Appendix 52a - Textbook Misogyny

by Michael Greger, MD and United Progressive Alumni

[ Medical School Resources | Appendices | Discussion ]

A survey of contemporary obstetrics/gynecology textbooks showed a, "bias toward greater concern with the patient's husband than the patient herself." An example from J.R. Wilson's well known, widely used Obstetrics and Gynecology: "The traits that compose the core of the [female] personality are feminine narcissism, masochism, and passivity."[596] Listed in an accompanying table entitled "Components of a mature feminine personality" are such traits as, "allows male to conquer" and "sacrifices own personality to build up that of husband."[597]

The still used Medical, Surgical and Gynecological Complications of Pregnancy describes assertive women as "dangerous."

Those patients who consider themselves 'socially aware'... are not necessarily more mature but are trying, by their active interest in everything 'avant garde,' socially as well as medically, to persuade themselves and others that they are.... This is the patient who is interested in such methods as 'natural childbirth,' hypnosis, or using childbirth as an 'experience.'

The intensity of the demands of the occasional woman who is fanatic in her zeal for 'natural childbirth'... and her uncompromising attitude on the subject are danger signals, frequently indicating severe psychopathology.... A patient of this sort is not a candidate for natural childbirth, and requires close and constant psychiatric support.[598]

For the female is, as it were, a mutilated male - Aristotle

From an article on gender bias in anatomy textbooks:

In standard human anatomy illustrations, males are practically the only subjects. That the male is depicted as the standard human body recalls the long period during the development of medical science when men were considered the only worthy patients of doctors and when the business of caring for the less valued female bodies were left to laypersons such as midwives or women neighbors.[599]

Findings from a Social Science and Medicine study of all anatomy texts currently in use in a major western medical school:

In illustrations, vocabulary and syntax, [the 31 studied anatomy] texts primarily depict male anatomy as the norm or standard against which female structures are compared. Modern texts thus continue long-standing historical conventions in which male anatomy provides the basic model for the 'human body.'

In text sections dealing with standard (non-gender-specific) anatomy, male subjects [were shown over five times more frequently in]... illustrations in which gender was discernible. In the century from 1890-1989, [U.S.] anatomy texts have remained consistent in the disproportionate use of male figures or male-specific structures to illustrate and to describe human anatomy. Female bodies are primarily presented as variations on the male.[600]

Feminist Gremlin

As reported in John Robbins' Reclaiming our Health, "The standard obstetrical textbook in use today is William's Obstetrics. The 15th edition of this classic is 923 pages long.... Apparently a feminist gremlin was at work during the boring task of preparing the index."[601]

In the index there appears an entry that was apparently slipped in unnoticed by some brave soul who... wanted to voice his or her opinion about the book. The line reads: 'Chauvinism, male, variable amounts, pages 1-923.' The 16th edition of this illustrious text was a bit longer than previous editions, and the heading in the index was adjusted accordingly: 'Chauvinism, male, voluminous amounts pages 1-1102.'[602]

Physicians Know As Much About Sex As They Do About Nutrition

As reported in Our Bodies, Ourselves, one obstetrics text describes female orgasm as, "not at all contingent on mechanical and muscular stimuli but rather on how a woman feels about her husband." The author-doctor goes on to say that the only important question to ask a woman with regard to her lack of sexual satisfaction is, "Does she really love her husband?"[603]

Principles of Gynecology (1967):

An important feature of sex desire in the man is the urge to dominate the woman and subjugate her to his will; in the woman acquiescence to the masterful takes a high place.

Novack's Textbook of Gynecology (1970):

The frequency of intercourse depends entirely on the male sex drive.... The bride should be advised to allow her husband's sex drive to set their pace and she should attempt to gear hers satisfactorily to his. If she finds after several months or years that this is not possible, she is advised to consult her physician as soon as she realizes there is a real problem. In assuming the role of 'follow the leader,' however, she is cautioned not to make her sexual relations completely passive. Certain overt advances are attractive and provocative and active participation in the sex act is necessary for full fruition. She may be reminded that it is unsatisfactory to take atone-deaf individual to a concert.

For another unbelievable metaphor, see Appendix 52b.



[596] Wilson, JR. Obstetrics and Gynecology 4th ed. St. Loius: CV Mosby Co., 1971.

[597] Boston Women's Health Book Collective. Our Bodies, Ourselves New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973:252.

[598] 2nd edition, 1965.

[599] Giacomini, M, P Rozee-Koker and F Pepitone-Arreola-Rockwell. "Gender Bias in Human Anatomy Textbook Illustrations." Psychology of Women Quarterly 10(1986):413-420.

[600] Lawrence, SC and K Bendixen. Social Science and Medicine 35(1992):925-934.

[601] Robbins, J. Reclaiming Our Health Tiburon, CA: HJ Kramer, 1996.

[602] Mitford, J. The American Way of Birth New York: NAL/Dutton, 1993:95.

[603] Boston Women's Health Book Collective. Our Bodies, Ourselves:252.



Reader's Comments

I had a horrible third birth with an obstetrician in the US (after two good experiences with midwives in Norway)which left me suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Unfortunately, I did not understand the difference between an obstetrician and a midwife, but I knew enough about birth to know that I received very poor care. What disturbed me possibly more than the care I received, however, were the responses from the doctors, quality control coordinator, hospital personnel, and state medical board as I went further and further in the complaint process trying to find someone who cared and was willing to hold the doctor accountable. The doctors outright lied to me, very obviously. This website is helping me to understand the context around that whole experience. I'm grieved to learn what a shambles the whole US medical profession is in, but it is better to know than to not know. Now I have more sympathy for doctors and how they become victims too.

-- Kristine Soedal, January 26, 2004
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