On Nov. 21, 2023, Dale Spender, who helped establish Women’s Studies in universities, died at age 80. The Australian radical feminist activist, teacher, researcher, author, editor and broadcaster helped establish numerous feminist journals and publishing houses, including Pandora Press. Her 53 books include Man Made Language (1980), describing how male control of language shapes our lives. Women of Ideas and What Men Have Done to Them: From Aphra Behn to Adrienne Rich (1982) and There’s Always Been a Women’s Movement This Century (1983) were important in preserving the ideas and struggles of early feminists, showing their surprising similarity to those of today, and influencing contemporary feminists to learn from them. She leaves her partner of 45 years, Professor Ted Brown, and her sister Lynne Spender, with whom she wrote Scribbling Sisters (1987), a book of their correspondences about numerous issues.
In 2023, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that U.S. maternal death rates nearly doubled between 2018 and 2021, with 80% being preventable and women of color suffering the highest death rates. The report also discussed a survey in which about 20% of women reported mistreatment during maternity care with 30% of Black, 29% of Hispanic, and 27% of multiracial women reporting mistreatment. The most common types of mistreatments were receiving no response to requests for help, being shouted at or scolded, no protection of physical privacy, threats of withholding treatment, and coercion to accept unwanted treatment. Forty-five percent of women surveyed reported holding back from asking questions or sharing concerns during pregnancy and delivery. Top reasons included thinking or being told by family or friends their unusual feelings or symptoms were normal. They also included embarrassment, lack of confidence, and thinking their healthcare providers seemed rushed or would label them as difficult. The CDC recommended developing a culture of respect, patient involvement, and a racially diverse workforce in maternity care. It launched the Hear Her campaign to educate communities about pregnancy complications and resources.
In January, Pennsylvania made it illegal for medical school students to perform vaginal, pelvic, rectal, or prostate exams on patients without verbal and written consent while the patient is under anesthesia for something else. It joins 26 states with similar laws, and more states are considering them. A major reason has been women patients and medical school students telling state legislators about their experiences enduring, or being coerced into performing, the exams. This is part of what many are calling medicine’s #MeToo movement. Female doctors, surgeons, nurses, and students are discussing and exposing the intense culture of sexual harassment and assaults by higher ranking male doctors towards female coworkers, students, and patients. It is difficult for overworked people concerned about losing careers to report normalized abuse, but surgeon Dr. Elizabeth Raskin emphasizes the importance of women supporting each other. She stated, “It’s got to be an organic change that comes from within. If we don’t ever break the cycle, the people behind you face it as well.”