Apr 25 2007

Mid-century doctor drama gives spinster aunt the willies

I am old enough to remember when nurses wore those weird white cardboard things on their heads, and when doctors smoked with impunity when groping them.

It is with total confidence in the author’s policy never to reveal publicly the majority of her flaws that the blamer can enjoy I Blame the Patriarchy. Yet, lest there emerge dangerous misapprehensions concerning my perfection of character or untarnished mental competence, I’ve made no secret of my insane Turner Classic Movie channel compulsion.

If you are one of those rare persons for whom my TV viewing habits remain a blessed mystery: it began last summer, when I was laid up for two months with nothing to do but wait for a surgically-reconstructed extremity to start looking like a foot again. Like absolutely all television, TCM is pretty much wall-to-wall misogyny, so at first I tuned in only because it is the lone commercial-free cable channel. This is my sole prerequisite for convalescent TV entertainment: I have no interest, if I happen to doze off, in being abruptly reawakened by the revolting xtreme-tits-n-ass-monster-truck pandemonium expectorated ceaselessly by commercials made to appeal to what is apparently the only demographic for which TV is produced: pornsick young knobs who say “dude.”

But eventually the black & white Hollywood Honky Parade of Patriarchy began to fascinate me, in an it’s-horrible-yet-I-can’t-look-away way. Since my days as a pathetic invalid, I’ve witnessed the birth of a thousand clichés. I’ve analyzed a thousand camera angles. I’ve developed a thousand celebrity crushes (on Charles Chaplin, Bette Davis, and — I can’t believe I’m admitting this and if you tell anyone it’ll be your word against mine — Rita Hayworth). I’ve cringed a thousand cringes as all the female sex symbols aged out of the system while ossified Cary Grants and Gene Kellys and Clark Gables continued to score taut young booty hookups.

And I’ve experienced about a million whole-body, mega-visceral gross-out shudders. These are inevitable whenever the radical feminist encounters the canon of any artsy pursuit — as the blamer is aware, all art throughout the ages has been by men, for men, to glorify men — but the sheer ostentation of mainstream cinematic misogyny is almost mesmerizing in its unabating horror.

I offer this meandering preamble to introduce what is essentially the plot summary of a spine-tinglingly men-hate-you — even for TCM — film called The Interns. The Interns was released in 1962 and stars that guy Bookem Dan-o from Hawaii Five-O as one of the up-and-coming young (white and male, of course) docs. This movie, in addition to its just being crummy, gave me one of the worst whole-body, mega-visceral gross-out shudders I’ve ever experienced watching a G-rated film, and I’ve just got to get it off my chest.

So it falls upon Bookem Dan-o, a surgery intern with whom the audience sympathizes and identifies, to deliver his first baby all by himself, assisted only by two seasoned nurses and an experienced anesthesiologist (!). In one of the truly creepiest (though it is clearly intended to be merely sentimental) scenes ever filmed, Bookem Dan-o repeatedly addresses his patient, who he only just met like 2 minutes ago, as “dear,” and constantly leans in intimately to stroke her hair.

If any of my doctors ever stroked even one of my hairs I’d have a platoon of lawyers blocking all the exits in about 6 minutes.

The movie gets even more repulsive: the patient character prattles about all the fluffy pink dresses she’s going to buy for her kid, emits a few adorable squeals, apologizes for making so much noise (although, as the script makes clear without actually using the dirty word, she has been given an episiotomy without any anaesthesia), and pops out a kid which is immediately taken away from her. Exit the woman vessel.

Cut to Bookem Dan-o; the handsome young genius is slouched in spotless scrubs, utterly exhausted from the enormous mental exertions required of a dude to say “Push! Push!” a couple of times. He stares in wonderment at his hands, his skilled, miraculous hands . A motherly nurse appears celestially at his side. “You gave life,” she confirms adoringly. Whereupon Bookem Dan-o decides to forgo his future as a surgeon to become that most noble and nearly divine of all AMA-anointed superhuman medical men, an obstetrician. And here’s the punchline: Bookem Dan-o’s character is named — I’m not even kidding — “Dr. Worship”!

Although I have developed, over the years, an iron stomach when it comes to this sort of crap, I swear I have been haunted for two days by the relentless image of Dr Worship stroking that parturient woman’s hair. Obviously the moviegoer is supposed to interpret this seemingly innocent gesture as indicative of Dr Worship’s exemplary bedside manner, but when viewed through the angst-colored glasses of patriarchy-blaming, a hair-stroking, paternalistic male obstetrician can be seen as nothing but positively sinister. I’d almost rather have watched a Porn Gone Wild commercial; at least that brand of male entitlement isn’t trying to be invisible.

Now, back to blaming.


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  1. Felt Tip Pen

    “You GAVE life”?! Blech.

  2. René Daumal

    It seems clear that Dr. Worship is also actually the father of the child…because of his magic!

    Why is it called The Interns?

  3. gennimcmahon

    Oh, Twisty, you have hit upon one of my favorite subjects! Let me offer this anecdote for your entertainment (and visceral gross out):

    My mother, who was having us children around the time period this movie was made (1966, 1969, 1971), has spoken often about her male obstetrician. She felt that she had a stronger emotional bond with him than with her own husband, and has often discussed that her driving desire while giving birth was to please and win approval from him. To the degree that she didn’t make “too much noise” or make any demands as to how she should give birth just to gain that same hair stroking/head pat of patriarchal approval from this giver of life. When said doctor told her, after the still birth of her first baby, that she didn’t want to see or hold the child prior to disposal, she agreed. When he told her that she should not gain any extra weight while pregnant with me, she acquiesced and gained only 12 pounds. She felt grief when she was no longer having children because she missed this “relationship” with her doctor.

    It is positively chilling that not only can I imagine this Bookum Dan-O guy as a doctor, I think the model for the movie had greater real life roots than one might want to believe. I am also certain that my mother apologized more than once for anything she might have deemed unseemly in her person during birth. Fortunately, she realizes that this sentiment is bizarre and horrifying today, and is not wishing for those good old days to return.

  4. TP

    I love TCM because in viewing it one can see the whole development of cultural hatred of women over time. You go from hating women who at least have agency and real thoughts in the early thirties to the apogee of privilege, the early sixties. The roles for women after the war became steadily less complex, more complaisant, and finally devolved to almost nonexistence. I love her, but just think of Doris Day, for example, versus Barbara Stanwyck.

    In the thirties the studios were very concerned with the fact that women went to the movies far more than men. There was a feeling that women understood these mysterious movie goers better than men, and women held positions of respect and authority under the top men in the system. Nowadays, they are very concerned with the fact that pornsick teen dudes go to the movies more than anyone.

    It’s child’s play to find a clip of biting, intelligent dialog from a woman in a movie made in the 30s. It’s almost impossible in a movie made in the early sixties. What happened?

    There was a certain amount of success for feminism back in the 20s and 30s, like getting the vote. I think world war II must have had something to do with destroying the advances in women’s rights of the early parts of the century.

  5. Vance Maverick

    I’ve cringed a thousand cringes as all the female sex symbols aged out of the system while ossified Cary Grants and Gene Kellys and Clark Gables continued to score taut young booty hookups.

    But spare a thought for the countless young men who were stuck in line behind their creaking elders, unable to score because the patriarchs of the previous two generations had lifetime tenure! At least the casting couch had turnover!

    More seriously, perhaps Rosemary’s Baby can be seen as picking up on some of the hair-stroking creepiness you describe….

  6. hedonistic

    It just occurred to me that Twisty needs some Mystery Science Theater 3000.

    Twisty, if you’ve not heard of Mystery Science Theater 3000, let me know. I will send you several videos, my treat. (I wonder if they’ve upgraded to DVD? No clue.)

  7. Pinko Punko

    It should have been called “The Internal Hemorrhaging.”


    I did see “Gilda” on the big screen, and even though all the characters were basically directed to spit out every single line, Rita H. was like a thermonuclear bomb. Of course the archetype of Teh Sexy Lady is responsible for the evil that all men do, even if it is pretty clear that the guys are gay, impotent or both. Weird.

  8. bitchphd

    I wish you’d been at PK’s taekwondo class with me the other day when another mom confided that she’d gone for years to Planned Parenthood for her gynecological care–you know, back when she was poor–until she found out (whispering) that the doc she’d had all that time was a . . . lesbian!

    The same woman also recommended her own gynecologist, a great guy who tells dirty jokes to take your mind off the exam.

    Pretty much solidified my previous sense that I didn’t like this woman very much.

  9. Medbh

    TP, I think the trend you cite is neatly illustrated in “All About Eve.”
    The talented Margo Channing, played by the iconic Bette Davis, chews up the scenery over the indignity of growing old in show business while the women like Eve (Anne Baxter) and Miss Caswell (Marilyn Monroe) trade on their youth.

  10. Twisty

    “[…]she’d gone for years to Planned Parenthood for her gynecological care–you know, back when she was poor–until she found out (whispering) that the doc she’d had all that time was a . . . lesbian!”

    Dear god! Do people even hear themselves? I’m embarrassed for the whole human race.

  11. Lindsey

    hedonistic, MST3K has several DVD box sets out, as well as several individual episodes on DVD.

