The Cleveland Clinic's 'Speaking of Women's Health' Newsletter Is Helpful, It's Also Sexist


  • Speaking of Women's Health | The Cleveland Clinic

The Cleveland Clinic, among its many other services, runs a multitude of blogs focused on advice, tips and educational resources for those who may not want a doctor visit to find new ways to improve their health or who are poking around before making an appointment.

Monthly, the Clinic sends out a newsletter called Speaking of Women's Health, a program of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Specialized Women’s Health whose mission is listed as, "Educating women to make informed decisions about health, well-being and personal safety for themselves and their families."

On paper, a comprehensive and up-to-date newsletter focused on women's health is a great thing. Rural areas (which make up almost all of Ohio that isn't Cleveland, Toledo, Columbus, Dayton or Cincinnati) are losing access to women's health facilities at a rapid rate, so something like Speaking of Women's Health could be super helpful.

Unfortunately, Speaking of Women's Health can sometimes read as pretty sexist.

The newsletter and blog features columns from health professionals and feature not-at-all problematic titles like How to Keep Your Man Healthy and Happy with Food. This column in particular plays like an advertorial for the author Holly Clegg's new book, Guy’s Guide to Eating Well: A Man’s Cookbook For Health and Wellness, a cookbook geared towards men's health. The entire blog post is solely dedicated to how foods can impact men's health, so why is it on a women's health blog?

Because women are the ones cooking for men, obviously.

Clegg writes, "Beside every great man is a strong woman to help push him in the right direction."

Or, you know, a man has full autonomy of his body and can make his own damn food.

Reactions from social media were less than positive. As one woman on Facebook wrote, "What the hell does feeding your husband have to do with my ladyhealth?"

Another woman on social media posted in response, "This is terrible! Not only is it super ridiculous what they're assuming women care about, but I'm pretty sure a lot of the content is medically suspect. Plus, making women responsible for preventing illness in 'their man?'"

Dr. Holly Thacker, Director of the Center for Specialized Health at Cleveland Clinicis, is the author behind most of the columns featured on Speaking of Women's Health, and for someone with such an incredible amount of education on women's health, it's so disconcerting to see some of the stuff she contributes to this blog.

In her article titled What’s New in Vaginal Rejuvenation? Newer Treatment for Vaginal and Pelvic Concerns in Women, Dr. Thacker includes a segment for women about living in what she calls "the bonus years."

In Thacker's words, "You may ask why is it the bonus years? Because the female body, from a reproductive and hormonal standpoint, winds down after age 50." The Director of the Center for Specialized Health at Cleveland Clinic is insinuating that the only worthy years for women are the ones we have when we're able to reproduce, and anything after that is a "bonus."

The shame is that the article is filled with great information about vaginal health, how to maintain a healthy vagina and the different therapies available for vaginal treatment later in life but it's hard to get past an opening of "your tired vagina is tired and only good if it can reproduce."

"This could have been written in 1951. Outrageous," was one reaction on Facebook.

Speaking of Women's Health also offers an overwhelming amount of information on aesthetic health like non-surgical body sculpting and the popular Ketogenic diet. Yes, all of this information is beneficial for those looking for it, but it reads like body shaming under the guise of health concern.

"When we're not too busy feeding our husbands, we have time to worry about the state of our vajayjays and our body hair!" one Facebook commenter sarcastically expressed.

The latest issue of the newsletter included an ideal weight calculator, in which women could submit their height to determine what their ideal weight should be. Unfortunately, this calculator seems to be influenced by the Body Mass Index chart, something that has been widely accepted as scientifically nonsensical. The BMI calculator doesn't take into account things like muscle mass vs. fat mass, so an extremely healthy body builder with little-to-no body fat could show up as "severely obese."

This calculator being sent into the inboxes of countless women is extremely problematic, because many people take the word of The Cleveland Clinic as gospel, given their prowess as one of the best hospitals in the world. As the Spiderman saying goes, "with great power comes great responsibility." That 'ideal weight' calculator is irresponsible, and the Clinic should know better.

It may sound like we're being harsh, but the reality is that women across the country are constantly body shamed by their doctors. Last week, a woman in Canada used her obituary to hold her doctors accountable for their fat shaming. It read, in part, “Over the past few years of feeling unwell she sought out medical intervention and no one offered any support or suggestions beyond weight loss." The woman would later die of cancer that went undiagnosed for years, because doctors told her that losing weight would solve her health problems.

In 2012, Dr. Thacker revealed in an article titled What Do Physicians Think About Lipstick? that medical professionals, "are taught to notice a person's over all grooming and appearance. The positive lipstick sign means that a woman in the hospital is feeling better and feeling well enough to care about her usual appearance and apply some makeup, including lipstick! And that positive lipstick sign just may be the indicator that she is feeling well enough to be discharged home from the hospital."

While this anecdote may seem clever or cute, it's sort of appalling that medical professionals are using signs of vanity as an indicator a woman is feeling better. As a cancer patient, I can say with the utmost authority that if doctors were looking for me to apply lipstick as an indicator I was feeling well enough to be discharged, I would have sat in that hospital for months.

Weirdly enough, the Cleveland Clinic's monthly newsletter on men's health is an 8-page document, but requires a subscription. Women receiving services from Cleveland Clinic are automatically subscribed to the women's newsletter that arrives in their inbox for free, whereas men have to pay for their health information.

Other than these oddly sexist contributions, it's also severely concerning that Speaking of Women's Health includes a very politicized column about Girls with Guns. Docs with Glocks. Dr. Thacker includes a comprehensive (albeit very educational) blog post about gun safety, but this pro-gun, pro-NRA article has absolutely no reason to be on a newsletter focusing on women's health. Dr. Thacker boasts about her marksmanship and includes fear mongering mentions of radical Islamic a newsletter about women's health circulated to the masses by one of the most prestigious hospitals in the world.

We reached out to the people behind Speaking of Women's Health for comments, but have not yet heard back.

The Cleveland Clinic is a remarkable hospital and they are much better than these click-bait, Cosmo-esque headlines. The information in these newsletters is important, and there's no need to dilute the message with problematic rhetoric or sexist implications. 

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