And while you are welcome to believe whatever you want and do whatever you want within the bounds of the law, large popular platforms have an obligation to not spread dangerous misinformation. Like xojane:
There’s no debate that women are underrepresented in the media. Men’s bylines vastly outnumber women’s, in some publications by as much as 9 to 1. Men pitch more often, and they tend to be more persistent than women. So I’m a fan of women’s media outlets that publish large numbers of female contributors and center on women’s voices and experiences. But in the push to promote women’s voices, some sites push the boundaries of journalistic ethics, recreating a retro women’s magazine model where fear-mongering too often replaces informative, valuable content.
The latest, but hardly the only, offender is xoJane, which recently published a piece titled “I Did Not Cut My Baby’s Umbilical Cord For Six Days So We Could Have A Natural Lotus Birth Just Like Chimpanzees”. Written by the “full-time mom of Ulysses” and “Mama Naturally” blogger Adele Allen, the post details Allen’s at-home birth assisted only by her husband, followed by their decision to not sever the umbilical cord and leave the placenta attached to newborn Ulysses until it fell off naturally. Allen insists that leaving the placenta attached is a good thing because chimps do it, and because it allows the newborn to keep mainlining nutrients from the organ. She asserts that contrary to the claims of medical professionals, there’s no real risk of sepsis from keeping a dead organ attached to a brand-new infant with an under-developed immune system. And she wanted a home birth unassisted by any medical professional because that’s more natural.
Unfortunately, Allen’s assertions don’t match up with reality. Chimpanzees aside – although I will briefly note that chimps are more prone to eating their placenta, since dragging a piece of rotting meat through the jungle right next to your vulnerable young is actually a really great way to attract predators – keeping a placenta attached to either your baby or yourself poses real threats.
Allen argues that there’s no sepsis risk because there aren’t any reports of babies dying from sepsis after keeping their placenta attached until it falls off. But perhaps that’s because the number of parents who are bizarre and irresponsible enough to keep their child’s placenta attached are, thankfully, statistically insignificant. And women do die from placental abruption. While Allen’s home birth went just fine and there are, of course, legitimate concerns about the medicalization of childbirth, it’s worth noting that before birth-related medical advances, women and babies died in extraordinary numbers. Child-birth is a killer for a whole lot of women, and trained attendants save innumerable lives.
That may not remain the case, though, if large media outlets like xoJane continue to give science-denying wackadoodles a platform. Allen and any other person is entitled to hold her dangerous beliefs, start her own website to discuss them, publish her own newsletter about them or stand on a street corner and tell people her opinions. But no one is entitled to publish their views on a prominent website. And most responsible publications won’t print material that is factually inaccurate and promoting dangerous practices without at least offering some sort of expert counterweight in the same story.
In many middle-brow “women’s interest” publications, which are largely glossy magazines and the websites that emulate them, the interest of promoting women’s voices (not to mention getting page views or selling magazine copies) too often means editors are disturbingly willing to publish women who make totally outrageous, factually incorrect and often dangerous claims.
The full piece is here. I didn’t get into this very deeply in the Guardian piece, but there’s also a humiliation factor that strikes me as cruel. It’s not as if the xojane editors had no idea that publishing this would lead to round mockery of the author. But putting her out there for public derision was worth it, I guess, for pageviews.