    What I wouldn’t give to have a couple of MST3K: The Twisty Way episodes.

  12. Mandos

    That’s almost as good as the IBTP musical idea.

  13. Babs

    I have never gotten a satisfactory answer when I pose the question: “why would a man be a gynecologist?” It seems like the creepiest thing in the world. My surgeon sister-in-law said that it was a specialty that involved a certain amount of surgery, which is appealing to those who for whatever reason want to perform surgery but aren’t going to be full-fledged surgeons. Hogwash, I say. Creeps all the way.

  14. LCforevah

    TP, after WWII and Rosie the Riveter, when score of women had jobs outside the home for the first time, there was a concerted effort by both the government and corporate marketing to get women back in the home. If you look at the fashions from 1944 and then 1949, you will notice that the moderate A-line skirt that everyone wore because of cloth shortages transmogrified into the DIOR “NEW LOOK”, a gathered, full skirt with tight bodice, which needed both a petticoat and a girdle. All the powers, fashion, marketing, government conspired to try to make women homebodies again. There’s a book on this subject, but I can’t remember the author or title.

  15. LMYC

    HE gave life? If only HE might also risk dying in childbirth.

  16. CoolAunt

    “Cut to Bookem Dan-o; the handsome young genius is slouched in spotless scrubs, utterly exhausted from the enormous mental exertions required of a dude to say “Push! Push!” a couple of times. He stares in wonderment at his hands, his skilled, miraculous hands . A motherly nurse appears celestially at his side. “You gave life,” she confirms adoringly.”

    And it was upon reading that that I laughed so hard that I spewed Coke all over the keyboard and monitor. Notice the pronoun “the,” not “my.” Now, how do I explain to my temp employer that The Spinster Aunt made me do it?

  17. KMTberry

    It has GOT to mean something that the nurse telling Dr. Jock-itch “You gave LIFE!” seems really really creepy ridiculous and weird today.

    I mean, there has been SOME progress…there would have to have been! Because I find that “You Gave Life!” comment just b e y o n d t h e p a l e.

  18. LCforevah

    Babs, it’s about taking over. A man always knows best. Your ob/gyn will be able to guide you better than your own instincts and body!

    You can find from the fifties little TV vignettes about how housewives needed to be taught this and that, including how to bottle feed infants because the “modern woman” would know it would be better after it was explained to her. All the narrators for these little films are of course, male. I don’t know how the fifties became so patronizing in the US, because Europe didn’t seem to bother–it may be they just had too much to rebuild after the war and had better things to do.

    I spent a year abroad in the late seventies in France, where they were already using separate clinics as birthing spaces. Women would come in to give birth, and the nurse/midwives would handle everything unless there was a medical complication, when they would use the on-call ob/gyn. I read in a French mag how, at a convention of ob/gyn where American doctors were present, they showed a film on how the French birthing clinic worked. The American doctors were incensed and many walked out–that’s why the incident made it into a magazine article. I guess they didn’t want to see how their little tin godhood could go up in smoke.

  19. blondie

    Although I am unabashedly hetro., I would agree that Rita Hayworth was jaw-droppingly sex-ay. Also, Ava Gardner, Lauren Bacall. Sometimes those women practically melted the celluloid with the strength of their performances, and they did it backwards, wearing heels. (not literally, I know, it’s metaphoric)

  20. S-kat

    My mum told me that her obstetrician said he’d chosen the field because it was about “life” and that he experienced an amazing rush seeing life come forth (I believe he said, “It’s like seeing a miricle EVERY TIME.”) as opposed to other types of doctors who are always battling illness and watching death creep in. I suspect that’s what the “You gave life” comment was supposed to be addressing.

    My mum thought it was pretty cool and totally respectful of him. I, however, find it extremely creepy and refuse to trust the health of my lady parts to a male.

  21. Mandos

    S-kat: Yes, that’s what I’ve always heard about male obstetricians. Usually mostly happy part of the hospital, unlike, say, the unrelenting grimness of oncology.

  22. yankee transplant

    Twisty, I’d read a movie review by you any day.

  23. Bird

    Blondie, as a woman who regularly indulges in the patriarchy-laden act of ballroom dancing, I can tell you that it really is hard to do things backwards, wearing heels. And I’m not dancing with Fred Astaire.

    I do love the women in those old films, despite the misogyny and racism that is often pervasive in the plotlines. I only wish women in contemporary movies were half so clever and witty. Instead, female actors have become lifeless fodder for the antics of “dudes” like Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell. Ugh. IBTP.

  24. TP

    Gilda is one dark movie, isn’t it?

    The sexual politics in Gilda are so dark and misogynistic that they have rarely been explored as deeply, though the movie is fairly superficial, thanks to the code.

    Glenn Ford HATES her because she attracts him so much and teases him with her flagrant infidelity. It’s all her fault! I blame the matriarchy! Wahh! Waahh!

    Oh my god. I realize this movie is explicitly about the very same power of the pussy that has been discussed in another post; wherein a fellow saw a woman at the gym harassed mercilessly by some big jock, and who then surmised that them womens sure have a lot of power over us poor men, don’t they?

    Rita paid a high price for that role. It poisoned every relationship she ever had.

  25. Tracey

    Oh, my. I really, really, really wish there was an IBTP-Theater-3000-type show where we could hear the critiques of folks watching movies “through the angst-colored glasses of patriarchy-blaming”. This makes me want to throw a TCM movie marathon party for just this purpose.

  26. zz

    I used to work with several docs in genetic research. They told me, more than once, that it was common knowledge that male OB/GYNs were misogynistic assholes that loved the “giving life” (gag) part of OB but utterly despised the GYN part.

  27. darkles

    It puts me in mind of my daughter’s birth 20 years ago. After the birth was over,the doctor was sewing up the episiotomy. Nurse was standing next to him. Both were staring intensely at my crotch. As he was finishing up, the nurse gazed up at him adoringly and squealed “Ooooh Doctor! Nice Job!” That memory never fails to make me laugh.

  28. Antelope

    In 10th grade or so, I became kind of mystified about just how & why it happened that women went back home after the “Rosie the Riveter” days (this was before Rosie became as ubiquitous and annoying a recycled icon as Uncle Sam).

    Anyway, I asked my favorite English teacher, and she said in the most casual tone, “Oh, a lot of women had problems with it actually. If they had really serious problems with it, they gave them lobotomies.”

    It was only a half-truth at best, but it did solidify my patriarchy blaming at a time when things still might’ve gone either way, so I’m kind of grateful for it. If she had said, “gave them lobotomies, or put them on pills, or sent them to a Freudian who would explain why only defective women get upset” she would’ve been pretty close though, I think.

  29. thebewilderness

    In the late forties and fifties electroshock and lobotomies were highly promoted as solutions to recalcitrant females. I remember a casual reference to it in a film with Elizabeth Taylor as the potential candidate if she continued to admit to being dissatisfied with her lot in life.
    I saw that Interns movie back in the day. I thought his name was Warship.

  30. Jezebella

    LCForevah, you are probably thinking of Susan Faludi’s “Backlash,” a book that was one of the two books that opened my eyes to patriarchy. The other, which I still cite regularly, is Ehrenreich & English’s “For Her Own Good: 150 Years of Experts’ Advice to Women.” This latter is, coincidentally enough, about the godawful things perpetrated on women by the medical and psychiatric communities in the 19th & 20th centuries.

  31. LCforevah

    Antelope, do you remember Pat Schroeder’s comment about women living in a “pink fog” referring to all the valium and such given to 1950’s women to help them “cope”?

    I miss her.

  32. Thealogian

    Thank Goddess my mother had a hippie-midwive who didn’t have a car and needed to be picked up in Berkley (by my laboring mother and her then husband) to go to the hospital and have an egalitarian birth-process…well, she had that in ’68 and ’69 when my brother and sister were born respectively. With me, in ’78, it was a bit more standard, but still a woman ob.

  33. B. Dagger Lee

    Your Bookem Dan-O was called by my family, “Danny of the wrinkled fanny,” because of his trouser problems.

    Man-oh-man, Rita Hayworth in Gilda! I love the way she glares at Glenn Ford and sneers, “I hate him so much!” That was totally the story of my love life in my fucked-up twenties.

    But it was Miss Barbara Stanwick that I always watched when I was a little B. Dagger. Especially in Big Valley, where she was the matriarch, and wore these little leather vests and was always getting abducted and tied up and shit! Oh Fuck me–that’s the patriarchal culture of sexualized violence, domination and submission!

    yrs, BDL

  34. Pinko Punko

    TP, even worse is the gangster boss in Gilda, who I have no idea what is going on with- the one that needs to own her like a bauble, or a frozen artifact, and Glenn Ford’s character’s weird loyalty to said boss. SUPER weird. I can’t explain how I can even like Glenn Ford, but somehow I do. In the Big Heat, his big, manly, crusading, righteous cop basically gets all the females he knows put into some sort of metaphorical woodchipper because of his bluster. He faces no physical consequences whatsoever in the film, save [redacted spoiler]. An incredibly dark film.

  35. Narya

    1. I’d argue (and did, at length, in another venue) that the “get back home” movement actually began between the wars, NOT after WW2. They had to modulate a bit to get women into the factories, but they were trying to get them back out again before the war was over.

