In her 1982 article “Medicine as Patriarchal Religion” lesbian and feminist author Janice Raymond defined — or more to the point redefined — women’s health to mean “the constant process to recreate a female environment that is Self-defined, on the boundary of an environment that has been man-made.” See pdf file of the article here: jraymond. In her estimation, women’s ability to live “good lives” in an environment that included clean air, water, food and drink; adequate nutrition, light and sleep; economic independence and ability to make meaningful choices; and friendship with other women was conducive to and synonymous with women’s health. Instead, women have been mostly forced to adapt to a woman-hating patriarchal environment comprised of the opposite, meaning environmental pollution of our air, water and food; economic deprivation, dependence and abuse; and physical, political and spiritual separation from other women.
It is from within this woman-hating context that patriarchal medicine has historically evaluated and determined “women’s health” where we have been determined to be neurotic, hypochondriac, hysterical. Well, who wouldn’t be hysterical if systematically and chronically separated from their own people? Who wouldn’t experience an array of troubling physical and emotional symptoms after drinking polluted water, breathing polluted air, eating polluted food and serving the same to their children and pets? Who wouldn’t display symptoms of chronic distress — chronic distress being the definition of neurosis — when they were in fact placed in situations that create chronic distress by way of constant othering, dismissal and outright abuse? Notably, Raymond’s definition of women’s health does not seem to exclude physical and mental disease — in my own estimation, even ill and chronically ill women could still be “healthy” or as healthy as possible under her definition so long as they were able to constantly endeavor to lead Self-defined lives outside the boundaries of chronic male abuses and notably, outside male definitions of sick people and of sick women.
36 years — nearly 2 generations — ago, Raymond published this paper in a prestigious medical journal, the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, and thereby submitted her redefinition of female health not only the world but presumably also to the community of medical ethicists, philosophers and policy-makers who most needed to hear it and would be in the best position to implement it, but what good did it do? We can test the impact of this work, I think, by asking the following questions: what happens to women who have constantly endeavored to “recreate a female environment that is Self-defined, on the boundary of an environment that has been man-made” and do these women have “good lives” or not and are they in good health or not?
In my own case, in abandoning the conventional Western medical treatments for Crohn’s disease which were not helping me at all, or for long, and were in fact only making me worse, I have embarked on a constant ordeal to create a female environment that is Self-created and outside as many patriarchal boundaries as possible — I believe this is similar to what Mary Daly called “the Background” and that it firstly requires privacy and autonomy to act in our best interests as much as possible. And it has indeed been a constant “process” to maintain privacy in a patriarchal world in which women are disallowed any privacy at all. When I was researching rental properties on which to stay during my attempt to heal myself out-of-state with legal medical cannabis, I purposely sought one that was as rural and solitary as possible because I felt strongly that constant interruptions and distractions — the constant intrusion of patriarchy — would be deleterious to my health and recovery. I asked the landlords whether the properties were secluded, how often I could expect interruptions and visitors, and to avoid any potential confrontations and unexpected forced relocations which I had not the time, energy or finances to deal with, whether they had a problem with me being sick and using medical cannabis on their property. I was assured that my residence would be secluded and that I would be protected from distractions but as soon as I got here, maintaining my privacy has been a constant struggle mostly due to intrusions and interruptions made by the property owner herself.
From literally the day I arrived, she was constantly, constantly bothering me by knocking on my door several times a day, inviting me to various social engagements when she knew I wanted and needed privacy and why, once she asked me if I wanted a pair of her husband’s old pants she was about to throw away, and so on, and it was such an egregious violation that I finally reasoned that because I was a single female unkept by a man she was shamelessly surveilling me for the patriarchal state which of course she was. And in my case, because I was so obviously ill, she was also probably afraid I was going to die on her property and to protect herself and her interests in maintaining the status quo she could not allow that to happen. Even though that is frankly a risk that all property owners and all landlords take when they accept money in exchange for people living their lives on their land, where all people are known to die eventually and where death is, therefore, a part of life. In any case, whether about to die or not, I asked myself whether a middle-aged male attorney paying above-market to live on a rental property in a cannabis state (all rentals here are “above market” which means that none of them are, if you want to live here you have to somehow pay the price) would be disrespected in the same way and of course he would not.
