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Medicine still needs feminism

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 07 April 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2623
  1. Helena Watson, specialist registrar, University Hospital Lewisham, London SE13 6LH, UK
  1. helenawatson85{at}

Women continue to lack equality of opportunity, writes Helena Watson, considering family planning, subfertility, and childbirth

Whenever I hear of the shackles of patriarchy, I implore, “Come and see where I work!” On labour ward a diverse group of mainly women thrive in a high stress environment that requires equal measures of quick thinking, physical stamina, skill, and compassion. Our foremothers would be proud. Over the past century childbirth has become safer and less painful; women are no longer prisoners of their biology thanks to contraceptives, and the stigma of subfertility is being reduced at the frontier of medical science. Couple this with vast improvements in breast cancer care and awareness, and you might think that feminism’s work is done in medicine. Indeed, some believe the pendulum has swung too far.

I would argue that in complacency and in gratitude we ignore legions of feminist issues still left to fight.

Firstly, consider the benevolent sexism deeply embedded in the culture of pregnancy: the patronising tendency to shelter women from the truths of childbirth. This attitude results from the gentlemanly tradition of protecting so called vulnerable …

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