    2. I had female gynecologists for many years, and chose my internist partly because she’s a she and she is interested in women’s health. When I needed more specialized GYN care, she recommended a particular man, and I really liked him. When he retired (in his mid-40s, after 3 heart attacks), I ended up with another guy, and I really like him, too, not least because he fights for women’s reproductive rights. He also provides great care for me. I used to think all male OB/GYNs were creeps, but I’ve had to reconsider that notion based on my experience.

  36. stekatz

    I pity the fool who would have tried to touch my hair during my labor and delivery. He would have had to return to surgery just to sew his own hand back on. I did have a female OB, but she was grouchy and only showed up at the last minute. I had for the most part an extremely calm nurse-midwife. I loved her so that when she left the room one time to go use the bathroom I screamed, “Where is she going?!”

    And I blame the patriarchy that MST3K DVD’s are so freakin’ expensive. Surely Joel and Mike didn’t want it that way. I own only one DVD, and the gotcha is that each DVD features only one Joel movie. Much as I like Mike, he’s no Joel. I would “keep circulating those tapes” but most of my tapes are beyond the pale. Only Gamera and City Limits can still be reasonably watched.

    But I do have the DVD with Circus On Ice. Easily as entertaining as The Interns.

  37. Medbh

    Gilda’s big nightclub number “Put the Blame on Mame” is the 1940s equivalent of “I Blame the Patriarchy.”
    thebewilderness, yes, that’s Elizabeth Taylor in Tennessee Willliams’ “Suddenly Last Summer” when Katherine Hepburn’s Violet wants the doc played by Montgomery Clift to give Liz’s character a lobotomy so that she cannot tell the truth about her gay son Sebastian.

  38. lucizoe

    Joel is my favorite as well, but did y’all know that Mike and occasionally Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo) are still doing running commentaries? Rifftrax.com. The Matrix one is HI-larious.

    I think my favorite MST3Ks are the shorts – especially the 1930s-60s films about grooming, body care, and “The Home Economics Story.” Oh, lordy. “The Home Economics Story.” At one point the narrator, extolling the virtues of babycare and home decorating says, “But one that will prepare her for the very important career of being Mrs. Bill Johnson,” and Joel and the bots boo.

    Another short has the narrator admonishing and shaming a teenaged girl who dared to appear in public in messy socks and an uneven hemline: “You’re not exactly the type to make this guy behave like a human being.” To which Joel replies, “Yeah! To make him grope you and paw at you!” So telling.

    Over the years I’ve accumulated every DVD and boxed set and stolen quite a few off the intertubes as well. I’m stopping now, because I can geek out about MST3K for pages and pages and pages.

    I watched more classic movies when I was growing up than anything in the theaters. I re-watch them now with my eyes thoroughly open, but I still love most of them.

    I love this line from the play-turned-movie “The Women,” when Norma Shearer, frustrated with her mother’s advice to turn a blind eye to her husband’s philandering says, “It was different then. Women were chattel. Things are different now. Stephen and I are equals. We took each other of our own free will – for life – and I won’t qualify that relationship. It’s wrong – shockingly wrong.” So much of that movie is utter brilliance, apart from the utterly predictable ending and stupid stereotypes here and there, and not a male cast member to be seen. Rosalind Russell and Paulette Goddard are hysterical, also.

    Yeah. What happened to movies like that?


  39. emjaybee

    The commandeering of birth and lady parts in general by often clueless male OBs who pushed out midwives and female caregivers has a long and sordid history. Of which this movie is part.

    Anywhoo, speaking of MST3K, I always thought this blog was named for the hysterical 50s film “I Blame My Parents!” which, I saw on…MST3K.

    It really is wonderful. I wish I was watching it right now. Dad is absent, Mom’s a drunk and their son turns into a small time crook.

  40. deja pseu

    I have an eternacrush on Joel. “Aye!…don’t think so!” (another MST3K geek here)

    Some of those old 30’s-early 40’s movies are such a mixed bag. Strong, smart, wisecracking female characters, enveloped in a plot that only the Patriarchy could love. (“Philadelphia Story” is another one.)

  41. lucizoe

    pssst, emjaybee, it’s I Accuse My Parents! and I totally have an extra DVD copy of that if you’d like it. Also on offer on DVD: The Wild Wild World of Batwoman. It is truly wild.


  42. lucizoe

    Um, free, of course. In case that wasn’t clear.

  43. Emotenote

    Darn, I hit the wrong button and my riveting story went into the ether.

    This reminds me of a friend who went through med school with my partner. His name was David and his parter is Kevin. All training egos, I mean doctors, no matter what specialty they might be aiming for, need to pass through rotations in each of the big fields; Surgery, ER, Family Practice, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Psych and of course OB/Gyn.

    I am about to reveal a little known fact outside of the medical community. For OB/Gyn training there are women nurses who volunteer their bodies and expertise so that these young innocents can learn to do an OB/Gyn exam. They are “Teaching Nurse Volunteers”. I never know whether to thank them profusely or run and throw-up when I think about this, having known some training docs personally.

    So David is going in for his training and seems to be hesitating a little when he’s supposed to begin the exam. The Nurse, trying to be encouraging to him says,
    “Go ahead honey, you’ve seen one of these before…”
    to which David had to reply,
    “No! I haven’t..”

    Needless to say David was aiming for a different field of expertise.

    PS Now when we watch any medical drama it’s ‘Scrubs’ all the way. It’s the closest one to the real thing that we’ve seen.

  44. roamaround

    Re. the ’30’s, what about Mae West!? She was unbelievably progressive compared to later stars. I want a bumper sticker that says, “What would Mae do?”

    I just made the mistake of trying to watch “Sunset Boulevard” and it was so misogynist I had to turn it off. Same with “The Upside of Anger.” Both about bitter, angry, evil older women. How anyone can watch these and not just see blatant morality tales telling women to tow the line or else (same with “Streetcar Named Desire’ and so many others) is beyond me.

    The patriarchy controls the narrative, which has so many implications. Look at the Tillman and Lynch hearings! The military is creating fiction out of war to justify war.

  45. kate

    This is off topic, but since conversation is casual I’ll share this: I had always been asked where I got my highly feminist views and drive and often I would credit my father. He was the one who raised me, stolen as I was from my mother due to horrid custody battle (he could write an MRA handbook). But it never made sense, why would he the misogynist under whose reign I suffered for seventeen odd years given me a sense of self when he seemed to do all he could to annihilate it? And my step mother what was she, a whimpering trophy wife, what did she contribute?

    But my mother was a scientist, an anthropologist my father would sneer between his teeth during fits of rage. Whilst I suffered under my father’s oppressive rule, I was oft reminded that my mother was out there in the world doing her research thing and teaching at universities.

    Of course! I knew very early on that my mother had been freed of the tyranny under which I suffered and was out enjoying the fruits of success and discovery. She had claimed what was rightfully hers, even though she lost her children for it. My father enjoyed a thriving and fruitful law career, was I to accept a position as a simpering, cowering supporter of someone else’s success or would I forgo marriage and having children to get my own? The answer was clear in my mind all through my childhood.

    Never mind the seed of misogyny was planted deep and I succumbed temporarily to its lie, I never, ever entertained the illusion that a woman could ensure her personal success by playing ‘by the rules’. Rebel women, bad women, they DO teach lessons to the young ones, they DO!

    If it wasn’t frickin’ eleven o’clock, I’d call my mom right now.

  46. niki

    My mom has that whole ‘oh noes whatif lesbian gyno’ issue also. She’d rather go to a man. She has no other overt homophobic issues as far as I can tell, so I’m at a loss as to the root of this madness. I think that maybe, like some high school wrestling team members before they’ve come out, she’s afraid she’ll get excited. Really, I know it’s cliche but I have no other explanation.

    I went to a man gyno once in college, when I had no other choice (re: campus doctor). He was in his 70’s and horrifying and I think he might have even called me ‘dear’. I never went back. I’m still shuddering.

  47. kate

    I never had insurance through any of my pregnancies (three) and was damn glad I’d get to see any doc and took their disinterest as a matter of course. When poor you get used to meeting disinterest among most service providers and learn to take it as a matter of course. The doc for the first pregnancy never could even remember my name or look at me when I spoke, the message was clear, “I’m trying really hard to not let you take up too much space in my mind as you can’t pay the rent.”

  48. chingona

    Few things get my pop cultural hackles up more than depictions of birth on television or in movies. The woman usually are screaming their heads off in total hysteria. I think one of the worst is when Luke and Leah’s mother dies in childbirth in Attack of the Clones, the second of the new Star Wars movies. She is passed out, then opens her eyes, screams a bloodcurdling scream for each of her little darlings, then closes her eyes and dies. Good lord.

    One of the few useful things about my childbirth “education” class was the movies of real women giving real birth. None of those women, even those who decided to use pain medication or even the one who ended up with a Cesarean after 30 hours of labor and two hours of pushing, were screaming their heads off. They groaned and moaned and often looked like they were in trances, retreating to the same place deep within ourselves that we rely on when we are pushing ourselves to our limits physically. What I got from that was a deep sense of relief and a great strength – a knowledge that I could do this. And I did. All of us who have given birth do, no matter what our birth experiences were like.

