Witches, Midwives, and Nurses

Title: Witches, Midwives, and Nurses
Author: Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English
Publication Date: 2010 (text 1973)
Publisher: The Feminist Press
Size: 108 Pages

Review by dewdrop

Sometimes small books are crucial. They exist for people who are not ready to digest a long list of facts and historical minutiae. When there is a large message at stake pertinent to the contemporary age, one needs to select the most telling instances illustrating the history of something like women in medicine. And what better way than crystallizing three distinct personae who have been not merely dismissed, rather trampled with hostility in different times and places of the not too distant past?

Inside, we find statements during the witch hysteria of the late Middle Ages proclaiming that witches who heal are more evil than witches who harm and that midwives have done more damage than any other type of person to the Catholic Church. What do these things even mean? Certainly these are mind boggling, and equally certain is it essential that we have books like this that show where we have indeed come from and what precedent we have inherited. In the Malles Maleficarm (Hammer of the Witches, 1486) it is declared, “when a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil.” It becomes clear with statements like the three above how much of what appears to concern faith and science, is actually maintenance of men’s privilege in disguise.

In fact, the “magic” of the witch was the real science of the Middle Ages. Witches were the greater paragons of empiricism as they had to rely more heavily on direct experience and what their senses told them. “Her attitude was not religiously passive, but actively inquiring.” Even though this involved charms in addition to medicine, the Church by contrast deeply mistrusted the senses and physicality in general. Being women, healers based in empirical, and last yet never least a peasant underground, witches were (at least) triple threats. The last part of the book tracks how similar patterns manifested in the past century as women battled to enter a medical establishment rigged against them. Perfect pocket book for those who still manage to not wrap their head around what the feminist fuss in shaking up all layers of civilization!

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