How did menopause change from being a natural (and often welcome) end to a woman's childbearing years to a deficiency disease in need of medical and pharmacological intervention? As she traces the medicalization of menopause over the last 100 years, historian Judith Houck challenges some widely held assumptions. Physicians hardly foisted hormones on reluctant female patients; rather, physicians themselves were often reluctant to claim menopause as a medical problem and resisted the widespread use of hormone therapy for what was, after all, a normal transition in a woman's lifespan. Houck argues that the medical and popular understandings of menopause at any given time depended on both pharmacological options and cultural ideas and anxieties of the moment. As women delayed marriage and motherhood and entered the workforce in greater numbers, the medical understanding, cultural meaning, and experience of menopause changed. By examining the history of menopause over the course of the twentieth century, Houck shows how the experience and representation of menopause has been profoundly influenced by biomedical developments and by changing roles for women and the changing definition of womanhood.
Houck…has researched menopausal sentiments expressed by doctors, the popular press and women themselves, from the late-19th century to the present… Much of the information she’s unearthed is both horrifying and fascinating.
All in all, Hot and Bothered is more than an historical narration of culturally driven gender representation. If it receives the readership it deserves it will help women become—more genuinely—themselves.
Houck takes white, middle-class women’s experiences and the complexity of medicine seriously. Activists will find her historical analysis provocative and scholars will be particularly interested in the sources she has identified and examined. Houck’s view of menopause certainly complicates both medical and feminist history, proof that this story from the past can still generate heat.
[Hot and Bothered] examines how, within each epoch, new meanings of menopause emerged when biotechnological developments intersected with changes in the social and cultural landscapes of women’s lives. Houck mines the medical, academic, popular, and self-help literature of each era to support an argument that aging women and menopause have figured prominently in society’s angst about the nature of womanhood, the roles of women, and the practice of medicine. This examination of how feminism, women’s agency, social constructionism, and medicalization intersect in menopause is a helpful addition to the women’s health scholarship.
Judith Houck has produced a highly nuanced account of the social construction of menopause and the politics of the doctor–patient relationship. Carefully tracing the transformation of menopause from an emblem of womanhood’s frailty to a symbol of women’s increasing power in the medical marketplace, she shows that no single explanatory model—neither medicalization, fears of the aging process, nor pharmaceutical victimization—alone explains American women’s current dilemma over the appropriateness of hormone replacement therapy.
A fascinating book. Judith Houck tracks the representations of menopause—from liberation to castration—and shows how the bodies of aging women have been used for a variety of projects across the political spectrum. At the same time, she shows that women’s self-perceptions differed from what advisers and advertisers taught. Students of the pharmaceutical industry, bodies, sexualities, family, and medicine will all want to read Houck’s excellent book.
Drawing on medical literature, the popular press, and women’s accounts from the 1890s to the 1980s, this beautifully written book examines menopause as both cultural construct and physiological transition. Judith Houck provides a nuanced discussion of menopause in relation to medical theory, clinical practice, women’s demands, and husbands’ responses. She shows that women were not victims of the medical profession but acted in ways they thought to be in their interests. In turn, women’s own sense of their menopausal experience mattered in doctors’ responses, shaping medical diagnosis and treatment. Hot and Bothered makes an important contribution to women’s history, medical history, the history of the body, and the history of aging.
- 342 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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