For Her Own Good: 150 Years of the Experts' Advice to Women

by Barbara Ehrenreich

Paperback, 1989




Anchor (1989), Edition: Reissue, 384 pages


From the Publisher: A provocative new perspective on female history, the history of American medicine and psychology, and the history of child-rearing unlike any other.

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½ (105 ratings; 3.8)

User reviews

LibraryThing member wealhtheowwylfing
Ehrenreich and English look at what kind of advice we've been given for the last two hundred years. Although they provide a good deal of social, political, economic, and general background to the development and evolution of experts, the part I found most fascinating was on the creation of what we
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consider medical doctors. I hadn't realized how culturally specific, oft-changing, and purposefully created our modern conception of medicine is.

For instance, the cultural ancestors of modern doctors were just dudes who had enough money and class status to go to university and learn classical languages. They never learned anatomy or how to treat illnesses in any evidence-based manner. In fact, to maintain their status as "gentlemen," they didn't touch their patients (instead leaving the dispensing of medicines, bone-setting, childbirth, etc to others) or receive payment for their services (they were instead given "gifts"). But given that their medical knowledge was entirely based in classical literature, they were not particularly helpful. Instead, most people used what we now term folk-medicine (practiced by a healer in their area), which *was* mostly evidence-based and very much in line with modern conceptions of medicine (understandings of anatomy, palpating the lymph nodes, knowing what the patient ate, what their stools looked like, etc). But "regular" doctors had the rich on their side, so when science and the scientific method began to gain credence, they were able to lay claim to science first, while simultaneously suing to have all doctors who didn't go to their specific universities be considered criminals if they practiced medicine. It worked! Oh classism. And thus, for the next hundred years or so, the UK and US were left with doctors who had a very narrow understanding of what to look for to judge health. Mental state, nutrition, environment...all of this fell by the way-side.

Ehrenreich and English also talk a bit about how various credentials came to be and the double-binds created by psychologists for women. And don't think women were martyred saints, either--white, middle and upper class women were instrumental in all sorts of bs movements to "improve" the poor and minority groups. Overall, a good read, with nuggets of biting sarcasm to match the facts and anecdotes.
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LibraryThing member Meggo
This is not as enjoyable a book as Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed in America", but it did sneak up on me as I read it. The general theme is that for the past 100 years women have been getting good advice from people who truly do not have their best interests at heart. Reading this book did not turn
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me into a bitter, cynical crone, but it easily could have. Overall, an interesting read, if disillusioning.
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LibraryThing member krasiviye.slova
An interesting work of deconstruction, Ehrenreich and English sketch the rise of the "scientific" expert in American society and trace the history of the advice these experts have given women on how to be women. The authors find the problem is the unwilligness people to question the structure of
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society and relying on a false binary between the choices of assimilating to the norms of the culture or adjusting to life in the margins. Of course, being a theology geek, I immediately thought: well, here's a place a hearty dose of the Jesus Movement (and I'm thinking of holy vagrants, not the pseudo-Paul) could be useful.

I feel that the authors passed over the role religion and the religious "experts" have played in doling out advice to women that has trapped them in a false dichotomy between sacrificing themselves to create an oasis or giving up on morals and ethics to assimilate to the outside world. In the epilogue they touched briefly on how the neo-romantics (Phyllis Schafly, Focus on the Family, and company) have relied upon religion rather than science to justify a binary division of the genders into private women and public men. This is different from the romanticism of the previous eras which used science to add legitimacy to demand that women stay barefoot and pregnant in their kitchens. They also touch briefly on the model for God adopted by the neo-romantics, "a God who has made his peace with the consumer society" (320). Religion is a powerful force in any society, either for good or ill. Unfortunately, in America at the moment, it appears that Christianity's public image has been hijacked by people who are using it for ill.

