Herstory: Women’s Health and Self-Help

This weekend marks the one year anniversary of the largest single day protest in US history—the Women’s March—when on January 21, 2017, 4.2 million people marched across the US in more than 600 US cities, and from Antarctica to Zimbabwe, at least 261 more sister marches cropped up worldwide. To celebrate this pivotal protest, UC Press is highlighting titles across subjects as part of our Herstory series, with today’s focus on women’s health and self-help. While just a preview of our publishing “herstory,” these titles showcase the inspiring stories for the continuing fight towards reproductive justice and access to safe healthcare.


Women’s Empowerment and Global Health: A Twenty-First-Century Agenda
Edited by Shari Dworkin, Monica Gandhi,Paige Passano 

Despite the rise of a human rights–based approach to health and increasing awareness of the synergies between women’s health and empowerment, a lack of consensus remains as to how to operationalize empowerment in ways that improve health. This volume presents thirteen multidisciplinary case studies that demonstrate how science and advocacy can be creatively merged to enhance the agency and status of girls and women.

 

 

Better Safe Than Sorry: How Consumers Navigate Exposure to Everyday Toxics
By Norah MacKendrick (Forthcoming May 2018; preorder today)

Through an innovative analysis of environmental regulation, the advocacy work of environmental health groups, the expansion of the health-food chain Whole Foods Market, and interviews with consumers, Norah MacKendrick ponders why the problem of toxics in the U.S. retail landscape has been left to individual shoppers—and to mothers in particular. She reveals how precautionary consumption, or “green shopping,” is a costly and time-intensive practice, one that is connected to cultural ideas of femininity and good motherhood but is also most available to upper- and middle-class households. Better Safe Than Sorry powerfully argues that precautionary consumption places a heavy and unfair burden of labor on women and does little to advance environmental justice or mitigate risk.

Reproductive Justice: An Introduction
By Loretta J. Ross and Rickie Solinger

Written by two legendary scholar-activists, Reproductive Justice introduces students to an intersectional analysis of race, class, and gender politics. Loretta J. Ross and Rickie Solinger put the lives and lived experience of women of color at the center of the book and use a human rights analysis to show how the discussion around reproductive justice differs significantly from the pro-choice/anti-abortion debates that have long dominated the headlines and mainstream political conflict. In a period in which women’s reproductive lives are imperiled, this book is an essential guide to understanding and mobilizing around women’s human rights in the twenty-first century.

 

The Zero Trimester: Pre-Pregnancy Care and the Politics of Reproductive Risk
By Miranda R. Waggoner

Public health messages encourage women of reproductive age to anticipate motherhood and prepare their bodies for healthy reproduction—even when pregnancy is not on the horizon. Some experts believe a pre-pregnancy care model reduces risk and ensures better birth outcomes than the prenatal care model. Others believe it represents yet another attempt to control women’s bodies. Waggoner shows how the zero trimester rose alongside shifts in medical and public health priorities, contentious reproductive politics, and the changing realities of women’s lives. Waggoner argues that the zero trimester is not simply related to medical and health concerns; it also reflects the power of culture and social ideologies to shape both population health imperatives and women’s bodily experiences.

Jailcare: Finding the Safety Net for Women behind Bars
By Carolyn Sufrin

In this time when the public safety net is frayed, incarceration has become a central and racialized strategy for managing the poor. Using her ethnographic fieldwork and clinical work as an ob-gyn in a women’s jail, Carolyn Sufrin explores how jail has, paradoxically, become a place where women can find care. Focusing on the experiences of incarcerated pregnant women and the practices of the jail guards and health providers, Jailcare describes the contradictory ways that care and maternal identity emerge within a punitive space presumed to be devoid of care. Sufrin argues that when understood in the context of the poverty, addiction, violence, and racial oppression that characterize these women’s lives and their reproduction, jail can become a safety net for women on the margins of society.

