Tag: gender

Blog Posts (20)

November 22, 2016

Seeing Red, Feeling Blue: Fordham Historians Discuss the 2016 Election

Following the 2016 election this month, a panel of historians at Fordham University discussed the results and President-Elect Trump through the lenses of different historical perspectives on November 22, 2016. The panelists discussed several issues including, but not limited to, Latino/hispanic votes, immigration, fascism and the “alt-right,” mistrust of the United States government, misogyny, white … More Seeing Red, Feeling Blue: Fordham Historians Discuss the 2016 Election
October 3, 2016

Stop Pussyfooting Around the Word! Why Amy Schumer and Everyone Else Should Talk about Vulvas!

I recently watched a skit by Amy Schumer where she goes to see her gynecologist. Her gynecologist is professional in every way except that she does not use the medical terms of the vagina and vulva. Instead, she uses the slang term “pussy.” Schumer feels uncomfortable of this and asks her if she would instead use another term. The gynecologist misinterprets this as a request that Schumer does not like this one particular slang term spends the rest of the skit using all sorts of creative slang terminology to refer to women’s vulvas.

This skit not only highlights the discomfort many people have in talking about the female genitalia, but also shows that the words we use to refer to the female genitalia (and the body more broadly) matter. A healthcare professional using slang terms can be awkward and feel unprofessional for the patient. Part way through the skit, Schumer asks her gynecologist to use the medical terms, specifically “vagina.” I applaud Schumer for speaking up in an uncomfortable patient/doctor encounter and requesting words that feel more comfortable for her. 

However, I remain troubled by the fact that the term “vagina” seems the default word medical or non-slang word that most people use for the female genitalia. Indeed, it is commonly used to refer to a woman’s entire vulva and not specifically her vagina. Yet the vagina and the vulva are two different parts of the body. As defined by Merriam-Webster, the vagina is “the passage in a woman's or female animal’s body that leads from the uterus to the outside of the body,” whereas the vulva is “the parts of the female sexual organs that are on the outside of the body.” By referring to female genitalia as just the vagina, other important parts of the vulva are overlooked. This misuse of terms is problematic for at least two reasons.

First, it prioritizes heterosexual intercourse (vaginal penile sex), the type of sex that most straight men prefer and by which most are able to achieve orgasm. By only naming and giving agency to the vagina, we marginalize and even preclude other types of sexual activity. Namely, the clitoris is erased. This is significant because the clitoris is the locus of female sexual pleasure and orgasm. In fact, the vast majority of women require clitoral stimulation in order to achieve orgasm. In using the term “vagina” when in fact we are referring to the vulva, we are minimizing the importance of the clitoris and women’s sexual pleasure. Reducing women’s genitalia to just the vagina – both in the language we use and culturally (e.g. pornography that mainly focuses on vaginal penile sex) – harms women by not acknowledging the most important part for most women’s sexual pleasure: i.e. the clitoris.

Second, using the term “vagina” when one means “vulva” is also problematic because it focuses just on women’s reproductive capacity. In our pronatalistic society, women (at least white, straight, middle-class, able-bodied, Christian women) are valued for their reproductive capacity. The vagina, which notably is also referred to as the birth canal, is the centerpiece for heterosexual reproduction: the vagina is the passage through which the sperm enter the woman’s body and it is the passage through which the baby leaves the woman’s body. By using the word “vagina” to encompass the entire vulva, we are tacitly, and perhaps not so tacitly, showing which part of the female genitalia and which one of women’s abilities (i.e. reproduction) we think is most important.

I look forward to watching more of Amy Schumer’s work, as I appreciate that she directly tackles issues surrounding sexuality and reproduction from a feminist perspective. Perhaps she can use the word “vulva” on one of her upcoming skits, which would help educate people about what the vulva is and would empower others to start using this term as well. But the responsibility is not on her alone; we should all start talking about vulvas!

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.


