Holding and Letting Go Reviewed at NDPR

IJFABster Hilde Lindemann’s recent book, Holding and Letting Go: The Social Practice of Personal Identities, has been reviewed in the series of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, feely available online and by email subscription. An excerpt:

In Lindeman’s words, the book is about the moral practice of “initiating human beings into personhood and then holding them there” (p. ix). We hold others and ourselves through a web of stories that depict our most important acts, experiences, characteristics, roles, relationships, and commitments. This narrative tissue, as she calls it, constitutes our personal identities. So storytelling is of essential importance for the moral practice of personhood and identity work. Interestingly, she practices what she preaches. Each chapter starts with a story that shows us how persons can be held or let go.

Sounds fascinating!

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“Is it moral to save this puppy?”

Peter Singer at Salon on factory farming. There is no feminist dimension to the piece, but it does nicely tie together the bioethical themes of food and climate to be featured in upcoming issues of IJFAB. There is still plenty of time to submit to the latter issue, and I would encourage anyone interested in this crucial issue to read the CFP and consider submitting a manuscript. You have until January 1!

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“The Drug that Cried ‘Feminism'”

Branded as “The Little Pink Pill” and “Female Viagra,” flibanserin, Sprout Pharmaceuticals’ only drug, was recently resubmitted to the Food and Drug Administration for approval for hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), a questionable condition promoted by pharmaceutical companies to sell questionable drugs. Flibanserin, a failed-antidepressant-turned-libido-boosting-drug, has already been rejected twice by the FDA due to a lack of proven efficacy in the face of possible safety concerns.

Rather than putting this drug to sleep, Sprout attacked the FDA for, of all things, sexism. Sprout created a public relations campaign called “Even the Score” that has misled several consumer groups, congresswomen, and many reporters into believing that the FDA is willing to approve male, but not female, treatments for sexual dysfunction. After all, they approved Viagra, the little blue pill, so shouldn’t the little pink pill get approved as well?

Well no, actually. Prescription drug regulation is driven by safety and efficacy, not parity. Promoting a lower standard of efficacy and safety in drugs for women is not feminist. Nor is drawing comparisons to unrelated drugs.

Read on at the Hastings Center’s Bioethics Forum.

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Alice Dreger Live-Tweets Son’s Sex-Ed Class

…and the results are truly quite wonderful. You can learn more about Professor Dreger (Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University) at her homepage and find the tweets with a brief write-up at HuffPost Women. Be sure to read on to the confrontation with the teacher.

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Deadline Extension to 1 June: “See How She Runs: Feminists Rethink Fitness”

The deadline for submissions to IJFAB‘s upcoming special issue “See How She Runs: Feminists Rethink Fitness” has been extended to 1 June, 2015. From the CFP:

Fitness is a neglected concept in bioethics but fitness is of key importance to women’s health and well-being. Blogging at Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs have been exploring the connections between women’s bodies, the medicalization of women’s health, and the multimillion dollar fitness industry. Until recently the focus of feminist criticism was on diet and weight loss, while ‘fitness’ was thought to be benign. More recently feminists have been engaging with the rhetoric of fitness as well. Some of the issues discussed show that there are significant impediments to women’s flourishing associated with fitness talk: fat shaming, body image, the tyranny of dieting, the narrow aesthetic ideal of femininity and how antithetical it is to athleticism, the sexualization of female athletes, women and competition, issues about entitlement, inclusion, and exclusion, the way expectations about achievement are gender variable, the harms of stereotyping. Feminists have begun to interrogate the very assumptions about what constitutes “fitness” in the first place. How is fitness connected to ableism and non-disabled privilege? Sport and fitness provide us with microcosms of more general feminist concerns about power, privilege, entitlement, and socialization.

You may find the full CPF here. Please direct any inquires to either the guest editors, Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs (sbrennan@uwo.ca and tisaacs@uwo.ca), or the Editorial Office.

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Write in White Ink:
A Response to “#FreetheNipple?” by Patrick J. Welsh

When I shared on Facebook the piece on Scout Willis that PJ mentions, a woman friend of mine commented sarcastically on it, something like: ‘Thanks, Joy—I’ve seen my first nipple on Facebook.’ I took this to mean: ‘Thanks for continuing the violence of sexism, Joy, by encouraging all of the creepers.’ If my assumption is correct, the commentator—much like PJ does in his piece—places the oppressive male gaze in the most important position in the story.

