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Birth, Feminism, and the place of males in the whole thing

post #1 of 85
Thread Starter 
I've always kind of had this idea anyway, but I've been hearing more and more stories lately about OBs hell-bent on destroying informed consent and labor partners who don't stand up for mama. It may be jumbled, because I've had a couple of beers and I'm angry.

I'll come right out and say it. I think childbirth is a feminist issue, and beyond that, I think men have no place in any part of it. I RABIDLY believe that any woman who wants a decent, respectful birth should steer way clear of doctors in general, but a woman who employs a male OB as her birth attendant is in for a special kind of hell. I don't think men should be obstetricians. I don't think men have any place in the birthing room whatsoever, with the exception of the birth father or trusted partner of the birthing woman. If the partner is in the room, they should be fully and completely briefed on the nitty gritty of childbirth, and should be aware at all times that it is the laboring mother who is in control, and they are there as her advocate and soldier.

I am continually appalled at the stories I read here and elsewhere of women who have been totally victimized by male OBs and male GYNs. Why the hell would a woman let a MAN be in charge of her gynecological health??? I think male OBs and GYNs simply reinforce patriarchy.

Why do men want to be OBs and GYNs anyway?

I'm so sorry for the rant. I'm just beginning to let my thoughts take shape on this matter, but it's something I (clearly) feel very strongly about.

I asked a good male friend of mine the other day, as we were talking about this very thing, if he would ever consider seeing a female urologist or proctologist. He laughed at me. Why do women not think twice about seeing male OB/GYN's?
post #2 of 85
I've had these thoughts before too and it really is infuriating to hear so many stories about incompetent and authoritative male OBs who ruin the childbirth experience for women in labor. However, there are also female OBs who do the same thing. Maybe it's because they've been schooled in a male-dominated university/medical school/field and have just swallowed the bait, hook line and sinker, I don't know. Or they feel that to get ahead and do as well as the top men, they have to think, act and behave like them as well (aggressive, controlling, insensitive). There are definitely loads of perfectly understanding, lovely doctors, both male and female, out there but people aren't very vocal about their good experiences and that's why we only hear the horror stories. That is worth bearing in mind when it seems that EVERY SINGLE birth is controlled and underminded.

As far as banning male OB/GYNs...while in theory I agree and think it makes sense, in practice it sets a dangerous precedent about gender roles and what we are each 'allowed' to do or understand. I've had two gynos -- one male, one female. The female was rough, distant and cold. The male was gentle, compassionate and professional. Not everyone fits into the gender-specific stereotype and to pretend we do is dangerous, not only for birth but for other areas as well. If we ban men from the business of birth outright, they'll retaliate and want to ban females from doing traditionally male things or dealing with things that pertain to males. Besides, we're all humans and childbirth is the most basic, primal thing -- our species propogating itself. And as much as some people might not like it, men are involved in that process as well. It is their children being born and the future of their society as well, not just women's.

What we need is plain and simple -- more education and less propaganda and fear-mongering. Women need to be given the tools (aside from reading 'What to Expect' and watching a few lousy TLC shows) to educate and empower themselves. Males need to do the same. The problem is, they don't want to right now. People are happy living in ignorant bliss and like having someone make their decisions for them, especially when it comes to the human body. We've denigrated the body so much that most women have never even looked at or can name the parts of their genitals and men have no idea where their prostate is, let alone either sex knowing what a body is capable of in birth. Is it any wonder we leave it to these 'demi-gods' to tell us what to do? But that's not entirely men's fault. Women have given up their power without a fight, a long, long time ago, and it is going to take time to get it back. It's tempting to start a radical revolution but for it to be a true, long-lasting movement, it has to be done slowly, from within. We have to get inside people's lives, inside their heads and start, ever so slowly and subtly, putting seeds of doubt in their mind until they start learning for themselves again. I think that's really the best first step at the moment. Blaming men for the entire problem and banning them completely won't help anything right now, IMO.

