Research Summary

This has been a wonderful and generative, if not frustrating at times, experience. In this summary I am going to go over my results and discuss possible directions for future research. As previously discussed, I was able to produce five main themes from three interviews. These themes are first OB/GYN experiences, subject of medicalization, adherence to medical authority, exposure to sex education, and financial barriers to access. The first four are of most relevance to my conclusions. In short, medicine as it is practiced by 21st-century physicians in America strictly enforces a larger reductionist and oppressive narrative surrounding women, their bodies, and their sexuality. Women are instructed to passively subject themselves to invasive procedures under the guise of medical authority rooted in pastoral power. These lessons are first taught in formal sex education, either through misinformation or an absence from curriculum. While positive relationships with a female mentor, often a mother, can combat this misleading and/or confusing information, women’s subjection to the medical gaze makes this messaging inescapable. 

As a pilot study with limited time and resources, this research does not give adequate attention to participant demographics and the relationship of race, class, ability, sexuality, and/or nation to women’s health care. While unrelated to this study’s results, I would like to take a moment to discuss these demographic intersections, their relevance to health care, and future directions for similar research that does account for them. Considering the various positionalities present in American women, one typology could not fully encompass different gender, race, ability, and/or class contexts. Even so, giving different intersections a platform highlights the similarities and differences within those intersections. Recognizing differences allows for a more complete analysis. Therefore, future research should aim to apply these findings to new groups of women.

Given the historical roots of OB/GYN, race is a particularly potent aspect of modern gynecological care. Black women, in particular, are regularly subjected to stereotypes and disrespect from white male doctors. As a result, black women use reproductive and preventative health care less often than other women (Warren-Jeanpiere 2006). The reasons behind this include distrust, lack of or inadequate insurance, a shortage of representative physicians, child care, and transportation issues (Warren-Jeanpiere 2006). Transgender patients also experience subpar health care. In particular, transgender men with vaginas and/or breasts are regularly treated by physicians who have not been trained to treat their particular needs; one study that surveyed OB/GYNs concluded that “80% of surveyed OB/GYNs had not received training in residency on the care of transgender patients” (Unger 2015:114). OB/GYNs lack of knowledge and experience manifests itself as negative and harmful experiences for transgender patients. A separate study found that “70% of transgender adults reported harsh or abusive language, blame for their health status, or physical roughness or abuse from health care professionals” in a national report (Obedin-Maliver 2015:109).

Overall, this research project sheds some light on largely uncharted territory. Going forward, social scientists must further investigate women’s health as a nexus of power relationships between individual women and patriarchy while privileging women’s lived experiences. Thank you to the Charles Center for funding and supporting this research project, and for anyone who has taken the time to follow along!