A Review of Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology

Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology:  Owens, Deirdre Cooper: 9780820351353: Amazon.com: Books

American gynecology would not be what it is today without Black women. In fact, the first women’s hospital in the United States was on a small enslaved persons farm in Mount Meigs, Alabama. In Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology (Medical Bondage), Dr. Deirde Cooper Owens examines the history of gynecological practices and the way that they came about, all while painting a picture of the women who shaped American gynecology. The book investigates both southern plantations and northern urban centers to showcase how nineteenth century ideas about topics such as race influenced relationships between doctors and their patients. Cooper Owens makes two significant arguments about the correlation between slavery and medicine: reproductive medicine was esstential to the maintenance and success of southern slavery and that southern doctors knew enslaved women’s reproductive labor helped them to revolutionize professional women’s medicine. Medical Bondage also, most importantly, retells history from the perspectives of exploited groups. By examining nineteenth century literature and  correspondence between doctors and other archival materials, Cooper Owens explains how exploited groups changed the course of American gynecology, ultimately creating a field that would be forever changed by the experiments done on their bodies. 

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Theory to Praxis: Combatting Period Poverty at Davidson and in Charlotte

One public health issue that falls within the realm of gender and sexuality studies -particularly reproductive justice- is period poverty. Insufficient access to menstrual supplies or environments that allow safe changing of products means that people who experience periods face additional challenges to their everyday hygiene, which has a direct impact on other aspects of their life. For example, a survey of U.S. teens found that 4 out of 5 individuals “either missed or knew someone who missed class time because they did not have access to period products” (Capozzi). In addition to encompassing the lack of menstrual products available to people that need them, the term period poverty also references the lack of health education because of stigma around periods, lack of funding and resources, or other reasons.

Period poverty is often cited as an issue for developing nations, and while this is true, it is also a pervasive problem for people in many situations where their needs cannot be met. Not everyone who needs period products is a woman, but since they are marketed towards women, they are unnecessarily expensive (llano). In the United States, this means that people living in poverty or experiencing homelessness are especially susceptible to period poverty. It is important to note that youth experiencing homelessness are disproportionately LGBTQ people of color (Griffith), so period poverty is not just a women’s health issue, but a very intersectional one.

Two ways Davidson can make menstrual care less stigmatized and more accessible for the community are by increasing the availability of period products in public restrooms and providing opportunities to support menstrual justice in the greater community.

  1. Many of the public women’s restrooms on campus have free tampons available in them- Wall, Union, the library, and Chambers are a few examples. However, they are often out of stock, which eliminates any benefit of them being offered there. In addition, they are only ever set out by the sinks in the women’s restrooms, but not the men’s. Increasing options for gender-neutral restrooms is something we have discussed in class and other students have brought up in their proposals, and I would argue that offering free menstrual products in all public campus restrooms would be a small, good first step to implement towards that goal.
  1. Davidson has the wealth to provide widespread access to menstrual products in public restrooms, but this kind of accessibility is unfortunate not the norm. To encourage action on this issue, I propose putting up posters about period poverty in restrooms. These would include a definition of what period poverty is, as well as a QR code that leads you to the links of organizations to support. For example, Flo Charlotte is an organization that collects and distributes menstrual hygiene supplies to those in need around Charlotte. Their mission statement emphasizes that they “focus primarily on families experiencing homeless, but [they] also support domestic violence shelters, schools, and safe havens for LGBTQ+ teens and young adults” (Flo Charlotte). They accept donations of menstrual hygiene supplies, but also monetary donations, so the posters could even have a QR code that links straight to their PayPal. It would be great to have these posters up in the bathrooms of public buildings on campus to inform people of all genders about this issue and what they can do to combat it.


Capozzi, Lindsay. “Period Poverty: The Public Health Crisis We Don’t Talk About.” Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Policy Lab, 6 Apr. 2021, https://policylab.chop.edu/blog/period-poverty-public-health-crisis-we-dont-talk-about.

Flo Charlotte, https://www.flocharlotte.com/.

