My blogging gets me on a conference program

Hey folks,

I turned my ramblings on the 50th anniversary of the contraceptive pill into a paper proposal for the 2011 annual meeting of the American Association for the History of Medicine.  Yay!   The title of my paper is “The Pill at 50: Scientific Commemoration and the Politics of American Memory.”  I’ll write more later but just thought I’d share this exciting news!

Added later:  here’s the abstract:

This paper will use coverage of the 50th anniversary of the contraceptive pill as a case study of collective memory and commemorative practice in the history of science and medicine. As Pnina Abir-Am observes in her introduction to Commemorative Practices in the Sciences, a “commemorative mania” has swept the world in the past several decades and relationship between memory and historical writing has become “a major element of both scholarly and public discourse in the twenty-first century.” I will show that like the Clemence Royer centennial celebration described by Joy Harvey in the same volume, celebration of the Pill’s 50th anniversary was a “focal point for feminism, politics, and science” in the United States. For the scientists who developed and tested the first contraceptive pills, the anniversary of the Pill was a way to affirm their collective professional past as well as reassert their professional authority in the present. The celebrations also illustrated culture wars over reproductive rights and the meaning of controversial events in the history of science and medicine in the United States. Finally, I will show that feminist analysis of this historical event was not monolithic, but reflects the complicated history of women’s relationship to contraceptive technology and medical experimentation since the 1960s.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Explain the ways in which different political, scientific, and social groups commemorated the 50th anniversary of the contraceptive pill.
  2. Understand how memory studies can be used as an analytical tool in the history of medicine.
  3. Explore the difficulties historians face in interpreting a politically controversial subject for the public.

Voting Matters because Women’s Health Matters

via National Women’s Health Network.  As a counter the dire reports that women are apathetic about the midterm elections, I’m passing along this reminder from NWHN:
“If you care about women’s health, you should also care about voting.  Here are just a few ways that tomorrow’s election might affect women’s health.
  • Research on alternative treatments for hot flashes, safe and effective contraceptive methods for women of all sizes, and the best ways to prevent pre-term labor are all funded by federal research grants – some candidates want to cut funding for the National Institutes of Health.
  • The FDA approved two new contraceptives this year after carefully reviewing the evidence of their safety and effectiveness – some candidates want Congress, not FDA to decide which contraceptives should be approved.
  • Women who need abortions are more likely to have their abortion early in the first trimester, when it is safest, in part due to the availability of medical abortion using mifepristone – some candidates want to ban medical abortion.
  • Many young women can now get health insurance coverage through their parents, thanks to health care reform – some candidates want to de-fund health reform.

If you care about women’s health, remember to vote tomorrow, November 2rd.  Start by checking out the candidates running in your district.  Find out what they think about women’s health issues.  If you need help figuring out which district you’re in, which candidates are running, and where your polling place is, check out the easy-to-use tool created by the League of Women Voters.  Let’s make sure we vote to protect women’s health on Tuesday.”

Our Bodies, Our Blog has an even more direct message — get out and vote!

History of Health Activism Conference at Yale

Here is a Yale Daily News report on the conference, “Health Activism in the 20th century,” that I participated in at Yale last weekend.  (minor correction — MADD stands for Mothers Against Drunk Driving!)  As the reporter was only there for Saturday (bright and early at 8:30am!) and I was the first presenter, he didn’t get a chance to observe my brilliant presentation, Creating a Middle Ground: Feminist Health Activists and Emergency Contraception in the United States, 1970-2000! (I’m giving a shorter version of this paper at the History of Science Society meeting next weekend )  Here are the main points:

This paper looks at the changing position of the National Women’s Health Network (NWHN) on emergency contraception, aka the “morning-after pill.” Initially this group was a vehement opponent of emergency contraception and other forms of hormonal birth control.  By the early 1990s the organization had joined broader efforts to develop a dedicated emergency contraceptive product.  NWHN found that there was sufficient evidence about the safety and effectiveness of this contraceptive method to “cautiously support its use.”
More importantly, increasing restrictions on abortion and access to federally-funded birth control under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush convinced the organization that they needed to help ensure that women had access to emergency contraception when other birth control methods failed.

This paper is a chapter out of a book-length project on the history of emergency contraception in the United States, which is under contract with Rutgers University Press. This project aims to use the history of emergency contraception to illuminate key themes in the politics of birth control and abortion since the 1960s.

