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Health Care Women Int. 1998 Nov-Dec;19(6):495-504.

Abstracting women: essentialism in women's health research.

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University of British Columbia School of Nursing, Vancouver, Canada.


Women's desire to take control of their own bodies creates a natural affinity between the projects of feminism and women's health research. Feminists have used the categories of woman/women, gender, and sex as foundation terms to designate the subject of feminist theories. Universal categories, which have been exposed as essentialist by postmodern and poststructural critiques, create falsely unified subject positions that fail to account for the diversity of women and also fail to acknowledge the situated interests of the dominant groups whose perspectives they reflect. Because it adopts these same categories, research in women's health is also permeated with this essentialized understanding, whether or not it is overtly feminist. In this paper, we point out the dangers of the unreflective use of woman/women, gender, and sex in women's health research. We conclude, that for political purposes, however, a carefully considered "strategic essentialism" can be warranted in research aimed at improving women's health.

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