Feminist Theory in the fields of Medicine and Nursing

I am writing this in a hospital lounge, with a feeling of relief about my mother’s medical situation, and great appreciation for the medical staff, particularly the nurses. The last time I accompanied my mother overnight in a hospital was twenty years ago. At that time, I had the distinct feeling that the nursing staff felt that our presence as human beings was an intrusion on their professional commitment to tend to the physical needs of my mother as a human body. Tonight, the nurses have been so very attentive, friendly, chatty, eager to explain and accommodate–interactive, personal, and customized to adapt DH terms; social, communicative, holistic, and “caring” to use feminist terms.
I’ve been reading the article by Joan W. Scott assigned to Group 1 this week: “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” so I might have been inclined in any case to think of this noticeable shift in nursing culture in feminist terms. What led me to want to write this post was one nurse’s enthusiasm about the external catheter they were going to be using– assuring me that it was not at all painful, she proudly noted that the “Purewick” was “invented by a woman for women”: https://agilisit.com/podcasting/purewick-ceo-dr-camille-newton-talks-about-her-roller-coaster-ride-from-rejections-to-successful-exit-and-everything-in-between/.

This led me to think about how feminism and medicine is not only about increasing the number of women practicing medicine, but also about changing how all medical practitioners practice medicine. This reminded me of Scott’s description of how the use of the word “gender” in feminist scholarship (and eventually in “Gender Studies”) was in part a strategy for bringing feminist scholarship into mainstream university disciplines like history.
The main aspects of the impact of feminism on medicine with which I was previously familiar were: advocacy to correct the problem of “the default male” as was discussed in our readings for Week 2, in which human anatomy was defaulted to male, and female bodies were viewed as anomalies to the norm; and consciousness-raising about discrimination in medical research and care, e.g., as recently addressed in an episode of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight: Bias in Medicine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TATSAHJKRd8. But now I found myself thinking of an ethics of care, as outlined by Carol Gilligan, and found this discussion from 2012:

Brenda Green, “Applying Feminist Ethics of Care to Nursing Practice.” Abstract

“Through acculturation and socialization, caring involves both gendered and socially diverse patterns of understanding and behaving in the world. As a result, the implications for care are embedded in the personal and social values and experiences associated with gender, power, and politics. The general ethos of this paper will explore a feminist care ethic that emerged from the work of Carol Gilligan. This standpoint offers particular peripheral advantages as a feminist theorists’ critique of caring includes the critical examination of relationships from the position of people who have systematically been excluded from power. Although this perspective is theoretically challenging, it offer insights to the significance of caring for the other, the self and the community”

I’ve only begun reading the following article, from the medical journal The Lancet, Feb. 09, 2019. I might want to add further reflections later.

Malika Sharma, “Applying Feminist Theory to Medical Education

“To adequately address gendered issues of sexual harassment, wage gaps, and leadership inequities, medical institutions must interrogate medical education. Feminist theories can help to understand how power operates within our classrooms and at the bedside. This scoping review maps the four main ways in which feminist theory has been applied to medical education and medical education research—namely, critical appraisal of what is taught in medical curricula; exploration of the experiences of women in medical training; informing pedagogical approaches to how medicine is taught; and finally, medical education research, determining both areas of inquiry and methodologies. Feminist theory has the potential to move clinicians and educators from theory to action, building bridges of solidarity between the medical profession and the community it is called to serve.”

The direction in which I would like to think about this for the purposes of our course is: if there can be feminist approaches to medical education, then maybe some of these can be mapped onto feminist text analysis?