I know I've rambled a bit here too (only on my first cup of coffee but I do empathise with what you're saying and understand your frustration. I think a lot of us do. Hang in there mama, it will only get better if we have people like you, with such passion, to help fight birth's corner.
post #3 of 85
i think that part of the reason that women go to malel OBs or OBs in general is largely cultural. first, it was quite a while before women could become doctors. that is, those who did were rare. so, the first OBs were men, they made themselves into the authorities, and when women started to become doctors (when that was becoming mainstreamed), it was shocking to many women that women would even want to do it, it was questioned whether or nto they had the intellegence to, etc--thus their authority is lesser than a male.

and then, of course, the idea that the OB is god, that's important. it's huge in our culture to just go to the doctor. everyone loves the doctor.

now, i'm with you that these birth issues are feminist issues. but i don't think men should be barred from the whole thing. instead, i think it should be mother focused, mother empowering. i like the UC model for this. The idea is that the mother is the one in power, in control, and utilizing those attendants that she has as she sees fit. So, fi she has a doctor because she needs one, it's clear that the doctor is there to serve her, not that the doctor is taking responsibility for the birth.
post #4 of 85
Originally Posted by amitymama View Post
I've had two gynos -- one male, one female. The female was rough, distant and cold. The male was gentle, compassionate and professional.
That's interesting, someone on another forum I visit ran a poll on this, and most people seemed to rate their female OBs as more heavy handed, impatient, and pushy than their male counterparts... I find that really sad.

I also find it odd that male OBGYNs are the majority - they specialise in body parts that they don't even have, and processes that they can never go through.
post #5 of 85
Eh, I don't think it has anything to do with the gender of the doctor. After my first homebirth, I had a hospital stay for an infection and the male OB was nothing but kind, gentle and polite. My second birth was a transfer and that male OB was nothing but kind, gentle and polite. I reccomended that last OB to several of my friends (non-homebirthing types) due to his good bedside manner and his record being the best in the area for natural deliveries. Most of my friends insisted on seeing a female doctor for what I interpreted as "touchy feely" reasons and they all ended up sectioned. I view an OB like an mechanic - if I need one, I want one that is competent to fix the problem - otherwise I think they have no business being involved with my births. If women want a midwife, they should hire a midwife - not select a doctor just because she's an "she" and think they are going to get a midwife's standard of care. Anyway, my 2 cents...
post #6 of 85
Patriarchy is a system which preferences men in (almost) all ways but you don't have to be a man to employ it's tactics. It's not what's in the pants of the careprovider it's what they have between their ears and in their hearts. A surgeon is a surgeon is a surgeon and while some are compassionate, most are just institutionalised and utterly inappropriate carers for pregnant women. It's interesting that a few surveys have shown that women surgeons have elective c/s for their babies as if they can bypass their own femaleness and play on some level playing field with the boys. I was raped by a woman surgeon in my birthrape. It is a HUGE question and birth is definitely a feminist issue even if most feminists don't see it that way. Of course some of us radical feminists are working on that
post #7 of 85
YES--what Janet said!
post #8 of 85
Oh my goodness! I just saw something by my name..."I am made of awesome"...er, how on Earth did that get there? I think I know, since a certain unnamed someone on this list...someone who just so happens to have some technical access here...used that phrase on me yesterday.

wow, I'm kinda speechless, er, thanks. wow.

sorry to hijack...just had to say something to someone...
post #9 of 85
Congratulations I'll stand in for the someone
post #10 of 85
Well then, Janet--

you get the hug of appreciation...and the scolding (what, are you trying to make me look conceited or something?)

anyway, back to the topic at hand...

I do see birth in this era as a feminist issue, that is much at the heart of my mwifery practice--and midwifery is also at the heart of my eco-feminist practice. Yes, some men make pretty good 'midwives' (be they OB or other), their caring and gentleness was not wiped out through their training...and all too often, women make sadly great patriarchal/dominator practitioners since that is the mode in which they were trained and further, it is very hard for women to compete in that ed. system --so maybe they are more rewarded for stomping out their own feminine nurturing qualities in pursuit of the 'M.D./OB' designation.

But in general, it has always seemed wrong to me, for men to be so involved in women's health care. Not just men as individuals, but men as a group--masculine thinking and approach laid onto the female body and mind, the men's appropriation of a strictly female function. That phenomenon is very much a brainchild of patriarchy's wish to own/colonize the world of the feminine and the bodies of women. It is a close cousin to patriarchy's basic philosophy of Mind Over Matter, Rational/Scientific Over Irrational/Instinctive--think of Christian marriage philosophy where the man is supposed to be The Head; this is not just the man as Boss (tho he is), but man as The Thinker, the Brain, the Mind...who is 'needed' to guide and control women's function as Heart, Feeling, all that messy stuff. Well, he IS needed for this, if women are to remain generally controlled by the Church and specifically controlled, each woman to a man.

