Fifth Book: Gendering Drugs - Feminist Studies of Pharmaceuticals by Ericka Johnson


“Drugs can be gendered and they can engender us”

With this statement, Ericka Johnson begins to unravel a distinctly feminist readings of the very pharmaceuticals which have become neutral, seemingly unexamined parts of our daily life. The collection examines the manner in which drugs are not only gendered (perceived as masculine/feminine or specifically either for men or women), but also the way in which they articulate gendered values, norms, behaviours and expectations that we as users (or misusers, or resisters) are expected to respond to, absorb, emulate, refuse, etc.

By utilising the methodology of feminist technoscience, careful attention is given to the discourses surrounding a wide range of pharmaceuticals; from hormone replacement therapy drugs, trial experimental substances aimed at the alleviation of Alzheimers, to the introduction of HPV vaccines in the Global South. It also gives due attention to nonhumans, questioning where and how boundaries are drawn when it comes to substances directed at the ‘social’; the intra-actions in relationally constructed subjects; the emerging entanglements of humans and non-humans within the sphere of Big Pharma; as well as the very physicality of pharmaceuticals, raising urgent onto-epistemological questions.

Chapter 4 and 10 will be the reading group’s central focus. The first section of interest, “New Puberty; New Trans: Children, Pharmaceuticals and Politics” by Celia Roberts and Cron Cronshaw, analyses discourses describing the use of gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogues in trans children. Through the use of the verb “sexing” to indicate the complex process of creating, denying and articulating sex, the two authors argue that the prescription and consumption of these drugs are entangled in the production of new novel forms of subjectivity and life/experiences. Drawing on early feminist work by Ehrenreich and English (1973), the sexist, classist and racist medical thoughts and practices, as well as the desire for treatment, surrounding hormonal therapy will be teased out and considered alongside questions of queer agency and accessibility. Indeed, the chapter will be seen to highlight the felt needs and bodily (in)capacities which can be produced by the very discourses and practices which promise to address or intervene in them.

Meanwhile, Chapter 10 (“Sexing Drugs, Refracting Discourses”) returns to the theoretical concerns within the context of subjectivity, analysing the varied empirical studies in the book through the concept of refraction. Johnson in the chapter seeks to recognise the discursive cuts made within the very matter of pharmaceuticals, refracting a spectrum of unique, context-specific discourses which make visible values, understandings and ideologies, as well as a spectrum of concerns we are living with.

The book should be of interest to any individuals aiming to cultivate a highly political and nuanced understanding of pharmaceuticals, applying novel technoscientific and queer methodologies not only to foreground feminist concerns; politicise seemingly neutral substances and matter; but also to open up a new conversation around what constitutes alleviation, transformation, treatment, as well as subjectivity, when it comes to drugs.


If you would like to join us, please RSVP to sometime during the two weeks, or just show up on the day.

The link above contains a PDF download of the introduction, as well as Chapters 4 & 7.

WHEN: Monday 24 September, 4-6pm.

LOCATION: RC Mills Building, Rm 148, the University of Sydney


© Compiled by Zsuzsanna Dominika Ihar for BoS

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