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.— The Lancet (@TheLancet) September 24, 2021
Plus, @WHO air quality guidelines, low #BackPain management, community-acquired bacterial #meningitis, and more. Read: https://t.co/eP1Lx7D116 pic.twitter.com/DchfiHnYEs
“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”.
Are we just supposed to accept this? Are we extremist for objecting to women and girls being de-humanised. Are we really just “bodies with vaginas” to medical professionals?— Susan Dalgety (@DalgetySusan) September 24, 2021
"Bodies with vaginas" is the language of serial killers.— For Women Scotland (@ForwomenScot) September 24, 2021
Do you also talk about "bodies with penises" or do you grant men the dignity of not being reduced to body parts?
How is it that "one of the world's leading general medical journals" with a motto of "The best science is a good start" seemingly doesn't know what a woman is?!— Calvin (@calvinrobinson) September 24, 2021
"bodies with vaginas" is unscientific and incredibly demeaning.
Do you refer to men as ‘bodies w penises’? Of course not. You only use demeaning terms to refer to women because you are misogynist scum. Please w your fake concern that women are neglected. You are contributing to it. You are perpetuating it.— Yasmine Mohammed 🦋 ياسمين محمد (@YasMohammedxx) September 25, 2021
Bodies with vaginas? Oh dear god. You can’t write that and then talk about menstrual shame in the same sentence— Stephanie deGiorgio (@DrSdeG) September 24, 2021
Honestly can't believe that you can't see what's happening here. You're telling us that you've noticed that for hundreds of years you've neglected and overlooked women...and then...in the same breath..you are unable to name those people you've been ignoring. Why can't you see it?— Milli Hill (@millihill) September 24, 2021
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.
Dear readers, in response to the Sept 25, 2021 cover of The Lancet, here is a statement from Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief: https://t.co/d47J6v4kSC pic.twitter.com/J73HlJ7w1O— The Lancet (@TheLancet) September 27, 2021
“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.
We're not 'offended.' We're angry with you colluding with the political erasure of women. Especially in a context when you are supposed to be rectifying that historic erasure.— Dr. Jane Clare Jones 💚🤍💜 (@janeclarejones) September 27, 2021
"We're a bit sorry we've been called out for choosing to demean and marginalise women. But mostly we'd like to emphasise how important it is to continue demean and marginalise women." @TheLancet https://t.co/lwKqU2LsuK— inkless imprint (@toolongdead) September 27, 2021
“We’re sorry you feel that way, especially as we were actually right all along. But I’d like talk about trans people a bit more now, and insult women with DSDs by suggesting they are not really women”— Clare (@LiviaBurlando) September 27, 2021
So you are justifying the dehumanising of women by telling women that other people have problems? #NoThankYou— Mr Ben- GRRRRRRRRRRR (@crit_gen) September 27, 2021
And yet, you don't apply that same inclusivity when discussing men's health. You absolutely CANNOT convince anyone that you are being inclusive when you only apply criteria to women & not men.— Professor Confessor Holycrap (@VeniVidiVicki) September 27, 2021
Not good enough. Women have been historically marginalised, discriminated against, brutalised, harmed and excluded from health care, which continues to this day. This failed attempt to be “inclusive” excluded and betrayed women and girls.— Katherine Deves (@katherine_deves) September 28, 2021
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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