The Lancet’s non-apology for dehumanising women adds insult to injury

The Lancet’s non-apology for dehumanising women adds insult to injury

Prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, has erased and dehumanised women on the cover of its latest issue about menstrual shame, describing women as “bodies with vaginas”:


“Our new issue is here! On the cover – ‘Periods on display’ and the cultural movement against menstrual shame and #PeriodPoverty,” read the tweet, and included an image of the cover with a quote from the relevant article: “Historically, the anatomy and physiology of bodies with vaginas have been neglected.”

In the same breath, the journal both bemoans the neglect of women in medicine and then refuses to name them.

We wish this were satire. It’s not.

The backlash was swift and angry, calling the Lancet’s description of women “dehumanising”, “demeaning” and “misogynistic”.








Retired psychiatrist and honorary professor of genetics at University College London David Curtis said he will no longer have anything to do with the Lancet.

“How completely awful. Just wrote to the Lancet to tell them to take me off their list of statistical reviewers and cancel my subscription and never contact me about anything ever again. Absolutely inexcusable language to refer to women and girls.”

Feminist writer Claire Heuchan said, “This framing makes it sound like a coincidence that ‘bodies with vaginas’ have been neglected by medicine, as if it were not the product of a discrimination and oppression specific to the female sex. Medical misogyny exists - and refusing to acknowledge women perpetuates it.”

Some readers pointed to the Lancet’s sexist double standards and the fact that its recently published work on prostate cancer didn’t refer to men as “bodies with penises”.

“Considering, as the replies highlight, that The Lancet has recently published work on prostates and refer to men, I don’t think the decision to use ‘bodies with vaginas’ is an attempt at inclusive language,” said Katie Paddock, a psychology lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The Lancet’s Editor in Chief Richard Horton responded to the outrage with an apology on its website.



“I apologise to our readers who were offended by the cover quote and the use of those same words in the review,” he wrote.

While an apology is welcome, it doesn’t sound as sorry or as genuine as one might expect.

For starters, the editor never actually owns the fact that the Lancet did dehumanise women, but rather apologises that they “conveyed the impression” that they did.

The editor highlights the Lancet’s commitment to “inclusivity”, but fails to explain why it hasn’t been applying the same “inclusivity” by erasing the term ‘man’ when it talks about men’s health, or replacing it with similarly reductive and dehumanising language.

The emphasis on the need “to empower women, together with non-binary, trans, and intersex people who have experienced menstruation”, also indicates that while offence may not have been intended, the decision to replace “women” with “bodies with vaginas” certainly was.

In other words, had there not been such an immense uproar, the Lancet would have happily continued on its trajectory of erasing and dehumanising women (just like many others continue to do by using terms like “uterus owner”, “menstruator” or “birthing person”). And short of using the phrase “bodies with vaginas”, the editor gives no promise that they won’t continue to do this.

Commentators on Twitter weren’t buying it either.








Women are not a collection of body parts or bodily functions. This is exactly what we are trying to educate against when it comes to the sexualisation and objectification of women and girls in our culture.

Yes, transgender health is important, and any stigma, discrimination and exclusion experienced by trans people in health care must be eradicated. But this does not necessitate eradicating women – or basic biology – in the process.

Women’s Forum Australia is an independent think tank that undertakes research, education and public policy advocacy on issues affecting women and girls, with a particular focus on addressing behaviours and practices that are harmful and abusive to them. We are a non-partisan, non-religious, tax-deductible charity. We do not receive any government funding and rely solely on donations to make an impact. Support our work today.

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