    But everything about television and movie depictions undermines that strength and presents us as silly, hysterical, weak fools who need the rescue of the men in the white coats. IBTP

  49. wabewawa

    MST3K can be watched free with Winamp media player, via Online Services/Shoutcast TV, with usually at least 2 different streams going all the time. Quite a time-consuming discovery on my part, actually.

  50. hk-reader

    Part of my own mom’s feminist development happened while she
    had 6 pregnancies and 4 births 1962-1969.

    She loves to tell the story how her first OB (a man) said to her in a really patronizing way “I don’t like my mothers to *read*” (as in, find out what might be going on in her own body and dare to question HIM).

    She said he was very like the creepy OB in “Rosemary’s Baby”

    1st baby was Ye Olde Twilight Sleep.
    2nd baby was w/ a spinal block (“the only one I actually *saw* born, I was working too hard w/ the others)
    3rd & 4th – no pain meds and pretty active birthing w/ my dad there.

    When I was a teenager I asked her if being pregnant and giving birth was exciting.

    She said she didn’t care much for the pregnancies, but that pushing them out was kind of fun in an effortful way. That ended up being my experience as well.

    I agree re: stupid depictions of births in TV and movies, as Sheila Kitzinger points out – it’s always depicted as a Big Emergency.


  51. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Ah, “Rosemary’s Baby”. I read the book when I was about 10, to be followed in short order with “The Stepford Wives”. (My mom never, ever censored my reading material.) Between the two, I decided pretty early that the whole marriage-and-babies can of worms was not for me.

    I think the movie that delivered the whole-body shudder of disgust to me was 1956’s “The Best of Everything”. It contains dang near every offensive stereotype of working women you can imagine, from the Successful-but-Lonely-Cast-Iron Bitch (Joan Crawford, natch) to the Pure-in-Heart Blessed Virgin (can’t remember the gal who portrayed her, does that give you any insight into my character?) Who Wisely Follows the Out-of-the-Workforce-as-Soon-as-I-Can-Husband-and-Babies-Path. And everyone in between, including the Scheming Whores Who Have Affairs with Married Men, and don’t forget Sleeps with Her Boyfriend before Marriage, Gets Pregnant and Then He Refuses to Marry Her and Makes Her Have a (Gasp!) Abortion. It’s enough to put you off your popcorn.

  52. hedonistic

    Do you think we could talk Twisty into filming her running commentary while she watches the Lifetime Channel?

  53. Joanna

    Does anyone remember that sixties masterpiece “Tammy and the Doctor”? I think that may have been one of my infant blamer moments. Even as a kid, I knew the movie was poison.

  54. norbizness

    Let’s not forget the ultimate in TCM kitsch, widely admired and copied by John Waters himself, Douglas Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession (plot summary here. C’mon, it’s got the first Mrs. Ronald Reagan, Rock Hudson, and Endora from Bewitched!

    If you don’t believe me, read the tagline: “THE STORY OF A WOMAN’S NEED FOR A MAN that will become one of the great emotional thrills of your lifetime!”

  55. CannibalFemme

    I’ll pipe up for my personal favourite MST3K short: ‘A Date With Your Family’. It’s a Mike bit rather than a Joel bit, but nevertheless hysterically disturbing. I also love the one about Home Ec and college “Look, Look, Look at my Crotch!”, but I couldn’t find an online clip of it. There is a segment of Date With Your Family here:


    Although it doesn’t contain my favorite part regarding precisely how mother and daughter are expected to prepare for this date with their family, it’s still good stuff.

    “Why would anyone do this with Mitchell?” –Crow T. Robot

    Geekily yours,

  56. Twisty

    “the Lifetime Channel? ”

    I don’t have much interest in the exceedingly heteronormative Lifetime channel, although I did see just enough of it one or two afternoons during my convalescence to grasp that I was not in either of their demographics (unhappily married straight women with small children, and hilarious fucks who get off mocking shit like that).

    Although my curiousity has been renewed a bit, after reading Amanda’s recent post about Lifetime, and how it has apparently provoked wingnut ire by showing movies with themes like “dump the abusive asshole” and “take the kids and dump the abusive asshole” and “get revenge on the abusive asshole by becoming a successful business owner.”

  57. zofia

    This one is better (or worse). You’re not the kind of girl to make this young man act like, a human being.

  58. LCforevah

    Jezebella, thanks, I do believe it was “Backlash” that filled me in on post war tactics against the American female. I’ll have to pick up a copy of “For Her Own Good” I’ve never heard of that one.

    My father was also the one who made me a feminist. Practically everything he tried to make me believe has turned out to be a falsehood, whether it’s religion, behavior, politics, etc. Sometimes he tried to me believe it with a strap. Everything he offered me by way of my future had to do with depending on some male. Never did it.

  59. whyme63

    I’d blame Helen Hayes and Charles MacArthur for “giving life” to that tool of the Patriarchy, but I believe James “Book’em Dan-O” MacArthur was actually adopted. So I blame them for giving the lil spud house-room.

  60. Panic

    Hooray for all the MST3K tips! You find them in the oddest of places. I wound up watching shorts for about four hours on YouTube one night. I’ve always loved the one about the bread delivery man being tempted by the devil.

    Thoughts on TCM (and AMC!) and women in film mid-century:
    I saw Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner for the first time a while back. Big Issue movie, right? So why is the daughter such a high-strung simpering blonde twit? It struck me as even weirder that her mother is being played by Katherine Hepburn, who owns my soul till the very end. Yeah, she did the madcap zany thing (I think they were called “screwball comedies”, but I’m no film buff), but she also owned everything she was in. Someone please tell me I’m missing something important in the film theory of it all!

  61. LMYC

    MST3K fave: “Space Mutiny.” All the nicknames they made up, rapid-fire, one after another, for the headless slab of beef who played the lead: Splint Chesthair, Big McLargeHuge, Rock Lampjaw, Crash Squatthrust! I sprained something laughing …

  62. Orange

    Emotenote, what do you mean “Teaching Nurse Volunteers”? My best friend teaches med students to do pelvic exams and breast exams, but there ain’t no volunteering involved. I think it’s about $75 for an hour or less for breasts, and about $150 for an hour or less for pelvic. The women who take this gig in Chicago seem to be those in the Planned Parenthood employee demographic, the women’s health folks.

    It’s not a job I’d be comfortable doing, but I’m grateful that there are women who are willing to put their vaginas on the line and coach med students on the right way to do pelvic exams. (I almost wrote “put their vaginas where their mouth is”!)

    I get my gyn care from a certified nurse-midwife. Would’ve delivered my baby with her if I could, but medical complications exiled me to a coed group of perinatologists. It was my least favorite doc, the man with visible nose hair, who was on call for my C-section. The nurses exclaimed about what a nice abdominal incision I’d gotten. Er, okay, whatever you say.

  63. Panic

    Ever see Pod People?
    I just about died.

    But now I fear I’m veering off into derailing, so I’ll stop.

  64. Foilwoman

    I’m with Tracey: I want Mystery Science Theater with Radical Feminist Commentary for just about every movie ever made. Although looking at classics through the lens of feminism is painful, it can also be hilarious. Twisty, please, there is a need here.

  65. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Yes! You could call it Mystery Rad-Fem Revolutionary Theater. The dogs could be your bots.

    Hell, I’d pay today’s movie ticket prices to see it.

  66. Jezebella

    Hm. Perhaps unfortunately for the people who choose to watch movies at my house, it’s “Mystery Science Theater with Radical Feminist Commentary” whenever the DVD is fired up. It’s of course more fun when my couchmates are willing participants. I have learned that I should never, ever subject another human to a movie about artists or museums because it turns into “MST3K with Obnoxious Museum Professional Commentary” which is only fun for me.

  67. BubbasNightmare

    The Twisty-MST3K thing sounds cool. I can even think of a movie line-up for the first season:

    Gilda, Sunset Boulevard, and Rosemary’s Baby (already mentioned)
    the later Chaplin films (Monsieur Verdoux comes to mind)
    most Bette Davis movies
    the entire Hitchcock genre (hoo boy! misogyny personified!)

    What do we call it? IBTP3K?

  68. CannibalFemme

    Oh, and: I love Pearl Forrester. She’s like the slightly-less-evil sister I never had.

    On RadFem MST-ing: hell fuzzy yes! The wealth of material ripe for mockery and blaming is just staggering. Since it’s basically everything. Can we start with ‘Titanic’?

    And Zofia, that *rocked*. Thanks!

  69. whyme63

    To answer your question about the high-strung simpering blonde twit–

    “I’m Katherine Hepburn, I own this picture I’m in, and I insist you give my niece and namesake a job. Even though she’s never been in a movie before. And can’t act very well.”

  70. Foilwoman

    Of course, I do the Foilwoman Annotated Version of popular songs and movies*, but I’m not as funny as Twisty.

    Example: Whitney Houston sings “How Will I Know If He Really Loves Me?” Foilwoman aside: “You won’t, and he doesn’t.” But I’m not bitter.

  71. TP

    Pinko Punko, you are so right about Gilda. The boss character just seems like gay collector of treasures even more than someone who has a real interest in her. I figured half the reason that Glenn Ford was mad at Gilda was that she came between him and his gay boss.

