What contemporary prostate angst tells us about how we understand masculinity, aging, and sexuality.
We are all suffering an acute case of prostate angst. Men worry about their own prostates and those of others close to them; women worry about the prostates of the men they love. The prostate—a gland located directly under the bladder—lurks on the periphery of many men's health issues, but as an object of anxiety it goes beyond the medical, affecting how we understand masculinity, aging, and sexuality. In A Cultural Biography of the Prostate, Ericka Johnson investigates what we think the prostate is and what we use the prostate to think about, examining it in historical, cultural, social, and medical contexts.
Johnson shows that our ways of talking about, writing about, imagining, and imaging the prostate are a mess of entangled relationships. She describes current biomedical approaches, reports on the “discovery” of the prostate in the sixteenth century and its later appearance as both medical object and discursive trope, and explores present-day diagnostic practices for benign prostate hyperplasia—which transform a process (urination) into a thing (the prostate). Turning to the most anxiety-provoking prostate worry, prostate cancer, Johnson discusses PSA screening and the vulnerabilities it awakens (or sometimes silences) and then considers the presence of the absent prostate—how the prostate continues to affect lives after it has been removed in the name of health.
“Ericka Johnson does with feminist STS what sex researchers Masters & Johnson could never have done with their motor-powered Plexiglas phallus: she zooms out from the gland itself to examine the cultural anatomy of masculinity.”
Cynthia Kraus, Senior Lecturer in Gender Studies and STS, University of Lausanne
“Who could have imagined that a cultural biography of the prostate is possible, let alone this engaging?”
Celia Roberts, School of Sociology, Australian National University
“A biography brimming with interdisciplinary insights, critical acuity, and compassion for this spectral, troublesome gland. Unsettling our assumptions about the prostate and its clinical and cultural significance, this book sets a new agenda for the critical medical humanities.”
Angela Woods, Associate Professor and Deputy Director of the Institute for Medical Humanities, Durham University