10 December 2015

Review: Sympathy and Science: Women Physicians in American Medicine by Regina Markell Morantz-Sanchez

Hardcover, 464 pages
Published 1985
Borrowed from the library
Read December 2012
Sympathy and Science: Women Physicians in American Medicine
by Regina Markell Morantz-Sanchez

Morantz-Sanchez's monograph traces feminine involvement in medicine in America, from the colonial period onwards. I had a vague memory of this book being interesting, but not very useful/relevant to my own interests, but upon rifling through my notes, I find I took five pages of them! So I must have got something out of it, and it seems a shame that I've largely forgotten that fact in the three(!) years it's taken me to get around to writing this review.

Essentially, Morantz-Sanchez looks at the supposed feminine virtues and the medical ones throughout history. Depending on how both medicine and femininity are constructed, sometimes these are in alignment, sometimes they are divergent, sometimes they correspond in limited ways, i.e., perhaps women are perceived as not having the detachment necessary to be doctors, but because of their sympathy they can be nurses. If a woman is expected to be a moral guardian, she ought not to sully her hands by being a physical one. But this didn't stop many women, of course, and by the end of the nineteenth century, 4-5% of physicians were women, and they had their own dedicated medical programs. She argues that women made better doctors in some senses in the nineteenth century: they were more sensitive to women's rights, they were less prone to lumping people together in categories (e.g., "the poor"), they were more attentive than men after delivery in childbirth cases.

But the rise of scientific medicine drove women out: one of the arguments for women physicians was that they took a holistic and emotional approach, but the particularizing gaze of scientific medicine had no room for that. And then, as nursing rose as a profession, the perception was that women in medicine ought to be nurses-- even though the nurses actually came from a different social class than the physicians had. Women did find a space in public health in the early twentieth century, though; its focus on home life left it as an area where women could claim greater authority than men. This also gave women strong authority in the closely related eugenics movement, and unsurprisingly, imposing rationality on the social environment was often just disguised racism; I don't think Morantz-Sanchez flinched from pointing out the moral lapses of women's involvement in American medicine.

Then, in the 1930s-50s, college-educated women increasingly opted for marriage over professions, and the growing ambivalence to women-only institutions made it hard for women to find a space to do medical training. But-- thanks to capitalism, in the late twentieth century, most professions recouped the women who had left the work force. I thought this was amusing, apparently, as Morantz-Sanchez specifically denies that feminism played a significant role in the shift back to professional women.

So, apparently, in its discussion of morality and science, a book more relevant to my interests than I thought, though perhaps more useful as general background than something to cite in my dissertation.

No comments:

Post a Comment