Patient Modesty: Volume 12
We continue on, with Volume 12, in this discussion of patient bodily modesty in terms of the professional considerations, professional ignorance of it or alleged abuse by professionals, the history, the dynamics of the modesty concerns, the relationship to provider gender selection and alleged patient gender inequality of selection. Despite literally thousands of comments posted on this subject here since the subject was started 3 1/2 years ago, further discussion is welcome. Please be sure you stick to this specific topic when you write and try not to change the point of the discussion to other issues that are covered elsewhere on this blog. And again, I would like to remind our contributors who wish to remain anonymous, in order to maintain continuity for those who read, please use at least a consistent pseudonym or initials to end your postings.
One of the last posts in Volume 11 was an excellent presentation of the history of nudity and bodily modesty issues as written by our visitor MER. I thought it would be appropriate to start out this Volume by re-posting his writing here. ..Maurice.
Saturday, March 21, 2009 2:05:00 PM, MER said...
One point I’ve tried to consistently make in my past posts is – how we feel about nakedness is contextual, depends upon the situation. The same person who may frequent nudist events may be embarrassed or even humiliated being naked in other contexts. The same is true for those who are extremely embarrassed being naked in front of a female nurse or doctor. In other contexts, in front of a male doctor or nurse, they may not be embarrassed.
I’ve been trying to study the change in attitudes toward nakedness in Western culture, especially the US, within the last 100 years or so. This is a complex subject and I don’t pretend to have “the” answer. But I do have a few suggestions. In the late 19th century, early 20th century, interest in Greek culture with the start of the Olympics, reminded us that these Greek athletes competed in the nude, and often trained in the nude. The Greek perfection of the unity of mind and body became visible in statues of the “perfect” athletic body. I think the early Olympics had some influence on attitude changes. This about the time we begin to see the growth of modern nudism and males swimming nude in public swimming pools.
About the 1890’s, when Boy’s Clubs, YMCA’s, (the scout movement, etc.) became popular, attitudes toward masculinity changed. The notion was that we were becoming weak as a culture, especially males, with the closing of the frontier. These male bonding institutions in connection with exercise and wilderness experiences helped shape our attitudes toward nudity. In UK, as the empire was declining, a similar attitude developed about the decline of masculinity and the traits associated with it. Early indoor swimming pools started being built. They had filtering systems that were sensitive. For that reason among others, males were required to swim naked. It started in the YMCA’s and Boy’s Clubs and later came into some of the college and high school systems. But, and this is a big BUT – it seems to me that there was always an understood, tacit agreement – no females were allowed. This would be strictly for men and men felt safe in these situations.
I don’t think naked military induction exams really became standard until WW1. That’s not to say it didn’t occur during the Crimean War, the American Civil War or the Franco-Prussian War. We’d have to research that. But before “modern” warfare, governments were more interested in bodies in any condition to man the front lines. Doctor’s examining naked bodies didn’t really begin seriously until after the French Revolution secularized the hospital system and doctors from all around the world headed to Paris to study and get access to real bodies. Read George Eliot’s “Middlemarch” to see how one of the main characters, a British doctor, brings back modern medicine to England from his Paris studies. There’s a revealing chapter in Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” where Kitty is ill and must go through a complete examination with one of the “new” thinking doctors who insists that he examine her entire naked body. Very revealing. It shows the arrogance of that doctor, how the modesty of the patient is completely ignored. If ever there’s a literary example of Foucault’s medical “gaze” it’s there in Tolstoy. Kitty was simply an object for this doctor to examine. My point in all this is that the modern medical examination of the complete naked body doesn’t start until the mid to late 19th century.
We occasionally see photos of naked soldiers from WW1 and WW2 being examined. This was standard. But I would argue that there was a strict, assumed, tacit agreement that there would be no women present. The question is often asked as to why these men felt comfortable swimming nude together, or being examined naked during military inductions. I would argue it was because of this understanding that this was a male ritual that excluded women.
Now – something begins to change after WW2 and comes into being in the 1960’s. It has many sources, but I argue that it’s closely connected to what we call the “sexual revolution” and the growing feminist movement. As more women enter male occupations, as this process gets embedded in legal doctrine, that is, giving rights to the same access for women as for men – we see things change. As more women want access to these indoor pools the policy about men swimming naked changes. As gay rights becomes an issue and as more gays come out of the closet, some men show more homophobic tendencies and become less comfortable being naked around other men. As sexual abuse, predation and crimes become more publicized, people become more wary with exposing their bodies in more and more situations.
How does this relate to what we’re talking about? Before we get to medicine – we see one example with the military induction during the Vietnam War. With more women becoming doctors and joining the military, we find many anecdotal examples of naked male inductees facing female doctors and nurses. In fact, there are a significant number of anecdotes of female clerks and other non medical personal having access to these naked men. Here’s where we see the old understood, tacit, agreement breaking down. In the past, it was understood that there would be no females present for these nude male rituals. Things now change. I would argue that during WW1 and WW2, as a general rule males in the military (unless seriously wounded – again, I’m not referring to extreme examples) were not subject to intimate examinations by female doctors or nurses. I grant the exception of the USSR and some other European countries. But remember, medicine wasn’t opened to women in the early USSR because the Soviets were concerned with gender equity. I suggested more women became doctors than men because being a doctor didn’t have the social status it did in other countries. It wasn’t considered the highest, most honorable calling for men.
Combine all this with the dominance of post modern philosophy – the concept of gender doesn’t exist, it’s only a cultural construct – and we see this attitude enter the medical system. Exempting emergency situations, it wasn’t that long ago that male orderlies or nurses or doctors handled intimate procedures with male patients. Even the “older” retired nurses today will tell you that. As more women entered medicine, it was just expected that gender didn’t matter and that they would have access to males just as the male doctors over the years had had access to females. Although attitudes are changing, this world view is still significantly embedded with the medical culture. These attitudes changes that now claim gender neutrality have come relatively quickly and without an open, honest discussion which includes patients at the table.
I don’t claim this is the whole story. I’ve probably missed some important elements and movements. I present this summary, my opinion, for discussion and criticism. I believe it’s relevant to what we’re discussing here.
Graphic: Women and Men's separate toilet buildings, photograph recently taken by me at the Santa Monica, California beach.
NOTICE: AS OF TODAY APRIL 3, 2009 "PATIENT MODESTY: VOLUME 12" WILL BE CLOSED FOR FURTHER COMMENTS. YOU CAN CONTINUE POSTING COMMENTS ON VOLUME 13.