#SWAAYthenarrative
BETA

Pseudoscience And The Pussy: Profit, Politics, And Patriarchy

5 Min Read
Health

On April 5, 2019, Dr. Jen Gunter, aka Twitter's gynecologist took to the stage at TechFestNW and debunked the pseudoscience that impacts women's bodies.


Since its inception, this Portland, OR-based event has grown to include international voices and continues to seek out speakers on the cutting edge of their disciplines.

Dr. Gunter's talk titled "Pseudoscience and the Pussy: Profit, Politics, and Patriarchy" clearly fit this criterion. In the style of a seasoned stand-up comic with a built-in BS detector, she challenged the audience to question why terms like fresh, wholesome, pure, natural, and clean are used in marketing products to women.

Throughout her talk, she explained how these terms weaponize women's bodies: "Women have been told their bodies are unclean. Also, they are told they should look very young, especially those body parts like the vulva and vagina that our society has decided are uniquely feminine."

Her analysis shows how pseudoscience wants you to believe that things that may sound sensational are actually true. "Whenever we talk about fantastical claims about products that can rejuvenate or make you clean, it sounds so cool and amazing." Science can seem "so stodgy" in comparison, but "You know, wait a minute, that's not exactly how it works."

As an example of this dynamic, Gunter cites Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop marketing jade eggs that are allegedly recharged by the power of the moon, among other unsubstantiated abilities. For those unfamiliar with this lifestyle and e-commerce site, Goop launched in 2008 out of Gwyneth Paltrow's kitchen as a homespun weekly newsletter and has since emerged as a publishing, fashion, and life-style empire valued by Fortune at $250 million. Along the way, the website has come under repeated criticism for offering unhelpful or even dangerous advice with Dr. Gunter emerging as one of the most vocal critics of celebrity-turned-wellness guru Gwyneth Paltrow.

In her estimation, Goop and Poosh (a new website launched by Kourtney Kardashian) represent symptoms of a larger problem, preying upon people's distrust of government, national shame, and a general lack of accurate information. Simply put, the popularity of these sites exemplify the financial benefits of weaponizing women's bodies against them. "If making people feel bad about vaginas wasn't profitable, we wouldn't have aisles of crap in stores that deal with odor control."

Historical Roots of Weaponizing Women's Bodies

As the audience guffawed at her takedown of Goop, Dr. Gunter reminded them that products like jade eggs are simply part of a history that has been weaponizing women's bodies for centuries. She cited how men used to think the uterus literally wandered around the body. "You would control this sort of rogue womb by applying different fragrant scents to different parts of the body." Apparently, this rogue womb could be put back into position by placing something fragrant between the legs. Thus, the concept of douching was born.

In most cultures, a woman's worth was distilled to her hymen and uterus. As Dr. Gunter aptly summarized, "You had to be pure until you weren't. As soon as your uterus was used, you were done." For example, women of certain religions and time periods were denied access to religious services during their menstrual cycles on the grounds they were unclean.

Also, traditional medicine excluded women until the 1800s. Not only did women not attend medical school, but the dissection of female cadavers was considered to be in poor taste. Along those lines, it was deemed improper to examine a woman's body, and a woman's symptoms were often mansplained to her by a male doctor.

While Gunter will be the first to admit that medicine often fails to listen to women's complaints, she argues that the answer is not to pathologize women but to provide actual information. She reminded the audience that it's only recently that people can say the words "vagina" and "vulva" in public without any stigma. Despite the advances made in women's rights, women constantly get messages about how to improve those "troublesome" body parts.

Moving forward, Gunter advocated for the need to change terms like feminine hygiene to menstrual hygiene to reflect what these terms actually mean. Gunter debunks one of the big myths on a lot of the pseudoscience sites that the vagina is the 'seat of your feminine energy. "I believe you are a woman if you feel that you are a woman and that body parts do not make you a woman." When addressing the lack of adequate health care for transgender and gender non-binary individuals, Gunter expressed how important it is to try and be as inclusive as possible for every single person. "Everybody suffers when we don't talk about this openly. The more we can talk about this, the more everyone benefits."

Marketing of Medical Misinformation

Gunter directly addresses those investors present in the TechFestNW audience, reminding them of the importance of being careful about what they're investing in and what the end game is. She asks, "How are you going to be different than everybody else who throws something out without any good science behind it so women can waste their money on more shit?"

Using Dr. Ben Goldacre's analogy of the airline industry, Dr. Gunter observes, "If there's a problem with the airline industry, the answer is not to invest in magic carpets. That's exactly what pseudoscience is. It's a magic carpet. It's making up things." When something is wrong with her body, she wants to have facts and science so she can make a choice. Conversely, this type of pseudoscience offers no choices, only the option of purchasing a product.

Misinformation about women's bodies not only sells useless products and causes people to waste their money, but it can also lead to women delaying diagnosis. It also encourages women to believe they may be "unclean" in ways that they are not, leading them to purchase items like a douche that can actually be quite harmful. Additionally, this misinformation can sometimes result in changes to legislation, creating extra threats to women's bodies in regard to reproductive health.

