn't need to jump every time the (most likely male) pediatrician or child psychologist said jump. I can see where they're coming from, and I do think it's unfortunate how isolated and self-contained most families are today, but I think that's a separate issue from whether to rely on experts or not. I'm sure that in the 1800s, listening to the advice of a friendly midwife, whose mother had taught her everything about the healing properties of local plants, was a wise course of action, especially given the alternatives. But medicine today -- despite all its problems -- is far better and more effective than herbal tea and prayer, even if the person delivering such medicine is not as friendly or caring as a frontier midwife. I have no patience with "alternative" medicine that hearkens back to a time when such flimsy folk remedies were all we had access to; when I'm in pain, give me an expert. My last comment relates to the editing of this book. I am not the type of person who foams at the mouth every time I see a grammatical or editing mistake, although I do notice such mistakes whether I want to or not. But when I'm reading a book – especially a scholarly book that the authors want us to take seriously and that has been thoroughly and professionally edited no less than twice (once for each edition), I find no excuse for sloppy, distracting mistakes. Here's the way I see it: let's say you have a deep love of and knowledge of music and are proficient at playing an instrument or two. You recognize that the technical aspects of music, such as the different values of notes and rests and so on, are not the “soul” of music – they are not why you enjoy listening to a sonata. Nevertheless, if the musician doesn't understand the way these mechanics work – if they botch the length of a quarter note, for example – you will not only notice it, but it will mar what would otherwise be a beautiful work of art. It goes from being music to being notes that are not well-played, and it spoils your enjoyment. That's how I feel about grammar in relation to language and reading. Obviously, proper spelling, punctuation, and syntax are not the “soul” of language any more than individual notes are the “soul” of music. But if you use language inexpertly by misunderstanding the purpose of a comma or botching the construction of a sentence, you have taken a thing of beauty and made it unpleasant. So let's just say someone should have read For Her Own Good more carefully before sending it to the printer.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

    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 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 interesting quotes from the book: A quote from an 1830s Grahamian on p. 61 (alas, the Grahamians -- proponents of vegetarianism and health food stores -- didn't gain much traction...) "Any system that, of itself, creates a privileged class who can by law, or otherwise, lord it over their fellow men, destroys true freedom and personal autonomy. Any system that teaches the sick that they can get well only through the exercise of the skill of someone else, and that they remain alive only through the tender mercies of the privileged class, has no place in nature's scheme of things, and the sooner it is abolished, the better will mankind be." I found the following descriptions by a man named Watson especially hilarious (pp. 224 & 225). He was writing in the 1920s: "The ideal child, he wrote, is, 'a child who never cries unless actually stuck by a pin, illustratively speaking...who soon builds up a wealth of habits that tides him over dark and rainy days -- who puts on such habits of politeness and neatness and cleanliness that adults are willing to be around him at least part of the day ... who eats what is set before him -- who sleeps and rests when put to bed for sleep and rest -- who puts away two year old habits when the third year has to be faced ...'" and this: "There is a sensible way of treating children. Treat them as though they were young adults. Dress them, bathe them with care and circumspection. Let your behavior always be objective and kindly firm. Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit on your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say good night. Shake hands with them in the morning. ..." I love trying to picture my friends with two year olds shaking their kids' hands in the morning.

  8. 4 out of 5

    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 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 rear children and suggestions suggestions on how to be the perfect wife, and more. All of it is annotated and researched with a giant footnote section in the end to refer to. For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of Experts' Advice to Women demonstrates how attitudes towards women in the health industry started and how these attitudes have remained. These biases are still well and thriving in the medical industry today. From looking at how the medical establishment was created (upper class white men who had money to go to university, but did not study anatomy or how to treat illnesses) to how midwives were vilified, removed, and replaced by men with no knowledge of female anatomy to male doctors dismissing women as hysterical and 'doctors' who specialized in the 'psychologically abnormal' experience of being a woman - this book will hit a lot of nerves! For a book that was first published in 1978, this book has aged fairly well. Very informative and a great read. Best Takeaway Fact "With a patriarchal self-confidence that had almost no further need of instruments, techniques, medications, Osler wrote: If a poor lass, paralyzed apparently, helpless, bed-ridden for years, comes to me, having worn out in mind, body, and estate a devoted family; if she in a few weeks or less by faith in me, and faith alone, takes up her bed and walks, the saints of old could not have done more... ~Sir William Osler Now at last the medical profession had arrived at a method of faith-healing potent enough to compare with women's traditional healing - but one which was decisively masculine. It did not require a nurturant attitude, nor long hours by the patient's bedside. In fact, with the new style of healing, the less time a doctor spends with a patient, and the fewer questions he permits, the greater his powers would seem to be."

