Out of the Ivory Tower: Feminist Research for Social Change

By Forster, Sonya B. | Nursing History Review, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Out of the Ivory Tower: Feminist Research for Social Change


Forster, Sonya B., Nursing History Review


Out of the Ivory Tower: Feminist Research for Social Change Edited by Andrea Martinez and Meryn Stuart (Toronto: Sumach Press, 2003) (360 pages; $26.95 paper, Canada; $22.95 paper, U.S.)

The collected essays in Andrea Martinez and Meryn Stuart's anthology, Out of the Ivory Tower; Feminist Research for Social Change, are intended for women's studies faculty and students beyond the Canadian border as well as for social arid political activists, nurses, policymakers, and educators in the broader feminist community. Out of the Ivory Tower seeks to build bridges among disciplinary traditions at the University of Ottawa to promote the dissemination of feminist knowledge beyond the walls of the university's Institute of Women's Studies (IWS). Additionally, the editors hope to raise awareness of feminist work being done within the University of Ottawa and how this work can gain voice outside the academic sphere in order to support political agendas that are significant to the IWS.

The book chapters are an eclectic collection of essays featuring a diverse array of methodologies and scholars. They are concerned with women's relationships to their bodies, history, public and private spheres, and new technologies. In the spirit of feminist epistemology that rejects an essentialist attitude, the essays reflect the diversity of women's issues across the globe with a keen eye toward practical recommendations. The introduction lays out the book's organizing framework. Four sections are embedded in the following research themes: (1) recovering histories and meanings (Chapters 1 to 4); (2) the language of sexuality and negotiating the female body (Chapters 5 to 8); (3) shaping equity for women in public spaces (Chapters 9 to 11); and (4) the intersection of gender, class, language, and ethnicity in Cyberspace (Chapters 12 to 14). Each theme interlocks with issues of gender, race, ethnicity, social class, language, age, and sexual orientation. The essays successfully explore socially constructed binary opposites of masculinity and femininity, public and private spheres, the home/work divide, control and resistance of the body, hetero- and homo-sexuality, and equity and inequity. Each chapter centralizes the deconstruction of these binary opposites.

Of particular interest to scholars of nursing history are Parts 1 and 2. In the first chapter, Sharon Cook critically investigates the silence surrounding young women smokers and the failure to view smoking as a gendered behavior. Through a content analysis of educational texts as well as film and television, Cook found that only in the past two decades has the public begun to include women in the discussion about the dangers of smoking. In Chapter 4, Cynthia Toman examines military nurses during World War II in Canada and how they experienced "sexualization of their bodies within the hegemonic male military hierarchy" (p. 14). She successfully deconstructs the binary opposites of femininity and masculinity as they relate to the gendered nursing profession. Also, she analyzes the image of the uniform to explore the tension between caring and combat as well as the power imbalances embedded in a gendered workplace. Using archival resources, professional literature, and oral histories, Toman argues that the military "reinforced gender status through relative rank, restrictions on nurses' power of command and denial of professional status and rank to male nurses" (p. 110).

Part 2 introduces the reader to the abuse of women's bodies. Aoua Bocar discusses female genital mutilation and how this ritual was brought to North America from Africa. Her essay concludes with practical strategies developed by the African women's movement, and serves as a concrete example of how social change can be obtained beyond the ivory tower. …

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