Reporting, reality, and female anatomy

Slate’s Hannah Rosin has a really interesting article about the media misportrayal of a doctor who does reconstruction of girls born with congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a rare, and unfortunate condition that leads to an enlarged clitoris.  Sometimes as enlarged as much as a penis (not something any girl wants, I presume).  Here’s the lede:

The story has all the makings of a gynecological horror flick: “Cornell Surgeon Used Vibrator To Stimulate 6-Year-Olds,” gasped the headline inJezebelDan Savage declared himself so angry that “I hardly know where to start.” (On our own XX Factor blog, my colleague Rachael Larimore called it “appalling.”) The villain in this medical horror story is one aptly named Dr. Dix Poppas, a pediatric urologist at Cornell University who specializes in genital reconstruction.

Alas, things are much more complicated, as Rosin explains.  Basically, the doctor is trying to test that the nerves still work when he does his reconstructive surgery.  I also love Rosin’s conclusion:

To his critics, however, these details don’t matter. Savage calls this a conspiracy of “out and out homophobia.” He claims the medical establishment pushes these operations because girls with bigger clitorises are more likely to be lesbian. This claim is a stretch; girls with CAH are only slightly more likely to be lesbians or tomboyish when they are young. The vast majority are heterosexual and comfortable as girls. Gender norms have shifted pretty drastically in the 40 years that this operation has been performed, and still more than 95 percent of parents choose it for their children. Why? Because much as Savage might like it to be, the world is not yet a place where most little girls can have a clitoris that looks like a penis and feel entirely at ease [emphasis mine]. And few parents would want to use their daughter to test that proposition.

It’s not easy being a female PM

You’ve probably heard that Australia got a new Prime Minister today, the first woman to hold the job, Julia Gillard.  Ask yourself this… would you know the Aussies had a new PM if it were a man?  Most likely not.  On the one hand, it’s great that there’s this new first and another woman leader on the world stage.  On the other hand, I think it will be a great day when it’s not actually a big deal and Americans don’t really care about Australia having a new Prime Minister (you know what I mean).

I found the NYT profile of Gillard really interesting, because it shows how things are still very different for a woman to achieve this level of power.

Unmarried with no children, Ms. Gillard’s personal life has attracted significant attention. In her first year as deputy leader, one outspoken conservative senator, Bill Heffernan, said she could not understand the needs of Australian families and was unfit to govern because she was “deliberately barren.” He later apologized for the remark.

“There’s something in me that’s focused and single-minded,” Ms. Gillard said of her decision not to marry and have children. “I’m kind of full of admiration for women who can mix it together — working and having kids — but I’m not sure I could have.”

Imagine this level of personal scrutiny and commentary about a male politician without children.  Exactly right– not going to happen.  Nobody really cares about these things with a man– certainly not to the same degree.  Or get this, from the main article on the transition of power:

Ms. Gillard, a Welsh-born former lawyer who has been in Parliament since 1998, is widely viewed as hard-working and a clear communicator, despite routinely being mocked for her ever-changing hairstyles [emphasis mine] and a working-class accent.

Again, not going to happen for a male politician.

Also, of course, very much worth noting her comments about trying to strike a work/family balance by essentially giving up on family.  Nobody expects a man to do that.  I looked up German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and was not at all surprised to learn she never had children.

Oh, and by the way, start typing Angela Merkel into google and see what comes up.  It’s depressing (and surprising).  Here’s a taste if you don’t feel like trying.

Last point… this is also very much in keeping with the fact that when women make it to become national leaders, it is almost always as a Prime Minister where she is elected by her peers within the Parliament/legislature (this is the case with the German Chancellor), not voted on by the electorate of the country as a whole.

So, short version.  New woman national leader– great.  But, still shows we’ve got a long way to go.

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