  9. 5 out of 5

    Olosta

    After a rather great and intriguing premise (woman's changing social position in light of the evolution of the economic market/changes of the social system), this book was quite a disappointment. To mention two most prominent let-downs: 1. Factual inaccuracies and mistakes, which I noticed especially in the first quarter of the book. Firstly, the completely misleading numbers and facts regarding witch hunts in medieaeval and early modern Europe. Secondly, the picture of medical professionals in th After a rather great and intriguing premise (woman's changing social position in light of the evolution of the economic market/changes of the social system), this book was quite a disappointment. To mention two most prominent let-downs: 1. Factual inaccuracies and mistakes, which I noticed especially in the first quarter of the book. Firstly, the completely misleading numbers and facts regarding witch hunts in medieaeval and early modern Europe. Secondly, the picture of medical professionals in the same historical epochs. Both are topis I am interested in and know a bit about, and I was very put off by these mistakes. Just to mention a couple: witches, especially in the beginning, were not predominantly women. On the contrary, the ratio was more or less 50/50 female/male (in some areas, it was even more men), and most of the witches were accused or religious haeresy (at the beginning). The punishment was not death, but most often monetary fine. Burnings and hangings mostly occured later, in Early Modern times. Also the numbers given of executed people is way blown out of proportions: it was not millions, but maybe ten thousands of people - during the whole time of persecutions. Quite a difference, I would say. Another one, the book paints a very black-and-white and two dimensional picture of the medical practitioners in medieaveal and early modern times - it puts into stark contrast male medical "professionals" (i.e. doctors who were academically educated) and "peasant" female healers. There was a broad plethora of practitioners in between, and for long times they co-existed quite succesfully. Also, though academic medicine indeed relied generally on the Theory of four humours, observation played an important role as well, especially when administering medicine (plant- or otherwise based). I cannot say much to the developement of medicine in the early US, as I am not knowleadgeable in this area, but the botched beginning of the book makes me suspicious about the rest of the presented facts. 2. The other problem I had with this book is that although women are supposed to stand in the focus, the text often handles so many different topics in such a broad context that the woman literally sinks under and disappears out of sight. A bit ironic, isn't it? Also, the conclusion of the book comes of somewhat weak. Women had been told for centuries what to do - well, yes, and? What am I as a woman to take away from this book? Other than bitterness and disillusionment? To conclude: not a complete loss of time, but the gain is definitely not worth the hours invested in reading.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jaclynn

    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. 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.

  11. 5 out of 5

    kat

    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. 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.

  12. 4 out of 5

    MargaretDH

    This is an interesting exploration of how science intersects with the construction of gender, and how the scientific method was distorted, and women were harmed, by people who worked to make science fit their preconceived notions of gender. If you'd like to be infuriated, pick this up! If you think the feminists are mostly just making things up, and that traditional gender roles are usually for the best, pick this up! This is an interesting exploration of how science intersects with the construction of gender, and how the scientific method was distorted, and women were harmed, by people who worked to make science fit their preconceived notions of gender. If you'd like to be infuriated, pick this up! If you think the feminists are mostly just making things up, and that traditional gender roles are usually for the best, pick this up!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Charlene

    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 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 my own society. I remember losing sleep over what I read in the pages of this book. It was shocking and horrifying. And yet, it felt like the biggest gift anyone had ever given up to that point in life. I felt something click inside me. I felt aware of my own power for the first time. This book will always hold a special place in my heart. I do wonder what I would think of it if I read it now, so many year later.

