Sunday, June 22, 2008

Midwifery, sexism, woo-woo: a Tangled mess of pseudoscience and bigotry

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I've thoroughly enjoyed several blog posts in my time since I embraced skepticism and feminism, and the changes they spurred within me. My favorites are usually those that discuss the intersections of different bigotries, such as My System of Oppression Has a Bigger Cock Than Your System of Oppression, There Is No Hierarchy of Oppressions, and On the Culpability of Moderates. Religious, sexual, and racial bigotries are all cut from the same cloth.

In the skeptic, atheist, and scientific blogosphere there is often talk of bigotries on behalf of both pseudoscientists and real scientists, and I've begun explicitly combating the misogyny of their online fora. But one thing I don't think I've seen much of at all, is discussions of when these subjects intersect in such a way so as that somebody mistakes one bigotry for another. This afternoon I found a big box of it.

I've never been sure how to approach it, but some of the feminists I admire have a penchant for Alternative Medicine — or as I like to (correctly) call it, pseudoscientific bullshit that robs people of money, time, and often enough, their very lives.

I was reading a post at Shakesville today, discussing midwifery. Midwifery is an interesting subject to me nonetheleast because Missouri is embroiled in legal and legislative battles at the moment. It looked like Juliemania was going to discuss misogynistic arguments against midwifery but, much to my disappointment, it became apparent that Julie has a problem separating the scientific battle against pseudo–science with misogyny.

There's no doubt that many — most, even — doctors are sexist. So much so that comedy shows such as Scrubs think they can get a free pass for misogyny simply by pointing out every six episodes or so that surgical residency is a boys club, and misognist researchers and statisticians have recently finding ways to make the excuse "But golly gee, women just aren't interested in science, so it's OK for me to tell them they're a bunch of uppity bitches if we tell them not to be interested to begin with!"

No doubt that part of the AMA's push to outlaw midwifery comes from many of it's leading members think women shouldn't be in medicine at all. One cannot even deny that, considering that women are simultaneously credited with being more skilled at sewing and crafts — finger skill centric activities — yet accomplished surgeons are mostly men.

I certainly can't blame julie for her confusion, though. Over at the Skeptic Dictionary, which I link to, see here the definition of woo–woo:

adj. concerned with emotions, mysticism, or spiritualism; other than rational or scientific; mysterious; new agey. Also n., a person who has mystical or new age beliefs.

Compare this to all the accusations of women being too emotional, totally emotion–driven... Yeah. Not julie's fault. It's our fault. That word has been misogynistically defined here by omitting the qualifiers that actually make it a word worth using. It should read more like this:

adj. concerned with appeals to emotion and spirituality pertaining to scientific claims, so as that the appeal is taken to override facts and scientific method when determining reality.

On the crux of it, Juliemania is right. There is no merit to the AMA's push to go after midwifery by giving it's own edict in their manifesto, when the arguments presented against it apply equally to any instance of performing medical procedures without the aid or presence of medically–trained individuals.

At least there would not be had this push be pre–emptive. But it's not. It's reactionary, brought on by some attempts at legislation and voter–initiated ballots in Missouri which would take rights to midwifery too far into dangerous territory, medically.

Conversely, many attacks on the medical establishment apply equally to childbirth and other areas of medicine, yet some have taken up the childbirth and midwifery battle as a front to wedge a foothold into the whole of the medical community. This is why julie was brought 3 reports on AMA's battle with midwiferey that were only done because Ricki Lake is involved. Ricki Lake, as a talk show host I haven't even heard of in a long time, is the kind who will go only so far with this childbirth thing and move on to advocating dangerous forms of alternative medicine, such as bad cancer treatments (chelation therapy, vitamin C) or the anti–vaccination woo going on right now, in a similar fashion to Opera and "the Secret," or even Montel's obsession with making himself look like he cares for US troops by subjecting their families to the cruelty of Sylvia Browne.

Anyhoo, back onto the post at Shakesville. Julie is inspired to write the post because she recently attended a midwife convention spured on by this example of when midwifery goes bad (which also, I will argue, is an example of exactly why it should be outlawed outside of hospitals).

It begins with this paragraph.

Shakesville: Doctor Knows Best

Sadly, as powerful as that meeting was, the only area that could be addressed was when a mom becomes a "patient". And through this process of understanding I realized the very dangerous paradigm under which much of the American medical community operates.

That first sentence reveals the very first thing that julie, and the vast majority of midwives, are mistaken of. A woman becomes a patient, in the sense of needing medical supervision, the second labor begins, not when something goes wrong. Often enough that's exactly when the trouble begins.

From this fallacious idea comes a tirade full of undefended slurs.

