We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

The Vulnerable Empowered Woman

Feminism, Postfeminism, and Women's Health

Tasha N. Dubriwny

Publication Year: 2012

The feminist women’s health movement of the 1960s and 1970s is credited with creating significant changes in the healthcare industry and bringing women’s health issues to public attention. Decades later, women’s health issues are more visible than ever before, but that visibility is made possible by a process of depoliticization

            The Vulnerable Empowered Woman  assesses the state of women’s healthcare today by analyzing popular media representations—television, print newspapers, websites, advertisements, blogs, and memoirs—in order to understand the ways in which breast cancer, postpartum depression, and cervical cancer are discussed in American public life. From narratives about prophylactic mastectomies to young girls receiving a vaccine for sexually transmitted disease, the representations of women’s health today form a single restrictive identity: the vulnerable empowered woman. This identity defuses feminist notions of collective empowerment and social change by drawing from both postfeminist and neoliberal ideologies. The woman is vulnerable because of her very femininity and is empowered not to change the world, but to choose from among a limited set of medical treatments.

The media’s depiction of the vulnerable empowered woman’s relationship with biomedicine promotes traditional gender roles and affirms women’s unquestioning reliance on medical science for empowerment. The book concludes with a call to repoliticize women’s health through narratives that can help us imagine women—and their relationship to medicine—differently.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: Critical Issues in Health and Medicine

Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF (33.9 KB)
pp. 1-4


pdf iconDownload PDF (30.4 KB)
pp. v-6

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (27.1 KB)
pp. vii-10

Over the years I have been lucky to have an amazing support network of friends, colleagues, and mentors. While I take responsibility for any flaws in this book, I recognize that the book emerges from—and indeed my research process relies upon—the dozens of conversations, brainstorming sessions, hallway meetings, and chats over coffee with this group of supportive individuals. ...

read more

Introduction: Public Discourse and the Representation of the Vulnerable Empowered Woman

pdf iconDownload PDF (61.0 KB)
pp. 1-12

In September 2009, the “Go Red for Women” campaign, sponsored by the American Heart Association, aired an hour-long prime-time event on national television. The show, “Go Red for Women Presents: Choose to Live,” varied little from the “Go Red” campaign’s main message since its inception earlier in the decade: heart disease ...

read more

Chapter 1 Theorizing Postfeminist Health: Risk and the Postfeminist Subject

pdf iconDownload PDF (96.5 KB)
pp. 13-32

One of my primary arguments throughout this book is that contemporary representations of women’s health have been disarticulated from feminism and that this disarticulation has significant ramifications for women. In this chapter, I offer a brief discussion of the women’s health movement and the activist ...

read more

Chapter 2 Genetic Risk: Prophylactic Mastectomies and the Pursuit of Cancer-Free Life

pdf iconDownload PDF (154.1 KB)
pp. 33-67

For the week of September 15, 2008, both Time and Newsweek published extensive articles about the war on cancer. Both articles argued that while Americans have been actively engaged in the war on cancer for almost four decades, the war is not even close to being won.1 As the title of the Newsweek ...

read more

Chapter 3 Postfeminist Risky Mothers and Postpartum Depression

pdf iconDownload PDF (156.6 KB)
pp. 69-105

In her landmark 1976 book Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, Adrienne Rich describes motherhood as an institution that works—through a series of organizational structures and cultural belief systems—to restrain women’s agency by reducing their lives to the domestic sphere. The ...

read more

Chapter 4 The Postfeminist Concession: Young Women, Sex, and Paternalism

pdf iconDownload PDF (154.7 KB)
pp. 107-142

In the spring of 2007, headlines across the United States noted an emerging women’s health controversy. A New York Times headline declared “Furor on Rush to Require Cervical Cancer Vaccine,” and the Dallas Morning News offered this depiction of the issue: “Preventing Cancer or Promoting Sex?” ...

read more

Chapter 5 Feminist Women’s Health Activism in the Twenty-first Century

pdf iconDownload PDF (171.5 KB)
pp. 143-181

In this chapter, I offer one possible vision for a feminist women’s health politics in the twenty-first century that attempts to answer some of the substantial problems with the postfeminist narratives about women’s health that circulate in mainstream public discourse. In the conclusion of their 1999 edited volume ...

read more

Afterword: From Margin to Center

pdf iconDownload PDF (44.3 KB)
pp. 183-188

I care deeply about women’s health. As I was writing the preceding chapters, I reflected on the many ways my life—my happiness, security, and well-being— rests upon the health and well-being of the women around me. Perhaps more than anyone else, my mother’s experiences have guided my interests and my passion—her memories ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (147.5 KB)
pp. 189-215


pdf iconDownload PDF (91.5 KB)
pp. 217-229


pdf iconDownload PDF (51.6 KB)
pp. 231-235

read more

About the Author

pdf iconDownload PDF (33.1 KB)
pp. 237-248

Tasha N. Dubriwny is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Texas A&M University. She has published essays on women, health, and politicss have guided my interests and my passion—her memories ...

Further Reading

pdf iconDownload PDF (22.1 KB)
pp. 249-250

E-ISBN-13: 9780813554020
E-ISBN-10: 0813554020
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813554006
Print-ISBN-10: 0813554012

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Critical Issues in Health and Medicine