  14. 5 out of 5

    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. 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.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nut Meg

    Though the book was originally published in 1978, this edition came out in 2004 with a new foreword and afterward. Given that this is primarily a history, the text holds up very well, and it's one of the rare cases where the subtitle actually gives you a good idea of the topic; "Two Centuries of the Experts Advice to Women." Ehrenreich and English don't limit themselves to a single discipline, focusing on medicine prior to the 20th century, before expanding to include psychologists, domestic sci Though the book was originally published in 1978, this edition came out in 2004 with a new foreword and afterward. Given that this is primarily a history, the text holds up very well, and it's one of the rare cases where the subtitle actually gives you a good idea of the topic; "Two Centuries of the Experts Advice to Women." Ehrenreich and English don't limit themselves to a single discipline, focusing on medicine prior to the 20th century, before expanding to include psychologists, domestic scientists, and various child raising experts in later years. Chapter 2, "Witches, Healers, and Gentleman Doctors," regurgitates a lot of the information from Ehrenreich's earlier pamphlet "Witches, Midwives and Nurses," but not its entirety (I would still recommend reading WMaN for her discussion of the nursing profession). However, this text gives a much more comprehensive discussion of the evolution of medicine as a profession, such as the competition between "regular" doctors and the "irregular" medicine borne out of the popular health movement, prior to the incorporation of laboratory science into medicine in the late 1800's. This could be considered valuable as a history of medicine alone, but what makes it so satisfying is how Ehrenreich and English always make a point of putting everything in the context of the socioeconomic climate, and the prevailing attitudes and beliefs about women, during a given period. For example, chapter 5 focuses on the oft forgotten domestic scientists who strove to bring homemaking to the status of a profession (you can thank them for your home ec. classes in high school). When discussing their advice to women, its explained that the movement was part of the trend to find the most "scientific" method to complete all tasks, spurred by the industrial revolutions focus on efficiency, as well as 19th century feminism's embrace of the "field" since it bolstered their arguments in favor of higher education for women without threatening the prevailing ideas about femininity. Though on the whole excellent, it should be noted that there is decided lack of intersectionality. However, this is in part due to the subject matter; as the authors point out, experts in most fields tend to be from the middle/upper class, and historically have been predominately white men (with the exception of the women healers who are discussed in depth). Due to both these experts own spheres of experience, as well the fact that their client bases were limited to those who could afford to pay, expert advice for women over the past 2 centuries has been predominately geared towards white women of means. Still, while there is a fair amount of discussion of issues of class, there is hardly any mention of race, which is disappointing. Also, discussion is limited to cis women only, with only brief reference to queer women(during discussion of the 1960-70's). That being said, this is still a valuable resource for anyone interested in women's studies, particularly if you're looking for a history of women's medicine and/or psychology. Absolutely fascinating and well researched.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    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 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 society. A society that is organized around human neds: a society in which child raising is not dismissed as each woman's individual problem, but in which the nuturance and well-being of all children is a public priority - a society in which healing is not a commodity distributed according toi the dictates of profit but is integral to the network of community life - in which wisdom about daily life is not hoarded by experts or doled out as a commodity but is drawn from the experience of all people and freely shared among them. The womanly values of community and caring must rise to the center as the only human principles.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    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 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. This books takes you through many of them. I found it fascinating, angering, and even a little eye-opening. I finished this book feeling grateful that I have enough power in my life to make my own choices.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Adrienne

    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 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 the ages women have been considered: gentile, naive, in need of protection, masochistic, ignorant, at-fault, and a host of other things at both ends of the spectrum.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

    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 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, since the experience of poor women and women of color was in the book peripherally, and I found myself wanting to know more, in the context of the subject matter.

  20. 5 out of 5

    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 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 this failed to address issues relevant to non middle class college educated white women. To me that took it down to a two star book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    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 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 history, this isn't just one fact after another. Instead, it's a cohesive history of ideas and intellectual movements, and an important revisionist look at the same.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Robynne

    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 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 the minefield that was advice for and about women by an ever-growing field of experts. 4.5 stars.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

    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. 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.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Paige

    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. 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.

  25. 4 out of 5

    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. 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.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    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. 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.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    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. 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.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    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. 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.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sadina Shawver

    I picked this book up for research citations in undergrad alongside Nickle and Dimed. I'm not sure if I like it better because I'm a woman and it's agonizingly relatable or if it's just better in general. I picked this book up for research citations in undergrad alongside Nickle and Dimed. I'm not sure if I like it better because I'm a woman and it's agonizingly relatable or if it's just better in general.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    this just in: men have believed ridiculous things about women. did this book really need updating?

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