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From the beginnings of our species, birth was exclusively the work of women as they labored to push their babies from the private inner world of their wombs into the larger world of society and culture. Yet today, increasing numbers of women around the world have their babies pulled through the birth canal with forceps or vacuum extractors or cut from their wombs via cesarean section. The medical definition of birth is the emergence of a fetus from a womb—a definition that ignores all issues of women’s involvement and agency. This entry describes the cultural overlays that are common to birth practices everywhere.

Birth, Culture, and Women’s Status

Although childbirth is a universal fact of human physiology, the social nature of birth and its importance for survival ...

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