Wild Science: Reading Feminism, Medicine and the Media

Janine Marchessault

Kim Sawchuk

Wild Science is motivated by a feminist, political imperative to actively and critically engage with the public meanings of science, to assert the frictions and contradictions within popular renditions of what medicine can and should do. (Marchessault & Sawchuk, 2000, p. 2)

How does modifying science with "wild" allow Marchessault and Sawchuk to achieve this? Is science wild? What does it mean to think about science as wild? Has science gotten out of control? Has science always been out of control? Is there something unwieldy about science? In this collection of new and previously published articles, feminist scholars ponder and sanction the contradictory and unstable representation of medicine and science in the media, particularly its implications for "ethics, subjectivity and agency " (p. 5).

The collection includes 14 essays and is divided into four parts: "Corporeal Maps," "Genetic Codifications," "Clinical Practices," and "Feminist Science Studies." Each section highlights not only why we need to have feminist analyses of medicine and the media, but also what such analyses reveal about them as institutions and practices. Media Studies has tended to focus on political and social issues largely through discourses of representation. This collection reveals how feminist analyses can create and shift intellectual and political possibilities in Media Studies.

In Part 1, "Corporeal Maps," the central topics are biotourism, the visible human project, and brain scanning. Authors Kim Sawchuk ("Biotourism, Fantastic Voyage, and Sublime Inner Space"), Catherine Waldby ("The Visible Human Project: Data into Flesh, Flesh into Data"), and Anne Beaulieu ("The Brain at the End of the Rainbow: The Promises of the Brain Scans in the Research Field and in the Media") discuss the ways in which science has both tried to contain and release the screened, digital, and analogue human body. Together these articles reveal the various narratives of Western science's imperative to "explain ourselves to ourselves biologically, via the powerful objectivity of technology" (p. 49).

In Part 2, "Genetic Codifications," Janine Marchessault ("David Suzuki's The Secret of Life"), Bonnie P. Spanier ("What Made Ellen [and Anne] Gay?"), and Jose van Dijck ("The Language and Literature of Life") deconstruct the "biological" and "code" in the prime-time television shows and literary texts. These articles reveal the historical tensions and narratives of eugenics and genetics in Western societies. What is disappointing, and yet also remains a challenge for feminist media practitioners, is that despite the significant feminist and queer scholarship regarding the repudiated research on the biological "origins" of race and sex, these critiques have not made their way to the mainstream press.

In Part 3, "Clinical Practices," Kathy Davis ("Pygmalions in Plastic Surgery: Medical Stories, Masculine Stories"), Lisa Cartwright ("Community and the Public Body in Breast Cancer Media Activism"), Maria Nengeh Mensah ("Screening Bodies, Assigning Meaning: ER and the Technology of HIV Testing"), Lisa Finn ("Complications: An Analysis of Medical Abortions in the U.S."), and Angela Wall ("Mothers, Monsters and Family Values: Assisted Reproduction and the Aging Natural Body") take on the representation of women's bodies in the mainstream media. In particular their research reveals masculinity, whiteness, and patriarchal notions of femininity operating in contradictory manners in the representations of women's bodies. For example, Wall discusses the media while applauding new reproductive technologies' possibilities for women and men who cannot have their own biological children. Her argument reveals that motherhood is implicitly modified by "young" and "natural," and post-menopausal women's pregnancies "ha[ve] drawn our attention to the diversified and expanded roles and needs of women in the late twentieth century" (p. 180).

I certainly appreciated the discussion of abortion in this section on the representations and discourses of science, medicine, and the media. "Medical" abortions have decreased significantly in the past decade largely as the result of well organized right wing and Christian fundamentalist politics in Canada and the U.S. What makes Finn's research so important is that it exposes "medical" knowledge and women's agency as invoked by various constituencies to hinder alternative practices to abortion. Again, as previous articles in the collection have argued, despite scientific and medical research that supports other interpretations and possibilities around bodies, science and medicine continue to be invested in reinforcing and perpetuating traditional sexist, heterosexist, and racist meanings of the body.

The final section, "Feminist Science Studies," does not pertain specifically to medicine, media, and science, but does provide us with some pedagogical and political strategies for intervening in the classroom and the academy more generally. Anne Balsamo's "Teaching in the Belly of the Beast: Feminism in all the Best Places" discusses how she has taught such material and how she met with student and faculty resistance. Ursula Franklin's "Letter to a Graduate Student" addresses the context of studying in this area and why we need more feminists doing research in science. Finally, Jennifer Daryl Slack and M. Mehdi Semati's article ("The Politics of the 'Sokal Affair'") frames the resistance Balsamo and Franklin have encountered in a general backlash against Cultural Studies. Slack and Semati's piece, in recounting the "Sokal Affair," reminds us of the precarious place critical scholarship of science and medicine has in the academy and that marginalized discourses "provide a dignified, diverse, multicultural, challenging and fundamentally democratic option" (p. 236).

This collection convinced me that we continue to need feminist scholarship and activism in media representations and discourses of science, generally, and medicine, more specifically. First, as a whole, the collection makes a compelling case for how the significant players in the production and profit of science and medicine (pharmaceutical companies, health-care providers, researchers) and we as consumers and citizens are driven by the possibilities and the powerful explanatory narratives of how "human life" can best be understood through the disciplines of medicine and science. Moreover, it shows that the "code" has increasingly become the privileged and commonsensical biological explanation for our existence. Second, we also need this kind of research to challenge the continued fragmentation of women's - and increasingly men's - bodies.

Women's bodies - our breasts, uteruses, immune systems - continue to be contested terrain, while the focus on these parts without concern for the women themselves keeps women subordinate in Western culture. Much of the media's representation of medicine facilitates this subordination. What kinds of challenges do these discourses and representations pose for feminist scholars and activists? What can a feminist media analysis do to put women's bodies back together? This collection highlights the role the media, science, and medicine play in teaching us to think about our bodies as fragmented.

Marchessault and Sawchuk's collection sets a high standard for further research in this area and makes a significant contribution to the growing field of feminist media studies. By modifying science with "wild," Marchessault and Sawchuk disrupt and shift the politics and analysis through the important scholarly lens of feminist media studies. Moreover, their collection reminds us that "biological" narratives and explanations continue to be privileged at the expense of understanding human beings more fully.



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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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