Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
This paper examines efforts by professional midwives in Mexico to promote midwifery in reaction to government and media stigmatization of midwifery practices. The stigma associated with both being a midwife and using midwifery services is a result of a decades-long government campaign harnessing already-circulating stereotypes about Indigenous practices and what constitutes “modern” maternal health care. To tackle the stigma associated with midwifery care, the Mexican Midwifery Association has recently initiated a campaign called “Midwives of Today”. Developed in consultation with marketing firms and PAHO and the MacArthur Foundation, it aims to “dispel myths and misconceptions about midwifery” and demonstrate to biomedical professionals and potential clients alike that midwifery is a legitimate and safe medical practice. However, this campaign and similar professionalization efforts have been critiqued by Indigenous midwives for privileging the knowledge and education of white, urban, and socio-economically privileged midwives. Building on Paton’s suggestion to ‘gaze up’ in order to understand the role of institutions in reinforcing stigma, this presentation explores how, in their attempts to combat the stigma against midwifery and promote their work as safe, evidence-based, and “modern”, professional midwives and the Midwives of Today campaign may be bolstering ‘stigma power’ and reifying the power structures and ideology they claim to resist. This paper builds on current theorization of stigma as a tool of power for protecting existing racial and gendered hierarchies (Tyler 2013), and examines how the interpellation of stigma results in “stigma shifting” rather than “stigma elimination” by the most privileged within a stigmatized group.