Dr. Jen Gunter, Jensplaining Primer
Meet Dr. Jen Gunter, "Twitter's Gynecologist." She's here to call out fake health trends and to separate the facts from the fear-mongering. Jensplaining — her first-ever web series on CBC — tackles the misinformation surrounding topics such as wellness, weight-loss, beauty, and sex.
"Women feel like they need an excuse to do something nice for themselves. That's so predatory.
Dr. Jen Gunter's mantra is simple: "You can't provide unbiased information and sell product at the same time."
And that seems like common sense until you realize just how much misinformation about women's health has been spread. Not only spread, but perpetuated — particularly by the patriarchy. (And any celebrities or influencers trying to make money off of misinformation.)
Which is where Jensplaining comes in. By tapping into her vast online fanbase and using her rising profile as a means of relaying (and sticking to the) facts, Dr. Jen Gunter's new CBC Gem series brilliantly, earnestly, and even hilariously tackles the dangerous myths plaguing everything from vaginal health to the wellness industry.
But that's not the only thing I learned about Gunter. Taking time out of her busy afternoon to hop on the phone with me earlier this week, Jen filled me in on her hopes for Jensplaining, what she aims to change, and how the patriarchy has shaped our views on women's health.
Her years in medicine taught her that bias is everywhere
"When I first started practicing, I went to dinners with pharmaceutical companies and I thought, 'I'm above all that — I can go and have my free meal and it won't overflow into my office,'" she explains.
"And then the literature started coming out saying that's not the case, and even small gifts like a pen can influence you. So I took that to heart and I severed all ties with the pharmaceutical industry. I haven't even had a free soda from a drug rep for probably about 15 years. And then I started thinking, if that's the case for big pharma, how is that not different in other ways?"
She soon found out.
"When I got into writing online, [I saw] how wellness is this three to four trillion-dollar a year industry," Gunter continues. "And everybody gives it a pass. I want people to get information from unbiased sources."
Gunter sees misinformation as a tool of the patriarchy
"[The wellness boom is] very predatory in a lot of ways and very ignorant about health," she tells me. "And again, these things are weaponized against women, so it's really fascinating that wellness says it's feminism — it's actually not. It's the opposite. Wellness is the patriarchy."
How does she know that? Listen to the language. "They use those same words like, 'natural,' 'clean,' and 'pure,'" I'm reminded. "And those are words are words that have been weaponized against women's bodies since the beginning of humanity. You have to be 'pure' until marriage, your period is 'dirty.' These are words that are almost in our DNA [and] really bring something visceral."
Women are sold product as an excuse for finding joy (and she isn't having it)
"It's this idea that buying a product can help your mental health," she elaborates after I bring up the rise of skin care masquerading as self-care. "Well that's no different than saying 'You should just buck up and get rid of that depression!' It's offensive and it's medically incorrect. And I think that 'wellness' is capitalizing on an idea."
"Women feel like they need an excuse to do something nice for themselves. That's so predatory. And who makes women feel like they need an excuse to [be good] to themselves? The patriarchy. Because the patriarchy wants us in the f--king kitchen, dropping babies. Anything else we need an excuse for. And we shouldn't! Men don't need excuses to do nice things for themselves — they deserve it. And we deserve joy too."
That being said, you won't find a love letter to Goop on Jensplaining
"Goop is promoting The Stepford Wives that's kind of their aesthetic," Gunter tells me. "And it's passed off as feminism. That's what it seems to me. Any kind of misinformation is patriarchy, feminism is fact. So when you use misinformation, you are a tool of the patriarchy. And that's why wellness and the religious right have this huge overlap; that's why it sounds very Stepford Wives, because it's lies about women's bodies, lies about abortion, lies about contraception.
"And here's the clincher: "Like, if I said, 'Pure, clean, and natural' am I describing soap sold by Goop? Or am I describing a game show about America's Next Virgin Bride?
"[It's] using pseudo-science to announce their objective. And wellness is the one that capitalizes the most on the idea that women need an excuse to have joy. As opposed to standing up next to all the dudes and saying, 'My joy matters as much as yours and f--k you if you think any different.'"
Instead, Jensplaining offers frank, important conversations about women's health you'd have with a friend.
"Talking down to people never works," Gunter emphasizes. "I wouldn't want to be spoken to that way, so I've always approached my interactions with patients as, 'Let me give you the knowledge, let me bring you up to my level as far as I can.' And most people can be brought up very quickly to a level where all of a sudden they're like, 'Oh wow! I totally get this! I'm so much more powerful!' So that's always been my educational assault."
Plus, Dr. Gunter isn't patronizing. Instead, she's here to help us reclaim our power.
She also hopes to remind women to trust their instincts
"When I say 'intuition' I don't mean like, 'What are the stars telling me?'" she assures. "I mean, I truly believe intuition is your subconscious assembling facts and telling you [something] in a visceral way. It's not you predicting the future. And yes, the patriarchy wants you to not trust your gut. [It] wants to keep you off-balance."
And to dispel the myths around menstruation
"I hope I could get the myth dispelled that normal female anatomy and menstruation is toxic or dirty. That is the original myth of the patriarchy. If you want to oppress half the population and you can find something that makes half the population different, then just say [menstruation is] dirty and it's done. There's shame in it, and why should I feel ashamed of a normal bodily function?
"It's this idea that menstrual blood is dirty and toxic and there's something wrong with menstruation," she elaborates. "And there's nothing wrong with menstruation! And we're going to get there."
The one thing she hopes to change is the flow of misinformation
"I hope we abandon misinformation and we embrace facts because you can't hope to build anything solid on misinformation. Search for facts. The truth about your body. The truth about how everything works. The truth about the political system. And sometimes the facts seem hard at the beginning, but I believe that facts are the foundation of everything. And that would be the one thing people take away from [what I do]. Facts will set you free. You have a solid base in a base of truth."