The Herstory of American Midwifery: How Professional Medicine Co-opted The Art of Giving Birth
Plevek, Andrea Marie
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As far back as history can document, women have been those deemed most qualified to facilitate births, aiding other women in a process only they are capable of understanding. These women are traditionally called 'midwives,' a position for which no man was considered until very recently. A midwife is simply defined as a woman " ... who assists other women while they are giving birth," and until the rise of the male-dominated medical profession, only women were considered qualified for this process. As men began to take interest in the art of healing throughout Europe, Western medicine was also gaining legitimacy in the New World, and in both cases, excluding women. Women who practiced any type of healing were characterized as ignorant, filthy, ungodly practitioners who should have no part in the medicine of a civilized people. Since its inception Western allopathic medicine has seemingly progressed a great deal, but it has also taken its toll on women, both as patients and as practitioners. As educated, upper-class men began to legitimize and "professionalize" their brand of medicine in Europe, and later in the United States, women healers were outlawed, chastised, and accused of the most heinous crimes, most famously of witchcraft. The rise of the male-dominated medical profession has led to the suppression of midwifery as a viable practice and the co-optation of the birthing process from women, particularly within the fields of gynecology and obstetrics. Through obtaining and sustaining control over the depiction of "normal" women's health, mental state and body, men have created a self-supporting system in which little effort is needed to keep women believing in false images created of them and their medical needs.