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Beginning in the early 1970s, feminist health organizations throughout North America placed growing emphasis on the value of self-examination, a key instrument for many feminists seeking to challenge the structures that shaped relationships between women and their physicians. As the feminist health movement took aim at the ways in which pelvic examinations were routinely taught in North American medical schools, a growing group of professional patients, well-woman instructors, and Gynecological Teaching Associates (GTAs) positioned their own bodies as a valuable source of knowledge and a tool that could be used to educate the next generation of physicians. While scholars have studied the embodied labour of pelvic teaching in the United States, the Canadian context remains underexplored. Drawing on medical journals, magazines and newspapers, and the records of feminist health organizations, this paper explores the work of pelvic teachers in Canadian medical schools during the 1970s and 1980s as a key tool of feminist health activism and resistance. Focusing on the “skill” and authority of the pelvic instructor, Canadian practitioners and the public responded to what they regularly framed as a lay incursion into medical practice in a variety of ways. As feminist health activists debated the benefits and drawbacks of working to transform the system from within, and some professional patients reported feeling exploited in their work with physicians and medical students, many pelvic teachers saw value in drawing on their embodied knowledge to transform the routine clinical encounter, working to foster empathy and compassionate gynecological care.

Dr. Whitney Wood is Canada Research Chair in the Historical Dimensions of Women's Health at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, British Columbia. A historian of gender, health, and the body in 19th and 20th century Canada, Wood's research focuses on cultural and medical representations of obstetric and gynecological pain. She is currently working on two projects: Changing Childbirth in Postwar Canada, 1945-2000, funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Development Grant, and is principal investigator of a new multi-year collaborative study, Pelvic Health and Public Health in Twentieth Century Canada, funded by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Project Grant.

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