The Vulnerable Empowered Woman: Feminism, Postfeminism, and Women's Health

The Vulnerable Empowered Woman: Feminism, Postfeminism, and Women's Health

The Vulnerable Empowered Woman: Feminism, Postfeminism, and Women's Health

The Vulnerable Empowered Woman: Feminism, Postfeminism, and Women's Health


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.


In September 2009, the “Go Red for Women” campaign, sponsored by the American Heart Association, aired an hour-long prime-time event on national television. The show, “Go Red for Women Presents: Choose to Live,” varied little from the “Go Red” campaign’s main message since its inception earlier in the decade: heart disease is not a man’s disease; rather, it is the numberone killer of women. With scores of celebrity advocates and a trendy logo (the image of a flowing red dress), “Go Red” has succeeded in making heart disease a very visible women’s health issue. Indeed, “Go Red” has entered the women’s health marketplace at a time when many women’s health issues are receiving more attention—from medical researchers, the lay public, and the media—than they ever have before.

The increased visibility of women’s health has not gone unnoticed by the public or by scholars. Writing for the New York Times, Roni Rabin notes, “In recent years, women’s health has been a national priority.” The flip side of this attention to women’s health is, according to Rabin, a lack of attention to men’s health. In what she depicts as a zero-sum game of health advocacy and medical research, the success of women’s health advocacy groups in generating media and medical interest in women’s health issues has led to men’s health getting short shrift. The perceived necessity for advocacy for men’s health is a remarkable, if ironic, turn of events given the state of medical practice at the beginning of the women’s health movement in the United States in the late 1960s. Faced with a male-dominated health care system with a clear androcentric bias in terms of both research and practice, activists participating in the . . .

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