In terms of relevance to other issues in health activism in the twentieth century, one of my main points is how the history of emergency contraception reflects the professionalization of the women’s health movement. Since the 1970s, feminist health activists had gradually become insiders in reproductive health by earning professional credentials, which gave them the ability to reform organized medicine and health care policy from within. Although some of their contemporaries accused these newly-minted professionals of “selling-out” rather than furthering the cause of women’s self-empowerment,” the corresponding radicalization of the medical “establishment” was equally significant. This book is intended to contribute to recent scholarship on how women have used experience of the physical body as a source of knowledge production and feminist practice regarding women’s health issues. For example, Wendy Kline argues that “body knowledge” was central to the women’s health activism of Second Wave feminism, and that this feminist framework was abandoned as the women’s health movement adopted the professional credentials and scientific language of the health care establishment.
I suggest that rather than being a departure from Second Wave feminist strategies that were based on knowledge of the biological body, recent activism on emergency contraception demonstrates how women have continued to use personal histories of their bodies to transform reproductive health research and healthcare policy. Since the early 1990s, emergency contraception has served as a “bridge issue” that brought together former adversaries, including feminist health organizations, population and family planning people, and groups representing women of color who were the main targets of attempts to control the “population crisis” in the United States.

This coalition did not arise without a struggle and had to overcome much bad faith generated by sexism in the medical profession and the racist and coercive policies of the population movement. My book shows how these diverse groups created a “middle ground” between an older liberal feminist position that tended to support technological innovations such as hormonal contraception; and a more radical feminist position that criticized the use of hormones but was otherwise in favor of reproductive rights.

Reproductive Rights: Here are the Churches

via RHReality Check, where Trusting Women asks, “On Health and Rights, What Happened to the Churches?”  TW writes about growing up in a liberal church that offered sex education classes.  She writes:

“Church was the place I first heard the word feminism.  Church was the place I first practiced putting a condom on a banana.  It was the place where I had openly gay and lesbian adult mentors and ministers.  The congregation my father grew up in gave the local Planned Parenthood their first home.  My first minister was a member of the Clergy Consultation Service, a network of liberal clergy that referred women to safe abortion providers in the days before Roe versus Wade.”

She then asks, “What happened to the churches?”   Here’s her answer:

“Liberal religions (particularly Protestants) feel guilty and ashamed on an institutional and cultural level.  Between the mid 19th and mid 20th century, liberal religion was at its apex. It lauded the possibility of human potential, placed science and empirical method right next to (if not above) Scripture, believed that human civilization was evolving morally and civically. Advances in science and medicine fueled and confirmed this hope and hubris.  Then the World Wars happened. The Holocaust happened, aided and abetted by liberal institutions, included liberal churches in Europe, governments, and academia.  Maybe evil really did exist in this world, maybe human beings were not so great after all.  Maybe the growth of liberal thought not only coincided with great democratic and medical advances, but also with brutal colonial and imperial endeavors; brutal injustices like Tuskegee Experiments and the recently revealed syphilis experiments in Guatemala. Maybe liberalism was not as perfect and wonderful as we thought…..”

My reply was:

Overall this is a thoughtful post but seriously — liberal protestant churches were solely to blame for the Holocaust?  What about the Pope? Or  Father Coughlin who blamed the Depression on an international Jewish conspiracy?

Also, what about the liberal church members, white and black, who participated in the Civil Rights movement, the anti-war movement, and other movements for social justice in the 1960s?  Liberal clergy were also active in reproductive rights:  see Tom Davis’ book _Sacred Work: Planned Parenthood and its Clergy Alliances_.”

Furthermore, look at the extensive history of reproductive rights activism outlined by the group Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.  Their most recent work includes counter-protests against Operation Save America (formerly Operation Rescue) , a strong presence at the March for Women’s Lives, opposition to the nominations of Supreme Court Justices Roberts and Allito, and the “Lift Every Voice for Reproductive Justice” program for voter empowerment during the 2008 election.

In other words, the activism of liberal churches on behalf of reproductive rights and other areas of social justice has not gone away.  It’s the media that has turned their back on the work of liberal churches.

Ableism and NARAL Pro-Choice America

via NARAL Pro-Choice America, which is running a pro-choice slogan campaign.  Here are the choices:

I voted for the first one — why?  Because using “insanity” to discredit opponents trivializes persons with mental illness — a group that already experiences social marginalization and oppression.  It’s an example of what the blog FWD/Forward refers to as liberal ableism, a variation on hipster ableism, hipster racism and liberal sexism, as well as liberal racism,

Oh yeah, in case some folks think I’m just singling out feminist organizations, I’m not too happy with Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity either.

