Leading British medical journal The Lancet describes women as “bodies with vaginas” on its latest cover — sparking swift backlash and an apology from the weekly’s top editor.
The publication — among the world’s oldest and best-known general medical journals — was accused of sexism for the cover, which refers to an article titled “Periods on Display, the Telegraph reported.
In a review of an exhibit about the history of menstruation at the Vagina Museum in London, the author writes “women” four times, but also uses the phrase “bodies with vaginas” once, according to the news outlet.
The Lancet mentions the phrase on the cover.
“Historically, the anatomy and physiology of bodies with vaginas have been neglected,” the journal says on the front page, which sparked a backlash and condemnations by some academics.
“It’s really difficult to imagine why any medical researcher would want to submit their paper to a Lancet journal when they are happy to refer to women on their front cover with language which would be considered inappropriate even in a red-light district,” retired psychiatrist David Curtis said on Twitter.
“Just wrote the Lancet to tell them to take me off their list of statistical reviewers and cancel my subscription and never contact me about anything ever again,” he wrote in another tweet.
“Absolutely inexcusable language to refer to women and girls,” the honorary professor of genetics at University College London added.
Dr. Madeleine Ní Dhálaigh, a general practitioner, wrote: “You can be inclusive without being insulting and abusive. How dare you dehumanise us with a statement like this?”
Some incensed readers suggested that The Lancet has double standards — pointing to a Sept. 20 item about prostate cancer without a reference to “bodies with penises.”
“Considering, as the replies highlight, that The Lancet has recently published work on prostates and refer to men, I don’t think the decision to use ‘bodies with vaginas’ is an attempt at inclusive language,” said Katie Paddock, a psychology lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, the Telegraph reported.
Feminist writer Claire Heuchan, who blogs under the name Sister Outrider, said on Twitter: “This framing makes it sound like a coincidence that ‘bodies with vaginas’ have been neglected by medicine, as if it were not the product of a discrimination and oppression specific to the female sex.”
She added that “medical misogyny… exists — and refusing to acknowledge women perpetuates it.”
Heuchan later wrote that The Lancet “still haven’t explained why they use the term ‘bodies with vaginas’ and perpetuate female erasure in the same week they’re writing about men – not ‘bodies with prostates’, not ‘men and trans women.’ Men. That sexist double standard is not inclusion. It’s misogyny.”
The Lancet Editor in Chief Richard Horton responded to the backlash with a lengthy statement and apology on its website.
“I apologise to our readers who were offended by the cover quote and the use of those same words in the review,” he wrote.
“At the same time, I want to emphasise that transgender health is an important dimension of modern health care, but one that remains neglected,” Horton continued.
“Trans people regularly face stigma, discrimination, exclusion, and poor health, often experiencing difficulties accessing appropriate health care. The exhibition review from which The Lancet cover quote was taken is a compelling call to empower women, together with non-binary, trans, and intersex people who have experienced menstruation, and to address the myths and taboos that surround menstruation.”
Horton then encouraged people to read the full review and “support a growing movement against menstrual shame and period poverty.”