Making Loud Bodies “Feminine”: A Feminist-Phenomenological Analysis of Obstetric Violence
- 1.5k Downloads
Obstetric violence has been analyzed from various perspectives. Its psychological effects have been evaluated, and there have been several recent sociological and anthropological studies on the subject. But what I offer in this paper is a philosophical analysis of obstetric violence, particularly focused on how this violence is lived and experienced by women and why it is frequently described not only in terms of violence in general but specifically in terms of gender violence: as violence directed at women because they are women. For this purpose, I find feminist phenomenology most useful as a way to explain and account for the feelings that many victims of this violence experience and report, including feelings of embodied oppression, of the diminishment of self, of physical and emotional infantilization. I believe that the insights to be found in feminist phenomenology are crucial for explaining how and why this phenomenon is different in kind from other types of medical violence, objectification, and reification. Iris Marion Young’s description of feminine existence under patriarchy, as conformed by a perpetual oppressive “I cannot,” is at the center of my analysis. I argue that laboring bodies are at least potentially perceived as antithetical to the myth of femininity, undermining the feminine mode of bodily comportment under patriarchy and thereby seriously threatening the hegemonic powers. Violence, then, appears to be necessary in order to domesticate these bodies, to make them “feminine” again.
KeywordsChildbirth Labor Obstetric violence Rape birth Iris Marion Young Feminist phenomenology Body
This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (Grant No. 162151/).
Compliance with Ethical Standards
I am deeply indebted to the two blind reviewers of this paper, whose constructive advice and comments helped me to transform a narrow reading of Obstetric Violence into a much broader and careful project.
Conflict of interest
The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.
- Arp, K. (2001). The bonds of freedom: Simone de Beauvoir’s existentialist ethics. Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company.Google Scholar
- Beauvoir, S. (1948). The ethics of ambiguity (B. Frechtman, Trans.). New York: Philosophical Library (originally published 1947 as Pour une morale de l’ambiguïté, Paris: Gallimard).Google Scholar
- Beauvoir, S. (1989). The second sex (H. M. Parshley, Ed., Trans.). New York: Vintage Books (originally published 1949 as Le deuxième sexe, 2 vols, Paris: Gallimard).Google Scholar
- Béhague, D., Victora, C. G., & Barros, F. C. (2002). Consumer demand for caesarean sections in Brazil: Informed decision making, patient choice, or social inequality? A population based birth cohort study linking ethnographic and epidemiological methods. British Medical Journal, 324(20), 942–945.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Bellón Sánchez, S. (2014). Obstetric violence: Medicalization, authority abuse and sexism within Spanish obstetric assistance. A new name for old issues?. Utrecht: Erasmus Mundus Master’s Degree in Women’s and Gender Studies, Utrecht University.Google Scholar
- Bergoffen, D. (1997). The philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir: Gendered phenomenologies, erotic generosities. Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
- Bodner, K., Wierrani, F., Grünberger, W., & Bodner-Adler, B. (2011). Influence of the mode of delivery on maternal and neonatal outcomes: A comparison between elective cesarean section and planned vaginal delivery in a low-risk obstetric population. Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 283, 1193–1198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Bruekens, P. (2001). Over-medicalisation of maternal care in developing countries. In V. De Brouwere & W. Van Lerberghe (Eds.), Safe motherhood strategies: A review of the evidence (pp. 191–202). Antwerp: ITG Press.Google Scholar
- Charles, S. (2013). Disempowered women? The midwifery model and medical intervention. In S. LaChance Adams & C. R. Lundquist (Eds.), Coming to life: Philosophies of pregnancy, childbirth and mothering (pp. 215–240). New York: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
- Fernández, I. O. (2013). PTSD and obstetric violence. Midwifery Today, 105, 49–68.Google Scholar
- Gaskin, I. M. (2003). Ina May’s guide to childbirth. New York: Bantam Dell.Google Scholar
- Gaskin, I. M. (2011). Birth matters: A midwife’s manifesta. New York: Seven Stories Press.Google Scholar
- Hayes-Klein, H. (2014). Forced episiotomy: Kelly’s story. Human Rights in Childbirth. http://humanrightsinchildbirth.com/kellys-story. Accessed 13 Feb 2015.
- Johnson, C. (2013). The political “nature” of pregnancy and childbirth. In S. LaChance Adams & C. R. Lundquist (Eds.), Coming to life: Philosophies of pregnancy, childbirth and mothering (pp. 193–214). New York: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
- Landau, I. (2010). Violence and postmodernism: A conceptual analysis. Reason Papers, 32, 67–73.Google Scholar
- Lebowitz, L., & Wigren, J. (2005). Phenomenology of rape. Prepared for the Air Force Sexual Assault Response Coordinator Training Program, 1–27.Google Scholar
- Leder, D. (1998). A tale of two bodies: The Cartesian corpse and the lived body. In D. Welton (Ed.), Body and flesh: A philosophical reader (pp. 117–129). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
- Lundgren, I. (2011). The meaning of giving birth from a long-term perspective for childbearing women. In G. Thomson, F. Dykes, et al. (Eds.), Qualitative research in midwifery and childbirth: Phenomenological approaches (pp. 122–123). London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Martin, E. (1987). The woman in the body: A cultural analysis of reproduction. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
- Merleau-Ponty, M. (1964). The primacy of perception and other essays on phenomenological psychology, the philosophy of art, history and politics. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
- Powers, J. (Ed.). (2009). Labor pains and birth stories: Essays on pregnancy, childbirth, and becoming a parent. San Bruno: Catalyst Book Press.Google Scholar
- Reed, A. (2008). Not a happy birthday. The f word: Contemporary UK Feminism. http://www.thefword.org.uk/features/2008/03/not_a_happy_bir. Accessed 13 Feb 2015.
- Rich, A. (1986). Of woman born: Motherhood as experience and institution. New York and London: Norton.Google Scholar
- Richland, S. (2008). Birth rape: Another midwife’s story. Midwifery Today, 85, 42–43.Google Scholar
- Scarth, F. (2004). The other within: Ethics, politics, and the body in Simone de Beauvoir. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
- Wolf, J. (2012). Deliver me from pain. Anesthesia and birth in America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar