Monday, November 29, 2010

An American doctor in Paris (or why I want an apology from Jezebel)

I will not be visiting Jezebel until they apologize for publishing "Edward Pasteck's" ridiculous, rape-apologizing, harassment-defending garbage.  For those of you who aren't familiar with this steaming pile of rapey mansplaining dung masquerading as interesting content on a feminist website, it went a little something like this [TRIGGER WARNING--scroll to "end trigger"]:
Having just returned from living in Paris, I feel more convinced than ever that America gets many things wrong about sex. Right there near the top of the list is our attachment to the idea of consent.

In Paris, it seems as if the straight male attitude toward consent is that it doesn't exist. At clubs, bars, bistros, in the street or on the Metro, Parisian men lobby very aggressively for sex. At the clubs in the 8ème, off the Champs-Élysées, and all along Rue de Rivoli, it is fairly common to watch men literally grab and touch the girls who weave through the crowd. Men often draw a finger down an unknown girl's cheek or under her chin like a doting Uncle; they can be seen pinching girls' noses, throwing arms around shoulders and even stealing kisses. It's not for nothing that the French slang word for "kiss" or "make out" is choper, which literally means "to catch."

...One lesson from Paris is that sex shouldn't be an activity to which we need to consent if a decision will suffice.

A specific example from my time in France helps illustrate my point. I once fell madly in love with a woman named Madeleine. I thought she liked me too because she kept agreeing to see me and she once elegantly blew me a kiss as she descended into a Metro station. We were never intimate because the moment never seemed right to try to kiss her. Lovesick and unsure of what to do, I complained about Madeleine to a female French friend who said to me, "Have you tried getting her drunk?" Obviously my friend's recommendation was based on the assumption that after getting drunk Madeleine would be easier to seduce. This idea of plying a woman with alcohol (something that is applauded by American men in private) often enrages American women because they view it as an assault on their right to consent. Is this really a good thing?
That's right, Jezebel, you and I are over.  I will get my celebrity gossip from People, and my feminism from sites that have never defended sexual violence.  I originally wanted to use this space to talk about how I had personally been affected by the fragility of consent in American society.  To talk about walking the gauntlet in NYC bars with bile in the back of my throat as men exercised their assumed right to touch me however they pleased.  To talk about how, as a survivor of sexual abuse, I am terrified that society thinks "Well, it's not like she fought him off" is an admission of agreement.  I wanted to tear his ridiculous argument to shreds.  Then I had a different idea. [END TRIGGER]

Why not try to apply Pasteck's logic to another situation in which consent is required to avoid legal action?  Medicine.  The below follows the exact same structure and argumentation of Pastek's piece, with almost all taken verbatim (including the parts that make no sense and say nothing), although edited for length.  With apologies to the French, who did nothing to deserve this, here goes:
Having just returned from living in Paris, I feel more convinced than ever that America gets many things wrong about medical care. Right there near the top of the list is our attachment to the idea of consent. 
In Paris, it seems as if the average physician's attitude toward consent is that it doesn't exist. At hospitals, clinics, or even in the street or on the Metro, Parisian doctors lobby very aggressively to perform medical procedures. At the private clinics in the 8ème, off the Champs-Élysées, and all along major healthcare centers, it is fairly common to watch doctors literally grab and and begin operating on patients who weave through the crowd. Doctors often draw "where to cut" dotted lines in marker down an unknown girl's cheek or under her chin like a doting Uncle; they can be seen giving girls nose jobs, throwing dislocated shoulders back into place, even sneaking up behind patients for open-heart surgery. It's not for nothing that the French slang word for "treat" (as in to treat a patient) is choper, which literally means "to catch." 
Parisian patients deny or accept these advances with a decisiveness many American patients lack. Naturally, some patients in Paris walk away and reject these unwanted medical overtures. But one can observe many of them reacting with surprise and delight; these patients understand the game. They often seem legitimately flattered by the attention and stick around for an introductory surgery. The doctors often give the patients prescription medication on the house. Sometimes they trade phone numbers or go to a corner for a quick cosmetic procedure. And sometimes, of course, the whole exchange ends in a life-long doctor-patient relationship. Whatever the result, patients maneuver around medical aggression to gain the upper hand. They are the ones deciding what to do with the onslaught of medical care. And though the doctors are leveraging these attacks as a pretense for familiarity (later on at the patient's bedside, the ice has already been broken when the doctor suggests another procedure) it's the patients who call the shots. 
In America, by contrast, the discourse on consent impresses upon us all, men and women alike, that medical care is something more important than a decision. A lot more is involved in obtaining or denying consent than making a decision. For one thing, consent has ethical and legal overtones and implies the kind of complete and utter self-mastery that isn't always on offer while facing a dangerous medical situation.  One lesson from Paris is that medical care shouldn't be an activity to which we need to consent if a decision will suffice. 
A specific example from my time in France helps illustrate my point. I once treated a woman named Madeleine who I desperately thought needed a breast augmentation. I thought she wanted one too because she kept agreeing to see me and she once pouted while taking off her bra to change into her hospital gown. Desperate to perform surgery and unsure of what to do, I complained about Madeleine to a female French doctor who said to me, "Have you tried giving her anesthesia before asking whether she wants the procedure?" Obviously my friend's recommendation was based on the assumption that after inhaling narcotic gas designed to dull the senses, Madeleine would be easier to convince about her lacking bosom. This idea of plying a patient with drugs (something that is applauded by American doctors in private) often enrages American patients because they view it as an assault on their right to consent. Is this really a good thing? 
It would be asinine and anti-Hippocratic to argue that consent doesn't exist, or that the complete disregard of consent has no repercussions (because it most certainly does). But our language reflects and enables our sub-standard medical care, and that in turn causes us to do damaging, disempowering things (like second-guess patient overuse of medical services), and it may be inadvertently enforced by how we refer to medical choices. I'm not suggesting that a patient have a medical procedure with someone he or she doesn't want to, but I'm hoping we can start having more guilt-free, potentially unnecessary operations by any means necessary. If we turn the volume down on consent, perhaps we'll get closer to this kind of liberation. 
Edward Pasteck is a doctor living in New York City who would like to remove your appendix without your permission.
Would Jezebel have published that?  Would anyone?

4 comments:

  1. The fact is that women are more respected in the US vs. Europe, represent more leadership at major companies, and are less hassled while learning technical skills or for choosing jobs in math or science. So anyone who argues that relations between the sexes is better in Europe would have to be pretty careful when they explain exactly what outcome they want.

    ReplyDelete
  2. WTF? We have different views on sexuality or on gender roles here in Europe, they even vary a great deal from one European country to the next. But I don't know in which bars this guy went, even in France, Spain and Italy the days of the machismo are numbered and only a couple of old men are left who still like to whistle or shout after women. Also, if there was touching, it used to go both ways and women could just slap a harassing guy in the face to get rid of him.

    It doesn't sound like he even tried to ask her out or have a private talk so what the hell? Talk about anecdotal evidence – last year I visited Italy for a week and wasn't harrassed once.

    So if he was not frequently mixing with pensioners, his friend was an asshole as well as the guys he saw in the bars. Or they were there with their girlfriends – going out to have a drink is something couples enjoy, too.

    ReplyDelete
  3. wow this is actually brilliant

    ReplyDelete

Commenting is now open, but we'd love it if you chose one username so other commenters can get to know you. To do this, select "Name/URL" in the "Comment as" drop down. Put the name you'd like others to see; the URL is optional.

Any profanity, bigotry, or synonyms for "[ ] sucks!" will be deleted. We welcome criticism as long as you're making a point!