    As for the misogynist bent of Sunset Boulevard, why that’s the single most male homosexual movie thinly disguised as heterosexual I can think of. I can never see the relationship between Willian Holden and the unbelievably great Gloria Swanson as anything but a metaphor for the typical “older male gay predator and young man willing to go along for the money” relationship.

    Maybe it’s still misogynist even if it’s gay, but I just can’t see that movie as anything but a transparent depiction of a male to male relationship.

    And, I have to admit, it’s one of my ten favorite movies of all time.

    I don’t constantly pick out gay themes in movies, but when I notice them they cease to be about male/female relations to me. By the same token, much of our culture is about men talking to themselves, with little or no real thought to women, doesn’t it?

  72. LMYC

    I think Rita Hayworth is just about the most gorgeous woman in the universe, but when I learned morea bout her, I couldn’t really ogle anymore. Her father was apparently a real shithead — used to dance with her and bill her as his wife when she was maybe 14 or so. That was her break; she was a dancer.

    People who knew her a bit when she was younger said that they had two memories of her: she was either inside the house practicing dancing with her father while he ranted at her that she was doing it WRONG, or she was sitting on the front steps of her house spacing out and staring at nothing.

    Most of those old Hollywood sexpots had the most fucked up childhoods you can imagine — nowdays, they just get them younger and force them to play Lolita hookers at age 12. They graduate to wan, weak-wristed “role models” in their 20s, then get put into the soylent green factory at 35.

    I REALLY HATE Hollywood.

  73. Shannon

    “put their vaginas where their mouth is”? Orange, it’s a good thing I wasn’t holding a hot cup of coffee when I read that.

    Want a horrifying ob/gyn revenge story? When my mom had me, in 1975, she was admitted to the hospital Friday night with full-on contractions. Doctor Jerk wouldn’t let her eat anything but jello, or get up and walk around. Three days go by, and you can imagine she was getting weak. Finally, he got tired of waiting and made her have a c-section Monday night, which he screwed up royally.

    Shortly thereafter, he was decapitated in a horrible car accident. My mother is convinced that was the universe making a statement about payback being a bitch. (People who wonder why I am an only child generally get treated to this story).

  74. Panic

    Thanks, whyme63. There’s so often an explanation like that, isn’t there?

  75. zofia

    In the late 1950’s, my mother, who was trying to get out of a relationship with a very abusive man, went to her gync and found out that she was pregnant. The doctor was super understanding and kind and offered to help her with an abortion later that week. He met her in a sleazy motel room outside of town, turned extremely brutal (and clearly dug every minute of it) and after he extracted the fetus, threw it in her face and said, “Here’s your son, you fucking whore.” He then took her shoes and left her there, bleeding and alone. And you thought these bastards were brutal in a controlled setting.

  76. goblinbee

    “One of the few useful things about my childbirth “education” class was the movies of real women giving real birth. None of those women…were screaming their heads off.”

    If you’d like to see a real woman giving real birth AND screaming her head off, you need look no further than my delivery room. Yep, that’s me in the corner, bellowing in pain.

    The depictions of birth I’ve seen on TV and in movies have been calm and sanitized, which to me birth is NOT.

    It seems better to have had your experience than mine–to have birth be less gruesome than expected rather than more. But the high value placed on a calm and quiet delivery can also smack of the patriarchy (“Ladies! Please do not inconvenience us with your screams!”).

    I hate being told to shut up, no matter what the circumstances.


  77. badkitty

    I was once broke enough to work as a “pelvic model” for Planned Parenthood. The money was pretty good, the nurse practitioners were all female and extremely respectful. I left knowing I had helped some pro-choice women advance in their careers and that I would never see any of them again. I can’t even imagine letting co-workers, let alone creepy-ass egocentric male doctors that I would have to see every day, anywhere near me while I was in that position. Shuddering just to think of it.

    A close friend of mine told me about her first Pap and pelvic. Her mom took her to her creepy old male gyno and his advice to my friend during the exam was to pretend his hand was just a little mouse crawling around down there. WTF?

  78. Natalia

    I don’t constantly pick out gay themes in movies, but when I notice them they cease to be about male/female relations to me. By the same token, much of our culture is about men talking to themselves, with little or no real thought to women, doesn’t it?

    TP, I think the relevant reference here is Eve Sedgewick‘s Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire.

    [Between Men] attempted to demonstrate the immanence of men’s same-sex bonds, and their prohibitive structuration, to male-female bonds in nineteenth-century English literature…[The book] focused on the oppressive effects on women and men of a cultural system in which male-male desire became widely intelligible primarily by being routed through triangular desire involving a woman (Epistemology 15).

  79. chingona

    goblinbee – I wasn’t suggesting being quiet, per se. I wasn’t quiet. The movie/TV screams I’m talking about always sound like someone being stabbed. If that’s what you sounded like, then that’s fine, and I’m not trying to hate. Far from it. But there’s yelling and grunting and generally expressing yourself, and then there’s the kind of screaming the victim in a horror movie does. That’s the depiction that gets my goat.

  80. ashley

    I have been a lurker for a long time now and I’d like to start by saying that although coming here is usually bittersweet you make me proud to be a woman, Twisty. I wanted to share the story of why I will never see any male doctor again. The first gyn I went to was a male. I went because I was getting cramps so badly that every month I would vomit for at least an entire day straight, I was missing school and work and it was just out of control. The guy completely blew me off about it at first, and when I pressed him about it he told me to take ibuprofen (as if I was too stupid to try OTC painkillers before coming to him). After I stressed that once it started I couldn’t keep any pills down he told me to start taking it several days before my period every month, which I had just told him did not come at regular intervals. He made it very clear that he thought I was just a weak, hysterical little girl and that I should just deal with it. I do not remember exactly why he thought this was necessary, but what he did next I found incredibly insulting. He made a fist and said this is your vagina – this is your clitoris, your labia, etc. I could not believe it. I didn’t really say anything because I just wanted to get out of there, but I’ll never forget that. I was only 16 or 17 at the time so I did not know what my options were and I walked out of there that day feeling humiliated and hopeless. I ended up going on the pill, which that doctor never even suggested to me, and that has completely eliminated all of the pain. I can’t believe such a condescending jackass kept any patients at all, let alone enough to have his own practice, but I guess a lot of women are just used to it. I blame the patriarchy.

  81. DonaQuixote

    For some reason, I swear, some folks really want their doctors to be condescending jackasses. I think they want to have doctors who believe they are gods because they want to believe their doctors are in fact gods and can hence do no wrong.

    I had a similar experience with a male doctor not taking menstrual cramps on the extreme end of the painful scale seriously, and similar difficulty with the advice to take ibuprophen a few days prior to my irregular and hence un-plan-for-able period. I have only known one employer (an extremely groovy older woman) who accepted it as a legitimate excuse for missing work.

    Someone upthread mentiond “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” and I was so glad to see it, because I’ve long held a fair bit of patriarchy-blaming antipathy towards that film and thought I was the only one who had seen it that way. What did it for me was how the whole resolution of the film involved the white father grandstanding to everyone else about his wonderful epiphany that the couple should be supported, lecturing like a clueless privaleged asshole to them for at least five minutes and making the point that everything will be okay so long as the rich white guys make the right choice. Then he gets to walk into dinner looking so very proud of himself for his wonderful insight (which other people had already come to within the first five minutes of the friggin movie).

  82. DonaQuixote

    Oh, and I have to add this slightly tangential story. When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, the doctor had her meet him in his office to give her the news. When she started to cry, he asked her to leave his office, as it was making him uncomfortable.

  83. mearl

    Zofia, that story about your mother is horrifying. Women should never have to go through shit like that alone. She must be strong to have gotten through a nightmare like that. I’m happy that some things have changed, but in reference to the 1950s, the movie “Vera Drake” is one that young women should have access to in health class so they know what life would be like if abortions were illegal. And that movie is the abridged and edited version of the real situation.

    On the subject of ob/gyns, I recently got the book “Misconceptions,” which, although written from the cushy privileged position of whitebread Naomi Wolf, is an eye-opener and good resource guide for women who would prefer midwives or women who have no idea about what’s out there in American hospitals. My mom is a nurse, so after I devoured the book, I told her she should read it and give me her opinion on it. I asked her a few questions about having kids and what it’s like, since I haven’t had any yet. When I said the book talked about how many doctors insist on unnecessary C-sections, take the power out of the hands of the mother-to-be, and fuck up all the time, my mom gave me a wry look, raised her eyebrow and made a scoffing noise. “You’re lucky if the doctor is even in the room most of the time,” she told me. “They pretty much just take off and leave you there.” She said she had an awesome male doctor at the hospital where I was born, but unfortunately he retired. After working with doctors for 30 years, my mom has very little respect for them. She has a reign of terror going over our family doctor, who is a lazy slug. It’s great.

    I like how male doctors, male Hollywood screenwriters, and male religious zealots all collaborate on this idea that THEY give life. What a joke.

  84. Spit The Dummy

    mearl says: I like how male doctors, male Hollywood screenwriters, and male religious zealots all collaborate on this idea that THEY give life. What a joke.