In fact, my constant resistance and objections to her intrusions nearly got me an invitation to leave and I think the only thing that stopped her from evicting me was that she needed the money and as a professional “success” in patriarchal terms, who still may or may not have been practicing law on an East Coast lawyer’s salary for all she knew, I had faithfully produced the rent for over a year by the time I snapped and told her in no uncertain terms to stop bothering me and to leave me alone. She probably figured I was a safe bet all things considered, and the fact that I was not a male ensured that I would probably not be a lot of trouble for the price and that I wouldn’t be bringing prostituted women home, would be cooking food in the kitchen and not crystal meth, and would be unlikely to murder her or her husband in their sleep. And after keeping myself alive for a year by then she was probably reasonably assured that whatever disease I had for which I was seeking healing with medical cannabis, it must not have been imminently fatal. This has been my “constant process” to finally be left alone when I had needed and sought privacy from the beginning. Is this conducive to living a good life outside the bounds of patriarchy? Is this conducive to or synonymous with health? Would most women who were not attorneys and who could not faithfully produce an extravagant rent be left alone after a year’s worth of resistance and struggle or ever?
And importantly, what did that first year of constant interruptions and infusions of patriarchal woman-hatred do to my condition, my prognosis and my ability to heal myself? It certainly had one notable effect which was to consume an entire year’s worth of my female time, energy and my limited 3-year budget and now that my resources are gone I have to ask myself whether these interruptions actually caused or partially caused my cannabis treatment “failure” and left me destitute, now without the time or finances to continue and in fact where I will shortly become homeless without outside help. I really sensed and still sense that the first year was a crucial time in my life and in my healing, whereafter I became significantly depleted and increasingly unable to deal with what was happening to me on every level, and being here for 2 additional years following our confrontation has been stressful and unpleasant but I have been physically and financially unable to leave. In other words, I had a plan which needed to go off without a hitch if I had any chance of success and she ruined it.
And in the last 3 years, because I had the time and interest to do so, I have been researching anti-nuclear activism and I have found that because of the nuclear reactor meltdowns and detonations at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in 2011, there is likely no more unpolluted food, water, soil, air or anything anymore. In my “constant process” of living a Self-defined life, including procuring unpolluted food, water, air and so on, is this even possible where men and patriarchy have soiled every last corner of the world with male-made ionizing radiation which is not conducive to life or health and which poisons environments throughout geologic — not human — time? This is but one example of how men and patriarchy thwart women’s attempts to live Self-defined and therefore healthful or relatively healthful lives. In the end, I’m not sure my decision to find a rural area in which to relax and heal was even relevant where I had assumed that rural areas would be less polluted but where instead I found out that all areas are polluted, albeit in somewhat different ways. Not only is my new home state contaminated with nuclear fallout from Fukushima as all of North America is by now, there is a significant history of mining and resource extraction here and there are areas that are acknowledged to be completely toxic due to runoff from mining operations including waterways and groundwater. And surely there is much more pollution here from mining and otherwise that has never been and may never be disclosed.
Or, is it the “constant process” itself that Raymond is suggesting is conducive to and synonymous with women’s health, where engaging in this process requires a more or less radical feminist understanding of patriarchy and how and why women are harmed and why our health suffers here, and that basically doing the opposite will save us? Is she suggesting that active resistance for its own sake is conducive to and synonymous with women’s “good lives” and health and that adopting a male supremacist perspective will bring the opposite? She may be suggesting that but for women who are already sick, endeavoring to constantly “do” anything is exhausting and can be impossible. Here we can also ask ourselves where have radical feminists ended up, where they have in fact constantly endeavored to create Self-defined (meaning, women-centric, non-patriarchal, background) lives and did they lead “good lives” and did “good health” follow?
