Sufficient Scruples

Bioethics, healthcare policy, and related issues.

March 13, 2007

Blog Against Sexism II: Sexism Still a Health Issue

by @ 3:40 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, LGBTQ Issues, Medical Science, Personhood, Provider Roles, Reproductive Ethics, Research Issues, Sex, Women's Issues

“Wendi Aarons” contributes an open letter to the McSweeney’s collection:

AN OPEN LETTER TO
MR. JAMES THATCHER,
BRAND MANAGER,
PROCTER & GAMBLE.

February 6, 2007

Dear Mr. Thatcher,

I have been a loyal user of your Always maxi pads for over 20 years, and I appreciate many of their features. Why, without the LeakGuard Core™ or Dri-Weave™ absorbency, I’d probably never go horseback riding or salsa dancing, and I’d certainly steer clear of running up and down the beach in tight, white shorts. But my favorite feature has to be your revolutionary Flexi-Wings. Kudos on being the only company smart enough to realize how crucial it is that maxi pads be aerodynamic. I can’t tell you how safe and secure I feel each month knowing there’s a little F-16 in my pants. . .

Have you ever had a menstrual period, Mr. Thatcher? Ever suffered from “the curse”? I’m guessing you haven’t. . . .

Last month, while in the throes of cramping so painful I wanted to reach inside my body and yank out my uterus, I opened an Always maxi pad, and there, printed on the adhesive backing, were these words: “Have a Happy Period.”

Are you fucking kidding me? . . .

One one hand, this is a worthy contribution to the “stupid product marketing” museum – and Aarons is far from the first to comment on the absurdly chirpy ad campaigns for menstrual products, or their seemingly inexplicable design. But, without making too much of it, there’s something more here as well, something that reflects the “sexism as a health issue” theme writ small, as I previously tried to express it more broadly.

Simply put, women’s health is largely in the hands of clueless, careless, and uninterested (if not outrightly hostile) men, and this has consequences. Only a man would write “Have a Happy Period” on a maxipad. Only men would perform 80 – 100,000 unnecessary hysterectomies a year in the US, mostly on women in their reproductive years. Only men would create close to 100 different types and formulations of prescription birth control methods that act on women’s bodies, and not one for men. The effects are substantial, and pervade every aspect of care for women. But “Have a Happy Period” says it all. The rank ignorance of women’s lives, bodies, and health, and the thoroughgoing disgust with which women’s biology is perceived, even among professionals engaged in caring for them on a daily basis, renders the health options offered to women not merely absurd but destructive. The simple fact that women are a secondary concern for – and, still in this day and age, a complete mystery to – the men who shape their lives and healthcare, leads to asininity like happy menstruation, and to outrages like unnecessarily dangerous pregnancies and abortions.

Progress has been made on women’s issues, and women’s health, in many ways, but in many ways we’re still in the 1950s. Somewhere out there is an idiot (possibly named “Mr. James Thatcher”) who believed that cheery slogans on women’s hygiene products would be appreciated. Somewhere out there are legions of pharmacists – all, as far as is known, male – who think they can simply deny a woman prescription medications if they choose for her to live her sexual life differently from the way she has chosen for herself to do so. Somewhere out there, in a prominent place and in prominent positions, are these assholes:

They all look like they’re having a very happy period. But as long as men like these have any control over women’s healthcare, women will suffer severe dysgynorrhea. The only treatment is to eradicate the cause.

Hat Tip: Tgirsch at Lean Left.

5 Responses to “Blog Against Sexism II: Sexism Still a Health Issue”

  1. metaphorical Says:

    Only a man would write “Have a Happy Period” on a maxipad. Only men would perform 80 – 100,000 unnecessary hysterectomies a year in the US, mostly on women in their reproductive years.

    Really? We know for a fact that no women have absorbed the dominant sexist culture and participated in unnecessary “women’s” operations, no women have participated in sexist ad campaigns, and so on. Happy days. The major project of the the early women’s movement was “consciousness raising.” It’s gratifying to learn that that project was so successful, on tens of millions of women, and there’s been absolutely no backsliding, even with the rise of religious fundamentalism. Groovy, as they said back then.

  2. Kevin T. Keith Says:

    You’re certainly right that there is an anti-feminist female contingent – one that is becoming more visible as the religious right encourages them into figurehead roles – and still a large group of women who are not sensitized to these issues. My categorical statement that “only” men harm women was too strong, as any such statement taken literally will be.

    But that problem is dwarfed by the male dominance of the anti-woman program of the far right, and more generally by the simple cluelessness of our culture, and especially its male leaders, about women and women’s bodies. We have a culture in which female high school students are punished for simply saying the word “vagina”: a culture in which girls are literally prohibited from speaking the names of parts of their own bodies, the parts that men get flustered over, naturally. We have a culture in which women are encouraged to diet to the point of death to meet imposed standards of appearance – standards not imposed by other women, but reinforced by other women in the competitive hierarchy that earns them rewards for meeting those standards. We have a culture in which almost every aspect of women’s lives is designed around a male model or for men’s convenience, which is why there is almost no support for childcare, no compensation for lost wages or seniority on leaving the work world to raise children, a coordinated assault – by male-led religious groups – on access to both abortion and contraception, and persistent undertreatment of women compared to men for the same diagnoses. We have Bill Frist, David Hager, Charles Krauthammer, Leon Kass, and William Cheshire as highly placed, politically powerful doctors, hell-bent on stripping women of their autonomy, and using the power of the government to do so.

    I can’t think why it’s controversial to say that misogynist men have had a negative impact on women’s health. I’ll agree that is not the only impact, but that fact is not the one that catches my attention about the matter.

  3. tgirsch Says:

    I still think you overstate the case. While it is indeed a male-driven problem, the primary reason while “pro-life” politicians and pharmacists and religious leaders are overwhelmingly male is because those professions are overwhelmingly male-dominated (itself a serious problem), not because males are considerably more likely to be “pro-life.”

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen a poll broken out by gender, but the last time I saw polls that did this, women were no less likely to be anti-choice than their male counterparts (a fact which mystifies me to this day). We can argue all day that this is directly contrary to their own best interests, or discuss why that is, but we shouldn’t pretend that the demographics of belief are different than they are.

  4. tgirsch Says:

    “the reason while”

    Bah! I meant “the reason why”

    Stupid typos.

  5. Rachel Says:

    Wow… I never even noticed that. Says it in French, too — “Have a good and happy week”… thank ghod for being oblivious and not wearing my glasses when opening new pads. At least it’s in a small font.

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