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Chapter 2

ANTHRCUL 325 Chapter Notes - Chapter 2: Radical Mastectomy, Medical Terminology, Natural Childbirth

Anthropology, Cultural
Course Code
Smadar Karni

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Birth as an American Rite of Passage
Introduction (pages 1-5)
Factors of social class and ethnicity shape both women’s reproductive experiences and the
meanings women attach to these experiences
Subjects in study were well-educated mainstream middle-class white women who could be
expected to receive the best that the American obstetrical system has to offer
Poor women giving birth in hospitals must accept prenatal care form the hospital clinic, are
assigned for birth to whatever residents happen to be on duty, and are usually given little
or no choice as to how their births are managed
Black and Hispanic women often receive unfavorable medical treatment
The Technocratic Model (pages 51-71)
The technocratic model of birth
Technocratic model of birth states that the human body is a machine
Male body is metaphorized as a better machine than the female body because, in form
and function, it is more machine-like (more consistent and predictable, less subject to
the vagaries of nature. and consequently less likely to break down) and straighter-lined
The curves, dips, caves, and hollows of the female figure, in contrast to a man’s linear
figure, seem more evocative of nature’s rivers, hills, and valleys than of culture’s dams,
bridges, and highways
Males, because they are the most machine-like, not only set the standard for the
properly functioning body-machine, but also are thought best-equipped to handle its
maintenance and repair
Uniquely female anatomical features (uterus, ovaries, breasts) and biological processes
(menstruation, pregnancy, birth, menopause) are inherently subject to malfunction
because of their extreme deviation from the male prototype
Medical terminology speaking of these processes uses terms like “degeneration,”
“decay,” and “failed production,” whereas terms used to describe male sperm production
include “remarkable,” “amazing” nature, and its “sheer magnitude”
Our medical system has done a thorough job of convincing women of the defectiveness
and dangers inherent in their specifically female functions
Hysterectomy is the most commonly performed unnecessary operation in the US
Radical mastectomy in second place
“If ovaries were testicles, there'd be a lot fewer of them removed”
It has been a recurrent theme in American medicine that to remove a woman’s sexual
organs is to restore her body to full health and greater potential for productive life
Most standard medical diagrams of various body systems depict the male body to
illustrate the proper functioning of that system, whereas dysfunctional conditions like
obesity are usually depicted with female bodies
Editorials discuss the potential advantages of universal prophylactic Cesarean sections
Since birth is such a dangerous and traumatic process for both woman and child, the
best obstetric care should perhaps come to include complete removal of the risks of
“normal” labor and delivery
Natural childbirth is associated with maternal death, infant death, and maternal tissue
In the hospital, a woman’s reproductive tract is treated like a birthing machine by skilled
technicians working under semi-flexible timetables to meet production and quality-control
The role of American obstetrics in the resolution of cultural anomaly
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