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Views & Reviews Medical Classics

The Captured Womb

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 27 April 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d2531
  1. Andrew Moscrop, GP trainee, Department of Primary Health Care, Oxford
  1. andrewmoscrop{at}

“The wombs of women—whether already pregnant or not—are containers to be captured by the ideologies and practices of those who, to put it simply, do not believe that women are able to take care of themselves.” If Ann Oakley sounds at times a touch histrionic, it does not detract from the fascination and importance of her historical account of the medicalisation of pregnancy. Her prose is, in fact, more astutely provocative than aggressively polemical, and her more biting remarks tend to be kept muzzled in parentheses or corralled into footnotes. The Captured Womb was one of several critical feminist perspectives of motherhood and medicine that Oakley published in the late 1970s and early 80s. In it she charts the professional dynamics and later technological developments by which pregnancy became “a distinct type of …

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