Cervical cancer is the third leading cause of death among women in Venezuela, with poor and working-class women bearing the brunt of it. Doctors and public health officials regard promiscuity and poor hygiene—coded indicators for low class, low culture, and bad morals—as risk factors for the disease.
Drawing on in-depth fieldwork conducted in two oncology hospitals in Caracas, Marked Women is an ethnography of women's experiences with cervical cancer, the doctors and nurses who treat them, and the public health officials and administrators who set up intervention programs to combat the disease. Rebecca G. Martínez contextualizes patient-doctor interactions within a historical arc of Venezuelan nationalism, modernity, neoliberalism, and Chavismo to understand the scientific, social, and political discourses surrounding the disease. The women, marked as deviant for their sexual transgressions, are not only characterized as engaging in unhygienic, uncultured, and promiscuous behaviors, but also become embodiments of these very behaviors. Ultimately, Marked Women explores how epidemiological risk is a socially, culturally, and historically embedded process—and how this enables cervical cancer to stigmatize women as socially marginal, burdens on society, and threats to the "health" of the modern nation.
About the authors
Rebecca G. Martínez is Assistant Professor of Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Missouri.
"Marked Women provides insights that only an extended ethnographic engagement can offer. Rebecca Martínez captures the consistent and yet changing political landscape of poverty, class, and race that frames Venezuelan women's lives and health. A must read for anyone interested in Latin America, medical anthropology, neoliberalism, and the social determinants of health."
—Leo R. Chavez, author of The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation
"Marked Women is richly detailed and lucidly written. Rebecca Martínez masterfully develops her arguments with honesty and great compassion, situating her analyses at the intersections of disease, sexuality, morality, and citizenship. Her insights into the disparate power dynamics responsible for the persistent stigmatizing of cervical cancer in Venezuela provide new, much-needed perspectives on this tragic global health phenomenon."
—Carole H. Browner, University of California, Los Angeles
"Rebecca Martínez's remarkable ethnographic eye and ear discern how pathologies of public health infrastructures and professional socialization inscribe gender and class stereotypes not only on bodies but on popular perceptions of poor women and the cervical cancers that too often kill them."
—Clara Mantini-Briggs, co-author of Stories in the Time of Cholera: Racial Profiling during a Medical Nightmare