Much of the American medical community operates under a "Doctor Knows Best" paradigm. Only their scientific methods are considered factual. Only their knowledge and expertise can be used to make decisions on our behalf. This paradigm is frequently used across the board for every issue, even herbal or holistic.

So of course, the AMA "knows better" than midwives about childbirth and pregnancy, dismissing the fact that from the beginning of time midwives (not doctors) have been helping women give birth at home. Hell, they even co-opted the latin word for midwife — obstetricis. It doesn't matter that there is plenty of evidence to prove that homebirth and midwifery is safe and sound; unless the evidence comes from the American medical community it is false!

Many doctors don't believe homebirth is safe at all, and I suspect that many don't believe vaginal births are safe, either. How can they, when they are so grounded in the "doctor knows best" paradigm? One doctor told me that he "would try to honor her request to have a vaginal birth"; he admitted that if he perceived the slightest risk, he would not.

Emphasis in original.

It's not really a "doctor knows best" paradigm. It's a paradigm of evidence–based medicine. If something is not shown to be safe, you don't do it. If a group of people trying to perform a medical procedure routinely display incompetence in doing so, you don't let them.

One fallacy juliemania employs is the "from the beginning of time" line. It's an argument from antiquity and argument from tradition; fallacies. As a feminist who often deals with the "but it's tradition" defenses of misogyny, she should know better. History also reflects that the decline of childbirthing by non medically trained personell is the cause of a reduction in childbirth deaths and survival past infancy.

Another misharacterization she preforms is the sarcastic "unless the evidence comes from the American medical community it is false!" Juliemania seems to be under the impression that all medical research done the world over is done by the AMA itself. But that's not the case.

Wanna know the reason most doctors, obsetrician, don't think homebirth is safe? Because it removes the mother and fetus from real medical care. The link julie provides is a clear example of how stupidly fucking dangerous it is to just assume a birth is going to be fine. And then act as if a person "realizing" something is wrong and taking the mother to a hospital is the same as obviating problems. It's not. Most of the time, there is a sign of the problem a midwife realizes is there, that doctors and nurses would have seen much earlier, because they have the tools, cooperation, and most importantly, knowledge to recognize, diagnose, treat and prevent them.

It's just ridiculus to do something like childbirth outside of a hospital. They could push for a midwife program initiative, but apparently that's not magical enough.

You don't assume a major procedure (and something can be both routine and major) is safe until it isn't. You just don't. It's criminally irresponsible. You just don't do it. Whether it's childbirth, brain surgery, an appendectomy, amputation, or removing an internal cyst, or anything of that nature.

So is this an attack on women? Not entirely. Not even majoritively. The sad irony here, it's that it's the midwife community that is hurting women here. They do it by insisting that it's a "spiritual" experience. It's the midwives here that are telling women that they're driven by ineffable an mysterious emotions. I've been in the hospital during both of my sister's childbirthings. Know what's interesting about nursing? It's mostly women, and they're very friendly towards woo. I've heard nurses advocate all sorts of bullshit to their patients. Coffee enemas, herbs that have been proven to be bunk, all sorts of c–r–a–p. So, is it the hospitals that are unfriendly towards putting spirituality and fuzzy feelings? Fuck no. Not in the least.

So are nurses by and large against midwifery? From the midwives' talk, yes. And I wonder why? Simply, it's because their peer-reviewed, scientific, evidence-based education enlightens them to the idea that it's a dangerous idea to do it outside the hospital! Period. Calling it spiritual, saying it feels good, is no excuse.

I doubt if she reads this post it'll convince Julie very much of anything. I think this because she lumps in the midwife issue with "holistic" and "herbal" medicine. She's in a very ignorant place concerning medicine right now.

I've tipped off Orac of Respectful Insolence of julie's post. He has paid subscriptions to medical journals and the experience to draw the relevant citations, so I hope he can shed some additional light on the details of the controversy. I encourage Julie to look into the skeptical community. To read about logical fallacies as they apply to medicine and any other field of science, at Skeptics Dictionary, from James Randi, others at scienceblogs who deal with medicine of some kind, and search for childbirth postings at the Grand Rounds medical blog carnival, etc.


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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Blog Changes Coming

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I have a few announcements about changes to my blog:

  • I am turning off individual Blogger comments for each post. The Haloscan comment links will remain.
  • Strict comment policy.
  • I am considering a change of domain. I will experiment using a Blogger 2.0 template (I'm using old–style template because I can understand a text/xhtml+xml template better than a heavily XML–based application/xhtml+xml), or move to something like Wordpress, which integrates with Haloscan/CoComment while Blogger does not.

