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Marginalizing Women: Images of Pregnancy in Williams Obstetrics

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Abstract:

This research analyzes the historical development of the medical construction of the pregnant body in 17 of 20 editions of Williams Obstetrics, an obstetrical textbook published continually from 1904 to 1997. Examination of the visual imagery of these works produced three key findings. First, depictions of the healthy or “normal” pregnant body are virtually absent throughout the series. Second, visual depictions of women's full bodies adhere to a race-based hierarchy of presentation. Finally, the fundamental discourse about pregnant and female bodies communicated to physicians (primarily) by these images is one of pathology and fragmentation. We conclude that the resulting social and medical construction of the pregnant and female body presented in the Williamsseries is one of disembodiment, abjection, and ultimately marginality. These findings support recent feminist research that criticizes both the increasing erasure of the person of the women from the medical interpretation of pregnancy and the concomitant decrease in women's perceived sense of empowerment as pregnant beings.

Keywords: feminism; pregnancy

Document Type: Standard Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1624/105812400X87617

Affiliations: 1: SHEILA SMITH is an Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. 2: DEIRDRE CONDIT is an Assistant Professor in both the Department of Political Science and Public Administration and the Women's Studies Program at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.

Publication date: April 1, 2000

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