Desire - Politics of Sickness, Enhrenreich.docx

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Western University
Women's Studies
Women's Studies 2283F/G
Andrea Allen

THE SEXUAL POLITICS OF SICKNESS – ENHRENREICH AND ENGLISH  Dr. Mitchell did not want information from his patients; he wanted complete obedience  Women who felt sick or tired or simply depressed would not longer seek help from a friend or female healer, but from a male physician  Public pronouncements was that women were by nature weak, dependent and diseased  Scientific evidence that woman’s essential nature was not to be a strong, competent help giver but to be a patient  Doctors found a variety of diagnostic labels for the wave of invalidism gripping the female population  The syndrome was never fatal, but neither was it curable in most cases, the victims sometimes patiently outliving both husbands and physicians  The way this type of woman was expected to live predisposed her to sickness and sickness in turn predisposed her to continue to live as she was expected to  The problem in the middle to upper class was that marriage had become a sexuo-economic relation in which women performed sexual and reproductive duties for financial support  She was, biologically speaking specialized for one function and one alone – sex  A successful man could no better social ornament than an idle wife  The female of the dominant race or class has in the past lost her activity and has come to exist purely through the passive performance of her sexual functions  The genteel lady of leisure was as much a part of the industrial social order as her husband or it was ultimately the wealth extracted in the world of work that enabled a man to afford a more or less ornamental wife  No doubt suffocating atmosphere of sexual romanticism bred a kind of nervous hypochondria  Illness was perhaps the only honorable retreat from a world of achievement which it seemed at the time nature had not equipped her to enter  It is considered natural and almost laudable to break down under all conceivable varieties of strain  A morbid aesthetic developed, in which sickness was seen as a source of female beauty, and beauty in the high fashion sense- was in fact a source of sickness  The requirements of fashion insured that well dressed woman would actually be as frail and ornamental as she looked th  The morbidity of 19 century tastes in female beauty reveals the hostility which never lies too far below the surface of sexual romanticism  The logic which insists that femininity is negative masculinity necessarily romanticizes the moribund woman and encourages a kind of paternalistic necrophilia  The theories which guided the doctor’s practice from the late 19 century to the early 20 th century held that woman’s normal state was to be sick  Doctors stressed the pathological nature of childbirth itself – an argument which also was essential to their campaign against midwives  Tuberculosis the white plague – everyone was affected but women, especially young women were particularly vulnerable often dying at rates twice as high as those of men of their age group
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