Some very well-known radical feminists are known to not have had good health although they resisted and endeavored to live Self-defined lives as best they could. Shulamith Firestone, who wrote groundbreaking second wave book The Dialectic of Sex died alone in her Manhattan apartment after spending decades in and out of mental institutions. Andrea Dworkin, the much-maligned radical feminist speaker and author of the infamous “Intercourse” suffered with poor health for years before apparently marrying a male transgender to secure access to medical care, housing and the essentials of life and died early at the age of only 58. And of course, Valerie Solanas who wrote the much-maligned and infrequently read “SCUM Manifesto” was often homeless, prostituted, psychiatrically incarcerated and died of pneumonia at the relatively young age of 52. Did these women live “good lives” regardless? I don’t know and I don’t know how to find out. If other less-well known radical feminists managed to live healthful woman-centered lives, and it is possible that they have, we haven’t heard about them.
Could Raymond have meant that a radical feminist consciousness is in itself a state of healthfulness for women and that a radically-feminist life is by definition a “good life” no matter where the woman ends up and regardless of the objective state of her mental or physical health? This seems like an odd (or incomplete) proposal in an essay defining and centering female mental and physical health. Interestingly, her proposal that women’s health means basically opting-out of patriarchal boundaries and definitions — which must include avoiding patriarchal medicine like the woman-hating scourge it is — did make me “feel better” when I read it. And in fact, abandoning patriarchal medical treatment for my Crohn’s disease has only improved both my mental and physical health where the treatments themselves were barbaric, ineffective and were in fact making me worse. However, looking into my future as a chronically ill homeless female in patriarchy, I cannot see this future as a healthful one either objectively or subjectively; no one would say this situation is likely to increase or maintain my health and I do not want to end up a sick woman on the street and the thought of this rather unavoidable future is making me increasingly ill.
As sick as I am, and as bleak as my future appears, I am aware that probably 95% of my dilemma is male-made and not a natural progression of my disease state — theoretically I believe that I could maintain a subjectively worthwhile life indefinitely if I had easy access to organic non-GMO food, including fermented organic food, top-quality non-GMO supplements and medical cannabis. Of course, consumerist solutions to chronic illness put females at a disadvantage where the foundational rule of patriarchy appears to be that women are not allowed to accumulate and if we do it will be taken away. But in a non-patriarchal world, these things would not be consumerist and would not require accumulated assets to procure or maintain, as “organic” and “non-GMO” would be everything’s default natural state and cannabis would freely grow like a beneficial edible weed. And if it weren’t for capitalism and patriarchy which have created the unsustainable and unnatural concept of private property, I would still have a place to “live” no matter how sick I was and no matter how little I was able to earn and that “place” would be planet Earth at whatever latitude and longitude I found myself. I could literally “live” anywhere and would never be homeless.
In my case, where I am sick as hell with a serious incurable and untreatable disease, I estimate that only 5% of my problem is the illness itself and that I could indeed have a “good life” anyway, but only outside the confines of capitalism and patriarchy and therein lies the rub. I am unsure how Janice Raymond would respond and whether she thinks the other 95% is surmountable under these conditions; or whether she thinks my constant resistance will save my “soul” so that what she is actually talking about is women’s soul-health, and not health-health; or whether she thinks soul-health and health-health are the same thing, or what. I fully agree that women Self-defining their lives and creating a female environment outside of patriarchy and capitalism would lead to our good health, and that doing the opposite would bring poor health. I mean obviously. But as usual with radical feminist proposals, the WHY can be made obvious but the HOW seems to have been left unaddressed — how can women achieve or maintain health in these conditions or alternatively how can women change these conditions that tax our health and where capitalistic patriarchal males and institutions invent disease states for women to oppress us? Janice Raymond doesn’t say, and since it hasn’t happened in the 36 years since she proposed it, despite presumably having the best feminist and radical feminist thinkers and influencers on the task, it may well be that it’s impossible.