Symposium: 20th Anniversary of Office of Research on Women’s Health

x-post Women Historians of Medicine:

[My note:  To be fair, this is a scientific symposium on the future of research on women’s health, not the history of the ORWH.    As to Green’s r concerns about the Women’s Health Initiative — that was actually funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.  The Office of Research on Women’s Health held a celebratory conference on the WHI in 2006.  I imagine that Dr. Healy would mention this in her address. Also, the ORWH has sponsored many projects on a variety of women’s health issues and even women’s health history – for example, they co-funded my current project on the history of emergency contraception. Attendees would no doubt be familiar with the findings of the Women’ Health Initiative and/or Bernadine Healy would cover this in her opening address.  ]

For those unfamiliar with this office, here’s a brief institutional history.]


From Monica Green:

Dear WHOMers,

I just got this notice from the OSSD (Organization for the Study of Sex Differences).  This sounds like a major event but, alas, aside (perhaps) from the keynote by Bernadine Healey, there no historical perspective on how the Office of Women’s Health came to be established and how its trajectory has been set.  (Shockingly, at least from the titles, I see nothing at all about the Women’s Health Initiative and allied studies and how they blew away standard thinking on hormone replacement therapy.)

Is anybody on the list planning to go to this?  If so, might you send a brief report of the discussions to the list?

Monica Green
Professor of History
4th floor, Coor Hall
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ  85287-4302

—— Forwarded Message
From: Viviana Simon <>
Reply-To: <>
Date: Thu, 9 Sep 2010 09:41:42 -0700
To: Monica Green <>
Subject: ORWH 20th Anniversary Scientific Symposium and Celebration

Dear OSSD Members,

I wanted to make you aware of the following symposium celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the NIH. If you are in the area, you may consider attending.


Scientific Symposium
Date: September 27, 2010
9:00 a.m.- 5:15 p.m. (Registration will open at 8:00 a.m.)

Location: Natcher Conference Center
(NIH Campus in Bethesda, MD)

On September 27, 2010, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will hold a symposium to highlight some of the scientific advances that have increased our understanding of women’s health, differences between males and females, and implications for sex/gender-appropriate clinical care and personalized medicine. At this exciting event, the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) will launch the third scientific agenda for women’s health research for the coming decade, entitled A Vision for 2020 for Women’s Health Research: Moving Into the Future with New Dimensions and Strategies.

The daylong event, to include a reception, will provide a forum to recognize some of the major contributors to the establishment of ORWH and will celebrate progress in the field of women’s health research realized through the dedicated work of investigators, clinicians, and scientific colleagues from a wide range of disciplines and arenas-women and men. The 20th anniversary celebration will acknowledge the role of the many advocates who have worked tirelessly to energize support and set the stage for the realization of a vision-ensuring NIH-wide attention to research on women’s health issues across the lifespan and the role of sex/gender in health and disease.

This symposium is open to the public.


Why We Need Palin of Our Own

via-, where Anna Holmes and Rebbecca Traister make a good case that while the Left has good reason to be outraged by Sarah Palin’s nonsense, they should also be critical of  “their own failings as much as Ms. Palin’s ascension. Since the 2008 election, progressive leaders have done little to address the obvious national appetite for female leadership. And despite (or because of) their continuing obsession with Ms. Palin, they have done nothing to stop an anti-choice, pro-abstinence, socialist-bashing Tea Party enthusiast from becoming the 21st century symbol of American women in politics.”

This article has been discussed widely on other feminist blogs — I’d like to address some comments made by Amanda Marcotte at Double X:

“Liberals can’t be fed a fantasy woman because we don’t even agree on what our fantasy is. Many liberals are openly uneasy with feminism, lured by conservative arguments about how women having too much freedom would mean the end of sexual fun for men but the beginning of a sea of dishes and nagging. Many male liberals, particularly in positions of power, are openly made uncomfortable by feminist demands, even when they agree intellectually that women should have rights. (Witness the way that Democratic men in Congress erupted into childish giggling when asked by their female colleagues to listen to a presentation on the economic value of contraception subsidies.)  Even when liberal men can manage not to squirm, many still have a tendency to dismiss “women’s issues” as second-tier concerns, as if half the population were a narrow special interest group, like people who want ferret-owning to be legal in New York City.”

Uh, yes that’s exactly the problem — progressive men tend not to take women’s issues seriously and can be quite sexist when discussing women (see Melissa McEwan’s excellent coverage of sexism in the 2008 presidential campaign.  As ‘Liss likes to say, if you’re not a feminist, you’re not progressive, you’re  fauxgressive).

