Showing 1 - 4 of 4 annotations associated with Ehrenreich, Barbara
Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live LongerLast Updated: Sep-20-2018
- Teagarden, J. Russell
We would all like to live longer and healthier lives; the question is how much of our lives should be devoted to this project, when we all, or at least most of us, have other, often more consequential things to do (p. xv)
Ehrenreich doesn’t reject the project of getting longer and healthier lives per se, but she believes that what this project requires isn’t always worth the results it produces. The time and energy needed could be put towards better ends.
Like many other critics, Ehrenreich details how Biomedicine often comes up short on outcomes for all the time, effort, and money it requires from the people it serves. She covers the familiar territories of over diagnosis and over utilization of health care products and services, and goes further to suggest that many common medical practices are more ritualistic and humiliating than evidence-based and effective.
Unlike other critics, Ehrenreich takes on other activities directed at health outside of Biomedicine. She questions whether the physical fitness industry delivers on its promises to produce healthier lives and especially whether there is a net benefit based on the time and energy required from people who take it on. She crosses to the other side of the mind-body continuum when she next aims at the “madness of mindfulness” (p. 71). She finds the mindfulness movement offers more hubris than solutions.
Ehrenreich worries that the combined effects of the authority of Biomedicine, the physical fitness frenzy, and the madness of mindfulness have created a social context that treats death as something that can be avoided or at least delayed. This social context thereby implies that not actively engaging in efforts to fight off death “can now be understood as a suicide” (p. 97).
Ehrenreich offers some reasons for why these efforts to improve health and prolong life do not always produce benefits that in her view are worth pursuing to the exclusion of other activities resulting in a better life (or death). Drawing on examples from cell biology and immunology, she suggests that what is at work are disease processes too complex for the human mind to apprehend completely combined with the human impulse to simplify, which lead to practices, procedures, and prescriptions that in the best case are ineffective and in the worst case harmful.
At the end of the book, Ehrenreich laments the efforts health care professionals, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and commercial entities make to push older people into commitments for “successful aging.” Those making these efforts argue “aging itself is abnormal and unacceptable” (p. 164). This commitment requires older people to spend a lot of time in clinics, gyms, and wellness classes—“The price of survival is endless toil,” is how Ehrenreich formulates it (p. 163). She doesn’t think this price is worth what is required of people who are supposed to benefit, and advises her friends to insist “on a nonmedical death, without the torment of heroic interventions to prolong life by a few hours or days” (p. 208).
I continue to elude unnecessary medical attention and still doggedly push myself in the gym, where, if I am no longer a star, I am at least a fixture. In addition, I retain a daily regimen of stretching, some of which might qualify as yoga. Other than that, I pretty much eat what I want and indulge my vices, from butter to wine. Life is too short to forgo these pleasures, and would be far too long without them (p. 207).
- Duffin, Jacalyn
Summary:A “drive-by mammogram” leads the writer, Barbara, to a biopsy of a suspicious breast lump. She awakes from the fog of anesthesia to hear the surgeon’s bland remark: “Unfortunately, there is a cancer.” Welcome to Cancerland, a place where her identity is displaced by the vast implications of the diagnosis, another operation, and arduous months of chemotherapy. What works for her own peace of mind has little to do with the trappings of pink-ribbon sentimentalism in the survivors groups.
Barbara resorts to her knowledge of cell biology, asks to see her own tumor under the microscope, and contemplates the meaning of visualizing the malignant cells even if she does not believe the exercise can help her. She dissects the rank commercialism and denial in the survivor movement: let me die of “anything but the sticky sentimentalism in that Teddy Bear.” She decries the claims that cancer therapy makes better skin, better hair, and better people, with better bodies, especially when an implant on one side subtends a cosmetic procedure on the other.
Posting these thoughts on a chat line, she discovers that most women berate her attitude and suggest she needs a psychiatrist. But one dying woman agrees with her distress, and writes of having cancer, “IT IS NOT OK.” Admitting feminists can be found in the “survivor” community, Barbara faults its underlying tone for being coercively optimistic, infantilizing, and insulting to the dying and the dead. She is angry. Very angry, and her “purifying rage” spares no one: doctors, support groups, feminists, drug companies, and the Cancer Society. Nevertheless--and in keeping with her earlier work--she credits the women’s movement with helping to rid the world of three medical evils: the radical Halsted mastectomy, the practice of proceeding to mastectomy from biopsy without waking up the patient, and high dose chemotherapy.
Two disturbing ironies bring the essay to a close. The first, is the possibility that mammograms may not be saving or even prolonging lives, even as they detect cancers; they make women dwell in Cancerland for longer and cause too many “unnecessary” biopsies. The mammogram is a ritual, she says. The second irony lies in the role of the pharmaceutical industry which fosters the pink power movement –the ribbons, the teddy bears, the marathons-- while manufacturing the expensive poisons that seem to have anticancer side effects. These same companies, she argues, have also manufactured carcinogenic pesticides that pollute the environment. Having profitably poisoned women into having breast cancers, they continue to profit from poisons of chemotherapy.
She faults both the “cult” of the survivors movement and the American Cancer Society for their “unquestioning faith” in these imperfect instruments of action.
- Wear, Delese
To find out how humans live and survive in minimum-wage America--particularly women who were at the time about to be pushed into the labor market because of "welfare reform"--writer Barbara Ehrenreich moved three times, from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, and worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a house cleaner, a nursing home aide, and a Wal-Mart employee.
The "rules" of her project (1) prohibited her from falling back on skills available to her because of her education (a PhD in biology) or previous work (an essayist with 11 books); (2) required that she take the highest-paying job offered to her and do her best to keep it; and (3) dictated that she take the cheapest accommodations she could find. The idea was to spend a month in each setting and to see if she could find a job and make enough money to pay a second month's rent. The book, then, tells her story of trying to make ends meet, what "millions of Americans do . . . every day, and with a lot less fanfare and dithering."
- Woodcock, John
Summary:This essay provides a rich and detailed critique of the medical view of women in 19th-century America. As the keywords suggest, the authors cover many topics. To mention a few: the coming of male dominance in medicine; the patronizing and disabling characterization of women as "weak, dependent, diseased," and naturally patients; S. (Silas) Weir Mitchell and his treatment of Charlotte Perkins Gilman; the social role of female invalidism in upper middle class culture; the "scientific" view of woman as evolutionarily devolved; and what the authors call "the expert-woman relationship."