Chapter 1: Our Bodies Our Selves in Context
Women and the Body
Throughout western history beliefs about the body particularly the difference
between men and womens bodies have greatly influenced the development of
contemporary western science.
Womens roles as nurturers and caretakers, and their own messy bodies which
menstruate, lactate and give birth, give way to gendered association of women
with the body and men with the mind.
The term Somatophobia or fear of the body, was heightened in discussions
about womens bodies.
Mens bodies were believed to be ordered and self contained and the standard
of the norm that womens bodies should be compared to.
Biological determinism; that is, that peoples abilities and roles on society were
assured to be attributable their biology.
The move in feminism has been the affirmation of the womans body.
Impetus for womens Health movement in Canada
Key defining features of the womens health movement is defined by and
shaped in, social, psychological and economic environments and relationships.
Health is a social issue and social contract.
Feminist focused primary on gaining access to formal political system.
They stated that bodies should not prevent women from being able to
participate in the political decision-making.
Feminist focused on critiquing the ways in which women had been
characterized as less than fully human by male philosophers and
thinkers because of their bodies.
The second wave was a period of social upheaval in North America and
European society, which spawned a host of social movements.
The second wave is characterized as the period of activism dominated
by the concerns of white, middle class, able-bodied, heterosexual
women. The key issues during the second wave are reproductive health issues,
violence against women, sexuality, and issues related to womens roles
in healthcare sector.
The third wave
Many of the issues in the first and second wave remain concerns in the
Contemporary feminists have become active players in both the
development of womens specialized health programs and in the
development of health policy in Canada.
Activism in the third wave is characterized by increased involvement of
women in bureaucratic and institutional structures.
Feminist agendas were reactive to government and institutional
Challenges for the Future
Womens health advocates still find themselves up against a medical system
that is biomedical in focus and treats women as a set of parts to be fixed by
practitioners who alone know whats best for women.
More than age and Biology: Overhauling Lifespan Approaches to womens
Life course/span perspective arose during 1960s and different types of
scientist use it.
Life course/span perspectives looks into a series of roles and experiences that
an individual progresses through as s/he proceeds from birth to death. Looks
into different phases instead of focusing in a single phases in isolation.
Lifespan approach to womens health aims to inform and better structure
policies that address the specific circumstance and problems women face at
various stages of their lives, as well as issues that are universal amongst
Compared to men, women do have different lifespan and patters of illness.
Evolution of the Lifespan Approach in Womens Health There are different definitions of lifespan and different ways of applying
depending on the organizations
In the US: the health of women, girls is affected by developmental,
physiological, and psychological age.
In Canada: three life stages. 1) Childhood and adolescence. 2) Early to mid-
adulthood. 3) later life
Lifespan Framework: Current Practices and Proposed Reforms
There is lack of longitudinal data on womens health, which of course is
essential for any effective lifespan analysis.
There are a lot of issues that needs to discuss to develop an effective approach
that is capable of understanding and responding to the diversity of womens
longitudinal health issues. Such as:
o Biomedical Hegemony: even though we have a lot of research that
demonstrates the relationship between social factors and health,
lifespan approach to womens health remain largely determined by
biomedical model. For example, for diabetes the existing biomedically
informed approach would suggest that obesity and genetic factors are
the most important determinant of morbidity in diabetes. However they
need to put thing like lack of acceissible services, high rate of
complication, early onset which are clearly seen in the aboriginal
community. Current lifespan approaches do not focus on the right issues
ore result hence not being able to improve all womens life.
o The organization and conceptualizing of life Stages: it illustrates the life
stages. Early life stages, life span approach consider fetal life and
childhood in term of risk factors later associated with chronic diseases
and disorders. Adolescences issues that are often raised are STIs,
HIV/AIDS, pregnancy, menarches, violence and lifespan mark this stage
in life by development concerns such as employment, finding a partner,
having and raising children. In Midlife: focuses in chronic diseases and
menopause. Finally later life: the problem changes into functional
health. Such as issues with vision, hearing and much more.
o Individualizing Responsibility for health: biomedicine is fixated on
individuals, their risks factors, and behaviours that are expressed
through the body. There is danger i presenting all choices that women
make in their lives as freely determined personal choices. Using this
individualist approach ca n lead to blaming women for apparent lifestyle
they have no control over. The separation of the individual from her
large social situation is of course a huge difference between biomedicine and public health. Over all, womens opportunities and
choices are to a certain extent constrained by decisions and actions
taken by families and communities and government policies.
o Undervaluing determinants of Health: income, social status,
employment, education...are key determinate of health. Key importance
should be given to economic and social challenges, example is the
relationship between poverty and ill health. Shift in policies, politics,
employment and others play a major role on health.
o Marginalization and mis-conceptualization of gender: lifespan approach
put gender inequality and discrimination in picture since it harms girls
and women health directly and indirectly throughout the lifecycle.
Biomedicine tend to marginalize the importance of gender and also
when gender is also taken into the account its meaning and significance
is taken into an account. We cannot treat all women in one category
since there are different phase/stages in a women life.
o The Invisibility of Difference: a problem that recognize the diversity in
womens live. For any lifespan framework to be inclusive, it is essential
that the diversity and variation within age cohorts be made front and
center. Some group of women those belonging to the middle and upper
classes typically enjoy health advantage over those who are poor,
unemployed. A good example is the health disparities that is seen in
America between different group of people. In Canada the life
expectancy of an aboriginal women is shorter than a general Canadian
o Intersectionality as an Explanatory Resources: its application to health is
only starting to be explored and its application to lifespan framing
remains largely uninvestigated.