The feminist women’s health movement of the 1960s and 1970s is credited with creating significant changes in the healthcare industry and bringing women’s health issues to public attention. Decades later, women’s health issues are more visible than ever before, but that visibility is made possible by a process of depoliticization
The Vulnerable Empowered Woman assesses the state of women’s healthcare today by analyzing popular media representations—television, print newspapers, websites, advertisements, blogs, and memoirs—in order to understand the ways in which breast cancer, postpartum depression, and cervical cancer are discussed in American public life. From narratives about prophylactic mastectomies to young girls receiving a vaccine for sexually transmitted disease, the representations of women’s health today form a single restrictive identity: the vulnerable empowered woman. This identity defuses feminist notions of collective empowerment and social change by drawing from both postfeminist and neoliberal ideologies. The woman is vulnerable because of her very femininity and is empowered not to change the world, but to choose from among a limited set of medical treatments.
The media’s depiction of the vulnerable empowered woman’s relationship with biomedicine promotes traditional gender roles and affirms women’s unquestioning reliance on medical science for empowerment. The book concludes with a call to repoliticize women’s health through narratives that can help us imagine women—and their relationship to medicine—differently.
TASHA N. DUBRIWNY is an assistant professor in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program and the Department of Communication at Texas A&M University.
"Dubriwny clearly explains the connections between neoliberal and postfeminist ideologies and effectivelyillustratesthe ways in which these ideologies work in specific healthcare contexts. Herwork is an original contribution to an important and growing conversation."
— Kelly Pender, Virginia Tech
"This important critique convincingly problematizes the increased visibility of women's health in U.S. culture. A crucial text for scholars and activists committed to moving beyond postfeminist appropriations of women's lives."
— Samantha King, author of Pink Ribbons, Inc.
"This focused volume critiques three discourses on women's health issues situated in personal empowerment narratives. This will be valuable for advanced scholars both within biomedicalization-oriented research and outside it. Recommended."
The Vulnerable Empowered Woman is an obvious choice for gender and race courses, particularly dealing with health, but also neoliberalism. Beyond the obvious audience, this book is a good choice for an academic who wishes to better understand the 'language' of a colleague who studies postfeminism and related topics. The three contemporary topics covered in the case studies are highly accessible to the reader and Dubriwny’s careful attention to define terms that may be unfamiliar, often with examples, helps the reader move through each chapter."