July 18, 2016

Rape as a public health issue

Some people may be surprised that I am discussing rape on a bioethics blog because they do not think that sexual violence is a bioethics issue. However, rape is a public health matter that raises serious ethical concerns, especially regarding justice and equality. The goal of public health is to protect and improve the lives of the public. Rape harms many people especially women: 1 out of 6 women and 1 out of 33 men in the United States will experience a rape or attempted rape (Esposito 2006).

The act of rape can cause various immediate health concerns such as general body trauma (e.g. bruises, lacerations, broken bones, etc.), STI exposure, and unintentional pregnancy. Rape also has long-term health consequences for survivors both psychologically and physiologically. Rape survivors frequently experience depression, anxiety, PTSD, and negative sexuality issues. Furthermore, sexual violence has been connected to health problems for survivors across almost all body systems (e.g. gastrointestinal, cardiopulmonary, etc.) (Wasco 2003).

Rape is not only harmful to its victims, but rape culture has a toxic effect on women as a group. Rape culture perpetuates an oppressive patriarchal system in which women are sexually objectified and devalued. Furthermore, rape culture leads women to live in constant fear about their physical safety because they are worried that they will be victims of sexual assault. Feelings of objectification and devaluation as well as anxiety regarding one’s safety are clearly not good for women’s health.

Despite the deleterious effects rape has on its victims, women as a group, public health, and society at large, as we have seen with the Brock Turner case, as well as other cases, unfortunately our legal system frequently does not treat rape as a serious crime. In a recent publication, “Rape as a Hate Crime: An Analysis of New York Law,” I argue that the punishment for rape should carry more serious consequences. Specifically, I claim that in most cases rape should be considered a hate crime since the rapist chooses the victim based on gender, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation. Recognizing rape as a hate crime would not only qualify it for sentencing enhancements, but it would also acknowledge that rape reinforces the patriarchal and heteronormative hegemony.






Esposito, N. (2006). Women with a history of sexual assault. Health care visits can be reminders of a sexual assault. Am J Nurs, 106(3), 69-71, 73.


Wasco, S. M. (2003). Conceptualizing the harm done by rape: applications of trauma theory to experiences of sexual assault. Trauma Violence Abuse, 4(4), 309-322.

April 28, 2016

Expanding The Moral Community: Why is it so hard?

Much of American history can be described as the struggle to expand the moral community in which an increasing number of human beings are seen as having basic rights under the constitution. We forget sometimes that though the inclusion of all people was perhaps implied in our early documents, as in “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” from the Declaration of Independence, it has taken historical time and struggle to come closer to realizing that ideal. This struggle has been the quest for recognition of more and more individuals not assumed initially to have the right to vote and exercise control over their lives, which included African Americans, women, minorities, and more recently the LGBT community. The growing recognition of more and more individuals as being full fledged citizens has been a slow, often painful, birthing process of freedom, in the sense of unleashing human potential and possibilities, within the democratic process.


The recent uproar over the Anti-LGBT law passed in North Carolina is a reminder of how difficult it is for many states and communities to accept and accommodate historically marginalized people into the mainstream of society. This law was a quick reaction by the right wing North Carolina legislature and governor to an ordinance passed in Charlotte, similar to what other cities around the country are doing, allowing transgender people to use restrooms according to their gender identity. Perhaps this law also should be seen as a reaction to the Supreme Court ruling in 2015 legalizing same-sex marriage, which has been propelling society toward greater openness and acceptance of LGBT life styles, integrating them into the mainstream. Many who favor the Anti-LGBT law claim that individuals born as male, but are now identifying as female, could pose a risk to women and girls in public bathrooms, though there seems to be no substantial evidence whatsoever of such a risk. My sense is that the individuals who support this law in fact are using risk as a smokescreen in attempting to preserve what they perceive as waning values and norms in society: In the name of conservatism they hang on to an exclusionary vision of society that no longer fits the conditions of expanding freedom and opportunity.


