Author

Julia Mercer

Date of Award

5-20-2018

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Department

Women's & Gender Studies

First Advisor

Katie Oliviero

Second Advisor

Amy Farrell

Language

English

Abstract

In 2018, midwifes, doulas, herbalists, acupuncturists, and yoga instructors continue to perform healing that is adjacent to, if not entirely separate from, conventional, institutional medicine. When situated within the historical context of the systematic erasure of female healers constructed by feminist scholars including Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, Karol Weaver, and Kathy Davis, the contemporary presence of these practitioners is radical, particularly within dominantly conservative areas. Drawing upon seven original, qualitative interviews conducted with local female healers in the Pennsylvania and broader mid-Atlantic region, this research suggests that these alternative practitioners both explicitly and implicitly recognize how the patriarchal capitalist medical institution seeks to control female bodies by restricting bodily knowledge and subjecting the latter to the clinical gaze, as defined by Michel Foucault. In turn, alternative healers resist the discipline of female bodies through education, spatial design, and the recreation of what feminist theorist Silvia Federici terms the “commons.” While their work is disruptive and radical, it also often relies on a neoliberal approach to medicine. In this way, alternative female healing has endured over time by occupying a space of simultaneous resistance and privilege.

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