    It’s all part of their uncontrollable uterus-envy. Ditto why so many male gynos.

    DonaQuixote, typical of the way our society can’t handle the reality of cancer, even doctors who are supposed to deal with it for a living! When I was diagnosed with malignant eye-lid cancer last year I reacted by making macabre remarks such as: “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye!” My doctor didn’t appreciate that reaction, either. (I didn’t lose the eye in the end, only an eye-lid, luckily it turned out to be a benign growth, though quite big.)

  85. kanea

    to the mst3k thing.
    mst3k was the first thing that popped into my head when I read this. youtube has nearly every episode. and I am as I type this uploading episode 801….(small world, isn’t it). users who have lots of mst3k videos on youtube are rocksiren, 650013, slidesong, just incase anyone wanted to know with out having to fumble threw searches trying to find full episodes.

  86. Sylvanite

    I’m going to have to check out youtube for MST3K episodes I missed.

    It’s worth any price to own a copy of Mitchell, however. I also need to get a copy on DVD of that short with “Mr. B. Natural.”

  87. sloopin

    Oooh, ooh, I have a creepy mail gyno story.

    I went to a male doctor because I was just dialing randomly down the list of approved doctors and his was the first office where someone picked up the phone and I didn’t get sent straight to voicemail or a “press 1 for appointments”-type menu. I wanted an IUD inserted, and when I told him that at the first appointment, he asked me how long my husband would be wanting me to keep it for. I assumed he was joking but decided not to come back after getting the IUD.

    The IUD insertion required a second appointment. After a lot of guff from my insurance company getting approvals that the doctor’s office should have been taking care of for me, I showed up for the “insertion.” I had heard that the process hurts and asked for painkillers on the advice of a friend. The doctor refused because it would have taken an extra 20 minutes for the painkillers to take effect. He told me it would be “fine.”

    It hurt a little but wasn’t too bad. As soon as he was done, he threw his gloves in the trash, muttered “you just wanted to make such a big deal out of that,” and stormed out of the room. He slammed the door so hard the assistant looked at me like “what the hell was that all about?”

    Still haven’t paid that bill!

  88. hedonistic

    Oy, by the way: My condolences on the latest wingnut terrorist attack in Austin. Funny how the media doesn’t call it terrorism when it’s directed at a women’s health clinic?

  89. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    I won’t go to a male gyno since one gave me the ever-so-practical advice that “having a baby will lessen your menstrual cramps, dear.” (That’s nothing compared with some of your horror stories. Wow.) Now I go to a female doctor, and I like her so much better — she has oven mitts on her stirrups so your feet don’t get cold, art prints on the ceiling, and a sense of humor. When I was a young’un, I asked her if she thought buying a vibrator meant I was weird, she answered that it felt so good, she’d think a person was weird for *not* buying one.

  90. zofia

    Zofia, that story about your mother is horrifying. Women should never have to go through shit like that alone. She must be strong to have gotten through a nightmare like that.

    My mother recounted the story to me on her deathbed. She never got over it. Apparently, she snapped and was found crazed and disheveled, traveling with an older man in the carnival several states away. My grandma brought her (and me and my infant brother) back home and helped her to regain her sanity. She got rid of my dad (and all men) and built a life (with menial jobs and crushing poverty)for me and my brother and she died young. If you ask me, he committed a murder that day; my mother’s.

  91. lostinWC

    Blech. That’s almost as bad as this:


  92. Bird

    A friend of mine couldn’t get her male doctor to take her menstrual cramps seriously either, despite the fact that they were completely debilitating and left her curled up vomiting in pain every month. My friend can’t take any of the standard pain killers, and this guy was totally uninterested in looking for an option beyond “just pop a couple of Midol.”

    My friend ended up getting a prescription for a muscle relaxant from her female dentist. Yeah, that’s right, her dentist. The good tooth doctor had heard from several patients that this particular drug made a real difference for their cramps, and she was happy to write up a prescription for it.

    The drug the dentist prescribed is now approved for that use. Funny how women figure this stuff out.

  93. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    I think my grandma had more than one kitchen-table abortion. My grandpa was an abusive (in every sense of the word) alcoholic. He was also a bigamist. My grandma had a hard row to hoe, and no one ever came out and said it directly, but I remember my mom talking about her “visits to Mrs. So-and-So up the street who knew how to take care of (ahem) inconveniences”. I think LMYC once said her grandma was a hard, unsentimental old bitch and she didn’t blame her. When I was a kid I felt terrible about how she wasn’t over-indulgent and affectionate like other people’s, but now I don’t blame my grandma either. She had a hard life.

  94. chingona

    I don’t know anyone who has had experiences even half as horrific as some of those described here, but it seems that women have a very hard time getting their pain to be taken seriously by any part of the medical community, not just OB/GYNs. I know of so many cases where women I know – strong women who wouldn’t be at the doctor if they weren’t in some serious pain – just get dismissed. Though the more I think about it, it’s happened to men I know too, especially whenever the first or second treatment doesn’t work. If they challenge the doctor’s omniscience, their mental health and sexual orientation have been questioned.

    Privilege is highly contagious and endemic in medical schools. Docs, male or female, have to have a pretty strong constitution to escape unscathed. Unfortunately, we’re the ones who suffer for it.

  95. Bird

    chingona, you’re so right, it’s not just the OB/GYNs that are a problem. As a fit, athletic teen (About 12 or 13 years old) I started having problems breathing, especially during sports. My doctor at the time told me I must be out of shape. You know, because girls who take ballet, figure skate and run track are always so unfit!

    A second opinion confirmed that it was asthma. Funny that a kid with two asthmatic brothers might have it too! But that particular doctor didn’t listen to a word any female person ever said. He actually told my aunt that most of women’s medical problems were all in their heads. It’s the old “hysteria” diagnosis, I guess. I’m sure he’s not the only male physician to hold that opinion.

    I think a lot of women doctors are more supportive because they have to deal with a lot of crap in med school from their fellow students and instructors. I sang in a choir with a female med student, and she had to face some real jerks who figured that all the women should transfer to the nursing program where they belonged.

  96. Mandos

    Privilege is highly contagious and endemic in medical schools. Docs, male or female, have to have a pretty strong constitution to escape unscathed. Unfortunately, we’re the ones who suffer for it.

    Oh my, yes. Do you know how doctors are MADE? It’s kind of like knowing how sausages are made. And med schools like it that way.

  97. Mandos

    [obligatory spamulator whine]

  98. Panic

    I don’t have enough words. I can’t even comprehend something so awful. So much unbelievable suffering in one lifetime, all because of these men, and their fucked up sense of entitlement. I’m so sorry.

  99. LCforevah

    Years ago when naproxen sodium(Alleve) was still a prescription, my GP prescribed it for my menstrual cramps, and boy was it great! My cramps weren’t completely debilitating, but sometimes they made it hard to get up and around at work. The dose was about 600mg and the pill was huge and hard to swallow, but I wanted relief.

    When, after a couple of days, I realized I was completely pain free, I went and told every woman in my department how great it was. I couldn’t wait to share the great news.

    IBTP when we are made to feel so ashamed of our needs that we keep information away from each other, whether it’s about pain, or contraception, or vibrators, dammit!

  100. Shira

    I have a friend with really severe endometriosis (she’ll probably need a hysterectomy in the next few years but she wants to try to have kids first. She’s 18). She told me once that she was in such severe pain and bleeding so much that they had to call an ambulance to take her to the ER. Asshole male OB/GYN on call told her mom that she was faking it to get out of school, that it couldn’t possibly hurt that much, and then walked in and ordered her to “stop being such a drama queen.” While she’s writhing in pain and bleeding profusely and begging for someone to just STFU and help her.

  101. Molly

    This is off-topic, and I hope I can be forgiven for it, but I’m trying to recruit smart women to a discussion that’s happening right now at Plastic about Joe Francis and Girls Gone Wild, and I don’t know of any other place frequented by so many intelligent and articulate feminists. The Plastic discussion has the potential to be interesting, but so far the only commenters are male (except me, of course) and it’s beginning to head down the “well gee, if you ladies would just quit objectifying yourselves, none of this would even happen” path. I know a lot of you have no interest in taking on the ignorant mens, and I sympathize completely, but I figured I might as well put the word out in case any of you might be in the mood to open up a can of rhetorical whoopass on some privileged jerks.

    Please excuse my interruption, and happy Friday!

  102. LMYC

    Calcium supplements. They helped me — they would probably be a drop in the coean for someone with a severe problem, but for the more standard “period on its way I FEEL LIKE SHIT AND MY TITS HURT” stuff, calcium supplements.

    Apparently, many of the symptoms of what they call PMT are caused ebcause estrogen interferes with the body’s calcium uptake: crampiness, shitty mood, sore chest, etc. If you pound calcium, you may notice at least a positive difference. I definitely did.

    Again, probably won’t help if your uterus really hates you, but it helped me a bit. Usually, I can tell when the damned thing is coming a mile away, but the first time I did this, my period literally snuck up on me.

  103. LCforevah

    OKay, please, those women who share everything with their husbands, don’t get angry at my question. Why is it that so many women in this country feel they DO have to share everything with the male partner? Even when he isn’t understanding(let alone abusive) and it would be better to confide in other women?

