Outrage, of course. It’s unprofessional, unethical, probably illegal…the list goes on.
But what if said doctor never did anything with the photos? Never posted them to the web, never cataloged them with identifying information (your face or name), never did anything with them except, presumably, look at them and masturbate?
It’s not a hypothetical. Dr. Nikita Levy, a Johns Hopkins gynecologist in Baltimore, Md., did exactly that. When his breach of trust was discovered in 2013, he committed suicide. Recently, Hopkins awarded a $190 million to more than 8,000 women who had been Levy’s patients.
A Washington Post article, A gynecologist secretly photographed patients. What’s their pain worth? (Jan. 14), interviewed several of the plaintiffs, who were awarded damages ranging from $1,750 to $26,000.
None of the women knew for a fact whether they were photographed by Levy. Yet they spoke of humiliation, fear, a distrust of doctors and lawyers, panic attacks—a whole range of trauma. “They will never be able to fathom what we’ve all been through,” one victim said through tears. “Sleepless nights, missing work, your body at work but your brain elsewhere . . . we lived through hell, and some of us are still going through hell.”
The pain is real, no doubt. But it’s the result of what?
The suspicion that their genitals were photographed in a non-sexual setting by a pervert (a word I usually use loosely, but not here) who kept the photographs to himself. (I say “genitals” because the news articles about Levy said he used a penlight camera to take the photos. I guess it’s possible that he also may have videoed women in the nude. But the news reports give the impression that he was taking close-up shots of genitalia.)
(Side note: The Post used of term “sexually explicit” to describe the photos. Is a close-up photograph of a vulva that isn’t sexually aroused or positioned to suggest sexual arousal or titillation really “sexually explicit”? Isn’t it just a photograph of a vulva or whatever?)
My question is this: Is there something going on here (speaking of the women’s genuine reactions) that speaks to U.S. society’s attitudes toward sex? Why so much pain and shame and humiliation over the possibility that a doctor (a popular guy with most of his patients and known for his “warm demeanor”) took and kept photos of their genitals? And with no information that would distinguish your genitals from the genitals of the 8,000 other women?
I don’t get it. I’m a nudist. I’ve been photographed nude (both Polaroid and digital). I’ve been photographed while sexually aroused (including closeups of my genitals). All were taken with my permission. Hardly unique, right? In the nineteenth century, you had to hire Toulouse-Lautrec for homemade porn. Now, you just pick up your phone and your debauchery is preserved for posterity. (Since I know what you’re thinking, none of my sexually explicit photos have made it to the web and won’t, so don’t ask.)
I’d like to think that my reaction, had I learned that my doctor had taken photos of my genitals for his own private use, would be, “That’s weird.” I’d want them back (or destroyed or locked up, as Levy’s photos are) and I’d want the guy punished (this is, obviously, a good argument for women gynecologists).
But panic attacks? Deep shame and humiliation? I don’t think so.
Again, I have no problem being nude in mixed company (and when appropriate, as when everyone else is nude). I don’t automatically associate nudity with sex (which most Americans do). Yes, I’m more like a Northern European in that respect. A close-up shot of my crotch (it’s fairly normal looking, by the way, just like 99 percent of other crotches) does not upset me. Theoretically, that is.
So why the deep shame and humiliation from the women interviewed by the Post?
What do you think?
Oh, boy! (or girl)–Food4Thought Friday wants my take on female genitals! (Yes, that’s a Georgia O’Keefe painting that looks like a vagin…I mean, vulva. And, yes, I sure hope her paintings aren’t protected by copyright.)
The most dramatic thing that comes to mind is a huge painting by Ecuadorian master painter Oswaldo Guayasamín depicting the universe emerging from a native woman’s cunt. It makes you think: Hey, everything started with a woman’s pussy. Everything. (The painting is housed in La Capilla del Hombre, the museum in Quito dedicated to Guayasamín’s art.)
On a less dramatic note—actually, what follows is a lot of peeving—this is my chance to rant about two things that drive me up the wall when it comes to women’s reproductive organs (external): shaved pussies and calling the vulva the “vagina.”
First, shaving (or waxing or whatever): Getting past that it’s at the very least inconvenient and, at worst, very painful, removing pubic hair is unhealthy. Google it. Infections. Ingrown hair. Increased chance of STIs. Genital warts. Think.
Plus, it makes women look pre-adolescent. That’s a sick line of thought I’d rather not pursue, but it speaks for itself. Adult women have hair between their legs. Too long? Gets in your girlfriend’s teeth? Trim it. Just, for god’s sake, don’t shave it all off.
Next rant: If you point between your legs and say, “Look at my vagina” or something equally vague and ridiculous, then what do you say when you specifically want to refer to the hole that is your birth canal? “Look at my hole”? Well, sorry to get all clinical here, but you’ve got more than one. There’s also your urethra (for urine and the mystery fluid that squirters emit) and your a-hole. Asshole.
Okay, English can be a shitty language; there’s no good word for female genitalia that doesn’t sound insulting, puerile or clinical. Pussy works for me, but it’s more a process of elimination. Cunt? Only in context. Vulva? Doctor-ish. Pudenda? Even worse (plus no one knows what it means). Yoni? I like that one, kind of New Age-y. Again, a lot of people won’t know it’s Sanskrit for pussy/cunt/vulva. That leaves pussy.
But “vagina”? Puh-leeze.