Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Editorial

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Editorial

Article excerpt

Both editors of this volume have been involved in women's studies and women's health for almost 3 decades. In a chapter written more than a decade ago and published in The Knowledge Explosion, a volume in which the contributors analyzed the impact of women's studies on the disciplines, one of us noted the intertwining of women's health with the second wave of feminism:

One force motivating the wave of feminism begun in the 1960s was women's health concerns. Women sought the right to control their own bodies, to have access to information about their physiology and anatomy, to define their own experiences as a valid aspect of their health needs, and to question the androcentric bias found in the hierarchy of the male-dominated health care system and its approach to research and practice. (Altekruse & Rosser, 1992).

Activist individuals, encouraged partially by the women's movement in the late 1960s, brought legal challenges, including class action suits, against medical schools that placed quotas on the numbers of women, as well as racial- and ethnic-minority men, who were admitted. Their legal challenge of the quota system was among the first of many critiques that women presented to the medical profession.

During the past 3 decades, the steady increase in the percentage of women physicians has constituted one of the most dramatic changes undergone by the health care professions. In 1964-1965, women represented 8.9% of medical students and 6.8% of the graduates; by 1994-1995, women constituted 41.1% of the students and 38.1% of graduating MDs (Bickel, Croft, Johnson, & Marshall, 1997). The latest statistics suggest that the proportion of women in U.S. medical schools has held steady at about 45%. Women activists can claim responsibility for initiating this demographic shift within the medical profession.

The process and history of the interactions between health care consumers, professionals, feminists, activists and politicians that have brought women's health into the foreground of health research and curricular agendas provide instructive insights that lay the groundwork for this Women's Studies Quarterly issue devoted to women's health. The field of women's health serves as a model for positive interactions between women's studies and disciplinary research and curriculum, changing institutions, and activism in several ways:

1. It identified major gaps in research and practice and initiated a critique of the current health care system at all levels.

2. It originated from, and remains connected with, the nonmedical community.

3. It is interdisciplinary and requires interdisciplinary teams for research and clinical practice, as well as collaboration with colleagues in nonmedical academic fields.

4. It developed new curriculum focused on women's health and elaborated the women's studies model for integrating gender into curriculum in all aspects and levels of health education.

5. It emphasizes race, class, sexual orientation, and other diversities among women.

Further examination of these five elements may facilitate understanding of the links and themes of the essays in this special issue devoted to women and health.

Identification of Gaps in Research and Practice

Activists from the women's movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s fought for women's entrance into all professions, including science and medicine. As women became scientists and as feminist critiques evolved (Bleier, 1984; Fausto-Sterling, 1992; Fee, 1981, 1982; Harding, 1986, 1993, 1998; Longino, 1990; Rosser, 1988, 1997), sources of bias and absence of value neutrality in science, particularly biology, were revealed.

Not until a substantial number of women had entered the profession of science (Rosser, 1986) could this bias resulting from androcentrism be exposed. Once the possibility of androcentric bias was discovered, there was a recognition of the potential for distortion on a variety of levels of research and theory: in the choice and definition of problems to be studied, the exclusion of females as experimental subjects, bias in the methodology used to collect and interpret data, and bias in theories and conclusions drawn from the data. …

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