Anyway, there is a lot more to this...but I won't try to say it all here. Women have to realize/decide that it's not just men as individuals who don't belong near birth and women's health, but finally see that it is the masculist approach to women's bodies that is so very wrong/perverse/peculiar and UNSUITED TO THE TASK. When this happens, then we will see a movement by women to kick men out of our health and birth business (as a group and as an attitude, with allowances for individuals), and reinstate ourselves as the only true experts and rightful decisionmakers for us.

onward to that day!
post #11 of 85
I also feel very strongly, from a personal standpoint, that I could never be comfortable with a male OB. Or perhaps ANY OB, male or female! Because I do agree that a lot of women OBs are as bad as the male OBs who trained them.

I could only be satisfied with a midwife. My homebirth midwife, a woman who has had 8 children herself --- the first 4 in the hospital, the last 4 at home --- is someone who I trust so utterly and completely with my births and with my personal health. There is a certain female wisdom that is simply out of reach of a lot of men. I tend to agree that birth is a feminist experience.

I could never trust a male OB the same way, even one who is gentle and knowledgeable, because so much of my trust is based on a woman being a woman, and going through these same experiences herself. KWIM? So I agree, that birth is the realm of women, and only women. (Although I'm a little hesitant thinking that male OBs should be banned.)

It reminds me too of other cultures. DH is from India. When his mother was having children (she had 11), childbirth was completely and utterly the woman's business, and only women. When daughters gave birth they went to their mother's house. And a midwife caught the babies. Men were completely out of the picture.

Sadly, a lot in India is changing today. Most of DH's nieces have had cesareans in hospitals with male doctors. Sometimes western cultures "outsource" the worst practices! It is very, very sad. There's so much wisdom about birth in a culture like India's that is being lost, as childbirth becomes a surgery. How ironic that now in America women are turning back to this ancient wisdom, and choosing to birth at home!
post #12 of 85
I've been under the care of a lot of OB/GYN's over the years.

The absolute worst of the bunch was a woman.

The absolute best of the bunch was also a woman.

When it comes to complications of pg and birth, I wouldn't hesitate to choose my last OB again, a man. His competence in the OR was astounding, and if I ever had complications, you can believe I don't care on iota if the doc is a male or a female. I want them to know what they are doing and do it well. I've only had one female OB that fit that criteria, whereas I've had several male OB's that I would trust if my life were on the line.

For those that believe men do not belong in the process of birthing at all period, do you also believe there are professions where women do not have any business in?
post #13 of 85
I agree that the problems is systemic, deep within our culture, history and worldview. Science, a masculine construct, with it's mechanistic conceptualization of the body (body as machine, every process able to be modeled mathematically...), and the universe, leaves no room for the messy intricacies of the birth process, or for the blend of scientific, experiential and intuitive knowledge of midwifery (at its best). And it is science that's won the day in our culture as the source of Ultimate Truth. Medicine, supposedly rooted in science, produces doctors who (as has been said before) are something like demi-gods, the mediators between us mere mortals and the one source of truth about our bodies, medical science. Trouble is, they're actually just humans, and when push comes to shove, will do what they believe to be true over practices that good science has shown to be true. Here is where we can use their own weapons against them. The randomized, controlled trials showing improved outcomes with a labor support person present are one example of this, as is the MANA statistics project. But it's frustrating at the same time, to have to go inside the system to prove our points when that system doesn't even play by its own rules.

So, I don't think it's about individual men. I think it's about, as a culture, unlearning patriarchy, recognizing that there are many ways of knowing, and honoring the complexity of the world, specifically (to this conversation) birthing women's bodies and wisdom. I think it's dangerous to assume that one person gets this stuff more than another because of what parts they have. My male partner is definitely more of a feminist than many women I know, and as part of that, he respectfully defers to me when it comes to the topic of what ought to happen at our birth.

So, uh, ramble ramble ramble.

