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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.

3 min read
Lifestyle

Help! I’m Sick of Seasonal Weight Gain!

Email armchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get the advice you need!

Help! I'm Sick of Seasonal Weight Gain!

Dear Armchair Psychologist,
How would you deal with the seasonal weight gain that most women experience? I've put on literally 5–7 lbs around my waist/butt/lower thighs and it's the bane of my existence. Getting dressed hasn't even been fun lately:( I know it's "normal," but how do I battle the psychology behind this?
- McFattie in Brooklyn

Dear McFattie in Brooklyn,

I'm sorry to hear that the winter blues is making your zipper hard to close. Personally, I roll with the rolls during the dark and frigid winter season, while chalking the glutton up to a basic survival mechanism. The feelings that accompany being out of shape and not wanting to dress cute (because your clothes don't fit well) can be both demoralizing and a blow to your self esteem. In this fantastic post, the author suggests great techniques that include keeping things in perspective and to "Ignore the panic," "Get curious" about your weight gain, and to keep it moving by "getting out of your room." Best of all is the advice to "Remember all things that are more important than this." If these head games don't serve you over time, and you still feel low, there may be deeper underlying reasons to your weight gain. In this case, I suggest you speak to a qualified therapist.

- The Armchair Psychologist

Need more armchair psychologist in your life? Check out the last installment or emailarmchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get some advice of your own!