The Round-Up: May 3, 2011


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Orgasm Inc. Takes on Big Pharma

Last night I was fortunate to attend a screening of Liz Canner’s feature-length documentary Orgasm Inc. followed by a Q&A with the director at the SFU Medicalization of Sex conference.

Canner started work on Orgasm Inc. when she was offered a job with the pharmaceutical company Vivus, editing erotic videos to be used in clinical trials of a new cream designed to treat what they called “Female Sexual Dysfunction”. She gained permission to film some of her work and interview Vivus employees for a film she was developing on pleasure.

Over and over she saw experts in the media claiming that 43% of American women suffer from some kind of sexual dysfunction. However, when she started asking questions about why “Female Sexual Dysfunction” seemed to have arisen only recently as a term, she found more and more evidence that the “disease” was mainly a creation of pharmaceutical companies designed to convince women that normal changes in sex drive and sexual feelings are pathological and need to be treated with medication. It turned out the 43% figure came from a drug company-funded study that included women who simply had simply had a period of experiencing pain during intercourse. And a lot of the medical experts hyping FSD as a disease were also receiving pharmaceutical company sponsorship.

In the introduction she gave at the screening, Canner stated she began to realize that pharmaceutical companies, “are not just in the business of developing drugs; they’re also in the business of developing diseases.” As her film notes, women’s bodies and sex drives have been a prime target for medicalization, from early fears about “hysteria” to the more recent labelling of “Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder”.

In the Q&A after the film, Canner talked about how messed up it is that our culture promotes things like vaginal rejuvenation surgeries and drugs for FSD and that on average, girls start looking at porn at age 11, when meanwhile we don’t have comprehensive sex education. She talked about how many of the women who are told they have FSD are told to ignore other contributing factors like normal aging, relationship dissatisfaction, past abuse, and use of anti-depressants and oral contraceptives. Not to mention that some women still don’t realize that most women can’t have orgasms through intercourse alone but need direct clitoral stimulation.

Canner does see the marketing as a type of anti-feminist backlash, but she points out: “In a way I think this is a continuation of the neo-liberal agenda. Free markets don’t care about what gender you are.” But women’s body insecurity makes them a prime target for this kind of medicalization.

Canner’s film is a must-see: alternately hysterically funny, moving, and inspiring. Some key memorable moments are her interviews with drug company representatives who all but admit they’re more interested in marketing a product than researching its long-term effects on women’s health or whether there’s a need for it in the first place, an interview with a nurse who underwent “vaginal rejuvenation surgery” only to suffer complications that almost killed her (the surgery also didn’t have the desired result), and another interview with an older woman who agreed to have a cable implanted in her spinal cord to send electrical signals that were supposed to give her an orgasm. I won’t give the whole thing away but let’s just say the results were dubious.

So if you get a chance to see Orgasm Inc., take it. you can find screening information on their website at and you can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture 1 Comment

FFFF: Tina Fey

We’ve got a longer Friday Feminist Funny Film today than usual – Tina Fey’s hour-long interview with Google’s Eric Schmidt.

If you’re looking for something shorter, this clip of every single secret ingredient on Iron Chef America is not particularly feminist but is still awesome and strangely compelling:

Happy Friday!


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The Round-Up: Apr. 26, 2011


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Dogs are for Boys, Cats are for Girls?

I came across this ad (left) in a Sociological Images post by Lisa Wade that looked at how the Blue Buffalo Trading Company has subtly gendered its advertisements by colour-coding all its dog-related images blue and all it’s cat-related images pink.

It struck a chord with me because I’d been channel-surfing the week before and come across a sitcom in which a male character was being teased for getting a cat, under the assumption that single men owning cats is an indicator of effeminacy or homosexuality.

I’d written it off as just absurd at the time but the Sociological Images post made me wonder whether there was actually a larger stereotype out there that dogs are pets for men and cats are pets for women.

Talking to some friends and looking into it further I’d argue that view does exist. Certainly the way we describe cats and dogs tends to be gender-bound. In the Blue Buffalo ad, all the dogs on the site are referred to by male pronouns while cats are treated as female.

So maybe the whole idea that there are cat people (vain, demanding, intuitive) and dog people (high-energy, affectionate, but maybe not all that smart) is just another way to ask whether people are more masculine or feminine. Maybe it’s just a way of reinforcing a gender binary. Anyone who’s owned dogs or cats know that there are animals with many different personalities. I’ve definitely known some high-maintenance dogs and some pretty relaxed cats.

That said, it seems to me that there’s more of a stigma around men owning cats than women owning dogs, although if you have any examples of women being teased for being masculine for owning dogs, I’d be really interested to hear them, so please comment below.

Lisa Wade speculates that the reason we stigmatize people who own cats (men and “cat ladies”) is because in our society masculinity=cool, and therefore it’s seen as more cool to own a dog than a cat. She points to an ad campaign targeted at men to try to convince them that “it’s okay to be a cat guy” (i.e. owning a cat doesn’t threaten your masculinity).

The ad is cute, but the campaign still implies that it might not be cool to be a cat guy if it stopped you from riding your motorbike or showing how tough you are.

What do you think? Have you seen examples of the idea that cats=feminine and that therefore straight, single men shouldn’t own them?


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture 8 Comments

FFFF: Pap Smears at Walgreens

Standing up for Planned Parenthood, women challenge the FOX News assertion that people can just go get a Pap test at Walgreens


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