Mind Over Body: The Pregnant Professional
Publication Date:March 1994
This article, based on interviews about pregnancy, birth, childraising, and career with 31 middle-class Anglo women, examines self- and body image as microcosmic mirrors of social relationships and worldview. All interviewees are professionals in positions of power and authority. They tend to see the body as an imperfect tool that the more perfect self should control. They tend to experience pregnancy and birth as unpleasant because they are so out-of-control, and to emphasize the separation of the self from the body and from the fetus growing inside that body. They demand pain-relieving drugs during labor and are generally pleased with obstetrical interventions in the birth process, as long as they feel that they are the ones making the decisions about which interventions to use and when. Their conscious choice to dissociate themselves from their biology is reflected in and encouraged by the medical management of birth and current directions in reproductive research, raising many questions about the future of American society and the role of women in its reproduction.
Corea, Gena. 1985. The mother machine: Reproductive technologies from artificial insemination to artificial wombs. New York: Harper and Row.
Davis-Floyd, Robbie E. 1987. "Hospital birth routines as rituals: Society's messages to American women," Journal of Pre- and Peri-Natal Psychology, 1(4):276-296.
______ 1990. "The Role of American obstetrics in the resolution of cultural anomaly," Social Science and Medicine 31(2): 175-189. Reprinted in Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Journal 4:3:162-175 and 5:1:23-39.
______ 1992. Birth as an American rite of passage. Berkeley: U. of Ca. Press.
______ 1993. "The technocratic model of birth" in Feminist Theory in the Study of Folklore, eds. Susan Tower Hollis, Linda Pershing, and M. J. Young, U. of Illinois Press.
______ 1994. "The technocratic body: American childbirth as cultural expression," Social Science and Medicine. In press.
Ehrenreich, Barbara, and Deirdre English. 1973a. Complaints and disorders: The sexual politics of sickness. Old Westbury, N.Y.: The Feminist Press.
Ehrenreich, Barbara, and Deidre English. 1973b. Witches, midwives, and nurses: A history of women healers. Old Westbury, New York: The Feminist Press.
Friedl, Ernestine. 1990. "Society and sex roles" in Anthropology: Contemporary Perspectives, eds. Phillip Whitten and David Hunter, Glenview IL: Scott Foresman, pp. 215-219.
Handwerker, W. Penn. 1990. "Politics and reproduction: A window on social change" in Births and Power: Social Change and the Politics of Reproduction, ed. W. Penn Handwerker. Boulder: Westview Press, pp. 1-38.
Kopytoff, Igor. 1990. "Women's roles and existential identities" in Beyond the Second Sex: New Directions in the Anthropology of Gender, eds. Peggy Reeves Sanday and Ruth Gallagher Goodenough. Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania Press.
Life Magazine. 1989. "Birth without women" February, p. 54
Martin, Emily. 1990. "The ideology of reproduction: The reproduction of ideology" in Uncertain Terms: Negotiating Gender in American Society, eds. Faye Ginsburg and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990, pp. 300-314.
McCarthy, Mary. 1954. The group (New York) (Quoted in Richard W. Wertz and Dorothy C. Wertz, Lying-in: A History of Childbirth, in America, 2nd edition. Yale U. Press, 1989. p. 150.)
Rothman, Barbara Katz. 1982. In labor: Women and power in the birthplace. New York: W.W. Norton and Co. (Reprinted in paperback under the title Giving birth: Alternatives in childbirth. New York: Penguin Books, 1985.)
Rothman, Barbara Katz. 1988. Recreating motherhood: Ideology and technology in patriarchal society. New York: W.W. Norton.
Sault, Nicole. 1994. "'Surrogate' Mothers and Godmothers: How the Body Defines Parenthood in the U.S. and Mexico." In Many mirrors: Body Image and Social Relations, Nicole Sault, ed. New Jersey: Rutgers U. Press.
Sault, Nicole, ed. 1994. Many Mirrors: Body Image and Social Relations. New Jersey: Rutgers U. Press.
Shearer, Beth. 1989. "Forced Cesareans: The Case of the Disappearing Mother." International Journal of Childbirth Education 4(1): 7-10.
Spallone, Patricia. 1989. Beyond Conception: The New Politics of Reproduction. Granby, MA: Bergin and Garvey Publishers.
Wertz, Richard W. and Dorothy C. Wertz. 1989. Lying-in: A History of Childbirth in America, 2nd edition. New Haven: Yale U. Press.
Robbie E. Davis-Floyd, Ph.D.
Robbie Davis-Floyd is a cultural anthropologist specializing in medical and symbolic anthropology and gender studies. She teaches at the University of Texas at Austin, and gives talks around the country on ritual, on gender, and on birth in the technocracy. She is the author of numerous academic articles, and of Birth as an American Rite of Passage (U. of Ca. Press, 1992). Books in progress include The Power of Ritual and The Technocratic Body and the Organic Body: Hegemony and Heresy in Women's Birth Choices. Address correspondence to 1301 Capital of Texas Hwy. Suite B128, Austin, Texas 78746.