Intersections of health and gender imperatives: stratified decision-making among women with a BRCA mutation

Amy A. Ross Arguedas*, Courtney L. Scherr, Marleah Dean, Hannah Getachew-Smith, Meredith Clements

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Receiving a positive test result for a BRCA mutation is a life-altering event. Thrust into a biomedical category of “high-risk” for developing breast and ovarian cancer, unaffected BRCA-positive women confront decisions about how to manage their risk. The knowledge provided through the use of genetic testing burdens women with having to make crucial decisions in a context of great uncertainty. Using 25 semi-structured interviews, this paper examines how women make decisions about how to manage their health after learning about a BRCA mutation. We situate the biographies of these women in the context of neoliberal expectations about personal responsibility for health and gender norms, and argue that the intersection of these imperatives plays out in unique ways depending on an individual’s life-stage, resulting in stratified decision-making. For older women who are married and have children, gender and health expectations neatly align. However, for younger, single women without children, the normative expectations about gender and health management often conflict, resulting in the prioritization of gender imperatives over health expectations, albeit temporarily. The analysis concludes with a discussion of the implications of BRCA testing for women and their experiences of choice and decision-making as well as their resistance to preventative surgeries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-269
Number of pages25
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • BRCA
  • Gender
  • Genetic testing
  • Neoliberalism
  • Risk
  • Women’s health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy


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