This is a guest post by Laurie and Debbie. Debbie Notkin is a body image activist, a feminist science fiction advocate, and a publishing professional. She is chair of the motherboard of the Tiptree Award and will be one of the two guests of honor at the next WisCon in May 2012. Laurie is a photographer whose photos make up the books Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes (edited and text by Debbie Notkin) and Familiar Men: A Book of Nudes (edited by Debbie Notkin, text by Debbie Notkin and Richard F. Dutcher). Her photographs have been exhibited in many cities, including New York, Tokyo, Kyoto, Toronto, Boston, London, Shanghai and San Francisco. Her solo exhibition “Meditations on the Body” at the National Museum of Art in Osaka featured 100 photographs. Her most recent project is Women of Japan, clothed portraits of women from many cultures and backgrounds. Laurie and Debbie blog together at Body Impolitic, talking about body image, photography, art and related issues. This post originally appeared on Body Impolitic.
Laurie and Debbie say:
A recent Italian study claims that “women with the most severe form of endometriosis happen to be unusually attractive.”
The women also completed a questionnaire about their sexual history, and the results showed that women with severe endometriosis were more likely to have had sexual intercourse before age 18. This could be a result of these women being more attractive, even during adolescence, the researchers said.
So many things are wrong with this that we had trouble figuring out where to start, until we caught the most important point. Patriarchal/kyriarchal society has spent millennia punishing women for any kind of attractiveness or sexuality, while also punishing us for being unattractive and/or sexually unavailable. This punishment specifically includes the belief that the Judeo-Christian god requires women to suffer pain in childbirth. This page has several examples of women punished for transgressing that belief, including:
In 1591 in Scotland, Euphanie Macalyane used a remedy to reduce delivery pains. For bypassing the Biblical curse of Genesis 3:16 – where God cursed Eve (and thus, women) with pain during childbirth – the devout King James VI had her burnt at the stake.
The researchers in the endometriosis study are more 21st century and less draconian–all they want to do is make sure that “attractive” (i.e., conventionally attractive to the four researchers who assessed women for the study) understand that their attractiveness puts them at risk, even while it makes them “more likely to have sexual intercourse before age 18.”
That’s the next problem. Any woman knows, and anyone who has ever paid attention to women’s sexuality should know, that conventional attractiveness is completely unrelated to when a woman first has sex. Some conventionally beautiful women have sex young; some don’t. Some conventionally unattractive women have sex young; some don’t. Some of the vast group of women in the middle have sex young; some don’t.
That begs the question of what defines attractive–in this case, two men and two women with a questionnaire. Or the question of how endometriosis can be most common in conventionally attractive women when there are endless studies, such as this one, that say that fat women (and especially women who were fat as children) are at the greatest risk. Don’t trust those studies any more than you trust this one, by the way–any study that blames fat is immediately suspect.
But you begin to see the jaws the researchers are putting women in: be conventionally attractive? You’re at higher risk for endometriosis. Be fat? You’re at higher risk for endometriosis.
In case that’s not enough, a few more points:
The study consisted of 300 women, 1/3 with severe rectovaginal endometriosis, 1/3 with less severe endometriosis, and 1/3 who were in gynecological treatment for “other reasons.” We’ve seen smaller studies, but this not a large one, and because the women were all in treatment in the same area, diversity is likely to have been very low. The evaluati0n of attractiveness was largely subjective. The sexual histories were based on a questionnaire, and questionnaires about sexuality are known to be deeply unreliable.
Evaluation of people’s medical and internal physiological characteristics based on appearance has been disproved since the early 20th century, when Lombroso‘s theories that you could recognize murderers and other criminals based on their facial characteristics were disproved.
And, finally, can you imagine anyone, anywhere, defining a male disease based on the man’s looks, as in “We’ve noticed that men who work out young and get really buffed muscles are more likely to have an enlarged prostate gland”? We can’t. But then, men aren’t guilty of the sins of Eve.
Thanks to Stef for the original link.