In case you are unaware of the potentially sexually charged atmosphere of an orthopaedic clinic, we point you in the direction of the erotic tome that is Advanced Examination Techniques in Orthopaedics. It was brought to Twitter’s attention by Kate Ahmad, a neurologist in Sydney who tweeted “If you don’t think women in medicine have problems – check out the required textbook for orthopaedics at one Australian med school” along with pictures from the book.”
One woman is having her fingers, then elbow, examined though her recovery after the supposed brachial plexus (the group of nerves that supply the arm and hand) trauma is clearly not the only thing on her mind, going by her see-through bra and seductive expression. The opaque lingerie item makes an appearance on another woman in the book too, this time paired with red hotpants, in a state of near nakedness that must be essential – for medical reasons, obviously – to her heel examination. The same woman appears on the back cover, with a male doctor’s hands on her hips.
These were from a 2003 edition, but Ahmad has pointed out that even the newer 2014 edition, by now published by Cambridge University Press, still has images that objectify women. One is of a woman in a push-up bra, being examined (“testing pectoralis major”) by a male doctor.
Ahmad, a neurologist who is gathering material for a talk on women in medicine at the hospital where she works and is vice-president of its women’s society, was sent these pictures. “I was shocked,” she says. “They objectify women. It’s a completely inappropriate relationship going on between the examiner and the patient – you would be concerned if you saw your colleagues examining a patient like this.” What does it say about the medical field’s attitude to women? “It highlights all the things that plague women in medicine. One is that women are still not considered to be equal to men; there’s still a bit of a boys’ club mentality and that makes it difficult for women to advance their careers. Second, men are still objectifying women – women are judged on what they look like and that can be as a patient or a colleague.”
The feminist campaigner and writer, Caroline Criado Perez, says the images “look like soft porn”. In a statement, Cambridge University Press said it was working on a third edition of the book, which it said was “widely used”, and that images will be reviewed “to ensure they are appropriate and relevant”.
“There is an implied sexualisation there, plus all the doctors in these pictures are male so there is a representation of the medical world of things getting done by men to women, who are standing there looking sexy,” says Criado Perez, author of Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. “Which is ironic because the vast majority of medical data has been collected on men – women get worse medical care because we know less about their bodies.”