Faculty Bookshelf

Not Tonight: Migraine and the Politics of Gender and Health

Migraine is one of the most common, painful, and disabling disorders in the world, yet it is routinely considered, at best, unimportant or, at worst, a mere excuse for avoiding one’s expected duties in life. This remains true, even though researchers now believe that migraine is a neurobiological disease with potentially serious outcomes. In Not Tonight, Kempner grapples with this paradox, arguing that migraine stigma can be traced back to its long-standing association with neurotic women. Kempner’s wide-ranging approach takes concepts from sociology, anthropology, literature, history, and science studies to explain how “old” ideas about effete men and hysterical, neurotic women with migraine have been replaced with “new” ideas about people who have a hypersensitive, neurotic migraine brain. She traces these highly feminized ideas about migraine to scientific journals, pharmaceutical advertisements, and even patient advocates’ arguments for why we should take migraine seriously. This analysis casts new light on how cultural beliefs about gender, pain, and the distinction between mind and body influence not only whose suffering we legitimate, but which remedies are marketed, how medicine is practiced, how knowledge about headache is and is not produced, and how we make policies about people in pain.