The Trouble With White Pants: Reconsidering medicalisation through the menstrual suppression debate
Centre for Research on Families and Relationships University of Edinburgh UK, http://www.crfr.ac.uk/
This paper revisits the concept of medicalisation and considers its value as a framework for understanding the ongoing development of new reproductive technologies, and their impact on women's reproductive decision-making. In particular, this evaluation is couched within a qualitative discourse analysis of the public debate about the use of extended cycle oral contraception (ECOC) to suppress menstruation in the United States of America in 2003/4. Firstly, this debate is broadly mapped to illustrate the usefulness of thinking of medicalisation as a contest within and across different fields. It is posited that medicalisation occurs in a particular social and cultural moment, and is a dynamic process where dominant social relations can be both reproduced and challenged. Secondly, the online narratives of women discussing ECOC on an Internet message board are used to explore the productive nature of agency in this particular medicalisation contest. Specifically, the ways in which these women engage with the discourses of 'risk' and 'choice', as canvassed by menstrual suppression advocates, are shown to reveal accommodation and modification as much as resistance and contradiction. Thus, it is argued that agency is evident in the ways women transform the publicly contested meanings of ECOC through their narratives of experience. This paper suggests that if the concept of medicalisation is to have ongoing traction as a frame of analysis, such a critique must incorporate a generative discussion of agency. It is posited that instances of medicalisation, such as the take-up of ECOC for suppression of menstruation, be understood as complex contestations of meaning where agency is produced through the transformation of discourses in everyday narratives.