Concepts of Gendered Disease

  • Mary Ann G. Cutter
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 81)


Much has been said in the latter part of the twentieth century about the importance of addressing more closely women’s disease and health. Discussions have led to an increase of women physicians, women’s health care centers, and the involvement of women in clinical research projects. The call is for more attention on women’s disease and health in order to better serve women. In other words, we are called to pay closer attention to how gender frames disease. This chapter takes a closer look at the role gender plays in the construction of disease, thereby drawing upon the analysis provided earlier on the social construction of disease, particularly Chapters 6, 7, and 8. It argues that a non-neutral, or rather a non-gender-neutral, account of disease is non-defensible. The task, then, is to determine the kind, level, or degree of gender bias in the framing of women’s disease that is appropriate for judgment and action.


Anorexia Nervosa Eating Disorder Pelvic Inflammatory Disease Gender Bias Gender Matter 
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Chapter Endnotes

  1. 2.
    Note the rise of women’s health centers in major academic institutions and local communities across the U.S. in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    The interplay among gender, ethnicity, and class is complex. Gender is a term used by sociologists to refer to certain social categories: masculinity, femininity, etc. These categories refer to a complex set of characteristics and behaviors prescribed for a particular sex by society (e.g., aggressiveness, nurturing) and learned through the socialization experience. Ethnicity designates sociological divisions of groups of people based on physical characteristics, language, and customs (e.g., African-American, Irish-American). Class refers to a group of people as a unit according to economic, occupational, or social status (e.g., rich, poor). While it is traditional in modem western thought to associate strength with the masculine, one notes that black slave women in 19`h century America were considered strong. Female college professors are considered upper class even though they earn no more than an experienced plumber (Rothenberg, 2001, p. 9). More work is needed on the interplay among gender, ethnicity, and class, especially in the context of disease and health. Interesting work has been done studying anorexia nervosa, which in the DMS is considered a mental disorder. Thompson (1994), for example, provides data to support the view that eating disorders begin as ways women cope with various traumas, including sexual abuse, racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, and poverty. An understanding of the relation between trauma and the onset of eating disorders will lead to better ways of responding to a condition that affects women across racial and class boundaries.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    In fact, since at least the time of Hippocrates (approx. 460–377 B.C.) (1943) and Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) (1984), medicine has used gender to justify its actions towards women (Tuana, 1988).Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Sex (L. Sexus,sex) is a term used by biologists to refer to certain biological categories: male and female. Identification of sex is base on key factors: chromosomal patterns (e.g., XY, XX), hormonal make-up (e.g., testosterone, estrogen), and genital structure(e.g., penis, clitoris).Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    This distinction can be traced to the Ancient times (Fausto-Sterling, 1987, pp. 62–69), but is not original to medicine.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    A hermaphrodite possesses some ovarian and some testicular tissue.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    A male pseudohermaphrodite has testes and some aspects of the female genitalia but lacks ovaries.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    A female pseudohermaphrodite has ovaries and some aspects of the male genitalis but lacks testes.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Here it is interesting to reflect on the implication of cloning from the standpoint of revising our understanding of sexuality and gender, and the power that women have (assuming the technology) in being able to clone without assistance from men.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    Nevertheless, it is important to recognize the absence of any single gender-norm cross-culturally and particularly within a given culture (Veatch 1992; Spector, 1996; Osborne, 2001 ).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary Ann G. Cutter
    • 1
  1. 1.University of ColoradoColorado SpringsUSA

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