So what some see as waning values and norms, others see as moral progress toward more robust democratic ideals and values. This inherent, historical struggle of opposing social and political forces has resulted with unexpected rapidity in the social and legal acceptance of gays and lesbians in the past 20 years in the United States. Most young people today especially those living in metropolitan areas, like Charlotte, where cultural diversity is a daily reality, readily accept that people naturally have different sexual orientations and gender identities, which people should be free to express in their lives. This liberal openness to diversity likely stems from the fact that they live in the midst of, and have normal interactions and friendships with, people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, which prompts them to look upon them as neighbors and as normal people. On the other hand, my guess is that many of the advocates of the Anti-LGBT Bill in North Carolina have little or no contact (of which they are aware) and no or limited relationships with LGBT individuals. Also, part of the resistance to greater inclusion of the LGBT community could be stem from the anxiety of having to recognize one’s own uncomfortable feelings and inclinations about sexuality and gender.


An additional factor to explain the reluctance of many self-identified conservatives to accept alternative sexual and gender orientations may be related to religion. Particularly, in the “bible belt” regions, regardless of whether or not they are followed by church leaders and members, clear notions of basic moral norms of right and wrong are assumed. Sadly, religious morality has been historically integrated with and used to justify a range of regional cultural values and norms—even heinous ones such as the use of Christianity to justify the institution of slavery. But in fairness even many Christians outside the bible belt follow Catholic natural law theory based on certain features about human nature from which basic norms are predicated about what is “normal” as well as “right” and “wrong” in a content rich, objective sense. In short, the point is if one believes that members of the LGBT community are engaging in a personal life style that is assumed to be inherently immoral, a barrier to inclusion is created.


So we in America today are in the midst of a culture war between conservative communities in rural and smaller towns on the one side espousing religious assumptions about human nature (which affects how they perceive risks) and liberals celebrated diversity in more progressive, metropolitan areas on the other. Advocates on either side of this divide bring to bear ideas and theories in an effort to convince others of their position. However, my sense is that articulating arguments to defend the root moral assumptions of either side is unlikely to change the minds of individuals on the other side. The result seems to be communities of individuals living in parallel universes with alternate moral vocabularies who “talk at” each other. Though I am for a liberal, moral vocabulary to account for moral progress within the democratic process, the real change that many of us liberals seek really is at the emotional, and even spiritual, level relating to how human beings are able to show empathy and respect for their fellow human beings in their communities.


We know human identity is based largely on social identity within a particular group or groups related to broad social categories such as religion, race, ethnicity, social class, etc. and to more specific ones such as professions, sports teams, political parties, etc. One of the inherent features of social identity is that individuals have a sense of self-identity by virtue of their group affiliations, which is also defined in terms of groups with which they are not affiliated and to which they stand in opposition. When group identities become rigid, to the point of engendering animus toward other groups, barriers are created which can marginalize the rights of individuals in those groups. But through exposure to, and openness to personal relationships with, individuals outside one’s own group, group identity becomes more flexible and open to change—this is an inner change of heart and disposition toward others.


Perhaps many of those who self-identify as conservatives in North Carolina who favor the Anti-LGBT law, and who also are predominantly Christian, should remember the ministry of the central character of their faith tradition. The thrust of Jesus’ ministry as defined by scholars like John Dominic Crossan is one of radical inclusion and hospitality. Jesus spent his time interacting with, eating with, and drinking wine with those on the margins of society who were outcasts and viewed as unclean and dangerous according the prevailing hygiene laws. His message to these people was that they too can be included in the moral community and be loved like all others. This is a robust message of compassion and love.


Ultimately, struggle for expanding inclusion can only succeed when opponents of bills like the Anti-LGBT Bill are able to show members of the LGBT community the kind of compassion and love Jesus showed to those on the margins of society in his day. The struggle of inclusion really is the struggle to expand what one thinks of as the moral community, or more simply, the neighborhood.




