Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Medicalization and neoliberal individualization of women's suffering in the context of third-wave/post-feminism
by Meek, Laura Anne, M.A., The George Washington University, 2010, 109; 1475911
Abstract (Summary)

Scholars argue that psychiatric medicalization of women's issues masks underlying social problems stemming from gender inequality while also bolstering neoliberal, individualistic explanations of suffering. This study seeks to contribute to an understanding of the processes by which individuals come to interpret women's suffering as medical or individual rather than social in origin. The author conducted a social psychology experiment with 174 college students (83% female, 71% Caucasian) in which participants were randomly assigned to watch either a pharmaceutical advertisement or a corporate-sponsored feminist video. They were then asked to rate their level of agreement with ten statements describing possible solutions to the problems portrayed therein. In the remainder of the study, the students in both conditions were asked to rate the same statements in regards to a woman in an unhappy relationship (described in a vignette) and in regards to an objectified woman (portrayed in a music video). Contrary to what was hypothesized, analyses revealed that exposure to the feminist video led to significantly higher endorsement of medical, neoliberal, and social responses to women's suffering than did exposure to the pharmaceutical commercial. Most notably, the sample that watched the feminist video was significantly more likely than the pharmaceutical commercial sample to agree that the vignette and music video characters should learn more about their situation(s), take responsibility for themselves, accept themselves the way they are, and seek counseling or therapy. Analysis also revealed correlations between the counseling/therapy statement and both the responsibility and self-acceptance statements within the feminist video sample, but not within the pharmaceutical ad sample, indicating that exposure to the feminist message led participants to associate some aspects of neoliberalism, like taking responsibility and accepting oneself, with individual treatments, perhaps as ways of pursuing “self-help”. These findings are discussed in light of third-wave and post-feminist ideology, which stress individualistic responses to gender inequality (like self-help), rather than collective organizing. Other possible contributing factors include backlash against feminist organizing and systems justification as a coping mechanism. Finally, the author suggests future directions, including a new study, currently underway, that will test these three interpretations.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Zucker, Alyssa
Commitee: Moshenberg, Daniel
School: The George Washington University
Department: Women's Studies
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: MAI 48/05M, Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Social research, Social psychology, Womens studies
Keywords: Individualization, Medicalization, Neoliberalism, Self-acceptance, Third-wave feminism, Women
Publication Number: 1475911
ISBN: 978-1-109-76072-9
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