PC Culture

‘Feminist Health Politics’ Course Questions whether Disease Is ‘Subjective’

'What makes health a matter of feminism?' asks the course description.

The University of Massachusetts–Amherst is offering a course this semester titled “Feminist Health Politics,” which “will examine how health becomes defined, and will question whether health and disease are objectively measured conditions or subjective states.”

“What is health?” asks the course description on the college’s website. “What makes health a matter of feminism?”

“We will also consider why and how definitions and standards of health have changed over time; 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 description continues. “Additionally, we will explore how knowledge about health is created; how environmental conditions, social location, politics, and economic conditions affect health; how various groups have fought for changes to health care practices and delivery; and how experiences of health and illness have been reported and represented.”

Now, to be fair, not all of this is crazy. It absolutely is true, for example, that issues such as “environmental conditions” can affect a person’s health, and that’s something worth studying. What’s not worth studying, however, is that ridiculous idea that a disease might somehow be a “subjective state.”

I can’t even believe I have to write this, but having a disease absolutely is an objective thing. Either you have it or you don’t, and whether or not you have it absolutely is determined by “objectively measured conditions.” For example, if someone “has cancer,” that means he meets the objective criteria of there being cancerous cells in his body. If someone has group A streptococcal bacteria, then she definitely has strep throat. If someone has the flu virus in his body, then he has the disease called “the flu.” I could go on forever, but you get the point.

Plenty of fields of study are completely subjective things — literature, art, music. In these fields, it’s standard for there to be disagreements. For example, one scholar might believe that a particular author is wonderful and brilliant, another scholar might think that that same author is a hack, and there’s really no objective way to prove which one of these people is “correct.” After all, it’s all a matter of taste and judgment.

If someone has group A streptococcal bacteria, then she definitely has strep throat.

Medicine isn’t like that. Medicine is as objective as it gets. Of course, there may be situations where different doctors might disagree about what’s wrong with a particular patient, but there will still always be the existence of the objective truth of what that patient’s problem really is — and that objective truth is a reality that is not up for debate.

Registration for this class was open to students attending any of the schools in the Five College Consortium, which also includes Smith College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, and Amherst College.

This story was previously covered in an article at Campus Reform.

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