Bioethics Blogs

Joanna Kempner’s Not Tonight: Migraine and the Politics of Gender and Health by Christine Labuski

Not Tonight: Migraine and the Politics of Gender and Health

Joanna Kempner

University of Chicago Press, 2014, 232 pages

In her thoroughly engaging new book, Not Tonight: Migraine and the Politics of Gender and Health, Joanna Kempner argues that, despite a new clinical paradigm through which migraine has been transformed from a psychogenic to a neurobiological disorder, the condition remains “an opportunity to make jokes about moral character” (2). Grounding this assertion in the concept of a “legitimacy deficit,” (9) i.e., a gap between what sufferers experience and what biomedicine and broader society formally recognize as illness, Not Tonight demonstrates the synergistic roles that gender and perceptions of moral character can play in the lived experience of a disease condition, including its clinical management and representation. At its core, the book reveals how the virtual incompatibility between high moral character and a feminine gender impedes the social and clinical apprehension of migraine as a “real” disease condition.

Not Tonight is a fairly wide-ranging text. Across five chapters (each of which stand alone on their own merits), Kempner presents a set of interlocking variables through which the condition of migraine has thus far been understood: its social and clinical history; recent pharmaceutical advertising campaigns; online advocacy and activism; and the recent neurobiological turn in migraine care. In addition to online forums and blogs, much of Kempner’s fieldwork took place at clinical conferences where (mostly female) patients—as proxies for the specialty of headache medicine—were routinely maligned by clinicians, and where the neurobiological paradigm at the heart of her analysis has become institutionalized.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.