My question is, and I think this falls in line with the ideas behind the #FreeTheNipple movement: Why have we given that oppressive gaze so much power—enough power to take away our own joy in the experience of our bodies? The #FreeTheNipple equality movement wants us to not care, or to care much less, about what the men who hold an oppressive gaze think about our bodies. The movement wants us to take our nipples back from that gaze, from society’s construction of our nipples as only-for-male-consumption, as only-for-their-pleasure. Our nipples, and our breasts more generally, are for our pleasure. They are also sometimes just there, little to no pleasure to be had, just as men’s nipples are often simply there. Sometimes we use them to nourish our children—and sometimes (gasp!) we find pleasure there, too.

PJ writes that “the women demonstrating for this cause do not look to be the sort of women frustrated by a lack of sexual attention.” If the women in the photos are “hot” (conventionally attractive), so what? That doesn’t preclude “non-hot” folks from joining the #FreeTheNipple movement. Indeed, as the movement gets larger, I see more and more “unattractive,” or less conventionally attractive, women baring their breasts. In addition, PJ’s comment—well intentioned as it is—simply reaffirms the hot/not-hot binary that mainstream society holds in place. I might think that the “fat” woman showing her nipples to the world is hot. The point is: we don’t care what you think.

Continue reading

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Okay, so I posted about this before on the occasion of Scout Willis’s topless foray through the Lower East Side, and hesitate to do so again because I am not sure I have much new to say. Nevertheless, since the issue has since come up several times in media, and I have become aware of a nation-wide “Free the Nipple” campaign to advance public toplessness as a form of female empowerment, I post again out of ongoing bewilderment.

My argument being, in effect, that the whole thing is ultimately too silly and harmless to deserve serious attention, I decided at that time that it didn’t make sense for me to even be drawing attention to it on this public forum. Yet, it continues to appear in my trusty Facebook newsfeed, which has recently offered this celebration of #FreeTheNipple, a skeptical write-up at The Guardian, and (since when you click on a shared link, Facebook automatically generates three more on related topics) even this proposed biological explanation for the sexualization of the female breast, unique to the human species.

More to the point, however, I learned that IJFAB blogger Joy Schaefer supports the movement and welcomes the opportunity to disabuse me of my skepticism. Hence this post, only lightly edited from what I composed in January, and followed immediately by her response. Continue reading

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Chronicle Data

The Chronicle of Higher Education has recently added a feature to their website that they are calling Chronicle Data, and it is worth a look. Not only does it display information about the average salaries of faculty and staff of various ranks and types from a searchable database of institutions, but it allows one to sort the faculty figures by gender.

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“Disability Rights Panel Discussion with Rushdie and Kittay”

“Emory Distinguished Professor Salman Rushdie and Eva Kittay, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Stony Brook University, join English professors Rosemarie Garland-Thomson and Benjamin Reiss to discuss the human rights of those with disabilities (Feb. 24, 2015).”

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In Memory of Anne Donchin (1930-2014)

 I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.
       —Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792

We learned, with great sadness, that Anne Donchin had passed away. She is a part of the history and development of feminist bioethics and, together with Becky Holmes, started the International Network on Feminist Approaches to Bioethics (FAB). She is, in addition, part of our personal histories. We offer the following tributes in her memory.
                   —Susana E. Sommer & Silvia Woods

The Fourth World Congress of Bioethics took place in Japan in 1998. I was able to attend thanks to the financial assistance of some women I did not then know. It was a long trip, passing through several time zones, and took me from Buenos Aires to Tokyo.

I met Anne for the first time in Tsukuba, where the first part of the meeting took place. She and Becky Homes had created FAB six years earlier to bring a feminist perspective to discussions about the exclusion of women and other discriminated against groups. With time, I discovered how these women were able to put into action words like sorority and solidarity. At Tsukuba, the sessions were intense and interesting, and hearing about relational autonomy as an answer to the oppressive social conditions of women left me deeply impressed.

When it came time to add new members to the FAB Board, Anne proposed that I serve. I agreed and was rewarded with an enriching personal relationship. Anne told me I would be welcome at her home if I came to New York, which I thought quite unlikely. As a matter of fact, I had more than one chance to stay with her and Edmund Byrne, her partner, in Hastings-on Hudson, where we shared long talks, promenades, and delightful meals.

Anne played an important and influential role in my life, just as much intellectual as emotional. I will never forget her generosity, her smile, her humor, her joie de vivre, and her importance in the development of feminist bioethics.

—Susana E. Sommer
World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology, UNESCO


My conversations with Susana Sommer are always filled with personal stories and anecdotes. The last two were devoted to Anne.

Reading Susana’s warm tribute, I experience once again how emotions are an essential tool for transmitting culture and values.

