Gender, health and theory

Raewyn Connell, Gender, health and theory: conceptualizing the issue, in local and world perspective. Social Science & Medicine, vol. 74, 2012, 1675-1683.

Gender is a significant issue in health, but most health research and policy has a very simplified, increasingly obsolete, idea of what gender is.  In 2010, colleagues in the United States organized an international mini-conference on contemporary gender issues in health, and they considered a re-think of theory was a necessary part of this: I contributed a discussion of this question.  A special issue of the leading journal Social Science & Medicine resulted, my paper can be found here, and the link to the whole issue is here.

This is the abstract of my paper:

Public policy documents on gender and health mostly rely on categorical understandings of gender that are now inadequate.  Post-structuralist thought is an advance, but relational theories of gender, treating gender as a multidimensional structure operating in a complex network of institutions, provide the most promising approach to gendered embodiment and its connection with health issues.  Examples are discussed.  A crucial problem is how to move the analysis beyond local arenas, especially to understand gender on a world scale.  A relational approach to this question is proposed, seeing gendered embodiment as interwoven with the violent history of colonialism, the structural violence of contemporary globalization, and the making of gendered institutions on a world scale, including the corporations, professions and state agencies of the health sector.  Gender is seen as the active social process that brings reproductive bodies into history, generating health consequences not as a side-effect but in the making of gender itself.
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