Reconstruction is where this book, as do many in the area, falls short. Ehrenreich and English fail to offer up much in the way of a plan of action. The authors offer little in the way of suggestions as to exactly how society should begin to address the problems created by a marketplace mentality in which human beings are reduced to cogs in an assembly line. There's a clear and convincing argument that humans much change the system, but not a plan of how to change the system or even a particularly detailed vision of what the institutional structures should look like. (There's a newer edition out as of 2005, they may have added something to this effect.)
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LibraryThing member bnbooklady
This exploration of the ways in which medicine and science (and more recently, consumer science) have stereotyped and targeted women is interesting and edifying despite its density. I enjoyed the read, but it did not live up to my expectations, given that Ehrenreich's other books are highly
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readable and virtually impossible to put down. Though this was much more of a text book than I'd hoped or anticipated, it was insightful and eye-opening, and it should be a must-read for modern women.
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LibraryThing member bean-sidhe
Read this book!!! If you are even thinking about it then it will interest you enough to be a phenomenal experience. Ms. Ehrenreich and Ms. English have written a compelling, eloquent, and, perceptive history of modern "Medicine" with special interest in its treatment of women. Not only will this
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satisfy your craving for good writing but it will change your perspective on the science of medicine.
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LibraryThing member SparklieSunShine
Sooo good. I would recommend this to anyone. I think it’s important as well as interesting. I am also a history junkie. So I love it on that level as well. I will say though, it is a bit dry in spots so it may take a chapter or two to get into.
LibraryThing member paisley1974
I can only read so much of this at a time, until I get too mad, and have to put it done. It's well done!
LibraryThing member apartmentcarpet
For two centuries, doctors, psychiatrists, scientists, and politicians have been telling women what to do. Ehrenreich spins a delightful history that encompasses the trends in contraception, child rearing, marriage, and a woman's role in society. I was alternately outraged and amused, but never
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LibraryThing member LynnB
This book examines how experts, mostly male, (from medicine to consumer science) have studied, judged and prescribed all aspects of women's lives...from marriage to child rearing to every aspect of a woman's role in society.

It's a thorough, highly readable, analysis. Reading this gave me a deeper
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understanding of how socio-economic changes affected both men and women, and how the "Women's Lib" movement came to be, in many ways, inevitable.
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LibraryThing member amaraduende
I should have paid more attention to the author and less to the title. Here I was, expecting gems like "make him his favorite dinner on Fridays to celebrate, never Mondays, else he'll wonder what you're atoning for" or "never paint your toenails anything other than pink or cream before marriage. or
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after" or some other inane, giggle-worthy things. But oh, Barbara, I didn't notice you there. Wait, why are you filling my nice funny old-fashioned book with horrible facts about social movements that piss me off?
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LibraryThing member Devil_llama
A history of how the status of women has changed since the Industrial Revolution, when the modern gender roles were delineated based on the new divisions of labor. Very well researched, and well written, it suffers quite a bit, especially in early chapters, from a suspension of skepticism in the
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face of "woman's" medicine - the various herbals and potions that were used before the birth of modern medicine. There is a great deal of accuracy in the description of the failure of medicine at that time, but the presentation of these other methods as effective is perhaps a bit credulous. Otherwise, a very solid work by a writer with a sense of irony.
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
I really did not enjoy this book with a very left feminist point of view that much. The one chapter I enjoyed somewhat focused on women who practiced medicine in the 19th century, mostly without formal training and a license. Other chapters focused on the invention of "housework" and on child
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rearing, particular focusing on Dr. Spock's advice. I do not recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Co-authors Ehrenreich and English trace two centuries of women’s history from the industrial revolution into the 1970s. A 2004 epilogue extends the history into the early 21st century. Ehrenreich and English are critical of the growth and influence of scientific experts who proffered advice to
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women (mostly middle-class) on how to live. The goal posts continually moved so that each succeeding generation of “experts” corrected the “advice” of the preceding generation. The Secret History of Home Economics covers some of the same ground in a much more engaging manner.
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Original language


Physical description

7.99 inches


0385126514 / 9780385126519
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