Domesticating Bodies: The Role of Shame in Obstetric Violence

Hypatia 33 (3):384-401 (2018)
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Obstetric violence—violence in the labor room—has been described in terms not only of violence in general but specifically of gender violence. We offer a philosophical analysis of obstetric violence, focused on the central role of gendered shame for construing and perpetuating such violence. Gendered shame in labor derives both from the reifying gaze that transforms women's laboring bodies into dirty, overly sexual, and “not‐feminine‐enough” dysfunctional bodies and from a structural tendency to relate to laboring women mainly as mothers‐to‐be, from whom “good motherhood” is demanded. We show that women who desire a humane birth are thus easily made to feel ashamed of wanting to be respected and cared for as subjects, rather than caring exclusively for the baby's well‐being as a good altruistic mother supposedly should. We explore how obstetric violence is perpetuated and expanded through shaming mechanisms that paralyze women, rendering them passive and barely able to face and fight against this violence. Gendered shame has a crucial role in returning women to “femininity” and construing them as “fit mothers.” To stand against gendered shame, to resist it, on the other hand, is to clearly challenge obstetric violence and its oppressive power.



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