Medical misogyny

Girls can wear jeans
And cut their hair short
Wear shirts and boots
‘Cause it’s OK to be a boy
But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
‘Cause you think that being a girl is degrading
          – Madonna, “What It feels Like For A Girl”

I am a bit of a news junkie and because of my habit I am repeatedly angered by the ongoing abuse of women around the world: rape for “correction” or as a “weapon of war”, mutilation and honor killings are but a few examples. However a couple of topics in recent weeks have actually made my jaw drop, not because the harm sustained by the affected women was any greater but because of the misuse of medicine and surgical skill to further misogynistic schemes. In India, the selective abortion of female fetuses is nothing new but in select locations and for the right price parents can find physicians who will surgically change their little girls into boys. In the US, the rights of the fetus seem to be surpassing women’s rights given that women have become prisoners within hospitals, undergone surgery without their consent and have even been charged with murder over fetal well-being. These cases demonstrate the pervasiveness of misogyny and the degradation of medicine by its collaborators.

Girls to men

Baby boys naturally outnumber baby girls by around 6%; in other words, for every 100 girls born there are 106 boys that accompany them. Perhaps this is a good thing given that nearly everywhere people seem to prefer boys over girls. Clara Kim, Time NewsFeed, reports “Contrary to the stereotypical notion, girl bias or boy obsession isn’t limited just to Asia. A Gallup poll shows that such a mindset is prevalent in the U.S., too and has been for at least 70 years. The poll asked 1,020 American adults, if they could have only one child, which gender they would prefer. Forty percent of the participants said a boy, while 28% answered a girl. This is not much different from the first poll results in 1941, which were 38% and 24%.” But while Americans are for the most part content to raise whichever gender comes their way, other cultures take a more active role in increasing the rate of male births.

S V Subramanian, a Professor at Harvard School of Public Heath, published in 2009 that “according to the most recent census, for every 1000 males, there were only 933 females, and the corresponding ratio for ages 0–6 years was 927 girls for every 1000 boys. The disproportionate distribution of sexes, at least in more recent years, has been surmised to be driven largely through the use of medical technologies by physicians and prospective parents to determine the sex of fetuses followed by selective abortion of female fetuses. This explanation was initially suggested in the 1980s, and has gained considerable acceptance since then. Some 10 million female fetuses are estimated to have been aborted over the last two decades in India.” By these numbers it appears that there are around 8% more boys than girls among the youngest generation of India and that 2 of every 100 pregnant women with female fetuses choose to abort based on fetal sex alone.

And now there is another way to ensure male offspring. Amrita Kadam of Hindustan Times, India reports that “Girls are being ‘converted’ into boys in Indore – by the hundreds every year – at ages where they cannot give their consent for this life-changing operation. This shocking, unprecedented trend, catering to the fetish for a son, is unfolding at conservative Indore’s well-known clinics and hospitals on children who are 1-5 years old. The process being used to ‘produce’ a male child from a female is known as genitoplasty. Each surgery costs Rs 1.5 lakh [~$3400 US dollars]. Moreover, these children are pumped with hormonal treatment as part of the sex change procedure that may be irreversible. The low cost of surgery and the relatively easy and unobtrusive way of getting it done in this city attracts parents from Delhi and Mumbai to get their child surgically ‘corrected’.”

Dean Nelson of The Telegraph, UK reports that “Indian doctors have been accused of conducting sex change operations on young girls whose parents want sons to improve the family’s income prospects.” It’s not just a preference for boys that is driving the femicide, it is also money. “People don’t want to share their property or invest in girls’ education or pay dowries.” Regardless of parental motivation there remains the doctors’ compliance and lives destroyed by it.

Contrary to Dr John Money’s debunked theory that gender identity is flexible to the whims of social upbringing, medical observation as well as experimentation have proven that gender identity is not malleable. David Reimer was one of Dr Money’s greatest success stories until the truth about his life became known. David’s story began with a botched circumcision that destroyed his infant penis followed by his parents decision to follow Dr Money’s advice to surgically reassign his sex and to raise him as a girl. Unfortunately, David never accepted his forced female gender role and began living as a male at the age of 15. He continued to suffer years of severe depression, financial instability, a dissolving marriage and eventually committed suicide in 2005. His tragic story is catalogued in the bestseller biography: “As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl” by John Colapinto.

Similarly in Palestine, teenage girls with an intersex/DSD condition that masculinizes them at puberty may be forced to change their clothes and present themselves as boys but their core identities do not change. “‘Only my appearance, my haircut and clothing, makes me look like a boy,’ Ahmed says, gesturing with his hands across his face. ‘Inside, I am like a female. I am a girl.'”