With her book The Vagina Bible: The Vulva and the Vagina: Separating the Myth from the Medicine, Gunter is poised to continue her battle against those who push pseudoscience in the pursuit of profit. Time will tell if she can succeed in separating the sorcery from the science, thus enabling women to reclaim the power of the pussy.


This article was originally published on May 13, 2019.

Business

Taking My Own Advice: How I Learned To Let Go Of The Things That Are Out Of My Control

It seemed like everything happened overnight because, well… it did.


One moment, my team and I were business as usual, running a multi-million-dollar edible cookie dough company I built from scratch in my at-home kitchen five years ago and the next we were sitting in an emergency management team meeting asking ourselves, "What do we do now?" Things had escalated in New York, and we were all called to do our part in "flattening the curve" and "slowing the spread."

The governor had declared that all restaurants immediately close to the public. All non-essential businesses were also closed, and 8.7 million New Yorkers were quarantined to their tiny apartments for the foreseeable future. Things like "social distancing" and "quarantine" were our new 2020 vernacular — and reality.

What did that mean for us? Our main revenue source was the retail part of the business. Sure, we offered delivery and take-out, but that was such a small portion of our sales. I had built a retail experience where people from near and far came to eat edible cookie dough exactly how they craved it. We had two stores, one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn, which employed over 55 people. We have two production facilities; an online business shipping cookie dough nationwide; a wholesale arm that supplies stores, restaurants, and other retail establishments with treats; and a catering vertical for customizable treats for celebrations of all sizes. And while business and sales were nearly at a complete halt, we still had bills. We had payroll to pay, vendors we owed, services we were contractually obligated to continue, rent, utilities, insurance, and none of that was stopping.

How were we going to do this? And for how long will this go on? No one knew.

As an entrepreneur, this certainly wasn't my first-time facing challenges. But this was unprecedented. Unimaginable. Unbelievable. Certainly unplanned. This control-freak type-A gal was unraveling. I had to make decisions quickly. What was best for my team? For my business? For the safety of my staff? For the city? For my family and unborn baby (oh, yeah, throw being 28 weeks pregnant and all those fun hormones in there, it's real interesting!). Everything was spiraling out of control.

I decided to take the advice I had given to many people over the years — focus on the things you can control. There's no point worrying about all the things you have no control over. If you focus there, you'll just continue spiraling into a deeper, darker hole. Let it go. Once you shift your perspective, you can move forward. It's not going to be easy; the challenges still exist. But you can control certain things, so focus your energy and attention on those.

So that's what I did. I chose, for the safety of staff and customers, to close the retail portion completely — it wasn't worth the take-out and delivery volume to staff the store, open ourselves up to more germs and human contact than absolutely necessary.

I went back to our mission and the reason I started the business in the first place — to spread joy. How could we continue to bring happiness to people during this uncertain time? That's our purpose. With millions of people across the globe stuck inside, working from home, quarantined with their families, how can we reach them since they can't come to us? So I thought back to how and why we got started.

Baking, for me, has always been a type of therapy. I could get lost in the mixing bowl and forget about everything else for a moment in time. Sure, I have a huge sweet tooth, but it's about the process. It's about taking all of these different ingredients and mixing them together to create something magically sweet and special. It's about creating and being creative with the simple things. It's about allowing people to indulge in something that brings them joy — a lick from the spatula or a big batch of cookies.

It's about joy in the moment and sharing that joy with others. So my focus is back on that, and it feels good.

We could still ship nationwide, straight to people's doorstep. So we are making it easier and less expensive to send the ultimate comfort food (edible cookie dough) by introducing a reduced shipping rate, and deals on some of our best-selling packages.

In a way for us, it feels like we are going back in time… back to our roots. When I first started the business, we were only shipping nationwide. There were no stores, no big team, no wholesale. It was just me, a small crew juggling it all, and we made it work then. And we'll make it work again. We have to leverage our online business and hope it floats us through this time.

We are focusing our digital content strategy on sharing recipes, activities, and at-home treats with our engaged, amazing social following so they bake with their families and stay busy at-home. We started live baking tutorials where our fans can bake-along with me and I can share all the tips and tricks I've learned over the years with them.

I've leveraged the cookbook I published last year, Hello, Cookie Dough: 110 Doughlicious Confections to Eat, Bake & Share, to come up with fun content and additional things to do at home. We started shipping it and our at-home baking mixes for free to encourage people to get busy in their kitchens!

And as a business, we will continue to connect with our community to bring them joy and focus on what we can control, including our attitude and outlook first.

During times of uncertainty, which this certainly is, you should do the same. Identify the things you can control and focus your time and energy on those things. Distract yourself with the positive. Force yourself to stop asking and worrying about all the what-ifs. Do what you can for the moment and then the next moment. Make a list, and take it day-by-day.

It's going to be okay. You will be okay. We will all be okay.