Category Archive 'Anatomy'

09 Jun 2018

Dead White Males Named Female Body Parts

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Praxiteles, cast of torso of Aphrodite of Knidos by Ingres, Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris.

And Feminists have a problem with that, reports Leah Kaminsky.

Take a tour of the female pelvis, and you’ll encounter a few incongruous people along the way. How did James Douglas end up tucked behind the uterus? What is Gabriel Fallopian doing hanging around the ovaries? Why is Caspar Bartholin the Younger attached to the labia? And can we trust Ernst Grafenberg’s claim that he actually found the G-spot? Whether you know it or not, each of these dudes have ended up immortalised in the female pelvis – as the Pouch of Douglas, Bartholin’s glands, fallopian tubes, and that elusive Grafenberg spot.

The truth is, men are all over women’s bodies – dead, white male anatomists, that is. Their names live on eponymously, immortalised like audacious explorers for conquering the geography of the female pelvis as if it were terra nullius. …

Gender bias in the teaching of anatomy and physiology to medical students was examined in a 2013 study by Susan Morgan and her colleagues. In textbooks used to instruct students, they found that “male anatomy and physiology are often represented as the norm, with women being underrepresented in non‐reproductive anatomy. The impression is gained that the human body is male and that the female body is presented only to show how it differs.”

If many medical terms embody a patriarchal history, the question is how much it matters today. If most people don’t even realise that the names of female body parts have male origins – so don’t automatically connect them to men, rather than women – is it such a big deal? After all, for a word to bolster a sexist system, you’d think it would need to have some connection to male-oriented meaning in our minds.

One problem, says Lera Boroditsky, associate professor of cognitive science at UCSD, is that eponyms perpetuate the notion that advances are made by one individual – rather than the long collaborative process central to the process of scientific discovery. She argues for a system “that is not centred around the historical victories of men ‘discovering’ body parts”. Instead, these terms should be replaced by descriptors that are useful and educational to the body’s owner.

RTWT


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