DescriptionThe personal is political: this revelation sent ripples through the women’s liberation movement in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and inspired a feminist practice to discuss personal experience openly and collectively in a safe and supportive context. This practice came to be known as consciousness raising (CR). CR helped women recognize that individual struggles were, by and large, fueled by gender politics. A historical practice with a precipitous rise and fall, CR has been revitalized and improved through medical support and education websites. By grounding access to valid health information in the trusted and proven feminist practice of CR, these web based resources add credibility and familiarity to a complex subject. The contemporary American expectation that information be available on demand makes web based resources extremely important. Medical support and education websites that incorporate computer- mediated communication create avenues to medical information – both professional and experiential – that can result in an increased level of health literacy.
This project examines the feminist practice of consciousness raising through a comparative case study of face-to-face and web-based health literacy projects. In both contexts group discussions of personal realities establish links between subjective experience and larger political themes. This evaluation of the evolution of CR focuses on the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, an early, long-lasting and effective CR group, and Breastcancer.org, a more recent but rapidly expanding web-based tool for raising women’s consciousness. Both sites focus on health literacy through education, support and collective discussion. They provide the basis for an in-depth examination of successful CR communication strategies. This study will explore the methods of information distribution utilized by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective and frame those against a web-based breast cancer support and education website, Breastcancer.org. This comparison will establish a connection in the modes of information distribution, communication strategies and support offered via face-to-face and text based CR.
I highlight the effectiveness of breast cancer support and education sites that use a new form of CR to advocate for health literacy. Health literacy does not make an individual a medical expert; rather it provides the necessary information and perspective for women to play an active role in their health care plan. Themes that will be present throughout this project include: consciousness raising as a feminist practice, the role of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective within the women’s health movement, breast cancer support and education websites that foster health literacy, and the exchange of ideas, experience and medical knowledge – that is CR – that ties them together.