    My mother came from a very small town(500) in another country–very Catholic. Every married woman knew who the local abortionist was, because she also dispensed contraceptive devices. This was considered strictly female information, and never shared with male relatives because it was just none of their damn business. There were also doctors in the capital city that were discreet about certain things, and if one could go without calling attention, one did.
    Both single and married women would get contraception and abortions without confiding in their male counterparts, thereby retaining control of their own timetable for parenthood. Yes, it was blatant hypocrisy, and isn’t it about time we used hypocrisy on a regular basis for our own benefit?

    One of the Amazon tribes–I believe it was the Yanomamo, but I’m not sure–was questioned by a couple of white male anthropologists about their opinion on abortion. This question was directed to the males, of course. All they said was that it was woman’s business.

    That’s how it should remain, by whatever means necessary.

  104. Niki

    Thanks, LMYC, for the PMS tips. Calcium makes sense. I’ve been offered a million and one remedies that never worked for me. Usually I just filch Vicodin off of whatever friend’s got extra at the time and put myself on social lockdown.

  105. TP

    Dear Molly,

    The Plastic link you used directs me to the Onion website.

  106. Mau

    Babs says: I have never gotten a satisfactory answer when I pose the question: “why would a man be a gynecologist?”

    You should watch the movie Dead Ringers where Jeremy Irons plays twin gynecologists. You will never go to a male gynecologist ever again.

  107. bitchphd

    My mom has that whole ‘oh noes whatif lesbian gyno’ issue also. She’d rather go to a man. She has no other overt homophobic issues as far as I can tell, so I’m at a loss as to the root of this madness. I think that maybe, like some high school wrestling team members before they’ve come out, she’s afraid she’ll get excited. Really, I know it’s cliche but I have no other explanation.

    I think it’s that they think their lady parts are so icky and gross that a woman who actually *likes* lady parts is icky and gross by association.

    Whereas straight men, being the gods that they are, are somehow able to rise above their sexual liking of lady parts–which probably they don’t really like the lady parts as such, but only as a hole to get off in–and approach the thing with a clear, dispassionate, and godlike view.

  108. LMYC

    Hm. I’m thinking it’s because a gyno exam pretty much sucks, and most women are used to spacing out and detaching themselves when some guy is poking around in their parts anyhow. I’m serious.

    But when it’s a woman poking around, suddenly it’s a new thing, and you’re more conscious of what’s going on. When you’re already used to lying back and thinking of England when a guy is sticking something up you, it’s easy to do it in the gyno’s office and just stare up and wonder what color he should paint his ceiling.

    Me, I DESPISE gyno exams. Hate them with a passion. And I’m sort of the other way. As a result, I would sooner get my nails pulled out than go to a guy.

  109. The Hedonistic Pleasureseeker

    LMYC: A study is out that says calcium also helps with premenstrual dysphoria! When I read it I became much more vigilant about taking my mineral supplement.

  110. Twisty

    Yikes, I just saw another TCM doctor movie. “Men In White” starring Clark Gable and Myrna Loy, I think 1933. Gable plays a brilliant young MD whose demanding world-famous mentor, an old Freud-lookin dude with a Viennese accent, prattles ceaselessly about how noble their profession is even though medical science never actually prevents death. Myrna is sick of Clark’s work coming first and him never being around, so she tells him to go fuck himself. So he knocks up a weak-willed, vulnerable nurse, who of course dies in his arms after a botched abortion, thus restoring the natural order. The only reason I didn’t puke after watching this hideous display of male delusion is that — SPOILER!! — Myrna sensibly doesn’t marry Clark in the end.

  111. thebewilderness

    How often do you replace your broken teevee, Twisty? I’ve been thinking that you have been blessed with more self restraint than any normal human being, or you have some sort of batters cage around your television.

  112. mearl

    I can’t resist joining in and blurting stuff out (can fingers blurt? Wait a second, don’t answer that. I might name my impending blog “The Blurting Finger” as a paean to my childhood concept of a penis).

    Only somebody with ADD can digress before they even start. Here is my contribution: I lived from Day One of my period with the inheritance of my family’s Hideously Severe Menstrual Agony. Every month I would scream for three days on end unless I passed out from the painkillers, twisting in my bedsheets and pounding the wall. I’d immerse myself in hot baths, lay on the floor puking and sweating, my very skin hurting, my extremities numb and tingling. I remember my dad carrying me out to the car once when the pain was so bad my parents drove me to emergency where my mom worked, and she pulled strings to get me some Demerol. I’d miss school all the time because of it. I’ve lost jobs because of it. My family doctor, the abovementioned Slug, did nothing about it. He recommended the Pill. It didn’t work. He recommended having a baby, as a joke. I wanted to rip his balls off. Mainly it was my mom who helped me, smuggling T3s for me and filling up hot water bottle after hot water bottle. Even Naproxen didn’t help much unless I took enough to rot out my liver and make myself so stoned that I would sleep for 14 hours. I resigned myself to this hellish, uterus-controlled fate.

    Then last year, at the age of 27 and after the happy experiences of both an abortion and a miscarriage, I was desperate for a form of BC that didn’t give me hormonal ups and downs or make me depressed as hell, tired and apathetic, or one that didn’t make me itch like a mofo (I had tried a diaphragm and it made my business allergic). I got a 5-year non-hormonal IUD put in at the Women’s Clinic in my city. The insertion was like going through a particularly violent episode of cramps. I threw up for an hour, sweated and was delerious, and almost passed out from the pain. But ever since then I have lived almost virtually CRAMP-FREE. I can’t even believe it. They said my periods might get worse, but I feel like someone performed a miracle on me. Who knew? As for the Lazy Slug, who seemed to enjoy the breast and pelvic examinations a bit too much, I have ditched him and gotten a female gyno. I ain’t never going back.

  113. mearl

    Molly: ditto on the Onion.

  114. vee

    I don’t have any ob/gyn stories, but last year I had a gigantic ovarian cyst rupture that pretty much resulted in me losing one of my ovaries. The only explaination my doctor/surgeon gave me about why cysts form and what losing an ovary meant for me was that “it’s all okay – you can still get pregnant!” That’s it. Mind you, I was (and am) a teenager and had never mentioned concerns about baby making. My Mum and I were horrified that he acted like my ability to get pregnant was all that was important about my health. All I cared about was how it would change my cycle and why the hell it happened in the first place. In the end, I had to go to my regular family doctor to get it explained to me even though he had nothing to do with the surgery or even knew about the cyst or state of my ovaries.

  115. medrecgal


    Just the image formed in my mind by your description of this movie was enough to make me queasy. Yecch. These days, though, more medical school entrants are women. Wonder if that will do anything to help the sometimes overwhelming paternalism and sexist attitudes that seem to still be so pervasive in said profession.

    Actually, I recently had an experience as a patient that totally supports the notion of excessive patriarchy (and really, paternalism) in medicine. The way this physician was talking to me at one point, I wanted to say something like, “Listen up! I’m neither a child, nor am I stupid. Don’t talk to me like I don’t know anything.” Luckily for him, there were no repeats of this attitude later on (had there been, I would have mentioned it); I attributed it to the fact that he was (as he later explained, AFTER the surgery) seriously worried about my medical condition. Sometimes that concern brings out a much higher degree of paternalism. (Don’t know if you’ve seen any evidence of that in your own experience; this is just my experience.) I’d be curious to see what goes on in other places where most physicians are women.

    Luckily, these days, there’s much less of that childlike interaction between doctors & nurses; sometimes it’s the nurses (particularly in a hospital situation) who really know what’s going on, when the doctors are relatively clueless because they don’t see the patient on a daily basis.

  116. sigh

    Why do we submit to such a ridiculous exam at all? Surely they could figure out another way to test for cancer, if such research were supported. It is just another way to get women to submit.

    After all they have PSA tests for men (simple blood test), so they can avoid the latex glove bonanza until something is definitely wrong with the old prostate.

    Just sayin…

  117. Mandos

    I’m told that the PSA test is extremely unreliable. Men who are in the higher-risk age bracket are still expected to go for colonoscopies every so often.

  118. Shira

    Why do we submit to such a ridiculous exam at all? Surely they could figure out another way to test for cancer, if such research were supported. It is just another way to get women to submit.

    Gotta agree with you there. My first gyno exam was given when I went into the University’s urgent care center with a bunch of symptoms that screamed STOMACH FLU and dehydration, and the fuckers refused to give me IV fluids/antibiotics until I let them make sure I wasn’t actually pregnant somehow.

    Second exam was because they refused to renew my birth control prescription without one, since apparently I don’t deserve to suppress my periods unless they’re sure I haven’t been slutting it up, or so the logic apparently went.


  119. TP

    Men in White! One of the worst. My rule of thumb is that anything with Clark Gable in it is going to be extremely sexist. Plus Howard Hawks, the director, is an unbelievably bald faced misogynist of the first order. An exception to this rule is his sublime masterpiece Ball of Fire, starring the incredible Barbara Stanwyck.

    The so-called women’s movies, though always spoiled by the obligatory kowtowing to male dominance, are usually full of insights and details about how women thought during the heady days directly after the most politically successful wave of feminism ever in the US.