The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

April 26, 2016

Transnational Reproduction: Race, Kinship and Commercial Surrogacy in India

Wednesday, April 27, 12:15 – 1:30 p.m. | Walsh Library Special Collections room Join us for a lunchtime lecture and discussion led by Daisy Deomampo, Ph.D. (assistant professor of anthropology, Fordham). Her research focuses on the intersection between technology, gender, health … Continue reading
March 4, 2016

Ethics & Society Newsfeed: March 4, 2016

NIH vowed to move its research chimps from labs, but only 7 got safe haven in 2015 Nearly three years after the National Institutes of Health announced that hundreds of chimpanzees held for invasive medical experiments would be retired to a … Continue reading
February 10, 2016

Penis Transplants Coming to America

The New York Times recently reported that physicians will soon undertake the first penis transplants in the U.S. The goal of this procedure is to restore everyday functionality as well as sexual functioning for men with genitourinary injuries, which are injuries involving loss of part of all of the penis and/or testicles. The donated penis will come from a deceased donor, with that donor’s permission. Penis transplants have only taken place in China in 2006, where the procedure failed due to the recipient psychologically rejecting the transplant, and in South Africa in 2014, where the procedure was successful. 

For the time being, this procedure will be limited in the U.S. to men who lost their penis in military service. In the last 15 years, over 1300 men have suffered genitourinary injuries in Afghanistan or Iraq, mainly due to homemade bombs. Almost all of these men are under 35 years old.

One objection to penis transplantation is that it is not life-saving. While it is true that penis transplants are not life-saving, much of modern medicine focuses on improving quality of life (e.g. glasses for poor vision, over the counter medication for the common cold, physical therapy for back pain, assisted reproductive technologies for infertility, etc.). While a genitourinary injury may not be visible to others, the effect on the individual can be devastating. For many men, the penis is a symbol of his masculinity and not having “normal” genitals can impair his gendered and sexual identity. As I have discussed in my published research,

“the male genitals are generally central to a man’s coherent sexual identity, and are associated with stereotypical masculine traits like “strength” and “courage.” Because of the personal, as well as social, significance of the male genitals, having “misfunctioning” (e.g. impotent, prematurely ejaculating, infertile) genitals or genitals that look “abnormal” (e.g. small penis, missing a testicle) can diminish men’s sense of masculinity.”

Given the significance of the male genitals to men, it is not surprising that many male patients find a genitourinary injury to be the worst type of injury possible. According to Scott E. Skiles, the polytrauma social work supervisor at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System who is quoted in the New York Times article on penis transplants, “Our young male patients would rather lose both legs and an arm than have a urogenital injury.”

The psychological suffering caused by genitourinary injuries should not be underestimated. The objection that a penis transplant is merely “elective” and not medically necessary overlooks the profound effect a genitourinary injury can have on a man’s mental health. While there are still concerns about penis transplants, namely the fact that they are still experimental, they should not be equated with other types of surgeries that purely or mostly cosmetic.   


The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.


September 14, 2015

Is Sex Selection Ethical?

<p>In some countries where there is a strong preference for sons due to cultural and religious reasons, women sometimes choose to have an abortion after learning the sex of the fetus they carry is female, which is often referred to as sex selection abortion. For example, <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166246/">sex selection abortion</a> is common in India and has increased significantly in the couple of last decades, especially for pregnancies following a firstborn daughter. The prevalence of sex selection abortion is also common in China, often referred to as the “<a href="http://jhr.uwpress.org/content/45/1/87.short">missing girls of China</a>” phenomenon, and is due to a similar cultural preference for sons as well as the One Child Policy.</p> <p>Given the strong pressure women are under to have sons, is ethical for them to have sex selection abortions? Some point out that it may not be women’s authentic choice that is leading them to abort female fetuses but rather familial pressure from their husband and other family members as well as broader social pressure. In these situations, paternalistic approaches may be more justifiable in order to protect women from oppressive social forces that may coerce them into having sex selection abortion. From a justice perspective, outlawing sex selection abortion sends the message that sex discrimination is wrong, seeks to protect female fetuses, and attempts to ensure a balanced birth ratio between females and males.</p> <p><span style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 19.04px;"><strong>The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a</strong> </span><strong style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 19.04px;">Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our <a style="color: #000099; text-decoration: underline;" href="/Academic/bioethics/index.cfm">website</a>.</strong></p>
August 28, 2015