Anne’s social networks and contacts were many and varied, both within and outside of the academy, and her friends included colleagues, artists, other professionals, service providers, and many others who were important not only in her academic life but in all facets of it.

The memory of Anne will always be with us, and her accomplishments will continue to guide much of the ongoing struggle to address the many inequalities that still affect women. It was marked by deep thought, an ability to communicate with others from a position of humility, and an ever-present sense of humor that characterized all her personal exchanges.

Her warning that we cannot interpret bioethics in its relation to human rights if the universalist positions are not marked by an understanding of the inequalities in the world—including not only those between the different genres but that between the dominant countries and the developing ones—is still relevant today. She articulated this in “The Pursuit of Universality: Reflections on the Draft of the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights,” an article written in collaboration with Mary C. Rawlinson and published in 2008 in Revista Perspectivas Bioéticas (nos. 24/25). I quote:

More pertinent to the development of a global bioethics than the invocation of abstract norms, would be attention to the controversy between those who wish to limit bioethics and the scope of the UNESCO document to “emerging” issues in medicine and the life sciences linked to new knowledge and new technologies, such as the regulation of genetic research, and those who feel “that the social dimension of bioethics should be at the heart of the future declarations.” Taking a global perspective, even one limited to Anglo-European societies alone, “persistent” issues of poverty, access to health care, education, and sustainable environmental resources have far more immediate bearing on health and bioethics than does the regulation of esoteric research.

It is precisely her focus on the social dimension that is permanently highlighted in her thought. Certainly, the emphasis to make obvious that dispute—which is still a crucial issue—is one of Anne Donchin’s greatest legacies to build bioethical support for public health issues.

Her contribution to the debate on this interdisciplinary field will remain a benchmark.

—Silvia Woods
University of Buenos Aires

This tribute will additionally be published in the next issue of the journal Perspectivas Bioéticas edited by Florencia Luna.

Editor’s note: For addition tributes to Anne Donchin, see volume 8, number 1 of IJFAB, the April 2015 issue.

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Misrepresented Evidence and Early Genital Normalization Surgery

One of the most urgent and important issues in the treatment of neonates with atypical genitalia (at times referred to as intersex or disorder of sexual development DSD) is the question of genital normalization surgery. For years, medical professionals thought that having  “normal” looking genitals was foundational to healthy psychological development, and they advocated for these surgeries to happen shortly after birth.

Activists and researches have questioned this practice, arguing that these early interventions are often guided by sexism, paternalism, lead to lasting psychological and physical scars, and reflect social discomfort with bodies that question heteronormative standards rather than a genuine medical urgency. Accord Alliance recommends that parents wait to consent to any irreversible surgeries (with the exception of surgeries necessitated by immediate physical danger) until the child can participate in the decision making process. They note:

Waiting can give him or her time to make those decisions; waiting can mean you and your child may get more information about how well the procedures being offered to you work; waiting can mean you give your child the message you accept your child as he or she came, and that you respect your child’s ability to make decisions about his or her own body.

The shift away from early genital normalization surgery has been questioned by Dr. Heino Meyer-Bahlburg in a chapter in a new volume titled Genetic Steroid Disorders (M. I. New, O. Lekarev, A. Parsa, B. O’Malley, & G. D. Hammer (Eds.) London: Elsevier.)

Arlene B. Baratz and Ellen Feder have responded to his piece in a letter to the editor, arguing that Meyer-Bahlburg is actively misrepresenting data to support his position in favor of early genital normalization surgery. Additionally, this letter explains why not only patient advocates, but people with atypical genitalia themselves need to be included in the design and implementation of research projects.

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On the Alzheimer’s Report

I saw a lot of surprise on social media about the Alzheimer’s Society report including that data that only 45% of patients and their caregivers are informed of their Alzheimer’s diagnosis. News reports went so far as to put out the idea that physicians are under no legal obligation to inform patients of their diagnosis. See for example here at US News and World Report.

One of the things that surprised me when I entered bioethics a decade ago was that some issues we may have thought belonged to the “dark ages” persist as practices—or may even continue to be live controversies—today. Trainees learning pelvic exams with patients who have not consented to be so “used” but are unconscious. Withholding difficult diagnoses or prognoses.

Someone is always willing to say that busy doctors don’t have the time for X. This is almost never a real answer: time is a proxy for the importance placed on something or how difficult one finds something. If doctors literally didn’t have the time to communicate a diagnosis, they would have to take down their shingles: the practice of medicine would be impossible.  Continue reading

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