Constructing the gender-specific body: A critical discourse analysis of publications in the field of gender-specific medicine

Ellen Carol Annandale, Anne Hammarstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Gender-specific medicine, a new and increasingly influential ethos within medical research and practice, has received little critical attention to date. The objective of this article is to critically examine the attributes of gender-specific medicine as imparted by its advocates. Through a critical discourse analysis of its two leading academic journals, we identify five interrelated discourses: of male/female difference; of hegemonic biology; of men’s disadvantages; of biological and social reductionism; and of the fragmented body. Together these comprise a master discourse of the ‘gender-specific body’. The discourse of the ‘gender-specific body’ is discussed in relation to the current neoliberal political agenda which frames healthcare as a market good and locates health and illness in individual bodies rather than in the wider social arrangements of society. We argue that the ‘gender-specific body’ threatens not only to turn back the clock to a vision of the biological body as fixed and determinate, but to extend this ever deeper into the social imagination. Lost in the process is any meaningful sense of the human body as a relatively open system which develops in interaction with its social world. We propose that, as it gains momentum, the ‘gender-specific body’ is likely progressively to circumscribe our thinking about the health of women and men in potentially problematic ways.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)571-587
Number of pages16
JournalHealth: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health,Illness and Medicine
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011

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