Recommended reading: “The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction”

Image of Prof. Natalie Jolly with a cover image of his recommended book, "The Woman in the Body""
Image courtesy of Natalie Jolly

When I began studying the sociology of reproduction, I was fascinated by Emily Martin’s “The Woman In The Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction”. Since reading it for the first time as a graduate student, I have returned to it again and again as it has provided the infrastructure for so many of my ideas since then. Martin offers a deep dive into how medicine has seen women’s bodies over the past several centuries. She analyzes medical terminology to help us understand the consequences of the language we use (and the ideas they impart) to discuss everything from menstruation to childbirth to menopause. By putting American medicine under the microscope, she encourages us to consider the implicit assumptions we make about women’s bodies, and – in sharing women’s experience of their bodies – she offers us a thoughtful response to questions of authority, agency, and scientific truth that are still at the forefront of today’s debates about the role of medicine in modern society. “What I would like to suggest . . . is that the seemingly abstract code of medical science in fact tells a very concrete story rooted in our own particular form of social hierarchy and control. Usually we do not hear the story, we only hear the ‘facts’ and that is what makes science so powerful. But women – whose bodily experience is denigrated and demolished by models implying failed production, waste, decay and breakdown – have it literally within them to confront the story science tells with another story, based on their own experience.” (Martin 1987: 197)

Natalie Jolly, Ph.D.
School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences
Division of Social and Historical Studies
Promoted to Associate Professor, Spring 2019

Find The Woman in the Body in the Library

Meaningful reads is a recommended book series commemorating the promotion and tenure of faculty at the University of Washington Tacoma. Beginning with the 2017-2018 academic year, newly promoted or tenured faculty are invited to share a book with thoughts on why the book was meaningful to their career or life.

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