Hope I added something new to a very interesting conversation!!
post #14 of 85
The way Obstetrics is practiced in America is violent, degrading, and NOT BASED ON Evidence.

My better OB during a HB transfer *was* a man, though. I totally agree that women OBs can be just as wrapped up in a patriarchal violent way of practicing as men. Especially a female OB who has had a section herself. JMO, but I think they get a little section-happy, if they have had one.

I just cannot spare another minute on a mama who thinks she will get anything but invasive, medicalized care from an OB, especially one in a large practice. Open your eyes, mamas!

It is absolutely a feminist issue. How come you can pick an elective C-section in every state in the USA but you can't legally hire a CPM in my state? Anyone who says this is about the safety of mothers & babies is definitely fooling themselves. It is strictly a business monopoly. If we cared one whit about the safety of mothers/babies as a society, birth wouldn't be the IV/Pitocin/Epidural nightmare it has become. And every hospital would welcome HB transfers.

I try not to be angry at my sisters who just want to "swallow the kool-aid" as it were, because we *are* all sisters in this, but it is *very* hard. I think we *all* have to insist on our rights/a change before it will happen.
post #15 of 85
Maybe I've swallowed the Kool-Aid then. Assisted Homebirths are illegal where I am, which means I'd need to either UC or birth at a hospital. I've had two natural child births at the hospital with my (male) OB, and one m/c at home under his care. And he is wonderful. He doesn't direct me or anything, and at this last birth dh says OB was very forceful with the nurses when they tried to hook up pit after I delivered SJ (I need an IV due to a heart condition).

He asked me the next day, when he stopped in to check on me, whether I was happy with this birth. He is kind, nonjudgmental, practical, etc.

A good friend of mine from college is now an OB. She says she would want an epi if she gets pregnant. I would take my male OB over her, hands down. Maybe he's been more free than her to surrender to the beauty and power of birth, because if she does she's a superstitious woman whereas if he does, he's a man and not judged the same by medical compatriots?

My aunt has had five children, all natural births, and two of them while in hospital were without a doctor present (we birth fast).... Her husband, who is a 50ish year old rancher, has said more than once that he would love to help other women birth. And I know that it's not in a managing sort of way, but that he has been moved by the power of birth too, and supporting his wife through her births. If dh couldn't be with me at a birth, I'd want my aunt before my uncle but I'd be comfortable with him too.

I agree that birth doesn't belong in hospitals; if I could have birth at home with someone assisting me (midwife) I would do it (Maybe by the time we have another babe, I'll be comfortable enough to UC) .... But I also think that gender shouldn't automatically discount someone from being an OB, etc. Doesn't that just reinforce that awful gender distinction where women are nurturing and men are oafs? Call me a heretic on this one I guess. Because as we contemplate traveling out of state to birth our next babe (with a midwife, maybe at her home) -- I know I will be missing the presence of our OB during that birth.

He doesn't practice medicine as I see described so often here and elsewhere; I know that there are vaginal exams etc. etc. etc. done on women when they aren't necessary, are intrusive, etc. But he doesn't do that (at least with me) and I assume he doesn't do that (at least as much) even with the patients who choose to be medicated.

I read this blog awhile ago and thought I'd link to it on this topic. The birth story and pictures here made me cry.

post #16 of 85
I was about to reference the same blog elanorh!

I think it has less to do with what's between the legs than with what's between the ears.

My FIL is a family practitioner who delivered babies for years, until the arthritis in his hands got too bad (he was afraid he'd drop a baby). In the small town he practices in, he is beloved. He has walls of baby pictures, everyone in town knows him. He sat in his daughter's high school graduating class and counted--he delivered half or more of the very large class. Granted I don't know much about his methodology, but I do know he let a friend of my mother's deliver in the shower. My mother went to him way back hoping for a VBAC because he was one of the few around who still did them--he wouldn't agree because of her vertical incision, but he did her c-section (yes, an FP who did his own c-sections--and yes, you're reading that right, my FIL delivered one of my younger brothers ). He spends time with his patients, knows more about them than their medical needs and problems. I've seen him take gifts and a small tree down to the hospital because he had a patient who was going to be stuck there over Christmas. He's in it because he genuinely loves it. He loves his patients, worries over them, prays for them.

