Keshet Y, Simchai D. The 'gender puzzle' of alternative medicine and holistic spirituality: a literature review. Soc Sci Med. 2014 Jul;113:77-86. Epub 2014 May 20. Review. PMID: 24852658.

Soc Sci Med. 2014 Jul;113:77-86. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.05.001. Epub 2014 May 20.

The 'gender puzzle' of alternative medicine and holistic spirituality: a literature review.

Keshet Y(1), Simchai D(2).

Author information:
(1)Western Galilee Academic College, P.O.B. 2125, Akko 24121, Israel. Electronic address:
(2)Tel Hai College, Upper Galilee 12210, Israel. Electronic address:

Both as producers and consumers women are more likely than men to engage with complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and 'New Age' holistic spiritualities. We conducted a literature review of sociological and anthropological articles, with the aim of studying why women in particular use and practice these alternatives, and whether using them presents an opportunity to challenge the conventional gender order and unequal power relations. A systematic search of nine databases, complemented by an informal search resulted in the identification of 114 articles, of which 27 were included in the review. The search period was limited to 2000-2013. Thematic analysis of the literature indicated three major trends: women draw on traditional female resources and perceived 'feminine' characteristics; the realm of CAM and holistic spirituality challenges power relations and gender inequalities in healthcare, wellbeing, and employment, and may serve as an emancipating, empowering alternative; however, factors such as lack of political support, legitimacy, and a solid institutional base for the field of CAM and holistic spirituality, and its use by predominantly white middle- and upper-class women, work against significant change in the realm of healthcare and limit gendered social change. We suggest that the empowerment women experience is a form of feminine strength and personal empowerment that stems from power-from-within, which is not directed toward resistance. The literature review reveals some lacunae in the literature that call for future gendered research: the lack of quantitative studies, of data concerning the financial success of CAM practitioners, of studies linking CAM with a feminist-oriented analysis of the medical world, of understanding gender perceptions in the holistic milieu and CAM, and of studies conducted from an intersectionality perspective.

Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

PMID: 24852658  [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

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