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Gender, Medicine and the Menopausal Body:How Biology and Culture Influence Women Experiences with Menopause
Unformatted Document Text:  Winterich: Gender, Medicine and Menopausal Body Gender, Medicine and the Menopausal Body: How Biology and Culture Influence Women Experiences with Menopause At menopause, women in the United States can find themselves suddenly warm or sweating, and their periods might become erratic, shorter or heavier. Menopause is a biological and physical experience, yet sociologists do not tend to examine the sweating, bleeding body except to research how often bodily changes occur. With few exceptions that explore the role of culture (Dillaway 2005; Jones 1994; Martin 1987; Winterich and Umberson 1999; Winterich 2003), the analytical scope in most menopause research focuses on how many physical and emotional changes women report, such as hot flashes, erratic bleeding, vaginal dryness or mood swings. Neglecting the body in this way supports the epistemological assumption that the body is a product of nature that is separate from culture (Williams and Bendelow 1998). Also, such research poses a social problem because it risks supporting gendered assumptions that women’s biology controls their moods and behavior. Finally, it bolsters the biomedical approach to menopause, which promotes drugs for women’s so-called symptoms; 1 meanwhile, the larger social conditions that contribute to women’s embodied experiences are overlooked. Embodiment scholars argue that sociologists should consider an integrative approach to research topics relating to the body, biology and culture so that they can illuminate the dialectical relationship between them (Birke 2003; Grosz 1994; Williams and Bendelow 1998; Williams, Birke and Bendelow 2003). These researchers favor approaches that combine biological analyses with social ones or “both/and” approaches, rather than binary “either/or” ones. Binaries perpetuate the belief that biology and the body are fixed and immutable--that the body is passively “acted upon…by various external agents” (Birke 2003: 42)--while culture and the mind are fluid and open to transformation. A shift in paradigms, however, would allow scholars to conceive of 1

Authors: Winterich, Julie.
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Winterich: Gender, Medicine and Menopausal Body
Gender, Medicine and the Menopausal Body:
How Biology and Culture Influence Women Experiences with Menopause
At menopause, women in the United States can find themselves suddenly warm or
sweating, and their periods might become erratic, shorter or heavier. Menopause is a
biological and physical experience, yet sociologists do not tend to examine the sweating,
bleeding body except to research how often bodily changes occur. With few exceptions
that explore the role of culture (Dillaway 2005; Jones 1994; Martin 1987; Winterich and
Umberson 1999; Winterich 2003), the analytical scope in most menopause research
focuses on how many physical and emotional changes women report, such as hot flashes,
erratic bleeding, vaginal dryness or mood swings. Neglecting the body in this way
supports the epistemological assumption that the body is a product of nature that is
separate from culture (Williams and Bendelow 1998). Also, such research poses a social
problem because it risks supporting gendered assumptions that women’s biology controls
their moods and behavior. Finally, it bolsters the biomedical approach to menopause,
which promotes drugs for women’s so-called symptoms;
meanwhile, the larger social
conditions that contribute to women’s embodied experiences are overlooked.
Embodiment scholars argue that sociologists should consider an integrative
approach to research topics relating to the body, biology and culture so that they can
illuminate the dialectical relationship between them (Birke 2003; Grosz 1994; Williams
and Bendelow 1998; Williams, Birke and Bendelow 2003). These researchers favor
approaches that combine biological analyses with social ones or “both/and” approaches,
rather than binary “either/or” ones. Binaries perpetuate the belief that biology and the
body are fixed and immutable--that the body is passively “acted upon…by various
external agents” (Birke 2003: 42)--while culture and the mind are fluid and open to
transformation. A shift in paradigms, however, would allow scholars to conceive of
1


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