Modification of body parts by physicians without medical indication and without the consent of the person receiving it is tragic and should be criminalized. This is especially true of the sex organs given that at best, surgery permanently alters cosmetic appearance, sensitivity and sexual function. At worst, surgery can result in horrific disfiguration and/or death. Given these risks I strongly believe that non-medically indicated genital surgeries, including circumcision, should be banned for all minors.

Fetal incubator

As if unemployment, home foreclosures and ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan weren’t enough to keep our legislators occupied, the Republican War on Women continues to escalate. According to the Associated Press as reported by MSNBC:

  • “In 1987, a Washington, D.C., judge ordered a woman who was dying of cancer to have a C-section, which she had refused, to save her fetus. The baby died within two hours of delivery and the mother died two days later. An appeals court later ruled the judge should not have ordered the C-section.
  • “In 2003, prosecutors in Salt Lake City charged an acknowledged cocaine addict who had a history of mental health problems with murder when she refused to have a C-section for two weeks before finally agreeing to the procedure. One of her twins died in the womb during the delay. Through a plea deal, the charge was later reduced to child endangerment.
  • “In 2004, a hospital in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, obtained a court order to force a woman to have a C-section because her seventh baby was oversized, but the order was too late. The mother, whose first six children each weighed nearly 12 pounds (5 1/2 kilograms) at birth, went to another hospital and delivered a nearly 12-pound girl naturally.
  • “Also in 2004, a judge in Rochester, New York, ordered a homeless woman not to get pregnant again without court approval after she lost custody of several neglected children.”

In 2009, Wikipedia records that “Samantha Burton, a mother of two, was twenty-five weeks pregnant in March of 2009 when she experienced a premature rupture of membranes and displayed signs of premature labor. At the urging of her obstetrician, she sought care at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. She found not to be in labor, but ordered to remain on bed rest. Her obstetrician, Dr. Jana Bures-Forsthoefel, refused to allow her to leave the hospital to garner a second opinion and then obtained a court order from the Circuit Court of Leon County which required Burton to undergo “any and all medical treatments” that her physician, acting in the interests of the fetus, deemed necessary. The Court held the hearing by telephone with Burton being required to argue her case from her hospital bed without the assistance of an attorney or independent medical opinion. Three days into her court-ordered confinement, Burton underwent an emergency C-section, at which time the fetus was found to be dead.”

In 2010, a law was enacted in Utah that criminalizes unacceptable forms of miscarriage. According to David Usborne of The Independent, UK, “While the main thrust of the law is to enable prosecutors in the majority-Mormon state to pursue women who seek illegal, unsupervised forms of abortion, it includes a provision that could trigger murder charges against women found guilty of an “intentional, knowing or reckless act” that leads to a miscarriage. Some say this could include drinking one glass of wine too many, walking on an icy pavement or skiing.” The 17-year-old whose case ignited the discussion that led to the law is currently defending herself before the Utah Supreme Court.

In 2011, NARAL Pro-Choice America reports that “We are tracking 470 anti-choice bills in 2011 — nearly three times as many as last year.”

And finally, according to MoveOn’s Top 10 Shocking Attacks from the GOP’s War on Women:

  1. Republicans not only want to reduce women’s access to abortion care, they’re actually trying to redefine rape. After a major backlash, they promised to stop. But they haven’t yet. Shocker.
  2. A state legislator in Georgia wants to change the legal term for victims of rape, stalking, and domestic violence to “accuser.” But victims of other less gendered crimes, like burglary, would remain “victims.”
  3. In South Dakota, Republicans proposed a bill that could make it legal to murder a doctor who provides abortion care. (Yep, for real.)
  4. Republicans want to cut nearly a billion dollars of food and other aid to low-income pregnant women, mothers, babies, and kids.
  5. In Congress, Republicans have a bill that would let hospitals allow a woman to die rather than perform an abortion necessary to save her life.
  6. Maryland Republicans ended all county money for a low-income kids’ preschool program. Why? No need, they said. Women should really be home with the kids, not out working.
  7. And at the federal level, Republicans want to cut that same program, Head Start, by $1 billion. That means over 200,000 kids could lose their spots in preschool.
  8. Two-thirds of the elderly poor are women, and Republicans are taking aim at them too. A spending bill would cut funding for employment services, meals, and housing for senior citizens.
  9. Congress just voted for a Republican amendment to cut all federal funding from Planned Parenthood health centers, one of the most trusted providers of basic health care and family planning in our country.
  10. And if that wasn’t enough, Republicans are pushing to eliminate all funds for the only federal family planning program. (For humans. But Republican Dan Burton has a bill to provide contraception for wild horses. You can’t make this stuff up).

Summary

The abuse of women is atrocious in any form but utterly unacceptable within the medical community. It is incomprehensible that physicians would tinker with the genitalia and sex of rearing of innocent little girls given the scientific evidence we already have regarding gender identity formation and durability. It is also unacceptable for physicians to debase women to the level of fetal incubators. End genital mutilation and no wire hangers, ever!

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