Janice Raymond Redefined “Women’s Health” in 1982. It Changed Nothing.

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?

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