'Feminist Health' course suggests disease is 'subjective'

The University of Massachusetts-Amherst is offering a feminist-themed health class this semester that aims to debate the social construction of disease.

Feminist Health Politics is offered by the school’s department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies and taught by Svati Shah, who also teaches classes on Feminist Theory, LGBTQ Social Movements, and Gender and Sexuality. 

“What is health? What makes health a matter of feminism? And what might a feminist health politics look like? These questions lay at the heart of this course,” the course description explains. 

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The course explicitly takes the social constructionist approach to health, explaining that students “will examine how health becomes defined, and will question whether health and disease are objectively measured conditions or subjective states.”

Students will also learn how standards of health can be used to oppress racial minority populations, according to the course description. 

To this end, the class will focus on “why and how standards and adjudications of health vary according to gender, race, sexuality, class, and nationality; and how definitions of health affect the way we value certain bodies and ways of living.”

The class will also explore “how knowledge about health is created; how environmental conditions, social location, politics, and economic conditions affect health[…]and how experiences of health and illness have been reported and represented.” 

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Though the course is offered by UMass-Amherst, registration was open to all students in the Five College Consortium, which also includes Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Hampshire College, and Amherst College. 

The Consortium offers other feminist-inspired classes, as well, including “Sissies, Studs and Butches,” which aims to “challenge Western, hegemonic and inherent legacies of masculinity,” and a course simply titled “Transgender.”

Campus Reform reached out to Svati Shah for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen