Joanna KempnerNot Tonight: Migraine and the Politics of Gender and Health

University of Chicago Press, 2014

by Monique Dufour on March 21, 2015

Joanna Kempner

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Migraine is real, and it is pervasive—at least 12% of Americans suffer some form of this spectrum disorder. Still, migraine remains a conflicted illness—people routinely dispute the legitimacy of both the experience and its sufferers. In Not Tonight: Migraine and the Politics of Gender and Health (University of Chicago Press, 2014), Joanna Kempner sets out to explore “how migraine can simultaneously disrupt so many lives and continue to be questioned and trivialized by the culture at large.” Kempner begins by tracing the changing biomedical understandings of migraine over the past three hundred years, discovering a long history of “migraine’s association with weak, gendered personalities.” Kempner then turns to four contemporary figures and cases: headache specialists, migraine advocates, pharmaceutical companies, and the case of cluster headaches (a disorder commonly associated with men). Throughout, she shows how the recent recasting of migraine from a “disorder of neurotic women” to a neurobiological disease has done little to change the cultural meaning of headache disorders because “even as a ‘brain disease,’ migraine remains plagued by gendered images, metaphors, and stereotypes.”

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