Taking our health into our own hands:
A Radical Feminist Guide
to Holistic Health
© 2007 by Nenah Sylver, PhD
Introduction: With a background as as a feminist, a body-
Recently, when I tried explaining about holistic health to a feminist acquaintance, she responded, "Surely you don’t think I should listen to you. You are too prejudiced toward alternative methods." I was flabbergasted. Like her, I had grown up socialized under a Western medical tradition. I knew both modalities. So might it not be worth exploring why I made the switch? Before I could reply, she added, "I’ll have to ask my doctor about it."
Why? I wondered. Who was better equipped to teach her—I, with considerable experience and study in the field, or an allopathically-
Feminists cannot afford to dismiss the holistic health field without exploring it in depth with an open mind. As a group, women are becoming sicker. Except for fewer deaths from childbirth, our health has not substantially improved from that of our grandmothers. Some of the apparent gains we have made in fewer deaths from childbirth are offset by an increase in disability and death from new illnesses (such as Multiple Chemical Sensitivities). Western medicine has provided pitifully few solutions to what ails us.
Women have unique health care needs: we are not simply like men, only with different genitalia. The allopathic medical profession consists of mostly men who are either overtly misogynist or at least androcentric, and do not include women’s special needs in their world view. If your health care provider is a woman, she has still been schooled by the same medical system that purposely arose within the last two centuries to seize control of healing from female midwives and herbalists. Even if women received thorough and compassionate medical care for our special needs related to pregnancy, childbirth, and cancer of the breast and reproductive organs, the mainstream medical system as it currently exists is still woefully inadequate to meet our needs. Finally, most pharmaceuticals are tested on males, so the test results are skewed against people who often weigh less, have a different ratio of fat to muscle tissue, and have a vastly more complex reproductive system. It is time for women to explore other options.
The holistic healing arts treat the person rather than the disease. Practitioners regard symptoms as an indication that the entire system is unbalanced. Rather than use invasive techniques such as the removal of tissue, or prescribe poisons to kill microbes in the body—the word "antibiotic" means "against life"—holistic health providers seek to reestablish the body’s strength and innate healing abilities so it can fight off disease and degenerative conditions itself. Allopathic medicine is based on what author Riane Eisler calls the "dominator model of relating." It teaches its representatives behave like men under patriarchy: The intention is to invade the body, conquer the enemy, be it germs or degeneration of tissue, and fix whatever is wrong. The body is regarded as a machine, with various parts that are isolated from each other and also break down in isolation Holistic healing is based on what Eisler calls the "partnership model of relating." It teaches its representatives to behave like woman in an egalitarian society. The intention is to respect the body, support it with the nutrients that it is missing, and follow its processes, adjusting the support as needed so the body can then heal itself. The body is regarded as a complex, interconnected organism, where the balance or imbalance of each system affects the health of every other system.
If we truly want to create a paradigm shift in how women are treated, we must include health care as part of that change. The kind of health care we receive cannot be separated from the psychological, social and political forces that shape our lives as women.