Comment Policy

  1. No anonymous comments.
  2. No bigotry against any group, including:

    • Women
    • Races
    • Lesbian / Bisexual / Gay / Transexual / Transgender / Androgynous
    • Obese
    • Minorities of any kind
    • The weaker.
    • The younger.
    • The elderly.
    • Ideology.
  3. Must be on topic! This includes the prohibition of forum threads, even duplicates of blog entries, from any forum whatsoever, if they are not under discussion by my post.
  4. No Suckpuppeting.
  5. No Concern Trolls.
  6. No doc–dropping.
  7. No violence, or jokes about violence. This includes jokes about lynching, assault, murder of all degrees, vandalism, harassment (yes, online does count), and yes, rape.

A warning: with Haloscan, your IP addresses are fully exposed to me. You get one warning before I IP–ban you. Remember Dan? Yeah. I will publish your IP address if you do anything like he did, or if I suspect you are conspiring to perform first–person wrongdoing of any kind.

It also means I can recommend IP–banning you to other bloggers using Haloscan or another comment services capable of identifying IP's, if your bigotry reaches a certain level at my discretion.

Changes will occur as I accomplish them. This includes modifying my template xHTML some.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008


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Let me make this more explicit.

It's not just that Dillahunty/Loubet think that all strippers are happy. That's stupid enough.

It's the hypocrisy of saying that there's reason to be skeptical about a person's veracity if they believe in god when they're not talking to close personal friends, and then claim we should be absolutely credulous if a stripper says she's perfectly happy if you're not a close personal friend when she says it.

It's the hypocrisy of at one point saying that all strippers and strip clubs are exploiting men and never the women, and then talk about the need to change the way strip clubs are done so that they're not exploitive any more.

It's the hypocrisy of at one minute saying that the strippers are exploiting and indirectly hurting men, then in a contradictory analogy, refer to strippers as not hurting anybody.

And since when does the fact that person A isn't hurting anybody (allegedly) an argument for truthiness when they talk about their own happiness?

And since Dillahunty is sure that all strippers are in the business of exploiting men, which makes their job dishonest, shouldn't that base level of dishonesty make them less trustworthy, including in statements about themselves? So why be credulous, again? Unless Dillahunty is implying that people he sees as skeevy are more likely to be honest because they're more ego–centered. Which is it?


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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Male Privileged Projecting 101

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"Every stripper I've ever met was happy and she's only doing it to get through college!"

Every single guy person who defends the exploitation of women in some way will say this. Without fail. You'd think that with so many strippers attending our universities and community colleges, conservatives would be all of them as whore schools, talking explicitly about how all the female attendees are strippers. They're not. Which tells me, even the guys in my comments here and everywhere else on the internet, nobody really believes it. Most of them are lying.

Stop it.

Edit 10:05 pm, June 01: In my comment moderation queue was yet another comment about how I should go back tot he forum and answer the thread I started. Richard asked I should find if I have the balls/estrogen to do so.

Way to prove what a misogynist turd you are. Either I'm a man whose lost my balls, or I'm a woman, hence my weakness. You made weakness synonymous with the absence of masculinity.

Also, I've already explained I'm not going to bother because the forum's admins have made it clear they will vandalize my profile because of personal feelings. How ready would you, the readers, be willing to try to reply on that thread knowing that the admin is willing to change your text?

Edit 2: June 3 4:24pm

The comment I just discussed could also be construed to argue that he associates both testosterone and estrogen with courage. If that's the case, what about a person who has both or neither?

Interesting that no matter what, the commenters from the SGU forum and whatnot cannot make a statement that is not bigoted against somebody based on their genetic heritage or lack thereof, in this case the transgendered, hermaphroditic, and hypo–hormonal.

Still, the comment is still sexist against women more, because when a woman attacks feminism, she is rarely accused of being too manly. But if a man makes feminist statements, he is accused of androgyny with regularity. And it's a pattern that's been well established in the fora (that's plural of forum for you noobs). In fact, I've been identified and re–identified and double– checked as a man, with penis, testicles, body hair and all, in the forum and IRC chat a shitload of times now. There can be no doubt of my gender either biologically or personally. It also says as much in my blogger profile, so there can be no doubt that Richard is aware, so his comment obviously has the implication that my sex is called into question by my lack of loyalty to men as he sees it. The insult was that it is supposed to be insulting to call me womanly. That's clearly misogynist.

You might be able to say I committed the fallacy against KT, but I did not check KT's gender in her profile before mistaking her for a man. This is different from Richard, who's read the forum thread and has probably been in the chat at some point by now, and already knew I was a man, and accused me of being womanly as an insult anyways.

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