Taking Baby Steps: How Patients and Fertility Clinics Collaborate in Conception
By Jody Lyneé Madeira

In Taking Baby Steps, Jody Lyneé Madeira takes readers inside the infertility experience, from dealing with infertility-related emotions to forming treatment relationships with medical professionals and confronting difficult medical decisions. Based on hundreds of interviews, this book investigates how women, men, and medical professionals negotiate infertility’s rocky terrain to create life and build families—a journey across personal, medical, legal, and ethical minefields that can test mental and physical health, friendships and marriages, spirituality, and financial security.

 

Gray Divorce: What We Lose and Gain from Mid-Life Splits
By Jocelyn Elise Crowley

Gray Divorce is a provocative look at the rising rate of marital splits after the age of 50. From the outside, many may ask why couples in mid-life and readying for retirement choose to make a drastic change in their marital status. Yet, nearly one out of every four divorces in the U.S. is “gray.” Renowned author and researcher Jocelyn Elise Crowley uncovers the reasons why men and women divorce—and the penalties and benefits they receive for their choices. She analyzes the differing experiences of women and men in this transition—the seismic shift in individual priorities, the role of increased life expectancy, and how women are affected economically while men are affected socially. With a realistic yet passionate voice, Crowley shares the personal positive outlooks and the necessary supportive public policies that must be enacted to best help the newly divorced.


Women Can’t Win: Ongoing Offensives against Maternal and Reproductive Health

By Miranda Waggoner, author of The Zero Trimester: Pre-Pregnancy Care and the Politics of Reproductive Risk

In late July of this year, the Republican-led Senate’s attempt to repeal Obamacare failed rather dramatically, punctuated by John McCain’s widely discussed—and widely viewed—thumbs-down vote. More recently, another Republican-led attempt at repeal, known as the Graham-Cassidy proposal, again disintegrated due to lack of support from several key GOP senators. For at least the foreseeable future, the spirit of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act seems here to stay, but this development does not mean that women and mothers in America are safeguarded from having key components of their health care—or dignity—stripped away.

For some time now, opponents of Obamacare have vehemently targeted family planning services, as witnessed by the Trump administration’s recent expansion of religious exemptions for contraceptive coverage. But, at the same time, GOP lawmakers have also argued that maternity care services are not “essential.” This two-pronged hostility—pointedly disregarding both maternity care and general reproductive health care—is somewhat curious because maternity care has characteristically been considered politically “safe,” while reproductive care—in its association with contraception and abortion—has been deemed politically “toxic.” I trace the trajectory of these two reproductive silos in my book, The Zero Trimester. I show how health-care professionals have sought to expand the time period of a healthy pregnancy from the typical nine months to twelve months, by creating a “zero trimester” period during which women are defined as “pre-pregnant.” In doing so, non-pregnant women’s health care is defined in terms of maternity care. The rise of the “zero trimester” was in part predicated on the assumption that policy makers care about mothers and babies—that they are in the “safe” zone. Yet, in a political environment that does not value maternity care or reproductive care, such an approach seems destined to fail.

This approach is also unfair to women. The thrust of “zero trimester” initiatives promoted by health professionals and government agencies has been public-service announcements and health campaigns aimed at alerting individual women who are of reproductive age that they inhabit a perpetual zero trimester, and must act “responsibly.” One of the most controversial of these messages was the 2016 announcement by the CDC that all women of reproductive age not using birth control should avoid alcohol.

How can we best navigate a political climate that is hostile to maternity care but that simultaneously tends to define women by their maternal capacity? Taking away women’s health care services is obviously not a step in the right direction, but neither are individual-level recommendations to women that make them feel guilty about their everyday behaviors. Comprehensive health care coverage for all potential reproducers—both women and men—across their life course is one important piece of the solution to improve health, especially maternal and child health, in America. Policies that enhance population health, such as paid parental leave or reducing toxic pollution, would also spur vast and positive change in maternal and child health in particular. The stakes are high: women in the U.S. continue to die of birth-related complications at a much higher rate than do women in other rich nations, and babies in the U.S. are more likely to die in their first year than in comparable countries.

If we cease working toward social policies that value the health of all citizens—of women and men, of mothers and fathers, and of babies and children—the most fitting image for the state of health care in this country will continue to be a thumbs-down.


Miranda R. Waggoner is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Florida State University. Her research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.