Session 27. Gender in Prevention: Beyond the Obvious

Abstract

Participation in healthy or risky behaviours and in preventive care tends to differ between men and women. Common sense tells us so, but so do numerous studies which observe that men are less concerned about the effects of their lifestyle and environment on health than women, and less involved in prevention. If sociology seeks to develop social rather than naturalistic, contextual rather than essentialist, interpretations about the effects of gender on health – and reciprocally on “doing health as a form of doing gender” (Saltonstall) -, this systematic association is worth examining both in professional and in lay concerns. The “preventive project” articulates for both sexes fear, trust and knowledge about the future, but how did it become women’s take to watch over and care for others’ future health, in private or family life as in the field of health professions? Men’s dispositions or behavioural patterns, linked to their dominant social roles and to the expectations they have to meet, paradoxically complicate the protection of their own health, thus contributing to premature male mortality. These normative schemes result from traditional gendered socialization processes and also from institutions or the capitalist health market treating men and women differently. Preventive medicine often counsels or screens patients differently according to their sex/gender, with or without valid medical considerations. Women’s sensitization to bodily well-being, in relation to time/aging, seems frequently to be instrumentalized by the health “information” business. Although gender-blindness is problematic, aligning programmes on supposedly differentiated needs, interests or conditions can lead to pernicious consequences. For health professionals as well, the traditional task division tends to attribute preventive work (especially frontline interventions) to women. Even professionals occupying the same position (e.g. general practitioners) tend to cope differently with prevention according to their sex/gender. Are these gendered work models somehow changing? What about different types of feminities or masculinities? Vertical segregation in the design and management of programmes and in the development of knowledge about risks also raises questions. We expect the proposals to consider health related behaviours or preventive care broadly, including folk or alternative ways of dealing with health beyond the biomedical expert knowledge (are women more trustful of both conventional and alternative preventive care?). Symmetrical approaches to feminine and masculine socialization processes and constraints (i.e. not focused on supposedly female-specific characteristics) should highlight the fabrication of differences in the way both sexes develop dispositions towards taking risks or taking care. Attention to the precise contexts in which prevention is delivered or experienced would be appreciated, and comparisons welcomed. Intersection of gender with other determinants is worth investigating. This session might also question the (mis)use of research on these topics by health professionals, patients, social movements, or preventive policies. Do prevention and health concerns, as currently implemented, enlarge or limit women’s opportunities, knowledge and rights? What about patients’, women’s and more recently men’s movements in this area? Can prevention contribute to attacking inequalities between men and women? Does the ongoing reduction of the gender gap in mortality reveal a movement toward gender equality in health care?

Session organizer(s)

Géraldine Bloy (FR) – is a senior lecturer in health and medical sociology at the University of Burgundy-Franche Comté. She’s also a member of the Laboratoire d’Economie de Dijon. She has worked for years on French General Practitioners, with many articles published and a book, Singuliers Généralistes, Sociologie de la Médecine Générale codirected with François-Xavier Schweyer (published in 2010 at the Presses de l’EHESP). She is now interested in lay concerns about health and prevention. This session is organized on behalf of the Research Network “Health, Illness, Medicine and Disability” (RT 19) of the French Sociological Association (Association Française de Sociologie), which she’s presently in charge of.

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