Griffith, Daiana. “LGBTQ Youth Are at Greater Risk of Homelessness and Incarceration.” Prison Policy Initiative, 22 Jan. 2019, https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2019/01/22/lgbtq_youth/.

llano, Alejandra De. “The Pink Tax: Why Are Feminine Products More Expensive?” CavsConnect, 10 Mar. 2021, https://www.cavsconnect.com/opinion/2021/03/10/the-pink-tax-why-are-feminine-products-more-expensive/.

Finding Avenues for Reproductive Justice Education Post-Grad

GSS 101 has absolutely opened my eyes to many new frameworks for thinking and more comprehensive and fair language for communicating. Discovering the significance of intersectionality in all areas of gender and sexuality studies has been especially eye-opening and helpful for my knowledge and actions moving forward. My final literature review covered reproductive rights for minority women and how their experiences completely differ from white women, but that women of color groups have gone largely ignored and not given credit for their activism and progress in the fight for all-encompassing reproductive justice.

As GSS 101 has provided me with more comprehensive knowledge and more useful tools for speaking and acting on GSS topics, I realize that a lot of people go without the education they deserve, so I’m looking into areas where I can combine my interest in education and new interest in the fight for reproductive justice after graduation. Outside the class, I currently have a length pro-con list for two different cities I could possibly live in after graduation: Chicago and Charlotte. I’m going to add to the list by looking into a few different organizations in each city that I could get involved with.

At the top of my list in Chicago, the Chicago Foundation for Women targets the disparity in options for or access to health due to violence and poverty. The organization seeks out women in communities of need and on the margin, brings together women who have the power and ability to come up with solutions and raise money through grants and other avenues, and then implements these solutions through the combination of minds and funding. This sounds somewhat like consulting for marginalized women and their families, which might be appropriate extremely appropriate for me since I’ll be going into healthcare consulting.

Finding specific organizations in Charlotte proved a lot more difficult, but I think I would start by looking in the NC chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women) and working my into the community from there. NOW stands firm that reproductive rights are more than a matter of choice and supports providing more access to education and health options for all women, especially minority women who are disproportionately affected. While NOW’s efforts seem more implicated with law and policy change, I would use the network to find more ground-level opportunities to get involved with education for women.

I’m really excited to discover this new passion, something I had always inherently cared about but never took the time to better understand and share with others. I don’t think adding these to my pro-con list will affect my final living decision, but it does show me that I will try to make it a part of my life regardless of where I end up in the states.


Theory To Praxis: Abortion Access and Class Equity Issues

Through our time in GSS, I learned more about something I am already very passionate about, reproductive justice issues. If I learned anything in our short time delving into these issues in class, it is that they are highly intersectional, something which is often omitted from mainstream discussions of them. While not the only reproductive justice issue in any regard, the most commonly discussed topic of our time is abortion access.  In popular media, pro-choice and pro-life narratives are heavily centered around towing the line of viability. Furthermore, a sticky compromise, legally, was made by founding the right to abortion in a constitution right to privacy. This has allowed the focus on abortion to be shifted on morality instead of looking at the many nuanced reasons that women reach out for these procedures.

In my literature review I focused on what the major ways in which pro-choice arguments have been founded and identifying some common themes that are seen across the literature. These themes did include some legislative basis, particularly regarding rights to autonomy and how we discursively construct or limit personhood, particularly in regards to the oxymoronic concept of fetal personhood. One of the more interesting themes that I found was the topic of class equity as a means for opening up abortion access. A lot of these arguments center around women lacking access to provide adequately for any child. A number of narratives have noted that it is not just to have children if they are unable to be provided for and cherished. These arguments have also been used in a similar fashion regarding the cost of maintaining a healthy pregnancy. Depending on a woman’s health needs and the state she lives in, the total cost of pregnancy can be a very expensive process in comparison to the cost of an abortion.

Due to these issues being more current than some that are often discussed, I would like to use this information to propose a DRI / some other research project specifically into the intersections of class equity issues and abortion access. I would specifically like to focus on class equity and how this concept interacts with race regarding these issues, as many of the books commented on token populations, and I would personally like a more thoroughly representative depiction of the wide experiences of women seeking out these procedures. I believe that, as this issue is one with many extremist attitudes on both sides of the aisle, this research is essential and would provide different points and voices in the reproductive justice conversation.