Marketing Trumps Science, or How the Pink Pill Does Not Even the Score

<p class="MsoNormal" style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><span style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">This month’s blog is going to be a bit of a rant. I don’t generally consider myself a rant-y person, but some of the commentary surrounding the recent </span><a style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;" href="http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm458734.htm">FDA approval</a><span style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"> of the sexual desire disorder drug Addyi has proven too much for my delicate constitution.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><span style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">First, what I am NOT doing: I am NOT denying the existence of hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), or that for women who are so afflicted it can cause serious distress or otherwise negative consequences. I am NOT challenging the notion that HSDD is a medical problem that warrants seeking a medical treatment or medical solution. I am NOT arguing against pharmaceuticals in general, or here specifically, as a potentially viable medical treatment for HSDD. I am NOT saying all pharmaceuticals should have absolutely no risks or side effects, or should be required to produce overly substantial benefits for it to be appropriate for them to be FDA-approved and released to the market. I am NOT calling into question the claims that there are very real sex and gender disparities in medicine, human medicalization, and medical treatment. And I am NOT disputing the value of empowering women with greater control over their own bodies and their own healthcare.</span></p> <p><span style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; line-height: 19.0400009155273px; font-size: 12px;"><strong>The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a</strong> </span><strong style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; line-height: 19.0400009155273px; font-size: 12px;">Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our <a style="color: #000099; text-decoration: underline;" href="/Academic/bioethics/index.cfm">website</a>.</strong></p>
June 29, 2015

iPhone App Will Track Sexual Activity and Reproduction

<div style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">Apple recently announced that they will update their health app, HealthKit, to include reproductive health. Many were critical of the original app because although it can track a wide range of health indicators, such as BMI, sleep, sodium intake, number of falls, etc., it neglected reproductive health. Specifically, <a href="http://fusion.net/story/100781/apple-ios-update-new-version-of-healthkit-still-doesnt-track-periods/">it is problematic</a> that the app includes some obscure health indicators, like selenium intake, but not menstrual cycle, which affects half of the population. While there are other apps that are specifically geared toward women's reproductive health, it is troubling that an iPhone app that comes standard with the phone would exclude something so central to women's health as menstruation. Some believe that the omission of reproductive health from HealthKit is due to the fact that the tech world, including Apple, is dominated by men.  </div> <div style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><br /></div> <div style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">The new the updated app is a huge improvement because it includes a variety of reproductive health indicators like menstruation, basal body temperature, and spotting. The broad range of reproductive health indicators helps women keep track of their reproductive health in general and specifically for women looking to prevent pregnancy and for women looking to achieve pregnancy. This is an important addition because too often reproductive health is overlooked or not considered part of "real" healthcare. The addition of the reproductive health category in HealthKit technology not only acknowledges the reproductive health issues specific to many women, but also normalizes them.</div> <p><strong style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our <a style="color: #000099; text-decoration: underline;" href="http://www.amc.edu/Academic/bioethics/index.cfm">website</a>.</strong></p>

View More Blog Entries

Published Articles (1)

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 6 Issue 2 - Mar 2006

Bioethics' Gender

News (2)

July 2, 2012 3:32 pm

The IOC's superwoman complex: how flawed sex-testing discriminates (The Guardian)

This is not science. It is a gender witchhunt, and it is foul play. This is why experts in sports, gender, and bioethics – and those battling discrimination against female and LGBT athletes – have been mobilizing against this policy ever since its basic shape was announced last year.  What’s really driving these policies is suspicion of women perceived as gender “deviant”. We see this all too often in women’s sports when women athletes monitor and denigrate their peers who “play like men” or look too masculine.

May 1, 2012 11:08 am

Medicine’s deadly gender gap (Macleans)

A lot of recent research exposes how little we know about the XX body. A report in the February 2010Annals of Internal Medicine found that women with implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) are more likely than men to develop complications. The reason? Testing was done primarily on men, who tend to be physically larger. Stephanie Brister, a surgeon at Toronto’s Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, would like to see women-only randomized clinical trials for ICDs, though she’s not optimistic. “It’s not cost-effective,” she says. “More likely we’ll try to increase the number of women, then hopefully we’ll have a substantial representation with real information.”