By Kassidy Imerman, UNC Charlotte
The current struggle to secure healthcare access for all is a multifaceted issue, one that is particularly high-stakes for women. The justifications for denying such access can be traced back to the founding of the scientific profession and the origination of modern scientific practice and theory. In particular, Francis Bacon’s aggressive and sexually violent metaphors contributed to the construction of a scientific institution that excludes, degrades, and denigrates women. Some might read this interpretation as overdramatic, and claim that Bacon’s metaphors are only metaphors. But are they?
Bacon’s work constructs a large base of the modern scientific field, and his rhetorical alignment of masculinity/science and femininity/nature is not unique. This alignment pervades early scientific writings, and it pervaded early scientific practice as well. And in looking at the current state of the healthcare system, which was professionalized and institutionalized as a result of the scientific “revolution,” it does not seem wholly unlikely that these problematic gendered notions might continue to pervade the system. Access to health services remains a gendered problem in that lack of adequate healthcare is particularly perilous for women, who are often in constant battle to control their own sexual and reproductive health. The justifications for control over women’s bodies are complex and myriad, but easily traced back to the work of Bacon and other early scientific thinkers who posited that nature, that life, needs to be removed from its natural environment and brought into a sterile space and under the control of the (masculine) scientist so that can be properly understood and managed. It is not unlikely, then, that the desire to control women’s health is inherited from this idea. After all, a woman’s body is essential to the support of human life creation, and controlling it means controlling life itself. By reinforcing the man/science vs. woman/nature binary, the patriarchy has a justification for maintaining such strict control over women’s bodies, since, by this logic, men/science possess the rationality, the preferred knowledge, that makes man/science qualified to control woman/nature and therefore life. By this logic, women and nature left to their own devices are dangerous, wanton, threatening. Left to roam free, to grow free, women and nature possess the potential to overpower men. Men, without much life giving or sustaining abilities in and of themselves, cannot survive without nature or women. Conquering nature and conquering women is about acquiring resources for patriarchal and capitalist gain, and squashing any potential threat to the existing system. It is imperialist and exploitative, and doubly detrimental in places where western colonization has made its ugly mark.
Examining contemporary healthcare issues from this lens, tracing back these inequalities to the formation of the modern field of science, is useful in linking systems of oppression to understand how the system of patriarchy functions on the whole, as well as how it promotes its preferred forms of knowledge to justify its exploitation. Perhaps Bacon’s metaphors were intended to be nothing more than metaphors, but they are the metaphors on which an entire system of oppression has been built and sustained.