So, yes we need a progressive version of Palin who isn’t afraid to use the “f-word” (feminism) in public and will stand up for other women — ’cause the menz sure as hell aren’t doing it for us — see this hilarious satire from Name It, Change It:

In Your Face

Mommy wars and children’s rights

via Kittywampus

This is an excellent commentary on the latest cat fight to erupt in the feminist blogosphere, prompted by guestblogger Mai’a at Feministe

Mai’a writes:

“you do not have a right to child free spaces.

there is this weird thing in western culture, especially n american culture, where people/adults seem to believe that they have a right to discriminate against children.
recently, i was hanging out at a bar, when a friend called and invited me to come hang out for a few drinks and chill time as the sun came up. cool. then, i heard a bit of whispers in the background and the question posed to me: is aza with you?
ummm…what? why? does that matter? . .

im not a feminist ( yeah, i said it…shrug). but i dont understand people who claim to be feminist on one hand, and on the other hand think that children should be designated to certain public and private spaces, not mixing in ‘normal’ public areas, such as restaurants, stores, airplanes, etc. cause in us culture, when you create little reservations for children, you are really creating little reservations for mothers. it is the mother who will be sent away to take care of the child. and how is that supporting all women and girls?”

I’ll set aside for a moment the irony of someone who says she’s not a feminist being invited to guest post at a blog called “Feministe” and get to the heart of the matter: this woman seems to have a rather narrow vision of children’s rights. As someone who works in childhood/youth studies I acknowledge that children deserve the same human rights as adults (e.g. free speech, due process, bodily autonomy), but their rights also include being cared for in a manner appropriate for their developmental stage.   At the risk of sounding anti-Mom (I’m one of those “selfish” childfree women after all), bringing your child to a bar and keeping her up to the wee hours while you drink the night away is, as both Kittywampus and Karmithia at Alas sagely pointed out just plain irresponsible.

On the other hand, I cringe at the anti-child and anti-mommy snark in the comments on this post at Jezebel.  Can’t we all just get along?  I don’t mind if you and a few of your mommy friends bring your little ones along to the pub for a early evening cocktail, as long you make sure the little darlings don’t wreck havoc on the waitstaff and the other patrons.

So, back to question of  why this “not a feminist” post is on a feminist blog — well, here’s the conspiracy theory I offered at Kittywampus’ blog:

” It makes me wonder whether there is a male chauvinist puppet-master behind these blogs who likes to create and then watch cat fights!”

Abortion after IVF and the economics of choice

via  XX Factor.  In this article Amanda Marcotte comments on  the alarm raised over a small number of women who decide to have an abortion following IVF.  I agree entirely with Marcotte’s criticism of people who argue “that the women who have abortions after IVF are bad people, too fickle to deserve rights.”  If we really trust women, we should respect all choices.

That said, I need to observe the problem with this article  is that it only addresses a tiny percentage of women in the United States who are privileged enough to have health insurance that will pay for IVF and abortion  (in fact, the story grew out of cases in Great Britain, where both IVF and abortion are covered by the National Health Insurance).

What about the millions of women who are denied access to abortion because it’s not covered by Medicaid (and under the new “health reform” package will not be covered by private health insurance either)?  Or the millions of women whose choices to reproduce are constrained by economic circumstances, or if they do find the resources to reproduce, are condemned as being “selfish”?

This isn’t the only article at XX Factor that bugs me — it seems this column is aimed almost entirely at privileged women who have the money and leisure to worry about things like Snooki and denim-colored diapers.

Seriously, is this sort of writing really advancing rights for all women? Or is this type of women’s blogging simply feeding into a larger addiction to snark?  Maybe I’m expecting too much. . .

Shirley we’re (not) beyond race and gender

via Historiann

who links to a post on the Shirely Sherrod affair by  Tenured Radical.

Historiann picks up on my comment to TR’s post,

“speaking of Shirley, “surely” we are beyond gender too? Seriously, I can’t help thinking that it was easy to treat this employee as expendable because she’s female.”

[note:  if you don’t get the surely/Shirley thing, go back and watch “Airplane” for an explanation].

Historiann agrees, saying it’s easy “to demonize women, especially women of color (like those who speak just once hypothetically about wise Latinas, f’rinstance), and discredit them as authority figures, whether they’re merely self-published writers or members of the current Presidential administration.  Somehow it’s all too easy to believe that a woman needs to be disciplined or even humiliated for shooting her mouth off again, and it’s all too difficult to believe that she’s deserving of due process, a fair hearing, or even of a complete reading of her professional opinions and accomplishments.  Van Jones was canned last summer without delay, and he was a dude.  But, Tenured Radical reminded us today about how easy it was during Bill Clinton’s presidency for the Administration to throw an African American woman appointee or would-be appointee under the bus (Lani Guinier and Dr. Jocelyn Elders, for example), especially if and when they dare to write or speak frankly about race or sexuality.”

Right on, and thanks for the link love, Historiann!