  120. Mandos

    Now that this thread is over, you might enjoy this relevant Futurama clip:


  121. Alecto

    My Mum and I were horrified that he acted like my ability to get pregnant was all that was important about my health.

    Hah, vee, at least it wasn’t your own mother telling the docs to save your ovary at all costs, despite the fact you have been telling her for ages you don’t want kids. Why not, you might ask? Because you don’t have a good maternal role model, that’s why. Funny, that.
    Somewhat back on track, I’m hoping to become an OB/GYN in the future, and I plan on keeping all of y’all in mind when I do.

  122. dryxi

    Ah, IUDs. I’ve been trying to get one of those for 3 months now.

    It all started with the pill – three years later I’ve gained 45 pounds, I’m clinically depressed (have always had a little in the background, but the damned pill makes everything worse), and I have zero sex drive. About this time I’m put on antidepressants and my health insurance changes. At the behest of my mother, I reluctantly go in to see Dr. Ego, tell him about my problems and ask to switch birth control pills and/or get an IUD. He dismisses my problems – “Well if you only eat junk food and don’t exercise, you’re going to gain weight,” (and here I am, a vegetarian who has done two competitive sports for ten years – I guess I can’t figure this out for myself). He’s not interested in my sex drive because, hey, a 21-year-old college student shouldn’t be having sex anyway, right?

    I tried Planned Parenthood, but they want records of my last pelvic exam, which Dr. Ego isn’t willing to transfer, and an additional small fortune to actually insert the damned IUD. I am a poverty – stricken (been on food stamps, etc.)college student who makes minimum wage (yeah $5.15 an hour won’t even make enough to pay income tax – you do the math)and is scraping by on third-party loans to finish my “education” at a dead end school in a backward state. The saying here in Oklahoma is “We’re the buckle of the Bible Belt!” I can’t afford this nonsense.

    That and trying to pry my life free from my mother’s death grasp for simple pleasures like going to a female doctor in the same town I live in, have me pretty well fed up and pissed off. IBTP.

  123. Jezebella


    FEDERAL LAW says that YOU own your medical records, and Dr. Ego better fucking well get up off of those records at your behest, pronto. I wish I could remember the name of the law, but it’s a patients’ rights bill. And furthermore, weight gain, depression, and loss of libido are documented side effects of estrogen treatment. I get exactly the same side effects, which is why I now have an IUD. Which, by the way, ROCKS. Paragard, lasts ten years, no hormones, no nasty side effects.

    I’m sure you’re tired of beating your head against the wall, but if you can stand one more round, I suggest you threaten Dr. Ego with a lawsuit if he doesn’t release your medical records to you. Stand in the office until you have a copy in your hands. He’s a MISOGYNISTIC ASS, and he’s breaking the law. If worse comes to worse, call the nearest university law school and ask if they have a pro bono law clinic. Most public universities have them. You deserve to control your birth control choices.

  124. Bird

    I’ve recently discovered just how bad the pill can be for your emotional state. I’ve been battling depression for a while, and some of it is definitely related to stuff in my life—my mother’s illness, my father’s growing alcoholism, and other things—but I’ve just recently made the connection between the severity of my emotional distress and how far I am into a pack of pills. During the week off, I feel progressively better, and things look pretty good at the end of the week. Then, when I begin the pills again, I steadily feel worse through the weeks until by the third week, I find myself thinking that getting hit by a bus might not be such a bad thing. In addition, I become really unstable and have some pretty wild mood swings.

    I have an appointment with my doctor next week to talk about alternatives (IUD, diaphragm, anything non-hormonal!). I just don’t think adding a medication that is known to cause depression to an already emotionally overloaded life is a good idea. It’s going to mean readjusting how my partner and I handle contraception, but he’s willing to do whatever is needed.

    I just really need to feel better. I’m tired of having the floor drop out from under me every month. It’s been an eye-opener to realize this few days that I’m not the only one who’s had this happen on the pill.

    And yes, I’m seeing a really good therapist too.

  125. Jezebella

    Bird, it’s not a miracle cure, but getting off the pill was crucial to my mental health. Too many docs dismiss the side effects, and I’ve had a few suggest that I try a different version of the Pill, and, you know, just see if I happen to still feel suicidal in the next few months. Sigh. You also might want to visit Hedonistic Pleasureseeker’s blog, where’s she’s been blogging regularly about treating her PMDD (Premenstrual dysphoric disorder, I think it is) with targeted doses of zoloft. If you get off the pill and still have a discernible mood cycle, you may have the PMDD.

    It sucks so much that we have to do this research ourselves and go tell the doctors what we need and want.

    I’m not sure why so many docs don’t even offer the IUD. I had to go to my gyno and ask for it. She was happy to do it, but no gyno in the history of my 25 years of going to them had ever even mentioned the IUD or diaphragm as an option. My conspiracy-theorist side thinks it has something to do with the fact that the IUD is a once-a-decade expense, while the Pill is an ongoing, eternal, monthly expense, and Big Pharma wants us spending as much as possible on scrips.

    Oh, also: you should know that IUD insertion hurts, because they dilate your cervix, but you’ll live through it, and it’s totally worth it.

  126. Bird

    I’ve been reading Hedonistic Pleasureseeker’s blog for a bit now (love it!), and her candidness about her struggle with PMDD is one of the things that made me start looking at my moods over a monthly cycle. The thing that finally made me take a hard look was reading Germaine Greer on the weekend—she mentioned the Pill and depression in passing, and I decided that I needed to take another look at that long piece of paper with the tiny printing that comes in the package.

    Sure enough, depression and mood disorders are listed as a side effect. I then did some checking via Google about my particular BCP, Marvelon, which is a combination pill (estrogen and progesterone) and found that it’s noted for causing nasty emotional side effects (depression, anxiety, mood swings). Some medical sites from Britain even say to quit taking it immediately if depression develops. And I’ve talked to a few women friends now who’ve been suicidally depressed while on BCPs.

    In my doctor’s defense, I haven’t really discussed my depression with her. I’m from a family of upper-class British immigrants who adhere to that whole stiff upper lip, keep your troubles to yourself way of thinking, and I guess that has carried over. It genuinely never occurred to me that I should tell her at my annual physical that I was seeing a psychologist for depression.

    Even more fun? The steroid control meds I’m on for my asthma also list depression as a side effect. So basically, the two drugs I put into my body every day are likely to make me feel like an emotional train wreck.

  127. dryxi

    Wow Jezebella, thanks for the heads up. I’m always amazed when I learn about new personal rights I never knew I had, which unfortunately happens more often than I care to admit.

    I’m glad the IUD is working for you – Paraguard is the copper one, correct? I believe that is the one I had my eye on. I’m through with the damn hormones. I haven’t been taking my pills for about a month now, which has made my birth control options annoying and risky. I guess that’s what I get for whorring it up.

  128. Spit The Dummy

    Jezebella said: Oh, also: you should know that IUD insertion hurts, because they dilate your cervix, but you’ll live through it, and it’s totally worth it.

    Yes, it certainly does and especially if there’s something wrong with your cervix that prevents it dilating naturally.

    Mearl, I only just read your post about your period woes but I had to pipe up and say that I had very similar problems for 20 years which, naturally, no doctor bothered much about while I flailed around desperately trying various methods of pain relief. Eventually, after the birth of my two children, I tried an hormonal IUD (Morena) which lasts 7 years. If you’re lucky (and I was) your periods stop altogether and I have absolutely no pain any more.

    The insertion of the IUD was painful and humiliating because the gyno was a pig. There are no female gynos where I live and my wonderful GP wouldn’t insert it because I’d had two caesarians and that would make the insertion without pain relief more difficult and more dangerous. Do I need to add that gyno didn’t bother giving me any pain relief?

    Anyway, the only good thing about the visit was the info that the “problem” with the insertion was that my cervix won’t dilate naturally for some reason and the pain I experienced during my periods was due to the build up of menstrual fluid, which then forced its way out in a surge, then the cervix would close down in a spasm, then the whole process would repeat again and again until period was over – no wonder it was painful! I’ll let you all imagine how my gyno dealt with finding a cervix resisting his efforts to shove an IUD into it.

    Anyway, long and short of this was to say: Mearl, maybe it’s worth considering that your cervix may be the culprit with you, too. Dunno if that’s any use to you now that you’ve managed to get rid of the hellish cramps for now but extra info can’t hurt, especially if you’ve managed to get yourself a female gyno. Good luck!

  129. Bird

    So I talked to my psychologist last night about the whole drug thing, and when she found out what asthma medication I was taking, she told me in no uncertain terms to get the hell off that drug. She says that it makes you feel absolutely crazy—mood swings, anxiety, depression, aggression and irritability. Yep, that’s me for the last eight months, which is how long I’ve been on that drug.

    Anyways, she also does custody assessments and other psychology stuff for the courts, and she says if any of the kids she’s talking to are on this drug, she gets them taken off it so she can find out what they’re actually like. She’s also been on it herself, and she knows just how messed up it makes you feel.

    She’s also said that I need to get off the Pill. She believes strongly that depressed women should not be on the Pill unless it’s absolutely necessary—it messes up the brain chemistry.

    My GP warned me about none of this stuff. I think it’s time to find a new doctor.

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