By contrast, the female OB/GYN who delivered my last baby is beyond COLD. I'd go in for visits and she'd be rushed. Literally backing out the door as I was trying to ask her questions. I felt like I was being shoved through a prenatal assembly line. She walked in about 2 minutes before my daughter was born, and walked out about 10 minutes later. I was in the process of meeting my daughter, tears running down my face, and it was "Call my office and set up an appt for a postpartum exam." I saw her for roughly 2 min the next day when she rounded on me and discharged me. I've had 2 miscarriages and when I've called her office, her staff has been "business as usual" or even rude and blunt. No compassion. No gentleness. No recognition that I might be having a painful event. "Your HCG dropped--go get a blood draw next week to make sure it drops below 2."

So no, I don't think it has much to do with gender. We THINK women should be more empathetic because they've been through it or could go through it. But most of us can cite examples of caring male docs and horrible female docs.

Who do I want to deliver my baby? Someone with a healthy respect for my body and it's capabilities. Someone who believes in normal, physiologic birth. Someone who can handle a crisis, but doesn't invent them by being too hands-on. Someone who genuinely sees birth as the miraculous event that it is.

post #17 of 85
Just to clarify, I didn't mean any mama who births in a hospital has a taste for sugary juices.

But we all know that there are mamas out there that are buying what *most* OBs are sellin' wholesale! Just sayin' it makes me sad.
post #18 of 85
Thread Starter 
I'm not really talking about empathy here, and I know that women OBs can be big horrible jerks, too. So can female midwives. I'm sure there are male OBs out there who are caring and wonderful and do great jobs.

From my point of view, as a woman, a mother, and a feminist, however, I just don't see the sense in trusting the care of my female parts to a person who does not have those parts. It's as strange a suggestion to me as seeing a veterinarian. I didn't say men should be outright banned from OB/GYNing, that they shouldn't be allowed to be baby/mama doctors. And people have the right to choose whatever they want.

I, however, can't stand the idea of a man being involved in my process of childbirth in any way. Similarly I can't stand the idea of a man doing my routine pelvics, breast exams, and pap smears.

I guess I do see some jobs that women should stay out of. Penis enlargement. Nation-building. Nuclear proliferation.
These are jokes, people.

No, any person of any gender is qualified to do any job.
I just don't want any person of the male gender doing the job of being my birth professional or well-woman care provider. And I know many men who feel that they don't want anyone of the female gender doing their prostate exams.

I also genuinely don't understand why men want to be OB/GYNs, except for the sadism. I really have trouble wrapping my head around a man going through medical school and residency, all that hard work, with the purely altruistic intention of "helping women". It just doesn't compute, and for that reason, I don't trust male OB/GYNs.
post #19 of 85
I also genuinely don't understand why men want to be OB/GYNs, except for the sadism.
By that logic, should we say that all med students who specialize in pediatrics are pedophiles?

I really have trouble wrapping my head around a man going through medical school and residency, all that hard work, with the purely altruistic intention of "helping women". It just doesn't compute, and for that reason, I don't trust male OB/GYNs
Honestly this statement astounds me. Because to take it to it's logical end, it seems that you believe all men find all women inferior and therefore not worth caring for as patients. Some people are fascinated with the brain. Some with the heart and lungs. Others with the bowel. What's so wierd about being fascinated with the reproductive system? I mentioned above my FIL is a family practitioner that did OB for years simply because he loved it. My husband is also a family practitioner who happens to like doing women's health. He thought seriously about doing OB as part of his practice. He loves and respects women. Neither of them are sadists.

Don't get me wrong--I do think OB/GYNs are better for birth emergencies, rather than physiological birth. Totally agree with you there. But to say that a male practitioner would specialize in women's health because he is a sadist is profoundly misguided. While I agree that there are OB/GYNs hurting women out there (far, far too often), most aren't intentionally hurting their patients.

post #20 of 85
This is such an interesting thread... I don't have time to add a lot, but wanted to comment on the male OBGYN vs. female OBGYN...

My mother, nearly 60 years old, has always preferred male gynecologists. The reason? She feels that women, when looking at her genitals, are comparing to their own and this makes her uncomfortable.


I'm not saying it's sane... normal... or makes any sense at all. But that's one reason that women go to male doctors.
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